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A Virtual Tour of the Black and Asian Presence, 1500 - 1850

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Map of Westminster, London

Click on a red cross to explore the Black and Asian presence in Westminster.

Map of Westminster


1. Nelson's Column
2. St Martins-in-the-Fields
3. The burial place of Ignatius Sancho
4. Westminster Abbey
5. The Houses of Parliament St Martin-in-the-Fields Nelson's Column The Houses of Parliament Westminster Abbey The burial place of Ignatius Sancho


Sailor on Nelson's ColumnNelson's Column

This is a unique place to find evidence of the Black and Asian presence in British history. African, Caribbean and Asian sailors have made an important contribution to Britain’s rich maritime history. Many Black and Asian men have served in the armed forces, fighting and dying in many of Britain’s most celebrated military victories.

The Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 was Britain’s most famous naval victory but it resulted in the death of many including Vice Admiral Nelson. The Nelson monument was erected to commemorate this event but did you know that the crew of Nelson’s ship, HMS Victory, at the battle was multinational, with crew members from Britain, India, America, the West Indies, Malta, Italy and Africa?

On the left of the sculpture at the foot of the column, you can see a sailor of African appearance and holding a rifle next to the dying Nelson. Who is the sailor? What can we learn about the history of Britain’s Black and Asian presence by looking at this monument?

HMS Victory  muster roll - opens new window
document | transcript

It is possible to trace the names of men who served in the Royal Navy. Records held at The National Archives cover a wide range of maritime activity, from service and operation records to plans to appoint an Admiral’s housekeeper.

Here is an extract from the muster roll (essentially a crew list) for HMS Victory for the period including the Battle of Trafalgar. It shows a sailor who was born in Africa called George Ryan and proves that Africans fought for Britain at the Battle of Trafalgar. Is this the sailor we see on Nelson’s Column or in the paintings of the battle in the Walker Art Gallery (see Liverpool) and the Houses of Parliament?


St Martin-in-the-FieldsSt Martins-in-the-Fields

It is hard to imagine now but before Trafalgar Square was built, fields, mews and stables covered the area. Later, coffee shops existed here, where Asians and Africans were bought and sold.

Parish records give details of births, deaths and marriages in a certain parish over hundreds of years. They are a good way of proving that there was a significant Black and Asian presence in London stretching back some 500 years.

Burial of Margaret, a Moor - opens new window
document | transcript

Have a look at this document: it is a burial record for 1571 from the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields in the heart of London recording the interment of a woman called Margaret, a Moor. This is one of the earliest known references to a Black woman who lived in Britain.


The burial place of Ignatius Sancho

The burial palce of Ignatius SanchoIgnatius Sancho was one of London’s most celebrated African residents. He wrote plays, poetry, music and a book. His Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho was published in 1782, two years after the author’s death. It became an immediate best seller and was reprinted five times to deal with the demand.

Ignatius SanchoSancho was born on a slave ship and came to England as a servant, where he lived for 49 years. The Duke of Montagu spotted him, helping Sancho in his efforts to educate himself. After the duke died, Sancho became a butler to the Duchess of Montagu. On her death he was left an annuity of £30.

He married a West Indian woman and together they ran a grocer’s shop at number 19, Charles Street, Westminster. Sancho mixed with some of the most famous people of the time and his writing was used in the campaign against the slave trade. He was buried at St Margaret’s church in Broadway, Westminster. There is a small green there today, with some information about Sancho on a board.


Westminster Abbey

Westminster AbbeyInside the Abbey lie some of Britain’s most famous and celebrated figures. There are memorials here to Thomas Clarkson, who founded the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787; Granville Sharp, who defended Black slaves and servants in court and helped define Britain’s position on slavery in the famous ‘Somerset’ case of 1772; and William Wilberforce MP, who argued in Parliament from 1791 to 1807 for the abolition of Britain’s slave trade and from 1807 to 1833 for the abolition of slavery itself.


The memorials to William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson can be found in the nave of Westminster Abbey, whilst Granville Sharp’s memorial can be found in Poets' Corner.

Map of Westminster Abbey

Click on a red cross to see each memorial.
Map of Westminster Abbey



1. Granville Sharp
2. Thomas Clarkson
3. William Wilberforce



The memorial to Granville Sharp, the abolitionist campaigner against the slave trade who took up the cases of many Black servants and slaves in British courts.




Memorial to Granville Sharp

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The memorial to Thomas Clarkson, the anti-slavery campaigner and founder of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

It says "A friend to slaves Thomas Clarkson b. Wisbech 1760 ● 1846 d. Playford"



Memorial to Thomas Clarkson


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The memorial to William Wilberforce, the MP who campaigned tirelessly in Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery.



Memorial to William Wilberforceback to map of Abbey

Memorial to Granville Sharp Memorial to Thomas Clarkson Memorial to Willaim Wilberforce


The Houses of ParliamentThe Houses of Parliament

Inside the Royal Gallery of the Houses of Parliament, there are two large frescoes painted by Daniel Maclise between 1859 and 1864. One of the frescoes is of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. On the other wall of the gallery is a fresco of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

In the Trafalgar fresco, there are two Black figures. On the left is a Black man who is tending to the wounded on HMS Victory while close to Nelson is another pointing out a target to a sharpshooter, possibly the same sniper who had just shot Vice Admiral Nelson. Is this the same Black man who appears on Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square? (see Nelson’s Column)

There is a replica of this painting on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (see Liverpool).

'The Death of Nelson'

View details of the Black sailors in the painting

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