Sir Henry Morton Stanley statue could be pulled down after BLM protests

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Welsh explorer and journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley and, right, his statue in Denbigh
Welsh explorer and journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley and, right, his statue in Denbigh

Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s hometown statue could be pulled down, with the public asked for their views on the British colonial explorer targeted by Black Lives Matter protests.

He supposedly uttered his famous phrase "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" after finding the Scottish missionary on one of many missions in Africa, where he solved geographic mysteries and hunted the source of the Nile.

But the Welsh explorer honoured with a statue in his hometown of Denbigh is also accused of serving the brutal Belgian colonial regime and mistreating his African workers.

The future of Stanley’s statue is now in doubt after it was confirmed that the public will help decide whether it should remain or be removed.

The announcement of a consultation follows widespread calls to remove the monument following Black Lives Matter protests last year.

Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s hometown statue
Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s hometown statue

A petition which garnered 7,000 signatures referred to Stanley’s "excessive violence, wanton destruction, the selling of labourers into slavery and shooting Africans indiscriminately".

The town council had voted 6-5 in June 2020 to maintain the monument pending public consultation, but after a long reprieve the future of Stanley’s statue’s is once again uncertain.

Denbigh mayor Rhys Thomas explained: “Members of the public can come along and we can ballot how people feel about it all.”

He added: “It would have happened by now but for all the complications with Covid. Last time this was discussed by Denbigh town council there was a sub-committee putting together a consultation, with information.

“There will be a public consultation, possibly over a couple of days, at the town hall. We are hoping to do the groundwork for this in September.”

The statue was unveiled in 2011 after being created by artist Nick Elphick, who claims he was subjected to abuse in June 2020 when the sculpture was pushed to the centre of a row about Stanley’s alleged racism.

Stanley pioneered the exploration of the future Congo Free State as an agent of Belgian King Leopold II, whose regime inflicted atrocities on the local population in the pursuit of rubber and other commodities

A petition described his statue as “an insult to African people” and called for its removal, a call backed by Bishop Gregory Cameron in the local Diocese of St Asaph.

It is possible the statue could be removed, with Denbigh councillor Rob Parkes saying last year that “the vast majority of emails I've had have been against keeping the statue”.

He added at the time: "The eyes of the world are on us and it's vitally important we make the right decision."

The statue has been controversial since plans for the £30,000 work were announced in 2010, with poet Benjamin Zephaniah leading calls for the project to be abandoned

An open letter signed by writer Jan Morris stated: "We call on the people of Denbigh not to erect any statue to 'honour' the imperialist HM Stanley.

"A statue would convey uncritical approval and celebration of all aspects of Stanley - something not possible for such a controversial figure today.”

The legacy of Stanley - born John Rowlands - has been much debated, with his accounts of his treatment of African porters and other workers varying from respect for their abilities to brutality.

Stanley helped claim the Congo for Leopold II, whose regime incentivised the chopping off of hands, but some have claimed he opposed the brutal policies of the Belgian monarch.

Other accounts, including by fellow explorer Sir Richard Burton, state that Stanley shot at the local black population.

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