St Helena and the slave trade
Fri 24 Apr 2020 18:07
Last week we helped create a small memorial to the 8,000 freed slaves buried on this tiny island.
Being situated where it is St Helena is a natural stopping point for ships sailing from Africa to the Caribbean and USA. St Helena also had slaves, but not having large plantations there were relatively few. However at one stage there were more slaves than free men, but that is a different story.
In 1840 a Vice Admiralty court was established here to support the fight against the slave trade. Over the next 27 years they condemned over 400 illegal slave ships and liberated some 27,000 slaves.
However, many were in very poor health and the conditions here were not ideal so many died on the island.
It is believed that over 8,000 were buried in Rupert's Valley, making it the largest known graveyard of the slave trade anywhere in the world.
During 2007/8 prior to the building of the airport and new container terminal, an archaeological dig unearthed 350 bodies that are now stored in a vault awaiting reburial.
This year, Main Street is having new pavements and so the old cobble stones were removed. Those that were removed from one area, were kept. The area under the trees was significant because slaves were bought and sold there, and also brought there to be punished and hanged.
We took these cobbles, cleaned and painted them and set them out in a large 8,000. We then painted them white so that as one drives into the valley one can see them and hopefully reflect.
After we went and laid flowers at the vault.
All in all a very sobering day. I find it immensely sad thinking of man's inhumanity to man, which is still so obvious today. Reading the reports of an 8 year old slave boy whipped till he bled, then tied and thrown into a bed of nettles to die, reading the poster that lists the slaves for sale and gives more prominence to the horse for sale at the same time, brings me close to tears...How did society find this acceptable?
Sadly, there is no money available to bury the bodies, or make more of a memorial.
More than anything I am grateful for the pure luck that meant I was born when I was, and where I was...