Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Tearing Down Statues - Glasgow Next?

Is It Time To Remove These Glasgow Statues?

While American cities have recently been taking down Confederate statues, it has been greeted with both protests and with cheers. Some people have been looking a how public sculpture in Glasgow tells one version of our history, and questioning whether some of our statues showed be condemned to the scrap heap. This left me wondering who the men are (they are pretty much all men, except for the odd horse) that stand on the plinths of Glasgow, and do we still want them in our public spaces? Do they represent a manipulated version of history that omits the victims? Are these the people we should be proud of?

"Their effigies should no longer be allowed to thrust themselves upon public attention"

When I was growing up "General Lee" was just the car from Dukes of Hazard. Those "good ol' boys, never meaning no harm" drove about with their car decorated in the Confederate flag. For many this flag represents the ideas of slavery and of white supremacy which the southern states fought for in the American Civil War. General Robert E. Lee was a slave owner, and a commander of the defeated Confederate Army in the Civil War. He has been revered by some in the South ever since the defeat of their armies, an embodiment of their cause, and he has become a totemic figure for many white supremacists.

However the crux of the matter is that the war was fought by the southern states to defend their right to enslave black people, attitudes that continued long after the end of the American Civil War in 1865. It wasn't until 1964 that America repealed racist laws which allowed segregation in schools, public places, and jobs. Not until The Voting Rights Act of 1965 were black people given the right to vote in some American states. America clearly still remains a deeply divided country, with economic equality still a long way off. Now under the presidency of Donald Trump, newly emboldened racists are openly chanting Fascist slogans on the streets of America. For many the statues no longer represent historical figures, but represent an entrenched racism from the past that has never been expunged. Like many other cities, Charlottesville's city council voted to remove their Confederate statues, and in the backlash an anti-fascist protester was murdered.

Statue of General Lee in Charlottesville erected in 1924,
which recently triggered violence in the city with it's planned removal
Statues represent more than the individual portrayed. They can display the craftsmanship and skill of the artist that created the work. They can provide a rallying point, a lesson from the past or recall a painful collective memory. They can be designed to provide humour, pride or fear and a statue can sell an image or an idea to a local population, or to the wider world. But ideas are fluid things, and when your time has passed, there is literally no more iconoclastic an image than that of a statue of a once mighty leader being torn down. 

US Marines tear down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, 2003
1500 year old Buddha of Bamiyanin Afghanistan, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 
In a rather prophetic speech (1) given in 1913 at the unveiling of a statue to scientist and inventor Lord Kelvin in Glasgow, then Lord Rector of Glasgow University, Augustine Birrell MP, described statues as "often doubtful joys" and said 
"...some day orators might be employed to go about the country, not unveiling but veiling old statues, and delivering speeches not in appreciation but in depreciation of their subjects, and showing cause why their effigies should no longer be allowed to thrust themselves upon public attention."
Once he had got that rather unorthodox unveiling speech off his chest he asserted that " such unkind fate will ever befall the statue which it is my honour to unveil." before revealing the statue that still stands, or actually sits, in Kelvingrove Park to this day. 
One of over 1,000 Lenin statues removed in Ukraine 

A flaccid Confederate statue in North Carolina, 2017
In recent times statues around the world are being re-evaluated. Often this is in the context of looking at the history of empire from a more reflective perspective. In South Africa a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town in front of cheering crowds, and in Australia there are some calling for statues of Captain Cook to be removed, as the place was actually there before he "discovered" it.

In Edinburgh a new plaque is to be placed on the statue of Henry Dundas in St Andrew's Square, more accurately reflecting his role in delaying the abolition of slavery. However even though this is referencing actions he took in the 1790s it has caused complaints from his descendants, including "professional polo player and aristocrat", the current Viscount Melville.

Who do we remember in Glasgow's statues?

Off the top of my head I was not able to name any great tyrants among the statuary in Glasgow city centre, I more thought of them as a collection of anonymous merchants and non-specific colonialists. I walk past many of the statues in Glasgow without paying the slightest attention to who we have raised on a pedestal above the common man in this city. So I have tried to get a handle on who we have memorialised.

When a proposal to move the statues in George Square was made five years ago I spent a morning trying to look a bit more closely at who the statues were (for more information read here).

The people who got to choose which individuals were commemorated were, by and large, those who had influence in the 19th century administration. The statues show us the image that the city burghers were trying to portray of Glasgow's place in the Empire, respecting the imperialists of the day, and the scientists and artists that contributed to their worldview.

I have previously written about the links between Glasgow's wealth founded on slavery, and its industrial growth. It is not a history that the city tells very well yet, but steps are being taken to address this. Scottish artists are also looking at this history, such as Douglas Gordon's Black Burns installation in Edinburgh or with the "Empire Cafe" during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

So are the statues in Glasgow tributes to oppressors, thieves and slave traders?

