Last Updated on Saturday, 19 August 2023, 15:38 by Denis Chabrol
As part of the University of Guyana’s launch of its International Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, family members of John Gladstone, who had owned enslaved Africans in Guyana, will be here next week to apologise for their ancestor’s role in that most dehumanising period of world history.
John Gladstone was the father of four-time British Prime Minister William Gladstone.
“The Gladstone family, which includes several historians have today confirmed that they will in fact offer an apology given the role their ancestors had played here,” the University of Guyana said in a statement on Saturday.
In collaboration with the National Reparations Committee and Heirs of Slavery, a group that includes the Gladstones, the International Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies is slated to be launched on Friday August 25, 2023 in the George Walcott Lecture Theatre of the Turkeyen Campus, in Georgetown, Guyana, from 8:30 AM to 11 AM. The University and Reparations Committee say they have specially invited and continued to invite several elders, the Guyana reparations Committee and other groups, students and senior potentates to witness receive the formal apology at the short formal ceremony, UG says.
The Diaspora and Migration Centre is set up to pursue five specific areas of research interest including Diaspora and Migration in and around Academia, Youth, Technology and Vulnerable communities, Indigeneity, Indentureship and Slavery as specific and integral aspects of dispersion.
“The research track for Slavery and indentureship is the reason why it was deemed appropriate to launch the Diaspora and Migration Centre (MiDias) in this historically auspicious month in regard to the emancipation of enslaved peoples as well as the 200th anniversary of the 1823 slave revolution in Demerara,” UG added.
The UK Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday that as well as making an official apology for John Gladstone’s ownership of Africans, the 21st-century Gladstones have agreed to pay reparations to fund further research into the impact of slavery. The Gladstone family plans to apologise at the launch of the University of Guyana’s International Institute for Migration and Diaspora Studies, which they are helping to fund with a grant of £100,000. However, a senior UG policymaker told Demerara Waves Online News on Saturday that, “we did not discuss a quantum …we discussed support for various possible projects.”
That newspaper also reports that John Gladstone was the fifth-largest beneficiary of the £20 million fund (about £16 billion today) set aside by the British government to compensate planters when the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833.
The University says it has been collaborating for several years with several Universities and the Guyana Reparations Committee on specific aspects of impacts of the plantations’ enterprise of slavery and indenture as well as indigeneity on native populations, including relations being experienced today.
According to that publicly funded tertiary institution, as such UG and the Guyana Reparations Committee invited members of the Gladstone family, part of a heirs of slavery grouping to participate in the event since Quamina and his son John, who led the 1823 rebellions were enslaved on Gladstone plantations.
John Gladstone owned or held mortgages over 2,508 enslaved Africans in Guyana and Jamaica. After emancipation he was paid nearly £106,000, a huge sum at the time. The Demerara rebellion in August 1823 began on one of his plantations. It was led by Jack Gladstone, an enslaved man forced to take his owner’s name, and his father, Quamina, who had been transported from Africa as a child.
About 13,000 Africans rose up in Demerara, a British colony that later became part of Guyana. Conditions for the enslaved were particularly brutal there. The plantations were the most profitable in the British empire, with an enslaved person in Demerara worth twice that of one in Jamaica.
More than 250 enslaved Africans were killed and a further 51 sentenced to death when the uprising was crushed. Many of the convicted were tortured, decapitated and had their heads impaled on poles as a warning to others. Quamina’s body was hung in chains outside one of John Gladstone’s plantations.
After the formal ceremony at the University of Guyana, the moment will be marked by an inter-generational dialogue between University of Guyana students and youthful members of the Gladstone family, a linking of the University of Guyana Library with digital archives of the Council of World Missions and an exhibition of scholarly work throughout the day on the subject matter.
The public is invited to attend virtually or in person. For Virtual registration please use this:
The Guyana Reparations Committee also has a series of events and conversations to mark this occasion,
including a church service.