A Reflection on Black Lives Matter

Written by Louise Ryland-Epton

The campaign Black Lives Matter and discussion over the toppling of the statue of the slave trader, Edward Colston, has been in the news for some time. The issues raised have deep historical roots. Recently, I have been researching one of the most remembered residents of Bremhill, the poet Rev. William Lisle Bowles. In his youth, during the late eighteenth century, Bowles had written poems on social issues that included prison reform. However, his anti-slavery views were particularly intense. He returned to the subject again and again, in poems such as The African or The Sylph of Summer, in the years up to Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

Unfortunately, although the trade had been banned, slavery still legally existed within the British empire. It took another three decades for it to be eliminated by legislation. During that time, Bowles’s views did not change for ‘the inhuman system of slavery had ever been the object of his inexpressible detestation and abhorrence.’

On 1st November 1830, an anti-slavery meeting was held at Calne. At the meeting, Bowles called a fellow churchman, Rev. Money to take the chair, but he then made an ‘eloquent and animated address’ to the assembly which was ‘listened to with profound attention.’ The periodical, the Anti-Slavery Reporter, thought Bowles’s speech had been ‘most impressive’, although its exact content has, unfortunately, been lost. The meeting was a complete success. It ended with a petition being raised against slavery ‘from the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Calne.’ It was later presented to the House of Lords, by Bowles’s friend and Lord of the Manor of Bremhill, the Marquis of Lansdowne.

The feelings of Bremhill’s vicar were also felt by increasing numbers of people around the country. Many meetings and petitions took place across Britain, and three years later, political pressure became overwhelming, and slavery was finally abolished by law.

It is sad that although so much has changed, many of the underlying issues remain, discontent is still expressed in literature and meetings still take place, petitions are still raised, and the subject is still being discussed in parliament.

Sources: HJ Vol. 63, 41; The Anti-Slavery Reporter Vol. 4 (1832), 67; Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Thursday 4 November 1830, Thursday 11 November, 1830.