Lord Nelson’s statue – Bridgetown, Barbados

Lord Nelson’s statue – Bridgetown

The statue of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson in Barbados was unveiled in Bridgetown on 22nd March 1813.  It was sculpted from bronze by Sir Richard Westmacott.  It is considered an excellent likeness of the British Admiral.

Very soon after his victory and subsequent death at Cape Trafalgar in 1805, plans were made in Barbados to honour Horatio Nelson’s memory.

His popularity came because Bajan planters and merchants were very grateful and relieved not to become a French West Indian colony, which would have been the alternative if Admiral Horatio Nelson had not gained victory for the British off Cape Trafalgar on the southern coast of Spain. This battle was the most decisive naval victory of the wars, ensuring British naval supremacy during the rest of the Napoleon Wars. It was also important for trade routes from Britain to Barbados.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on 21st October 1805, and was considered the most famous naval battle in history, and was where the Royal Navy led by Admiral Nelson devastated Napoleon’s combined Spanish and French fleet.

To show appreciation, a memorial service was held on 5th January 1806 at the St. Michael’s Parish Church (now St. Michael’s Cathedral), and within days Bajans were raising funds for a memorial statue. They then purchased the statue and land, naming it Trafalgar Square, paying tribute to the Admiral by erecting the statue.

For many years after, wreaths were laid at the statue on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October).

The Barbados statue of Nelson pre-dates Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London by nearly 30 years.

Bajans proudly believed they were the first to put up such a monument to commemorate Nelson.  Barbados was in fact the fourth, after:

  1. Dublin (1809),
  2. Montreal (1809)
  3. Birmingham – Bull Ring (1809) which was also sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott,
  4. Bridgetown (1813)

and finally London (1843).

Removal of Nelson’s Statue, Bridgetown – 16th November 2020

Since the 1990s Nelson’s statue has been targeted for removal by successive Barbados administrations, because it is said that Nelson did not like Barbados and that he supported the slave trade upon which Barbados’ plantation economy was based.

Trafalgar Square in Bridgetown was renamed National Heroes Square in April 1999.  Since then the major changes have been the ceasing of the traditional wreath laying on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October) and the change of direction in which Nelson now faces.

Defacing of Nelson on the eve of independence celebrations on 29th November 2017

On 29th November 2017, on the eve of independence celebrations, activists splashed paint on the Nelson and added a sign in front of the statue that read:

“Nelson Will Fall. This racist, white supremist, who would rather die than see black people free, stands proudly in our nation’s capital. Nelson must go!! Fear not Barbados. The people have spoken. Politicians have failed us! Happy Independence”

In late May and June 2020 following the lead in the USA of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and in the UK where the the statue of Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol and then symbolically tossed into the harbour, local Bajan activists renewed their call for the government to remove Nelson’s statue.  On 20th July 2020 the Barbados Government announced its intention to relocate Nelson.

Nelson’s statue was removed from National Heroes Square in Bridgetown on Monday 16th November 2020 (International Day of Tolerance) and put into storage – probably never to be seen again!

The removal of Nelson is Barbados’ latest symbolic break with its colonial past and comes two months after the Government of Barbados announced plans to replace Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state and and for the island to become the Republic of Barbados on the country’s 55th anniversary of its independence on 30th November 2021.

What will be removed next as Barbados casts off its colonial past once it become the Republic of Barbados?

If Barbados is like Hong Kong, where I lived from 1997 until 2014, where in 1997 Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese after a century and a half of British colonial rule, the most immediate changes were red post boxes were immediately painted green and all Royal crests were ground off. Where the Royal crests on post boxes could not be ground off they were painted over with gloopy resinous paint! Over time, the other noticeable change was the move away from the “one country two systems structure” to Hong Kong being just another Chinese city directly controlled by Beijing, the re-writing of Hong Kong’s colonial history and the introduction by China of new draconian National Security Laws.  Given the way the Barbados Government panders to the Chinese its very possible The Republic of Barbados will end up being just another pawn to the Chinese – like Hong Kong (controlled by Beijing) and will in time, like Hong Kong, look at re-writing its colonial history.

Editor’s note:

Aid and loans from China to Barbados do not come without influence. China’s influence on Barbados for example can be seen on how Barbados votes at the United Nations (UN). For example on 7th April 2022 Barbados abstained from a UN vote on suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Barbados abstained and sided with China who support Russia.

And like other countries that have defaulted on their Chinese loans, China will look to exchange those loan notes for key infrastructure maybe the deep water harbour, the airport, other key tourist infrastructure that favour Chinese companies. Let’s see.

Lord Nelson’s column – London

Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London
Lord Horatio Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London.

The building of Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square, began on 30th September 1840 and completed in 1843. The 56m (171 feet) high column is made from granite and features acanthus leaves, cast from British cannons at the top. At the very top stands a 5.5m (18 feet) statue of Nelson

The erection of this monument to Britain’s greatest Naval commander was the source of much delay and politicking. Originally conceived as a bronze statue the publicly subscribed fund could not afford this and so it was made of solid granite quarried from the estate of then Duke of Buccleuch, in Scotland.

The designer of this monument was a Mr William Railton and the sculptor a Mr E H Bailey.  The pedestal is decorated with four bronze relief panels, each 18 feet (5.5 m) square, cast from captured French guns. They depict the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen and the Death of Nelson at Trafalgar. The pedestal sculptors were Musgrave Watson, William F Woodington, John Ternouth and John Edward Carew respectively.

The four bronze lions on the base were added in 1867 and were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Additional information

Nelson and the Slave Trade: A Position Statement by The Nelson Society

The Contested Histories Initiative, “Admiral Horatio Nelson Statue in Barbados”, Contested Histories Case Study #11 (July 2021).

5 thoughts on “Lord Nelson’s statue – Bridgetown, Barbados”

  1. One cannot change history be it good or bad. The statute should be put in a museum for all to see as part of education . If it had not been for history, there would have been no stable gov’t, literacy, education system, civil service etc. It would be like Haiti

  2. Linda Standard-Douglas

    Nelson is part of Barbados’ history; however, Barbados is no longer a colony, therefore removal from pride of place of monuments lauding such figures is an important aspect of decolonisation.
    The events described by the editor raise concerns about Barbados becoming vulnerable to a stealthy form of neo-colonialism.

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