Field Marshal Lord Clyde, with Sir Walter Scott in the background, George Square

  • George Square

In George Square, at the heart of out city, there stands a real hotchpotch of unconnected individuals. 

The statues here were erected between 1819 and 1902. They represent two poets (Robert Burns and Thomas Campbell), novelist Sir Walter Scott in the centre, two scientists (James Watt and Thomas Graham), two monarchs (Victoria and Albert), three politicians (William Gladstone, Sir Robert Peel and James Oswald), two soldiers (Field Marshall Lord Clyde and Sir John Moore) and the Cenotaph war memorial (added in 1924). 

Robert Burns is now remembered for his liberal views, and his poetry espousing the common man. However, before his poetry brought him fame he was on the verge of travelling to Jamaica in 1786, to take up the post as bookkeeper on an estate there. At the time these estates were powered by slave labour, and in the end he did not travel. Burns's only recorded comment on slavery comes in the poem he wrote six years later, The Slave's Lament which shows a more critical view of slavery at a time when abolitionists were beginning to speaking out about it in the British Empire.

Thomas Campbell was a poet of some renown in the early 19th century, but is a rather forgotten figure now. Moving to Virginia in about 1737, his father made his fortune as a tobacco merchant, trading between the colonies, where slave labour was used, and Glasgow. With the American War of Independence he lost his business and returned to Glasgow, where his son was born in 1777.

In 1819 Sir John Moore's was the first statue placed in George Square, 10 years after the Glasgow born soldier died in the Peninsular War whilst securing a famous victory against Napoleon's army. He had also served in Ireland, Egypt, the American Wars and in India. In 1796 he helped retake St Lucia from rebel slaves. You may only known him as the name of an anonymous Wetherspoons pub in Argyle Street, but no plaque or information in Gerorge Square gives you any context to his military career. His fellow soldier in George Square is Colin Cambell, First Baron Clyde, whose list of  actions on behalf of the British Empire includes fighting in the war against the United States in 1812, suppressing a slave rebellion in Demerara, Guyana in 1823, fighting in the First Opium War against China in 1842, the Sikh Wars in India in 1848-9, in 1854 he commanded the Highland Brigade in the Crimean War and  he relieved the siege of Lucknow in the Indian Mutiny in 1857. It is estimated that up to 800,000 Indians died during the uprising, including many from subsequent famine.

Sir Robert Peel was the most prominent Tory politician of his day. The son of a wealthy industrialist and a hereditary baron he held posts in government as under-secretary for war and the colonies, secretary for Ireland, Home Secretary and twice Prime Minister. After initially opposing The Reform Act and laws allowing Catholics the right to vote, he later supported these legislations and led the repeal of The Corn Laws. His only real Glasgow connection is his election in 1836 as Rector of Glasgow University.

Liverpool born politician William Gladstone was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom four times and is depicted in George Square in his robes as rector of Glasgow University. His father, a corn merchant from Leith, moved to Liverpool and increased his wealth via the sugar trade. He was a slave owner who received a fortune at the time of emancipation. His father's money gave William Gladstone access to an education in Eton and Christ Church, and he spent 60 years as a member of parliament. Though Gladstone became known a the archetypal "liberal" politician in his later years, his first speech in parliament was in opposition to a slavery-abolition bill.

James Oswald is immortalised in George Square holding his hat by his side, which was at one time used as a common challenge among locals, trying to toss a stone into it. He was a Whig MP for Glasgow in the the 1832-1847. His statue was initially in Sandyford Place but friends and family campaigned for it to be given the same prominence as his parliamentary colleague, Robert Peel. He inherited a fortune from his great-uncle Richard Oswald of Auchincruive a prominent Glasgow slave owner with interests in the West Indes, Virginia and Madeira, but James Oswald himself was a signatory to a petition in 1836 calling for the abolition of the Apprenticeship Scheme. After 1847 he retired to the family estate.

  • Cathedral Square

King William of Orange in Glasgow, a copy of a Roman statue

If you were asked what is the oldest sculptural landmark in Glasgow, would you have guessed that it is King Billy? King William III, Prince of Orange died in 1702 from pneumonia after being injured in a fall from his horse. Thirty-three years later he was memorialised atop a horse, in a statue in Glasgow commissioned by James Macrae, who had made his money as "Governor of the Presidency of Madras". On his return to Scotland, Macrae purchased an estate in Ayrshire, and renamed it Orangefield. From 1735 the statue stood prominently outside the Tontine building at the Trongate, initially with four canons allegedly from the Battle of the Boyne protecting its base. Here it stood for many years until the re-development in the area required its removal, and from 1926 it has stood rather more discreetly in the gardens at Cathedral Square. Renovations at this time added the curious articulation to the tail to let if blow in the wind.
Thomas Annan photograph from 1868 showing the statue of King William of Orange outside the Tontine Building
As a piece or art it isn't the greatest sculpture in town, modeled on the ancient statue of Marcus Aurelius that sits atop the Capitoline Hill in Rome, with King Billy dressed as the Emperor of Rome. This statue is a good example of a diplomatic compromise. Those who commissioned this work want to promote their hero and their perspective on the world, whereas there are many other people in the same city, who would have a diametrically opposite view of this person. The compromise here is a less prominent position where those who hold him high can gather on the 12th of July, whilst others can ignore him if they chose.

