George Cruikshank

At the end of British Black History month, I present this cartoon by George Cruikshank.

Here is a larger version on the British Museum website, which claims copyright.

The cartoon, from July 1826, calls the slavery abolition campaigners “canting humbugs”. In Cruikshank’s view, the Caribbean “planters” host happy, well-fed, fat black people, who are portrayed making music, dancing and drinking rum. The Abolitionists are deceiving decent British people to take an interest in slavery when there are poor whites in Britain, needing charity but ignored.

Oh, George! Cruikshank’s cartoons are still worth looking at, and I note his sympathy with starving people- a genuine concern- but the lies about slavery shame me now. Britain made a vast amount of money from slavery and colonial exploitation. Loving the Tate Galleries, I have just checked they are not directly contaminated by slave profits, which is a relief; but all over Britain the legacies of slave ownership remain. I am not free when anyone is unfree, even when their shackles are very different from my own. It is imperative for me to be an ally, and develop as an ally. I found the cartoon through David Olusoga’s documentary Britain’s forgotten slave owners.

2 thoughts on “George Cruikshank

  1. Thanks for this important piece, Clare. I live in Scotland where a considerable part of the architectural heritage alone pays testament to the legacy of slavery and slave owning. A similar story is evident in most cities on the UK’s western coast line – Cardiff, Bristol, Liverpool (and Manchester), Glasgow, plus Plymouth, London and many other towns. It does not take much research to uncover the extent to which our national wealth is contaminated by this shameful practice.
    Are you 100% confident that Tate and Lyle did not benefit from the slave trade? Some sources indicate that some of the wealth of Tate and Lyle was based on its purchase of assets for sugar refining that were established before slavery was abolished in 1833, even though their reputation was based on activity from 1859 (Tate) and 1865 (Lyle).

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