Published in The Mail On Sunday on 07 January 2024.
- Campaign is seeking £70,000 for a statue to the Navy’s West Africa Squadron
- The Squadron patrolled the Atlantic for slave ships between 1807 and 1867
- Tory peer Lord Ashcroft has pledged £25,000 to the campaign to honour it
A rallying cry for a memorial to recognise Britain’s contribution to ending the slave trade was answered last night by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft.
The military historian pledged £25,000 to a campaign to honour the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron, which once patrolled the Atlantic, seizing slave ships and freeing enslaved people.
The campaign to honour those who saved captives bound for the Americas was highlighted in the Daily Mail yesterday by Commons Leader and Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt.
Campaigners are seeking to raise £70,000 for a permanent statue honouring the squadron in Portsmouth, which served as its base in the 19th century.
‘I am delighted to be able to support this worthy campaign,’ said Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. ‘I believe passionately in the importance of highlighting episodes of gallantry by our Armed Forces.
‘For too long, Britain’s role in helping to abolish the slave trade has been forgotten. It’s time we remembered the part that our nation played on the global stage in this little-known chapter of British naval history. It’s something we should all be proud of.’
The West Africa Squadron policed the coast of West Africa between 1807 and 1867 in search of slave traders. At its height in the 1840s and 1850s, the squadron employed 36 vessels and more than 4,000 men. It freed 150,000 people and captured 1,600 slave ships, but 1,600 British sailors lost their lives, with many dying from injuries sustained in combat with the slavers.
Writing in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Ms Mordaunt said that, contrary to what many young people believed, the UK played a key role in dismantling the slave trade, adding: ‘This flotilla was the main actor in physically destroying it.’
Ms Mordaunt told The Mail on Sunday she was delighted to hear of Lord Ashcroft’s donation, adding: ‘Many who established the campaign were researching their relatives who were part of the squadron. The memorial will mean so much to them.’
The campaign comes amid growing calls for the removal of artefacts with links to the slave trade. But almost nothing has been said about Britain’s role in stamping it out.
The West Africa Squadron Memorial Fund was launched last year by Colin Kemp, 76, from Chichester. Award-winning sculptor Vincent Gray designed a statue, comprising figures of a shackled woman, a naval officer and a freed slave. Ms Mordaunt will unveil a model in Parliament this month.
If you would like to contribute towards the memorial, go to:Donate here