British Museum bosses remove bust of founder over his links to slavery

British Museum bosses remove bust of founder over his links to slavery

August 25, 2020

British Museum bosses remove bust of its founder Sir Hans Sloane over his links to slavery

  • Bust of Sir Hans Sloane moved to a display alongside other related artefacts
  • The display will explain his legacy in the ‘exploitative context of the British Empire’
  • Sloane has been described as a ‘collector and slave owner’ in the display
  • His 71,000 artefacts became the starting point of the British Museum  

The British Museum has removed a bust of its founder from a pedestal and labelled him a ‘slave owner’.

The effigy of Sir Hans Sloane will now be housed in a display alongside artefacts that explain his legacy in the ‘exploitative context of the British Empire’, curators said.

Sloane, whose 71,000 artefacts became the starting point of the British Museum after he left them to the state in his will, funded his collecting through his wife’s family’s sugar plantation. Sloane Square in London is also named after him.

The British Museum has removed a bust of its founder, Sir Hans Sloane, (pictured) from a pedestal and labelled him a ‘slave owner’

The bust now sits as part of a display which explains his work as a ‘collector [and] slave owner’.

The museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, said the institution had deliberately ‘pushed him off the pedestal’. Mr Fischer added: ‘We must not hide anything. Healing is knowledge.’

The move is part of an overhaul of the museum’s collections to acknowledge its links to slavery and colonialism that will eventually involve ‘redisplaying the whole British Museum’.

Other artefacts, such as those taken by Captain James Cook on his voyages, will be labelled to show they were acquired through ‘colonial conquest and military looting’.

Mr Fischer told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Dedication to truthfulness when it comes to history is absolutely crucial, with the aim to rewrite our shared, complicated and, at times, very painful history. The case dedicated to Hans Sloane and his relationship to slavery is a very important step in this.

‘The British Museum has done a lot of work – accelerated and enlarged its work on its own history, the history of empire, the history of colonialism, and also of slavery.’

Neal Spencer, the curator behind the Sloane display, said the Black Lives Matter movement had provided ‘a certain level of urgency’ to the overhaul. 

He added: ‘We want to be upfront about Sloane’s collection being at the root of the British Museum.’

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