Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

It’s a pleasure to be able to share our thoughts as a Youth Leadership Network on Amgueddfa Cymru's platform. The SSAP Youth Leadership Network is the youth arm of the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel. It constitutes a group of highly driven and critical young leaders from diverse backgrounds.

In our last meeting, we hosted a discussion on the topical issue of statues and paintings that relate to British colonial history, particularly those of Thomas Picton here in Wales. The session was chaired by Dr. Sarah Younan from National Museum Cardiff. We were joined by the highly esteemed comparative sociologist educator Abu Bakr Madden Al Shabazz, Dr. Douglas Jones from the National Library of Wales and the Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru, David Anderson. A noteworthy and recommended resource used here is James Epstein's “Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon” in the American Historical Review.

The following are excerpts from the discussion including key events in the history of Picton: the slavocracy he was responsible for as governor of Trinidad, his well-known trial for accusations of misconduct abroad (involving the torture of Louisa Calderon) and thereafter, his deployment to Spain, death at Waterloo and posthumous honorary tributes in the form of statues, paintings, and some literary works.

Who was Thomas Picton?

Picton was commissioned in 1771, and was, according to the description on his portrait by Sir Martin Archer in the National Museum Wales collections, "a controversial governor of Trinidad in 1797-1803". The details of the said controversy are well illustrated in his trial for inflicting torture on Louisa Calderon (The Trial of Governor T. Picton for Inflicting the Torture on Louisa Calderon a Free Mulatto and one of His Britannic Majesty’s Subjects in the Island of Trinidad, (London, 1806)).

The trial of Picton

To sum up the details of the trial, a cause célèbre at the time, we turned to the blog by Dr. Jones for the National Library of Wales. In 1806, Picton was called to a trial at the King's Bench following his authoritarian and brutal rule in Trinidad. The accusation leveled against him was signing off an order for torture at the request of a highly influential planter, Begorrat, a planter also responsible for the execution of a dozen slaves at the time of the torture in question. Several things made this torture notable, not least amongst which are the following facts. It was the torture of a 14-year-old freed girl. It was the first trial for misconduct of an official in the execution duties while in service abroad. And, as Willian Garrow, the lead prosecutor, noted at the trial, it was the first time torture had been used officially in Trinidad.

While the details of the case are unique, its nature is ubiquitous, the misconduct of a high official under the influence of highly influential personnel, devoid of moral courage, and hidden away using technical legalities. This is how Picton was found guilty at the initial trial, but would 2 years later find himself never to be sentenced. In fact, he would go on to serve the British empire in Spain and would end up as the highest-ranking official to die at Waterloo, eventually being buried in St Paul's Cathedral a national hero. His public exoneration was about as swift and inexplicable as this outlined turnaround of events. 

Depicting Picton Today

Today, he has a statue honouring his memory in Cardiff City Hall among the heroes of Wales, a portrait in National Museum Cardiff, and an obelisk in Carmarthen.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing in all this is how the majority of us have become complicit in the obliteration of the history and memory of that free Mulata girl, Louisa Calderon. Instead, we have willingly or unwillingly contributed to the ever-growing memory of Sir Thomas Picton, as polarising as it has always been.  By obliterating the memory of Louisa Calderon, we have severely distorted our collective view of the big man. And readily, we have reduced Louisa to a single case, a stain in both the history of Picton, and British colonial history, a stain which regrettably many have washed away in a falsified sense of pride in the man.

If we attempt to reconfigure this distorted view of Picton to what we know was the more complete form of the man, many will be offended. They have every right to be, because many of them were lied to. They were never afforded the chance to make their own true and more complete judgement of the man. But they must take this offense, the rage at the sense of betrayal, and rightly turn it to the overdue redress. And now is the opportune time to do that.

The leadership panel suggests a number of ways in which this is possible

Suggestions for moving forward

The first and unquestioned is the removal and resituating of the current statues and paintings. The purpose of this is not to remove figures like him from history, but rather to put them in a contextualized environment, where their complete history can be more truthfully and completely told. This will allow our present-day collective memory of such figures to be rid of the bias that's been wrought by failure to tell their histories in the proper colonial context and in environments that allow all members of the public to digest this history.

Secondly, and an extension to the first recommendation, is multi-level education across different institutions responsible for public and private education. Notably, the attempts to re-educate the public should not place sole importance on the humanities but must make an honest attempt to diversify the contents of curricular in subjects such as the sciences.

We encourage members of the public to take an active role in engaging in the public discourse on the future of such statues, monuments, and memorabilia. These should not reflect the views of the elite few, but the public.

