News

Public to have say on future of HM Stanley statue after calls for it to be removed

27 Jul 2021 3 minutes Read
H M Stanley statue in Denbigh. Picture by Jeff Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter

A public consultation on the hotly debated future of a statue some would like to see destroyed is set to take place more than a year after it was promised.

Denbigh’s tribute to explorer Henry Morton Stanley, fashioned in bronze by artist Nick Elphick, became the subject of protests sparked by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year, with activists calling for it to be removed.

Denbigh town council, which commissioned the piece, held a meeting in June 2020 to discuss its future.

Members voted 6-5 to keep it in lieu of a public consultation on whether to retain it long-term or move it from the wider public’s gaze.

Mayor at the time of the debate, Cllr Gaynor Wood-Tickle, promised people in Denbigh a “democratic vote” and full public consultation on the matter.

Now current mayor, Cllr Rhys Thomas, has confirmed the consultation will go ahead (Covid permitting) in October.

He said: “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 so members of the public can come along and we can ballot how people feel about it all.”

Journalist and explorer HM Stanley is synonymous with the phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume”, after finding the Scottish explorer who had been lost in central Africa.

‘Embellishment’ 

However some historians thought this was a typical embellishment by a man born poor but who wanted to impress his rich paymasters.

Stanley, born John Rowlands, started life fatherless in Denbigh in 1841 and was put into the Asaph workhouse in nearby St Asaph.

He emigrated to the United States as a teenager, where he reinvented himself.

He fought in the American Civil war, became a journalist and then a noted explorer – finding the source of the Nile, mapping central Africa’s Great Lakes and also the borders of the present day Democratic Republic of Congo.

Stanley is controversial to some because of links with Belgian King Leopold II, for whom he worked for a time and his own alleged treatment of indigenous workers and guides.

The monarch committed acts of appalling inhumanity against the population of the Congo Free State – now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However his supporters say Stanley was not working for the Belgian despot when the atrocities occurred and he has been unfairly tainted.

It is true to say there are differing assessments of Stanley’s treatment of African guides and workers he took with him on his expeditions.

In DR Congo Stanley is revered by many people and is known as “Bula Matadi” which means “Breaker of Rocks”.

He founded the capital Kinshasa and the country’s third largest city Kingani (formerly Stanleyville).

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David
David
1 month ago

All these atrocities were carried out under the flag of the UK. Should the Union flag then be removed from ALL buildings etc. in the country?

Glynwyn
Glynwyn
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Yes. That’d be lovely.

Notta Bott
Notta Bott
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Yes please, I rip down as many as I can get close to, do my job for me

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Perhaps we can make all union jacks out of a special highly flammable material to make it easier to burn them.

Chris
Chris
1 month ago

As a general rule I am not a fan of statues memorialising posh people and politicians full stop. But I acknowledge there are other views. Regarding Stanley, if he were a slaver (or a racist despot like Cecil Rhodes), I’d say yes, bin it. But there seems to be a lot of hearsay about this one. I don’t know much about him, but based on the above, I think this is case not proven. Hopefully there will be a reasonable discussion and a broadly popular reasonable decision taken. I don’t hold out much hope for this, although I hope the… Read more »

defaid
defaid
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

I doubt that lot would have heard of Stanley:

‘Who said, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”‘

‘Duuhhh. David Livingstone?’

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  defaid

I think his point is that he doesn’t know a lot about what he did other than the famous quote. I’ve heard the quote but to be honest I know very little about him.

david thomas
david thomas
1 month ago

no doubt the woke mob will be out in force peddling their very one sided argument of why its should be removed. Anyone really interested would read Stanley’s own account of his journey through tanzania, rwanda and the congo a fascinating account of the country and the tribes he encounters. far from being racist he praises many of the groups he meets and the communities they’ve developed especially in uganda. He also criticises others for their what he regarded through his eyes and at the time as their brutality, tribalism and exploitation of neighbouring tribes who they dominated. But i… Read more »

defaid
defaid
1 month ago
Reply to  david thomas

Haters gonna hate.

I agree with you that Stanley should be remembered kindly. He was a child of his time and that context is all that’s needed. Were he a 21st century man, I think he’d be very different.

There are plenty of other statues commemorating the morally questionnable, who would be just the same today, that should be removed. Even so, I don’t think they should be destroyed: just moved to museums where a fuller explanation can be provided of why their behaviour was wrong.

William Habib Steele
William Habib Steele
1 month ago

I think it would honour history if the statue were place in a museum with information about the context of Stanley’s life and the creation of the statue.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

Certainly some use has to be made of these artifacts. Statues of people with a patchy, mixed or downright bad track record should be displayed prominently, perhaps in their original locations with information boards alongside. Even the ultimate bad guy, Picton, would merit a good word for his contribution to the defeat of Napoleon unless one wanted France to conquer Europe in the early 19th century. The main body of his text would however detail his contribution to the savagery of the slave system in various British colonies. The alternative is a downright denial by elimination, an erasure of history,… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
1 month ago

People should decide by referendum, or “hands vote” at a mass meeting.
Referendums also on LGBT classes in schools, capital punushment, etc.

CapM
CapM
1 month ago

When the Stanley statue went up a decade ago it was an anachronism. I can’t help but think that the statue has brought next to no benefit to the town and a lot of unwanted attention and division. Stanley was an extraordinary person and the events he was involved in had repercussions for millions then and now. As has been said the statue should be in a ‘museum’. That ‘museum’ should present, question and discuss both him and the wider issue of empires, exploitation etc. Hopefully the consultation will explore options like this rather than simply whether the statue should… Read more »

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
1 month ago

My ‘understanding’ is that Stanley was ashamed of his roots and childhood in north Wales and spent his life trying to prove he was better than an illegitimate, abandoned, inmate of a work house who was abused by the school headmaster. He was a damaged individual from birth. Denbigh claiming him as one of its success stories, by erecting a statue in his honour, seems a bit desperate to me. He became a famous man by getting as far away from Denbigh and Wales/England as he could! If he did commit many atrocities (which isn’t proven) then it would be… Read more »

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