William Gladstone’s family’s apology comes as many Guyanese descendants of African slaves have demanded redress.
The family of former British Prime Minister William Gladstone on Friday apologized for their family’s history as slaveholders in Guyana, as descendants of slaves demanded redress.
William’s father, John, was one of the largest slaveholders in the parts of the Caribbean colonized by Britain. He is also believed to have owned two ships that transported thousands of Asians from India and elsewhere to work as indentured laborers after the abolition of slavery in 1834.
“Slavery was a crime against humanity and its harmful effects continue to be felt around the world today,” said Charles Gladstone, William’s great-great-grandson, at an opening of the University of Guyana’s International Center for Migration and Diaspora Studies.
“It is with deep shame and regret that we acknowledge our ancestor’s involvement in this crime and offer our sincere apologies to the descendants of the enslaved in Guyana,” he added.
“We also call on other descendants of those who benefited from slavery to open conversations about the crimes of their ancestors and what they can do to build a better future.”
The Gladstones also apologized for their role in indentureship – which tied workers to their employers.
Charles Gladstone, a descendant of former plantation owner John Gladstone, issued an apology on Friday on behalf of the Gladstone family at Georgetown University in Georgetown, Guyana. [Chris Leung/AP Photo]But his words were sharply rebuked by several Guyanese descendants of African slaves present in the university lecture hall.
“This will not be accepted,” one of them shouted.
The protesters held placards that read: “Your guilt is real Charlie. Now make amends quickly.” and “The Gladstones are killers.”
Afro-Guyanese activist Nicole Cole, who was among the protesters, said the apology was inadequate.
“No apology can be enough, but it is a step towards acknowledging that a crime has been committed and people’s lives have been affected,” she told AFP.
Charles Gladstone and five other family members pledged to support the work of the new university department and urged the UK to hold talks with the 15-strong Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on reparations.
Along with a “sincere formal apology,” the right to repatriation of the descendants of “stolen people,” and debt relief to clean up “colonial chaos,” CARICOM seeks a development program for its member states’ indigenous communities and funding for cultural institutions such as slavery museums .
Eric Phillips, a member of the CARICOM reparations commission, said investigations had found that the British owed more than $1.2 trillion to the descendants of Africans in Guyana.
Charles Gladstone told AFP that while he could not comment on the actual amounts of money, the UK and governments in Europe may be “fearful of the amount”.
Meanwhile, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali on Thursday criticized the descendants of European slave traders, saying those who benefited from the cruel transatlantic slave trade should offer reparations to present-day generations.
The leader of the South American country also proposed posthumously indicting those involved in the slave trade for crimes against humanity.
“The Descendants of John Gladstone must also now present their plan of action in line with the CARICOM plan for restorative justice for slavery and treaties,” Ali said.
People attend the inauguration of the Center for Migration and Diaspora Studies at the University of Guyana in Georgetown on August 25, 2023. [Keno George/AFP]