Our work with young people at Amgueddfa Cymru is part of the Hands on Heritage initiative kindly supported by the National Heritage Lottery’s Kick the Dust fund  - changing perspectives on heritage with the help of young people.

Pan ddechreuodd Sain Ffagan gynllunio’r project hwn gyda staff y Brifysgol, doedd dim sôn am Covid-19. A dyma ni nawr ynghanol ‘Y Meudwyo Mawr’, yn gofidio am ein hiechyd, ein bywoliaeth a’n dyfodol. Mor rhwydd y gall bywyd droi wyneb i waered! Ac fe ŵyr ffoaduriaid hynny’n well na neb. Digon hawdd meddwl nad yw’r hyn sy’n digwydd mewn gwlad bell yn ddim i wneud â ni yng Nghymru. Gwers Covid-19 yw ein bod ni, yn ein milltir sgwâr, yn rhan annatod o fyd sy’n fwy. 

Credaf yn gryf iawn mai hanfod amgueddfa fel Sain Ffagan yw’r egwyddor fod hanes pawb yn bwysig. Mae pob un ohonom yn cyfrif, beth bynnag fo’n cefndir. Mae hawl gan bawb i lais, i fywyd rhydd a diogel, a chael parch gan eraill. Nid dweud stori’r bobl fawr yw pwrpas yr amgueddfa, ond cofnodi a deall cyfraniad pawb i’n hanes. Mae Cymru yn ystyried ei hun yn wlad groesawgar, barod ei chymwynas. Mae’r hunan-ddelwedd honno’n rhan o’n hunaniaeth fel cenedl. Ond pa mor wir yw hynny? Beth gallwn ni ddysgu am ein hunain a’n lle yn y byd trwy wrando ar dystiolaeth y ffoaduriaid sydd wedi ceisio am loches yn ein plith? Ac i ba raddau ydyn ni’n deall, mewn gwirionedd, cymhellion ac ofnau’r ffoaduriaid hynny? Sut mae esmwytho eu ffordd tuag at deimlo eu bod yn perthyn?

Mae’r bartneriaeth rhwng y Brifysgol a’r Amgueddfa yn ein galluogi i gyflawni sawl peth. Gwaith y Brifysgol yw gwneud yr ymchwil dadansoddol manwl fydd yn dylanwadu, gobeithio, ar benderfyniadau a pholisiau gwleidyddol. Cyfrifoldeb yr Amgueddfa yw diogelu tystiolaeth lafar y ffoaduriaid ar gyfer yr oesoedd a ddêl, ond hefyd creu cyfleoedd iddynt gyflwyno eu profiadau a’u gobeithion i eraill. ‘Lloches ein hanes ni’ yw Sain Ffagan, ond mae rhoi lloches hefyd yn rhan o’n hanes ni ac yn haeddu sylw.

Gwyliwch allan felly am ddigwyddiadau yn Sain Ffagan sy’n ymwneud â phrosiect Ffoaduriaid Cymru. Yn y byd ansicr sydd ohoni, anodd yw rhagweld pa fath o ddigwyddiadau fyddan nhw. Rhaid i ni gyd bellach fod yn barod i ddelio gydag ansicrwydd. Mae ffoaduriaid wedi bod trwy brofiadau na fydd y rhan fwyaf ohonom yn wynebu byth. Mae gennym lawer i’w ddysgu ganddynt.

A month has now passed since we launched our digital Collecting Covid questionnaire asking individuals, communities and organisations from across Wales to document their personal experiences of living through the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time of writing, we have received over 800 responses, with the numbers steadily increasing each day. The reflective style of the questions allow people to voice their emotions and feelings, as well as their hopes and fears for the future. We are receiving deeply moving accounts of loss and trauma, anxiety and loneliness, alongside stories of community resilience and kindness. The following quotations give a flavour of the responses we have received so far.

There is a sadness throughout all of this. Most days I cry whether it is the news, TV programme, seeing images of lots of people at restaurants or pubs… Sometimes I think maybe some good will come out if it. There are more birds singing, the sky is clear of planes, the air is fresher. Maybe school classes being smaller is no bad thing. But then you remember the death toll. Remember when we could touch and embrace others? It seems like an age ago.

Maria, Cardiff

My feelings are generally much darker these days. There's not much to look forward to or plan for the way we used to. No one knows when the world will go back to a more normal state so there's not much point planning for things. At the same time though, it’s been nice to have time together at home with my family; between work, school and everyday things, it used to be much rarer.

