Question: What have Liverpool, Bristol and all sorts of other places got that Belfast hasn’t?
Answer: A corporate history of slave trading.
Hurrah! One shameful pursuit into which we did not dive.
I know this thanks to the redoubtable Arthur Magee and the story of Thomas McCabe. It’s a fine example of stewardship (today’s theme for the Loose Bloggers Consortium) – which I interpret to be looking after and out for other people. So first – the heroic history, then the shocking update and finally the latest response.
1. The good news (part one): In the late 1700s, Waddell Cunningham, founding president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, was among those who made fortunes from slavery and tried to set up a slave company in Belfast in 1786. But for one radical Belfast citizen, Thomas McCabe, such unscrupulous commercial ambition was to be resisted.
McCabe stood near the Old Exchange at the foot of Donegall Street and tore up the prospectus for the proposed company calling out: “May God wither the hand and consign the name to eternal infamy of the man who will sign that document.”
The slaving company’s founding meeting broke up in disarray. And Belfast never did get to have its very own slaving company. (Short version of the story here at the BBC and longer on the Culture Northern Ireland website – with pics of original documents.) Later on, in 1791 freed slave Oloudah Equiano stayed in Belfast and toured Ireland, promoting his book on his life as a slave who had been stolen from Africa as a child.
2. The bad news: Slavers are back. Perhaps they never really went away, you know. Including in the agricultural, fishing and catering sectors (Modern Slavery found in Northern Ireland – report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) and sexual abuse slavery sector (Belfast Telegraph, 23 April 2012). And the catch is – even if you are freed from your bondage by the police or whoever, you’re liable to be deported.
3. The good news (part two): The Friends of Thomas McCabe is a new group being started by cherubic Belfast guide and correcting lens Arthur Magee. The purpose of the group is to act in the spirit of the historical hero after whom it’s named – to oppose modern slavery and support local victims.
And they’re having a very cool indeed gig to kick off the new group. The concert on Wednesday 2nd May 2012 features Henry McCullough – who played with Jimi Hendrix (promoted by my illustrious godmother), who was in Wings with Paul McCartney (yes, that’s Paul McCartney of the Beatles, that guy, yes) and who is known for his blues song Failed Christian (which I once helped to promote – and was described on the CD notes as a nervy young man from the BBC – well, hey, it was a slow night in the Rotterdam.) Nick Lowe covered it here.
(You’ll find the thoughts of other members of the Loose Bloggers Consortium on stewardship and dominion by scrolling down the right hand column and clicking on their links.)