Wisbech Museum lends Thomas Clarkson’s campaign chest to Cambridge Festival exhibit
The campaign chest of local slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, preserved by the Wisbech and the Fenland Museum, forms the basis of a fascinating virtual exhibition which opens tomorrow (Friday).
The launch of Slavery and Abolition: Collections Uncovered as part of the new Cambridge Festival will be followed by an online panel discussion on Saturday that will examine the issues it raises and its relevance today.
The exhibition marks a first collaboration between the Wisbech Museum and the library at St John’s College, Cambridge, where, as an undergraduate student, Clarkson researched the transatlantic slave trade to write his famous anti- Award-winning slaver of 1785.
Sarah Coleman, the museum’s project manager, said: “ It’s great for Wisbech to participate in the Festival this year and to be able to digitally lend Clarkson’s Campaign Chest and two hugely important campaign letters to this exhibit. ”
The exhibition was originally intended to be staged in the old college library.
College Library Special Collections Assistant Dr Adam Crothers said: “We hope that having the opportunity to listen to knowledgeable people will respond to the exhibit and take into account the contemporary relevance of the material in the exhibition. Saturday’s roundtable will add a valuable dimension.
Thomas Clarkson was so horrified by what he learned about slavery that he formed a movement with like-minded abolitionists and began to collect the cruel instruments of trade such as branding irons, shackles for legs and thumbscrews, as well as African crafts and other goods that could be traded with the continent rather than with human beings. These are the materials in the specially designed trunk he carried to Britain during his campaign of a lifetime.
Clarkson also interviewed thousands of sailors in Britain’s ports, collecting written evidence about the cruelty of the slave trade.
His personal letters, diaries, essays and personal papers from the college library’s special collection will make up the remainder of the exhibit, along with a selection of correspondence from the Jamaican estates of slave owner William Perrin, recently acquired by the college library.
Clarkson was instrumental in persuading St John’s College alumnus William Wilberforce to become the parliamentary spokesperson for the abolitionist movement which has been backed by thousands of petition signatures collected across Britain.
Clarkson’s permanent mission, along with the campaigns of black abolitionists and slave rebellions in the British Caribbean colonies, succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in 1807 and ultimately slavery itself in all British colonies.
Dr Crothers added: “Abolitionists like Clarkson and Wilberforce have accomplished a great deal, as have black abolitionists and slaves who rebelled, but it is saddening to reflect on how far they have come since.”
The exhibition can be viewed free online from Friday March 26 on the St John’s College website – follow this link: https://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/online-exhibitions
The pre-recorded panel discussion will be available free of charge – no registration required – from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday March 27 via the Cambridge Festival website: //www.festival.cam.ac.uk/events/ slavery-and-abolition -collections-discoveries