The murder of George Floyd in the United States has set off a tidal wave of protests and movements around the world against the legacies of racism and colonialism. Here in Britain, its shockwaves saw protesters topple a statue to 17th century Slave Trader Edward Colston, in Bristol on Sunday. AThis has sparked debates all over the country to scrutinize statues and monuments dedicated to individuals who played an active role in the oppression of others.
Although history cannot be changed or rewritten, and nor can people destroy local monuments ad-hoc against the law, those who support this movement argue that many in Britain fail to take these legacies seriously and the continued glorification of such people in the form of statues and monuments is a sign of indifference by city at large to the injustices of the past. It also calls attention to the issue by those who were unaware of it. They are not looking for criminality, but for awareness and debate.
This brings us to Sunderland. Who would have thought that Wearside had a statue of an individual guilty of oppressing others? It very much does. Within the City’s Mowbray Park stands a statue of General Henry Havelock, a 19th century British Army General. Born in Bishopwearmouth, Havelock is famous historically not for fighting for freedom or equality, but for colonial oppression in British ruled India. In 1857 there was a major uprising against the British East India Company and the army was used to suppress the revolt, violently.
General Havelock was one of the key figures in crushing the Indian rebellion. He is famous for having retaken the city of Kanpur from the rebels and subsequently having massacred the occupiers. In the end, the British Empire was victorious and subsequently incorporated the entire country under the crown, formally creating the British Raaj. 800,000 Indians subsequently died in the conflict. Havelock in retrospect, is hardly a hero.
His statue in Mowbray Park was created in 1861, just decade or so after the rebellion was over. In the modern era, such a reward would hardly be appropriate or ethical, with public memory largely having forgot about who he was and what he did. Although he is a local figure, as was Edward Colston, a massacre of Indians in the name of British colonialism is not something to be proud of, especially as Sunderland itself has become a home to many from the subcontinent.
Although we do not, either directly or indirectly, endorse or support any activities against the monument, it is nonetheless in the public interest that the city is aware of who Havelock was, what he did and that this shameful past has been celebrated in the area’s central park for nearly 160 years. Some may find the referencing of this controversial, but we cannot “whitewash” history any longer or pretend we don’t want to hear about it. It’s time for change.