Slavery beneficiary’s statue stays

The statue of a 17th century trading magnate whose fortune partly came from forced labour and the trading of slaves is to remain.

The board of the Museum of the Home, formerly the Geffrye Museum, in Hackney, East London, has decided not to remove the monument to Geffrye which stands above the main door of the former almshouses that he endowed.

The decision goes against the results of a public consultation which was overall in favour of removal, but feedback showed that the issue was complex and nuanced and the board took the view that the issue would be best addressed through better interpretation and “ongoing cultural change”.

“Following a process of reflection, debate and research, and a consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, the board of trustees of the museum has taken the decision not to remove the statue from the museum's buildings” said a statement from the museum.

Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1704) was an English merchant who was involved with the East India Company and Royal African Company and invested in the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. He part owned a slave ship called the China Merchant.

The almshouses were built from Geffrye’s legacy and were completed in 1714 with a statue of him being added ten years later. When the residents moved out in 1912 so did the statue, and the current replica was installed in 1914 when the building opened as a museum.

The statement continued: “The board believes that the museum should reinterpret and contextualise the statue where it is to create a powerful platform for debate about the connection between the buildings and transatlantic slavery. The museum has a responsibility to reflect and debate history accurately, and in doing so to confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the museum buildings”.

When it reopens the museum will invite black artists to give creative responses to the statue.  

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