A STATUE of former Mayor of Lyme Regis and founder of Bermuda, Admiral Sir George Somers, has been the target of vandalism amid anti-racism protests.
The word “murderer” was written across an information board next to the statue in Langmoor Gardens. A cardboard sign describing Sir George as an “opportunist” was also removed from the statue this morning.
A witness to the incident said a small group of people in their 60s were responsible for the graffiti and cheered themselves as they did it.
The vandalism of the information board, which was promptly cleaned by town council staff, follows anti-racism protests held across the UK over the weekend, in response to the death of George Floyd in America last month.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he was handcuffed face down in the street. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Anti-racism protests have since been held across the globe, including in Bristol where a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down.
Sir George Somers was a former Mayor and MP of Lyme Regis, who founded the isles of Bermuda after being shipwrecked there in 1609 on his way to the new English colony of Jamestown, Virginia.
Lyme Regis is now twinned with St George’s in Bermuda, where Sir George is widely celebrated and suggestions that he was involved in the slave trade have been refuted.
Lyme Regis historian and author Peter Lacey, whose book ‘Elizabethan Lyme’ includes a section on Sir George’s life, said he died in 1610 and the slave trade “did not get under way until the 1640s”.
He added: “The first known slaving voyage from the port was 1712, Somers had been dead for 102 years. Lyme was never a major slaving port but it was important commercially, the town stated so in a petition to parliament.”
John Cox, who has studied Bermudian history, was quoted in the island’s national newspaper The Royal Gazette in 2018 saying: “Sir George carried no slaves on the Sea Venture in 1609, he never owned a slave during his short stay in Virginia in 1610, and when he died later that year in Bermuda, he mentions only one English servant in his last will and testament, to whom he leaves money. So surely we can disregard Sir George Somers having ever been a slave owner.”
However, Christopher Famous, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher in Bermuda who has criticised Sir George’s prominence in the country’s history, said “we should always remember that colonialism was the precursor to slavery”.
He added that Sir George was a privateer who was shipwrecked in Bermuda “on the way to colonise somebody else’s land” and, while he did not want to encourage the defacement of statues, he said these are “monuments to colonialism’s legacy and to mass slavery”.
John Dover, chairman of the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twinning Association, which erected the statue in 2016, said there was “no historical evidence to support the fact that Sir George ever murdered anyone or that he was involved in slavery”.
He added: “Sir George died In 1610, this was several years before slavery involving the English occurred in North America.
“During Sir George’s lifetime black people in Tudor England were not discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. If discrimination existed it was more towards Catholics, especially the Spanish, Scottish and Irish.
“This act of disrespect, defacement and vandalism towards the memory of this great native of Lyme and respected public servant displays a shocking ignorance of the true facts. I sincerely hope this act was not carried out by an ill informed resident of Lyme Regis who should know better.”
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Bran Larcombe MBE, has also condemned the act of vandalism.
He said: “The statue to Sir George Somers marks the historic link between Lyme Regis and Bermuda that was formed by his ship running aground while navigating to the ‘New World’, and the subsequent relationship that has developed into a successful and valued present-day twinning with the people of St Georges.
“The vandalism, albeit minor, has no link with other statues that have been damaged in other towns in recent days – Sir George Somers is of a much earlier period in history and it is wrong that his statue has been targeted in the way it has.
“I, and I’m sure the respective twinning group members of Lyme and St George’s will not regard this as having any impact on the close and valued relationship we share.”
The statue of Sir George Somers has now been listed on a website for the campaign ‘Topple the Racists’. This has been set up by an anti-Trump protest group and includes an interactive map with users encouraged to add the locations of statues they consider racist.
The Somers statue has already been added, describing him as a “coloniser and war criminal”.
Lyme Regis did have some involvement in the slave trade – you can read more in Peter Lacey’s ‘Tales From Lyme’s Past’ blog.