Lord Horatio Nelson is credited with saving Barbados from sure destruction by French invaders in 1805, and Mr. Hoad, in support of his Save Nelson campaign, paints a valiant picture thus:
..the editor of the Barbados Mercury wrote: "This island has certainly never before, at least in the memory of anyone now living, been in such a perilous situation and had Lord Seaforth not declared the alarms and the French and Spanish fleets attacked Barbados as had been expected, Barbados might by today have been another province of France, at which time we might well have been taught by our conquerors what martial law is really all about."
The rest is history. Lord Nelson to the rescue. The French fleet destroyed at Trafalgar. Barbados saved. Grateful citizens raise a public susbscription to erect a statue in his honour.
First, I am no historian: I did well in A’ Level History, where curiously no mention of the triumphant Lord Nelson was ever made, and enjoyed at least half of it. But having always found it odd to base a career on one’s powers of recollection, I moved on. But I can read! And I’ve read time and again how it was a tactical manoeuvre that led the French fleet to the West Indies. Bonaparte wanted his Admiral Villeneuve to fake out Nelson and draw the British blockade away from Europe to the West Indies. He could then join up with the Spanish and return to hold the English Channel long enough for his army to cross. In fact, by the time Nelson got a clue and reached the West Indies, the combined enemy fleet was already returning. That is not to say that the French may not have wanted to take Barbados: as you’re already there, why not slip another colony in your pocket. But the premise from which we begin, that Lord Nelson even saved the island to begin with, is itself shaky.
Second, let’s assume that Nelson is indeed the hero he is purported to be. I’m not sure if Mr. Hoad has looked around recently, but Barbados is a sovereign state with a dark history of slavery. Why then would we want to give pre-eminence to a colonial symbol of a man who himself was opposed to the abolition of slavery? The Barbados Nelson would have been saving was the colony that was being built and run by white planters on the backs of slaves. Or do we imagine that the slaves rejoiced to have had their island saved so they could happily return to lives of indigence and servitude? “Yay, all is clear on the coast, now back to the fields. Where did we put those shackles?” If the slaves were grateful, it would have been because they sensed their own mortality and were glad that their lives were spared; not because they felt proud of the defence of a country that had given them the same status as livestock.
And Mr. Hoad’s notion that it is irrelevant that (as some historians assert) no black people at that time contributed to the statue is truly awesome in its ignorance. He writes:
If windfall profits were taken from the sugar planters and used to build the Deep Water Harbour and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, would Marshall and Mayo claim likewise that black Bajan fieldworkers didn't "contribute a farthing"? No way!
Feel free to pause and blink. A harbour and a hospital are arguably not express symbols of colonial oppression, and moreover, would certainly be the least that could be offered by a generation that became rich off the subjugation of an entire race of people.
Re: the slavery angle [Yes: he did say “re: the slavery angle” as if slavery were not the defining institution of this time rather than the pesky appendix he suggests] an eminent black Caribbean intellectual wrote recently that "following UWI, the entire Caribbean has schooled generations of students on slavery as a matter of black and white, ignorant of the TRUTH: that all the slave-catchers in Africa were black; and at least half of the money paid to slave-owners in the Caribbean at Emancipation went to black slave owners".
If this is so, was Nelson carrying out orders to support an established institution that benefited both Blacks and Whites?
“Slavery benefited black people as a race in equal measure as it did white people.” I’m forced to put that in inverted commas lest anyone think those are my own thoughts. I detest the notion – put forth by people desperately trying to seem smart and swim against the tide – that because a small percentage of Africans saw an opportunity to save themselves by participating in the slave trade, black people and white are equally at fault for the scourge of slavery and the resulting institutionalized oppression that lasts to this day.
Mr. Hoad further suggests that the statue stay because tourists like to have things to look at when they’re on vacation (It “is mentioned in virtually every travel publication on Barbados.”) I think that the free, independent Barbados can manage something to say to visitors other than “Look at us! We used to be slaves!” And Mr Hoad’s final argument in support of Nelson’s statue, or at least the last one to which I will give any consideration, is that “One-eyed, one-armed, he is a sterling example of how disabilities can be used to advantage.” Because I am sure that of all the possible role models, lots of differently able Barbadians draw constant inspiration from a 19th century admiral made of bronze.
I am not against preserving memories of a country’s history. In fact, I think there’s a name given to places that do that; what are they called? Ah yes, museums. Put Lord Nelson in a museum where adoring fans of colonial exploitation can go and worship at his feet. Or alternatively, put him up for auction. Maybe Richard Hoad will contribute a few farthings.