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Letters: Black navy history

It is tremendous that there is now such an extravagantly rigged memorial to Britain's multicultural presence in Trafalgar Square, in Yinka Shonibare's HMS Victory in a bottle (Report, 25 May). In all the commentary on the memorial, however, its full historical resonances have been missed.

The navy in Nelson's time was far from a monoglot, ethnically white force. For instance, the roster on Nelson's own ship showed nine West Indian and one African sailor, and it has been estimated that at the battle of Trafalgar around 20% of the sailors were non-white.

Black figures such as the Cato Street conspirator William Davidson, the early anarchist Robert Wedderburn and the most famous black Briton of the 18th century, Olaudah Equiano, all served in the navy. As Nelson surveys the square, he is now brought face to face with this black presence by a memorial that wonderfully evokes this hidden history.

Dr Alan Rice

University of Central Lancashire © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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