Black History Month: Specialist looks at how slavery shaped the West India Docks

PUBLISHED: 14:00 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:07 01 October 2018

Oil on canvas portrait of MP and slave trade advocate, George Hibbert, by Thomas Lawrence. Picture: PLA collection/Museum of London

Oil on canvas portrait of MP and slave trade advocate, George Hibbert, by Thomas Lawrence. Picture: PLA collection/Museum of London

Museum of London- PLA collection

An exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands will be exploring the connection of British culture to slavery during Black History Month.

Slavery, Culture and Collecting, curated by doctor Katie Donington, focuses on slave owner and MP George Hibbert, who helped build the West India Docks.

During her research, Katie looked at the legacy slavery left on the Docklands, and British culture as a whole.

“The exhibition looks at the way slavery was connected to cultural institutions,” she said.

“The slave trade helped fund art galleries, charities and universities. It’ll look at the way culture itself was used to create racial hierarchy.”

The exhibition uses cultural artefacts to follow the story of George Hibbert. He was an MP, book collector and co-founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but also a prominent slave trade campaigner.

“It’s a local story which we hope visitors will feel connected to,” Katie said.

“When people discuss slavery it tends to be in very general terms.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to say people are totally evil or 100 per cent good. People involved in atrocities can still benefit others.”

The exhibition looks at some of George’s personal items and his family who owned a plantation in Jamaica. Katie said it was important to consider how slavery may have benefited one faction of society, while massively hurting another.

She said: “Britain benefited, but at what cost?

“While George may have helped found the RNLI, these kinds of institutions weren’t being built in the Caribbean.

“There’s a portrait of George in the National Portrait Gallery which describes him as a merchant, and that’s it. It massively silences his relation to the slave trade. The exhibition is about getting people to engage with the story of slavery and British culture. It has to be spoken about.”

Katie hopes the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about using history to create change.

She said: “If the past is different to the present, it’s important to look at why.

“There are many troubling relationships from the past, whether that be to do with race, class or gender, which continue to shape things in the modern day.

“If we understand history better, then we can also know how to make changes.”

The free exhibition is open now and runs until September 2019.

Latest East London News Stories

Yesterday, 17:41

Parents fighting the closure of three council-run nurseries and a specialist deaf unit in the borough have been “thrown a lifeline” by councillors.

Yesterday, 16:10

New City College closed its six campuses for a day to take part in a march in Westminster.

Yesterday, 11:43

A shop in Limehouse accused of selling laughing gas to children as young as 14 has lost its licence to sell alcohol.

Yesterday, 09:49

Tower Hamlets Council will receive extra funding from the government to help ease winter pressures on the NHS.

Wed, 12:19

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has announced a package of ‘tackling poverty innovation grants’ worth £200,000 for new programmes by community and voluntary groups in the borough.

Wed, 08:53

Commuters are facing severe delays on the Jubilee line this morning following a signal failure.

Wed, 07:57

A woman had her phone and cash stolen after being duped into letting someone into her home.

Tue, 16:58

A Bangla music festival has released details of its lineup.


Are you a landlord looking for a fixed rental income, paid whether the property is empty or not? Steve Westley, general manager at estate agents Elliot Leigh, explains their Guaranteed Rent Scheme and how it takes the stress out of letting your property.

Newsletter Sign Up

East London Advertiser twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Docklands and East London Advertiser
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now