Oxford college refuses to remove statue of slave owner from library

Oxford University college defies calls to remove statue of slave owner Christopher Codrington from its library after agreeing to change room’s name

  • The Barbados governor bequeathed £10,000 to All Souls College upon his death
  • A marble statue of Codrington has stood in the library since the 18th century
  • The graduate college has reviewed its links but decided the statue should stay
  • Student campaigners are disappointed and want the statue torn down 

An Oxford college has removed the name of an 18th century slave trader from its main library but has defied calls to take down his statue.

All Souls College reviewed its link to Christopher Codrington, a Barbados-born colonial governor, in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter movement.

The former college fellow who died in 1710 bequeathed £10,000 to the library which has since been unofficially known as the Codrington Library. 

All Souls College has removed the name of an 18th century slave trader from its main library but has defied calls to take down his statue

A marble statue by Edward Cheere of the benefactor has been standing in the library after Codrington bequeathed £10,000 to the college

A marble statue by Edward Cheere of the benefactor has been standing in the library for centuries and the college says it has no plans to take it down despite the clamour from students.

The All Souls governing body said: ‘Rather than seek to remove it the College will investigate further forms of memorialisation and contextualisation within the library, which will draw attention to the presence of enslaved people on the Codrington plantations, and will express the College’s abhorrence of slavery.’

Their review found that Codrington’s wealth ‘derived largely from his family’s activities in the West Indies, where they owned plantations worked by enslaved people of African descent’.

The college claims it has undertaken a number of measures to address the colonial legacy, including erecting a memorial plaque in memory of those who worked on the Caribbean plantations. 

All Souls College reviewed its link to Codrington, a Barbados-born colonial governor, in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter movement

A college review found Codrington’s wealth derived from his activities in the Caribbean where he owned plantations 

All Souls has donated £100,000 to Codrington College in Barbados (pictured), a theological school also founded by a bequest in the slave trader’s will

Codrington’s colonial past 

Christopher Codrington was born in Barbados in 1668 and went on to become a British soldier, plantation and slave owner, bibliophile and colonial governor.

As a young man, he was sent to England to be educated in Enfield and from 1685 he attended Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. He was elected to All Souls as a probationer fellow in 1690.

On the death of his father, Colonel Christopher Codrington, he succeeded him as captain-general of the Leeward Islands.

As a governor his rule does not seem to have been wholly popular, and in 1702 an appeal was made against his behaviour by the inhabitants of Antigua.

This document, which is still to be seen in the Codrington Library at All Souls with his comments attached, was ultimately laid before the House of Commons, by whom it was summarily dismissed.

Some time after 1703 he resigned his governorship and retired to his estates in Barbados, passing the remainder of his life in seclusion and study, chiefly of church history and metaphysics.

By his will dated 1702 he left £10,000, and £6,000 worth of books to All Souls College, enough to build, furnish, and endow a magnificent library in the middle of which stands his statue by Sir Henry Cheere. 

All Souls has donated £100,000 to Codrington College in Barbados, a theological school also founded by a bequest in the slave trader’s will.

Three full graduate studentships are also funded by the college for students from the Caribbean.

All Souls say £6million of its endowment is now permanently set aside to produce the income to fund the studentships.

But campaigners say the measures are insufficient when the imposing statue remains in the hallowed grounds of the graduate college.

Campaign group Common Ground said: ‘Physically, this statue cannot be made neutral: it is positioned such that onlookers stand at his stone feet, its pose is one of heroism and prestige.’

They also say the memorial plaque fails to ‘sanitise the harm of continuing to elevate this slave owner’.

The students also disagree with Codrington’s depiction by the college as a mere slave trader, saying his crimes are much more severe.

Common Ground said his wealth was ‘accumulated from systematic sexual exploitation, trafficking and mass murder’.

The controversy comes amid ongoing scrutiny of Oxford’s links to colonial figures.

Oriel College’s statue of Cecil Rhodes has provoked scorn from many students because of his colonial activities in Africa.

Critics argue the British imperialist paved the way for the apartheid in southern Africa, and raise issue with his time as leader of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.

A decision over the statue’s future has been delayed until the spring, Oriel’s commission said.

Oriel College voted to launch an inquiry into ‘the key issues surrounding the Rhodes statue’ in June, after BLM protesters pulled down a memorial to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and threw it in the harbour.

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