Hawarden Estate: Descendants of William Gladstone address family’s ties to slavery in public apology
Charlie Gladstone, owner of Hawarden Estate and descendant of four-time Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, publicly apologised for an ancestor’s role in the slave trade.
This apology came during a visit to Guyana, where he spoke at the University on Friday.
William Gladstone, who lived in Hawarden, was the son of John Gladstone, a well-known slave owner in the British West Indies.
Charlie’s visit with his family was to apologise and promise financial support for research into the effects of the transatlantic slave trade.
This visit is notable as it marks the 200th anniversary of the Demerara rebellion. Historians believe this revolt by enslaved Africans started the abolitionist movement.
The uprising happened in the British colony of Demerara, now in Guyana, on a Gladstone property.
Some say this revolt’s violent end sped up the end of slavery.
When Charlie Gladstone found out about his family’s links to slavery, he was deeply shocked. He told the Observer, “I was heartbroken. I hated finding this out. It was a shock and made me feel sick.” He added, “Slavery is a terrible crime. Having a family member involved in it is awful.”
Sir John Gladstone, a Scottish trader, had many slaves on his farms before they were freed. When slavery ended in 1833, he got a large payment from the Slave Compensation Commission. Today, that would be about £10 million.
At first, in 1831, William Gladstone supported payments for slave owners in a speech in the Commons. But by 1850, people saw him differently. He called slavery “the worst crime in history.”
In his speech, Charlie Gladstone read a statement. He talked about his deep regret for his family’s part in slavery. He spoke about slavery’s ongoing effects and hoped for a better future.
He said: “We wish to offer our sincerest apologies for his actions in holding your ancestors in slavery in Demerara, now Guyana.”
“Slavery was a crime against humanity and its damaging Impact continues to be felt across the world today.”
“It Is with deep shame and regret that we acknowledge our ancestor’s involvement in this crime and with heartfelt sincerity that we apologise to the descendants of the enslaved in Guyana.”
“In so doing we acknowledge slavery’s continuing impact on the daily lives of many.”
“We understand that we cannot change history, but we believe that we can have an impact on the world in which we live; and in apologising for the actions of our ancestors, we hope to work towards a better future.”
As he spoke protesters briefly stopped his speech. Even so, Gladstone talked about the family’s promise to build strong, lasting ties with the people of Guyana.
In response to the apology from Charles Gladstone on behalf of his family, some exercised their right to protest and called for further action from the family.#Gladstone #Apology #Guyana #ChattelEnslavement pic.twitter.com/MtJWhRlH4E
— Repair Campaign (@RepairCampaign) August 25, 2023
Revd Dr Andrea Russell, head of Gladstone’s Library where Charlie serves as the President of Trustees on a voluntary basis, praised the family’s public stand on this issue.
She said: “As an independent charity, we are not part of the Gladstone Estate and cannot speak for the family. However, as an organisation committed both to shedding light on the past and ensuring a more equitable future for all, we welcome the family’s efforts to address this history publicly.”
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