The other statues in and around Cathedral Square include a statue of he one-time minister of the nearby Barony Church, Reverend Dr Norman Macleod, the first statue erected in the square, in 1881.

James White of Overtoun, lawyer, businessman and chemical manufacturer whose Shawfield business, J&J White, employed 500 people and at one time produced 70% of the UK's chromate products. Today there is a significant legacy of soluble chromium waste in the area as a result.

James Arthur, clothing manufacturer and wholesaler who went into business with Hugh Fraser to create a business on Buchanan Street that later became Fraser's when they went their own way. His wife, Jane Glen, was related to the Coat's family of thread manufacturers and was a prominent supporter of women's suffrage. She became the first woman to stand for and be elected to a school board, in Paisley in 1873. After her husband's death she established the Arthur Bursary to promote the medical education of women. Their son, Matthew Arthur, 1st Baron Glenarthur, ran the Lochgelly Iron and Coal Company, so was boss to my wife's grandfather who worked in the mines of Fife.

Statue of James Lumsden in Cathedral Square, Glasgow
James Lumsden, one time stationery manufacturer, chairman of the Clydesdale Bank and Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1843-1846. He is praised for his promotion of  "the public interests and benevolent enterprises of his native city" on the plinth of his statue. As honorary treasurer for the Royal Infirmary he was placed nearby after his death for the money he raised for Royal Infirmary over 19 years. He also as lord provost laid the foundation stone for the University of Glasgow's new Gilmorehill building. However, he is also known to have been investing illegally in blockade runner ships. These profitable enterprises ran ships through the Union blockade to supply the Confederate army with guns and ammunition, therefore prolonging the American Civil War (2).

David Livingstone statue, Cathedral Square, Glasgow
Last but not least, in Cathedral Square, stands David Livingston, I presume. He is a complex character who sums up much of the rights and wrongs of the Victorian era. He started work at the age of 10 in the local cotton mill at Blantyre where he worked for 16 years to support his family. He saved money to enter Anderson College and trained as a doctor, whilst also studying divinity, with the aim of becoming a medical missionary. His divinity lectures from Ralph Wardlaw, a prominent anti-slavery campaigner, had a strong influence upon his views. He became a missionary in Africa and his expeditions led to commercial and imperial expansion. He believed that "legitimate trade" in Africa would push out slavery in the continent and he tried to create Christian, commercial highways into Africa. He spent time reporting on the horrors of slavery on his returns from African expeditions. His travels later inspired colonial rule in Africa and white settlement in the African interior. His statue in front of Glasgow Cathedral was moved here from its original position in George Square in 1960 (see, they don't need to stay in the same place forever).

A more dramatic statue of David Livingstone, created by Ray Harryhaussen for the David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre

  • Kelvingrove Park

Statue of Lord Kelvin, in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow
The other place in Glasgow where a collection of figurative sculptures is to be found is Kelvingrove Park. This includes one sculpture, that of Field Marshal Earl Roberts, for which a petition has been started to call for its removal.

Sculpture of a Bengal Tigress, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow
The first sculpture to be put in Kelvingrove Park was much less controversial though, a handsome sculpture of a Bengal tigress bringing a dead peacock to its cubs, unveiled in 1867. It was a gift to the city from an expatriate son of a Glasgow merchant, a John S. Kennedy. He ordered this cast of a sculpture produced from the original he had seen at the Paris Exhibition that year. Another copy of this tiger stands in Central Park Zoo in New York.

War Memorials in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow
Two dramatic war memorials can be found in the park. The Highland Light Infantry Memorial records the names of the locals who died in the South African wars of 1899-1902. The pith-helmeted soldier on scouting duty perches atop a rocky outcrop, looking as if he is ready to fall off, a veritable embodiment of British Empire soldiery. The other war memorial is equally dramatic, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) War Memorial, unveiled in 1924 to the memory of those who lost their lies in the First World War, with a soldier dramatically going over the top, with his fallen colleague lying beside him. This memorial was unveiled by Earl Haig, a man whose name has now become synonymous with the futile carnage of the First World War.