Alison, Caerphilly

Being stuck indoors with same family members and trying not to take out frustrations with them. Balancing the budget as far more expensive when restricted to online shopping than previous experience. Lack of sleep due to worrying about money and whether any of us get ill as all have some degree of immune compromise and various other chronic health conditions.

Anonymous, Cardiff

My neighbours are mostly widows like myself and they are only a phone call away. It's been nice to see and wave at everyone on the Thursday evening clap for the NHS. Other neighbouring families have offered help with shopping etc. Everyone has been kind.

Margaret, Denbighshire

I think we have gotten to know our neighbours during this time, helping others, giving others your time to listen to their fears, knowing this won't last forever, & hopefully being better people in the long run.

Dette, Caerphilly

It's a once in a lifetime event, and all I hope is that when this is all over, the world does not go back to normal, but changes for the better.

Chloe, Aberfan

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has contributed to the project to-date. By sharing your experiences so honestly, you are helping us to build an archive that will provide future generations with an incredible insight into the realities of living through COVID-19 in Wales.

 

 

 

If you ask the right questions and listen carefully, there is no one who does not have an interesting story to tell. I grew up on stories of my mother’s younger years and the home front in World War Two. Family friends would come every weekend to Saturday tea or Sunday lunch and conversation would often revolve around memories of nursing during the war, bringing alive everyday life in ways history books seldom do. 

Decades later when I was involved in an oral history project on Cardiff Docklands in World War Two, I heard very different stories of life during the war from people who grew up and lived in Tiger Bay. These stories remain important in retelling the history of Wales and the UK in a more inclusive way. They illuminate the positive contributions made by minorities, despite day-to-day and institutional racism. Similar issues came to the fore again in the UK last year with the Windrush scandal and they are currently being raised by Covid19.

Life stories are an engaging and accessible way of getting to know more about the many people in Wales today who have settled here after escaping war and violence in their home countries. Telling one’s story can be both difficult and life affirming. Listening to refugee stories cuts through the empathy fatigue and indifference produced by 24-hour news. Individual stories tell us how it feels to become a refugee, to lose one’s home and the life one has known, to have to deal with a traumatic past and an uncertain future. They throw light on the many obstacles to creating a new life in an unfamiliar environment. They also reveal the positive contributions that refugees make to Wales today and how we can help smooth the process of settling in, both via social policy and in everyday life. Our partnership with the National Museum means that these stories will become a permanent part of the history of contemporary Wales. 

Knowing more about the lives of others is enriching and important in shaping the sort of society in which we wish to live. My hopes for this project are that it will attract community support and help improve current and future refugee experience. It aims to give participants a sense of agency and ownership and to prove a positive experience for all involved. 

https://refugee.wales

In 2016 I received a phone call from Nichola Thomas. She had a son, Rhys, who would love to volunteer at the museum. He was seventeen and in college part-time and he was autistic.

We decided to meet Rhys and Nichola to find out what his interests were and how he could help out in the museum.

Rhys was quite shy at first and didn’t say much, but took everything in. We worked out a plan that he could come for two hours every Wednesday from eleven o’clock until one o’clock. Rhys would help me with a ‘handling object’ table and we would encourage visitors to hold objects from the 1950s, 60s and 70s and talk about their memories or just learn about the objects. Things like ‘Green Shield Stamps’, cigarette coupons, old electrical items and old tools.

Now, most of the staff at the museum had little or no understanding of autism. One lady, Suzanne, has an autistic son and she could explain things like how to interact with Rhys. We all felt we should be better informed, so all the staff were offered ‘autism awareness’ training. I think everybody signed up.

The training really opened our eyes to the world of autism. One huge point that came out of the training was that many organisations have a ‘chill-out’ space. This is for anyone who is feeling anxious or stressed or just needs to get away from the hustle and bustle. We decided we needed something like this at the museum.

National Waterfront Museum Volunteer Rhys Thomas in one of the Museum's electric vehicle exhibits 

By now Rhys had really started to enjoy his time at ‘work’. Everybody noticed a real transformation as he became more outgoing and less shy and regularly starting conversations with complete strangers. We asked Rhys to help us with the design of the ‘Chill-out’ Room. He came into his own, making great recommendations and also being our spokesperson about what we were trying to achieve. He even made a number of radio appearances on the Wynne Evans show.

Rhys became such a favourite on the show that he invited  Wynne to come and officially open our ‘Chill-out’ room.

Rhys is full-time in college now so can only volunteer at the museum during holidays. We always love to see him and he really adds something to our team. Our ‘chill-out’ room is a total success and is used daily.