Image credit: © Museum of London

Statue of slave trader joins Museum of London collection

A bronze monument to slave trader and merchant Robert Milligan will be ‘fully contextualised’ in the Docklands museum.

The Museum of London Docklands has acquired a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan that was removed from outside the museum during Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020.

The decision follows a public consultation, in partnership with Tower Hamlets council and the Canal & River Trust, that concluded the statue should be displayed in a museum where its history can be fully contextualised.

The controversial monument had stood at West India Quay since 1997, but was taken down in 2020 after a petition by local councillor Ehtashan Haque was signed by more than 4,000 people. 

A recent consultation found that 76% of people favour the statue being displayed in an exhibition, and the statue will now be held in storage while the museum consults local communities on how best to present it.

Ros Daniels, director for London & South East at the Canal & River Trust, said: ‘We want to thank everyone who took part in the consultation. Although views were mixed about the treatment of the statue, many were united in feeling we should not shy away from telling all aspects of our history.’

Originally unveiled in 1813, the statue commemorated Robert Milligan, a prominent slave trader who led the foundation of West India Docks at the time of East India Company. Milligan, born in 1746, managed his family’s sugar plantations in Jamaica and owned 526 slaves at the time of his death.

Reflecting on its new acquisition, a museum spokesperson said: ‘Over the last 15 years, the museum has been working with academics, community leaders and activists to tell the story of London’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and give voice to its legacy.

‘The West India Docks, championed by Milligan using wealth from the slave trade, are a visible reminder of how this history has shaped our city. It is right and important that we acknowledge this in the statue’s story.’ 

A decision is yet to be taken on the statue’s plinth, which still stands at West India Quay.


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