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  • Martin Castle

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Before you go any further - I began this musing in July but the confusion over my own thoughts, the lassitude of the long summer and a series of visits from friends and family pushed my musings to the edges. I have mentioned this musing to a number of people and they have encouraged me to finally publish it. Please remember this is a personal account and no offence is intended.

Wedgwood's seal for the anti-slavery movement

I am in a quandary about the campaign Black Lives Matter. Whilst I 100% support the sentiment I find it difficult to comment - how can I a white middleish-class English male of a certain age possibly understand what it was/is like to have grown up in this country and have a non-white skin? It is presumptuous of me to comment on lives I have little or no comprehension of but, equally, my silence could be construed as complicit acceptance of the past and its influence on the present. I know what is right and what is wrong and the treatment we see of those of colour falls into the latter. I can shake my head, shout at the TV and weep at the injustice but can only really deal with incidents that I experience, which I have been able to do occasionally - it all seems somewhat inadequate.

As a child I heard words used that are no longer acceptable but I never lived in a particularly mixed community (and that has been the same in my adult life). The part of London in which I was born and my wider family lived went through massive change and became home to large communities of immigrants, particularly from Asia, but we had long moved as my dad's work took us away from London.

I've had and have many friends with a different ethnic and cultural heritage to my own. Personally they are all important to me. My A Level history teacher was, with hindsight quite radical (& maybe a communist!) and the topics he taught us did include the Russian revolutions and the slave trade. The latter taught with a balance of the good (heroic?) work done by many in this country but not ignoring the use of indentured labour to the wealth and economy of the UK - I still don't buy Tate & Lyell sugar! I well remember the image at the top of the page being shown to us in a lesson and the fierce debate that ensued. Sadly no face of colour in our group to add a voice. (Thanks Mr Lucas - you were a star).

I do not agree with pulling down and destruction of statues - removal in some circumstances, 'museumising', replacing, adding information to contexualise and educate - yes to all of those. But, expunging, to my mind, is not the way forward. Removal of all reference risks losing that part of history and the warnings that it can offer. I remember a conversation with a German friend of my age some 15 years ago who had learned virtually nothing of the past and particularly her families part in the Nazi regime. Those represented by our historic statuary are rarely all good or all bad - they are after-all human, like us!

William Wilberforce 1759-1833

Back to Mr Lucas and what we learned - of course the name of William Wilberforce is irrevocably tied to the history of the abolition of the slave trade. He is rightly commemorated in many places, not least his home town of Hull.

He first introduced an abolition bill in March 1796. His proposal to abolish the slave trade was defeated in the House of Commons by only four votes. At least a dozen abolitionist MPs were out of town or at the new comic opera in London. Thomas Clarkson commented: "To have all our endeavours blasted by the vote of a single night is both vexatious and discouraging." Wilberforce wrote in his diary: "Enough at the Opera to have carried it. Very much vexed and incensed at our opponents". The bill was reintroduced on numerous occasions before the final success in 1833 - shortly after William's death. In Britain we tend to see this crusade as a uniquely British achievement. My current reading is a massive biography of Napoleon Bonaparte (now there's an interesting man!) and I was surprised to learn that during the French Revolution the Jacobins outlawed slavery in 1794 (Saint Domingue - Haiti - had a slave population of 500,000 and was important to the economy of France so a bold move). Napoleon rescinded the law in the early 1800s.

My other surprise was to discover the role played by people who, if I had been around 200-odd years ago, would have been my North Norfolk neighbours. With a Quaker background and a strong social conscience the Gurney family (in various guises and permutations) were a family of importance to this story. They still live in and around Northrepps.

Joseph John Gurney 1788–1847

Joseph John Gurney was born at Earlham Hall, Norwich in 1788. Joseph was the tenth child of John Gurney, a successful banker and a prominent member of the Society of Friends. Joseph was the brother of Elizabeth Fry and Hannah Buxton who became the wife of Thomas Fowell Buxton. Joseph's mother died when he was a child and he was mainly raised by Elizabeth, who was eight years older. At an early age Joseph showed concern for the poor and badly treated. Elizabeth later recalled that as a child he refused to take sugar in his tea because of the "poor slaves".

Gurney became a minister for the Society of Friends. He joined with Thomas Fowell Buxton and Thomas Clarkson in the struggle against the slave-trade. Gurney made several visits to North America and the West Indies where he campaigned against slavery. He also toured Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Germany, where he promoted Quaker views on world peace and the abolition of capital punishment.

Thomas Fowell Buxton 1786-1845

Through his support for the campaigns of the Gurneys, Thomas Fowell Buxton became involved in the Quaker campaigns for social reform. This included raising money for the weavers in London, education and prison reform. In 1818 he was elected to Parliament and soon afterwards moved to Cromer Hall. In 1823 he helped form the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery. In a speech in Parliament he argued: "The slave sees the mother of his children stripped naked and flogged unmercifully; he sees his children sent to market, to be sold at the best price they will fetch; he sees in himself not a man, but a thing - an implement of husbandry, a machine to produce sugar, a beast of burden!"

After William Wilberforce retired in 1825, Thomas became the leader of the campaign in the House of Commons. He, with the help of Thomas Clarkson (who published the drawing of the salve ship Brookes), set about collecting information about slavery and compiling demographic statistics. In a speech on 23rd May 1826 he described the conditions on board a slave-ship:

"The voyage, the horrors of which are beyond description. For example, the mode of packing. The hold of a slave vessel is from two to four feet high. It is filled with as many human beings as it will contain. They are made to sit down with their heads between their knees: first, a line is placed close to the side of the vessel; then another line, and then the packer, armed with a heavy club, strikes at the feet of this last line in order to make them press as closely as possible against those behind... Thus it is suffocating for want of air, starving for want of food, parched with thirst for want of water, these poor creatures are compelled to perform a voyage of fourteen hundred miles. No wonder the mortality is dreadful!"

