LETTER: Statue celebrates colonisation – ‘the precursor to slavery’

george somers statue
The statue of Admiral Sir George Somers in Lyme Regis became the target of vandalism amid anti-racism protests

I HAVE been reading with great interest the local articles about the vandalism of the George Somers statue in Lyme Regis, and I am sure there has been much discussion amongst the local journalists about this.

I am intrigued to know whether the permanence of the statue will be reviewed, as it is with many of the controversial statues around the country.

I was disappointed with the tact of your article (Philip Evans’ Lyme Matters column, June 12), and brushing off the relevance of statues in peoples lives – yes, they are inanimate objects, but to many they represent something that should not be celebrated and they link to a brutal history of racism that is still so systemic in our country.

Removing something that reminds people of this racism whenever they see it would be a step in the right direction of solving our problems of today.

Anish Kapoor says of statues: “Statues are not history, they are emblematic monuments to our past which can be thought to represent how we see ourselves and our history. It is long overdue that we reassess these emblems and get rid of the bigots they portray.

“We must acknowledge the horror perpetrated in our names by these horrid individuals and seek to find nobler ways to make spaces of commemoration and history. This must now mean looking at the forgotten amongst us.”

I am fully aware of the links between Lyme Regis and Bermuda, which came about by chance when Somers ran ashore on Bermuda and colonised it.

Supporters of the statue will of course argue that Somers died before the slave trade started, however, this is really not the point. As children we were all taught about the great achievements of the British Empire and this has become normalised for so many.

Of course, this history was brutal and colonisation was the precursor to slavery. It was based on the assumption that indigenous people were “savage” and inferior, it was based on racism.

Whether Somers was involved in slavery or not is therefore irrelevant – we are celebrating a man who took over a country, taking away the rights of the indigenous people. Is this right?

It is actually incorrect that the slave trade was not happening until after the death of George Somers. The first British slave trader was John Hawkins, who with his cousin Frances Drake was said to have captured between 1200 and 1400 West Africans between 1562 and 1567.

He sold these people to the Spanish. It is estimated that the capture of these people would have involved the killing of three times that number.

Slavery was well and truly happening during George Somers’ time. Whether he was a slave trader or not is almost irrelevant. He sailed across to the Caribbean to steal land that was not his.

I found it very interesting that Bermuda itself has removed the Somers Day part of its biggest national holiday (Cup Match), replacing it with Mary Prince Day – a great instrumental woman who was involved in the abolishment of slavery and also happened to be traded as a slave.

This is rather more fitting as a pairing to the first day of the national holiday, which is the Emancipation Day. I am sure there are many more relevant people who could be celebrated (most obviously Mary Anning of course who is at last hopefully going to be celebrated with a statue).

Ashley Wheeler
(by email)

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