Two scientists can be found just off Kelvin Way, the seated figures of Lord Kelvin, renowned phsyicist and inventor and of Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Both these men had close Glasgow connections in their lifetimes and I have written about them elsewhere.

Statue of Thomas Carlyle in Kelvingrove Park
A 1916 addition the the sculptures in the park is that of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher and social commentator, who was born in Ecclefechan. He wrote essays and histories on many topics. His controversial views on slavery, expressed in his essay "Occaisional Discourse on the Negro Question" tarnished his reputation and expressed racist attitudes that were obviously common in te circles he was keeping. His statue appears to be forcing its way out of a rough lump of granite and I don't think it is entirely successful as a sculpture. Unfortunately his nose has repeatedly fallen off (although when I went to have a look today, it has actually been repaired again), which gives his face an unfortunate similarity to Dr Zaius from the original Planet of the Apes film.

Dr Zaius
Given the most prominent position in Kelvingrove Park, is Field Marshal Earl Roberts. Riding his Arab charger "Volonel" he stands on top of an impressive plinth, looking out over Glasgow University and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery from his lofty position. As a work of sculpture it is designed to impress, and it does. The horse is skillfully portrayed and Earl Roberts stares steadfastly ahead of his tense beast. He was the type of 'hero soldier' that appealed to Rudyard Kipling, who wrote three poems in his honour

Field Marshal Earl Roberts statue looks out over Glasgow
Figures representing "War" and "Victory" are found front and back of the plinth, and the frieze around the sides shows Roberts leading infantry and cavalry divisions of Sikh, Gurkha and Highland regiments marching from Kabul to Kandahar. Below is a silent film of the Glasgow unveiling in 1916, shortly after his death. It is incorrectly labelled that his wife performed the unveiling, but it was actually performed by his daughter, Lady Roberts and the Earl of Derby.

The statue is a replica of the original which was erected in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1894, on a parade ground there. After independence the statue was removed, and now stands in an Artillary Centre in Nashik, in Maharashtra. Another copy of the statue was made in 1924 and stands on Horseguards' Parade in London. 

The original of the Earl Roberts statue, still in India (photo from TripAdvisor)
As you come and look around the plinth, the list of all his great achievements as commander of the British forces greets you. Eyebrows begin to be raised. Listed here are British Imperial campaigns to demonstrate his valour, but now looking at those place names it seems you can recognise too many of the world's ongoing, festering conflicts, ignited by British Imperial rule.

How to remember the past?

To tell the story of any of the Victorian worthies above is to tell the story of the British Empire. Even those not directly connected to for example, the slave trade, often earned their family wealth and position in society from the exploitation of others in the preceding generations. Whilst the Empire brought wealth and trade for some in Britain, it brought terror, oppression, exploitation and indentured servitude for many people, long after slavery had been nominally abolished. A quick search of "British Empire atrocities" brings up stories of Boer concentration camps, the Armritsar massacre, the crushing of the Iraqi revolution in the 1920s, the 10 million people displaced by the partitioning of India and exacerbation of the Irish famine to pick a few at random. None of these stories are remembered on our statues.

Looking at these Imperial statues today it is hard not to think of the sonnet by Percy Shelley, Ozymandias, where a crumbling statue tells you to gaze at the might of the ancient king. But as you look around, there is only hubris. Nothing remains of the mighty kingdom, and all the traveller can admire and be impressed by is the skill and craftsmanship of the sculptor who created the king's memorial.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command. 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I am not convinced that we benefit from crushing these statues to dust. Many of them seem to have lost any relevance to the modern city, and they portray a world that no longer exists. However our current world grew from our collective past and unless we study how we got here, it will be hard to see where we should go next. I would prefer that the statues remain, but are used to tell the stories of the past properly. I can think of many more deserving people who should be in that place of prominence above Glasgow occupied by Earl Roberts. However I would still like this fine statue to be placed somewhere that it can be used to tell the story of the people oppressed by those men that former generations placed upon these lofty pedestals. If we know them, we can look out for them in the present. Raise new statues to the great men and women of our cities that we don't learn about in school - the Mary Barbours, John MacLeans, the Calton Weavers who died in Scotland's first industrial strike, Helen Crawfurd, Robert Owen, Thomas Muir. Have a change from the usual Old Firm footballing statues with  Emma Clarke, the first black woman to play football for Scotland in 1881 or Scotland's first boxing world champion, Benny Lynch. The last of the literary figures immortalised in George Square died in 1844, I am sure we could update that. Perhaps with poet Marion Bernstein, or living legend, Tom Leonard.

This would be a better story to tell.

(1) - Glasgow Weekly Herald, 11 Oct 1913
(2) - Sunday Herald, Sept 9, 2017
Many of the details included here were taken from the fantastic book "Public Sculptures of Glasgow" by Ray McKenzie 2002.

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