The Norfolk support for this campaign was so strong it was noticed elsewhere in Britain: a Birmingham newspaper reported that in Norwich, "sugar is now positively banished from the most polite and fashionable tea-tables'. On 15th April 1831, Buxton introduced his resolution for the abolition of slavery, but once again this attempt at legislation failed. The 1832 General Election resulted in a reforming Whig government. The House of Commons now passed a measure to end slavery in the colonies. The Slavery Abolition Act received the royal assent on 23rd August 1833. The colonial legislatures carried the act into effect, and emancipation day was 1st August 1834.

Buxton Memorial fountain (1865) in Victoria Gardens

Thomas Fowell Buxton, (a giant of a man in many ways - he stood at 6'4") who was also the founding chairman of what was to become the RSPCA in 1840, died at Northrepps Hall, Norfolk, on 19th February 1845, and is buried in

Overstrand Church.

Of course, it takes little research to discover that Norfolk was also the home to some who profited from the owning of slaves and the trade in slaves.

Recipe -

This was a tricky moment. A recipe attached to such a deep topic seems a bit of a frippery. However, some friends told me of this dish. Whilst a fusion recipe with numerous possible roots I was told that it was a way of hiding meat (maybe acquired from someone else's kitchen!) and disguising it as a non-meat dish.

This would be a hot contender for South Africa's national dish! The recipe was selected for an international recipe book published in 1951 by the United Nations Organisation. Bobotie is a Cape-Malay creation, and they spice it up even more with cumin, coriander and cloves. A similar dish was known in Europe in the middle ages after the Crusaders had brought turmeric from the East. When the first Dutch settlers arrived, Holland was largely influenced by Italian cooks, and a favourite dish was a hashed meat backed with curried sauce, spiked with red pepper and 'sweetened with blanched almonds.' There are many local variations, but the idea is that the mince should be tender and creamy in texture, which means long, slow cooking. Early cooks added a little tamarind water; lemon rind and juice is a more modern adaptation.

Bobotie (bʊˈbʊtɪ)

8 servings


500g/1lb minced lamb or beef, or a mixture of the two

25g/1oz butter, vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped

2ml/½ tsp crushed garlic

15ml/1 tbsp curry powder

5ml/1 tsp ground turmeric

2 slices bread, crumbled

60 ml/¼ cup milk

finely grated rind and juice of ½ small lemon

1 egg

5 ml/1 tsp salt, milled black pepper

100g/(3oz dried apricots, chopped (or 4 tbsp of apricot jam)

1 Granny Smith apple peeled, cored and chopped

60ml/¼cup sultanas (golden raisins)

50g/1 ½ oz slivered almonds, roasted in a dry frying pan

6 lemon, orange, or bay leaves

For the topping:

250ml /1 cup milk

2 eggs

½tsp salt


1. Directions: heat oven to 160C.

2. Butter a larger casserole.

3. Heat a little butter and oil in a large saucepan and fry the onions until golden. Add the ground meat (2Kg) and fry until lightly browned.

4. Stir in the garlic, masala or curry powder, turmeric and season with salt and pepper.

5. Cover and simmer over very low heat for about 30 minutes until the meat is tender. mix together the crumbs, milk, lemon zest and juice, egg, apricots, apples, raisins and almonds and mix into the ground meat (mince).

6. Transfer the mixture to the casserole dish and pat the top nice and level. roll up the leaves (lemon or bay) and bury them in the bobotie.

7. Cover and bake 30 minutes until the bobotie is firm and well cooked.

8. Remove from the oven and increase temp to 200C.

9. Mix together the milk, eggs (she recommends 4), and salt and pour over the bobotie.

10. Bake uncovered another 15 minutes until set and lightly browned.

11. Serve with Yellow Rice and Blatjang (a form of chutney). Zimbabwean friends use Mrs Balls Chutney!

Reprinted from Rainbow Cuisine: A Culinary Journey Through South Africa by Lannice Snyman ©1998 S&S Publishers. I'm hoping southern Aftican friends will send me their version of bobotie.

The word of the Day is ...

"slave" (n.)

late 13c., "person who is the chattel or property of another,"

From Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus "slave" - the source also of Italian schiavo, French esclave, Spanish esclavo).

Originally "Slav" so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

Applied to devices from 1904, especially those which are controlled by others - slave jib in sailing, similarly of locomotives, flash bulbs, amplifiers etc). Slave-trade is noted from 1734.

ps: the quote used as the title is by William Wilberforce. There are many Wilberforce quotes - I have added a favourite at the end of this musing.

pps: A great, great grandson of Thomas Fowell Buxton was Rupert Erroll Victor Buxton who drowned near Oxford at the age of 21 with his close friend Michael Llewelyn Davies - J. M. Barrie's inspiration for Peter Pan.

ppps: through marriage I am related to Charles George Gordon (General Gordon/Chinese Gordon/Gordon Pasha/Gordon of Khartoum) famously killed during an uprising in the Sudan in 1885. Those opposed to him were, in part, angry about his suppression of the slave trade in that part of Africa.


"With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable." - Thomas Fowell Buxton
"We have different forms assigned to us in the school of life, different gifts imparted. All is not attractive that is good. Iron is useful, though it does not sparkle like the diamond. Gold has not the fragrance of a flower. So different persons have various modes of excellence, and we must have an eye to all." - William Wilberforce

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