Our collections and slavery
Some Trust collections include objects made or owned by enslaved people. Tropical hardwoods such as mahogany were harvested using the labour of enslaved people, as evocatively depicted in the short film 'Mahogany' (directed by Zodwa Nyoni and produced by 24 Design in 2018). The film was commissioned by the National Trust at Nostell, West Yorkshire, to address the use of mahogany in their collection of furniture by Thomas Chippendale.
Some objects in National Trust collections depict black people in ways that stereotype them or that objectify black bodies. Some cause offence and distress.
Objects such as the West Indian potential slave collar owned by Charles Paget Wade are stark and distressing reminders of the violent oppression faced by enslaved people. Slavery is a subject that needs handling with the utmost care and sensitivity. We aim to work with and learn from partners and communities so we can redisplay and interpret these items appropriately, rather than historical contexts of decorative art or triumphal display.
Connections with trade and the East India Company
For 500 years British colonialism was fundamental to British social, economic, political and cultural life. This was allied with a belief in white racial and cultural superiority. This is reflected across many National Trust places and collections.
A number of properties and collections were owned or acquired by leading officials from the East India Company, the hugely powerful corporation which dominated trade between Europe, Asia and the Middle East between 1600 and 1857. The Company was instrumental in the East African slave trade and also traded enslaved people from the West Coast of Africa to its settlements in South and East Africa, India and Asia.
Thomas Myddelton (1550–1631), an MP and a Lord Mayor of London who bought Chirk Castle in 1593, was one of the founders of the East India Company, which received its charter from Elizabeth I on 31 December 1600.
The Clive family and the East India Company
In the 18th century, under Robert Clive (1725–74), the Company used its wealth and armies to forcibly invade and conquer the Indian subcontinent to exploit its rich natural resources. As well as creating the British Empire in India, this ensured that Clive became vastly wealthy, and in 1768 he spent around £100,000 remodelling the Claremont Estate in Surrey. Today, Claremont Garden is cared for by the National Trust.
Robert's son, Edward Clive (1754–1839) as Governor of Madras, bears responsibility for the defeat and death of Tipu Sultan (1750–99), the ruler of Mysore. Both Robert and Edward Clive’s colonial legacy can be seen today in a collection known as the ‘Clive Museum’ at Powis Castle.
Edward Clive’s son, also called Edward, inherited Powis when his maternal uncle, the Earl of Powis, died. The collection of Indian objects includes Tipu Sultan’s magnificent state tent and a gold and jewelled tiger’s head finial from his throne.