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The Enslaved and the Great Western Railway

Friends, railwaymen and women,

I come not to bury the Great Western Railway

But to tell you of its provenance;

To tell you how the compensation

Given to owners of the enslaved,

Led to their railway investments

From that £20 million pounds

So generously given in 1834,

Nearly half the national budget for that year,

Billions and billions in today’s values.

The GWR:

God’s Wonderful Railway:

I do not come to bury you,

But to tell the following tale of everyday Bristol folk:

Thomas Daniel whose £70,000 and more compensation

For the very partial freedom gained

By over 2,500 enslaved owned by him as his property,

(That’s £86 million in today’s values) came in right handy,

For a line from London to Bristol;

Richard Bright – only £14 million per today, I know,

For his 640 enslaved,

But every little helps you become deputy chairman of the GWR;

George Gibbs, only £1million per today

(47 enslaved),

But a future director of the Great Western Railway;

Then there’s Henry Bush (114 enslaved),

whose £3 million in the hand,

Helped finance the Bristol to Gloucester line;

And, to almost conclude, let’s remember John Cave,

Another railway Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers,

But, also, Sheriff and Mayor.

But I choose to conclude with Christopher Claxton,

Zealous defender of the West Indian plantocracy,

Vigorous defender of enslavement and its triangles,

Close confiding colleague of Isambard Kingdom Brunel,

Out there, regarding the Clifton Suspension Bridge

And Brunel’s giant steamships;

‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;’

But not if we don’t know or are not told.

Written after reading From Wulfstan to Colston –

Severing the sinews of slavery in Bristol

Mark Steeds and Roger Ball Bristol Radical History Group


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