Saturday, 14 November 2020

Keep Your Personal Copy

(Notes, not an article)

Keep Your Personal Copy

I do believe that humans should have the comfort of shaping their habitations and not be beholden to the objects and styles of humans who came before. It may be beneficial to explore the purpose of what came before for a range of reasons including aesthetics, environmental, livelihoods, and to support faith practices and nationalism. Plenty reasons for old buildings to exist, to rebuild a garden, to preserve a statue.

We are in an era of social reckoning and statues are at the front line. Here in Jamaica, in the past five years, I have seen five new publicly funded statues in Kingston erected: four to Olympic athletes and one to a theatre practitioner. It is quite amazing to me how two Greek cultural practices have came together so naturally here in this island far away from the Aegean Sea, Olympics and theatre.

This note is about how one man's careful, but not very important letter, is speaking up for him 200 years later. The subject of this is a letter written by Irish born, British national hero, Horatio Nelson, to one of the leading influencers in Jamaica at that time, Simon Taylor whose name has been erased from the physical landscape of Jamaica, but make no doubt if his legacy is very strong in our culture; it is. 

I begin the notes:

1784 – 1787 Horatio Nelson was stationed in the Caribbean and was quickly detested by WI planters because, unlike pervious officers to the posting, he enforced the trade blockade with the newly independent USA.

After this commission, for five years, he was out of work on half pay, he thought that this was bad mind as the powerful planters would have complained to politicians about him. 

I have erased a few paragraphs from here as I do not want this to be notes on the man, Nelson, but point now to his letter of June 1805 to Simon Taylor asking him to look out for a good position for a clerical friend who had lost his job. The drop of gold in this letter for enslaver Taylor, is that Nelson spared a sentence to be critical of the character of practicing Christian and leading abolitionist William Wilberforce who had long moved away from the dissolute lifestyle of his early manhood. Nelson, as was his custom, kept a pressed copy (which is like a carbon copy) of this letter in his personal files. Nelson dies during battle in October of that year. 


After Nelson’s death, Taylor sent the letter, or perhaps a copy of the letter, to anti-abolitionists as evidence that their national hero was critical of Wilberforce. In 1807, a forged copy of the letter appeared in a political newspaper playing up Nelson as an anti-abolitionist as a way to rally support for that cause. The forgery was publicised after 213 years, in 2020.


As a class, the WI planters did not like Nelson, so I am not sure what political turn of events caused the statue of Nelson to be erected in Bridgetown Barbados in 1815. 

Fast forward to 2020, public awareness of systemic racism arising from the killing of George Floyd in the USA pushed the Barbados government to unearth a 1998 constitutional review commission and act on the recommendation to relocate Nelson’s statue to a less prominent position, as he was a leading agent of colonialism. The reparations movement did not waste the high public energy decrying race relations in the USA go to waste, on November 17, 2020, that statue will be relocated.

My view

For many, these symbols are offensive and influential members of the public will determine the aesthetics of the spaces that they occupy. Tear them down if you feel like it. For those who have the stomach for it, set out as complete and as factual a back story as possible.

Jamaica, as far as I know, has no statues of Nelson but at least two chunks of prime real estate in the capital are named in recognition of his professional exploits. One area is Trafalgar Park and its main road is Lord Nelson way that joins Trafalgar Rd (Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain); Waterloo Road (named for the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium where Napoleon Buonaparte was defeated by joint European forces under the command of a British officer whose famous name is not necessary for this note). Trafalgar Park of course has Hamilton Drive named in recognition of Nelson's long term mistress. Chancery Hall has Lord Nelson Drive, Horatio Drive and of course Hamilton Drive. There is no road named in honour of Nelson’s long suffering wife, Caribbean born Frances Woolward.

Jamaican culture has a liking for power culture. A lot of our settlements and urban quarters are named in recognition of military leaders or places that have become synonymous with human bloodshed or civil strife.

The point of this is, keep a copy of important correspondence, you never know when it can come to your defence.

A fictional account of a real love story that I did about the period when Nelson was stationed in the Caribbean