Historian says Cornwall church’s dedication to slave trader should NOT be removed

A memorial to a 17th-century slave trader who campaigners want to remove from the inside of a church in Cornwall must remain where it is, one historian has said.

The marble dedication to Thomas Corker (1670-1700) has been mounted on the wall of King Charles the Martyr Church in Falmouth, Cornwall since the early 18th century.

Born the second son of a trading family, Corker joined the Royal African Company on the coast of Guinea at age 14 and rose through the ranks to become an agent on York Island, now Sherbro Island, in Sierra Leone.

He married the daughter of an African chief, known as ‘Seniora Doll’, of the Ya Kumba government house of the Yawri Bay area. The couple had two sons, whose descendants remained in Sierra Leone.

Corker died in Falmouth while on business in 1700 at the age of just 30 and his memorial was erected by his older brother Robert, who also paid for church improvements in 1708.

Last month, a Facebook campaign and an online petition were launched to remove the monument. They urge the church to do ‘the right thing’.

“We must condemn, not commemorate, the slave traders of England’s past,” the petition reads on Avaaz.org.

But historian Dr Zareer Masani, who has previously argued against critics of the British Empire in the Oxford Union, told MailOnline that the monument will have been erected when slavery was ‘widespread’.

He added that critics seeking to remove memorials “forget” how 17th-century slave traders also gave large amounts of money to charities.

Revd Canon Bill Stuart-White with the Thomas Corker Monument at King Charles the Martyr Church in Falmouth, Cornwall

The Facebook campaign, ‘Remove Slave Trader Memorial in Falmouth UK’, was created by Falmouth resident Kate Thomas. Ms Thomas also set up the petition, which has gathered 84 signatures.

The text on the petition page reads: ‘We must condemn, not commemorate the slave traders of England’s past.

“We want King Charles the Martyr Church in Falmouth to do the right thing and remove the memorial to Thomas Corker from its buildings.

dr. Zareer Masani thinks the monument should stay

“The presence of this monument in the church is contrary to the Christian values ​​of belonging, inclusion, integrity and respect as stated by the Church of England.”

She added on Facebook: “If the Corker family and the Reverend had been proud of how Thomas Corker earned his wealth as a slave trader, it would have been included in the eulogy. It was left out. Instead, he was glorified.’

The church itself is now debating whether the memorial to Corker, who was born into a prominent Falmouth family and was baptized into the church himself, should remain.

dr. Masani criticizes the takedown calls: ‘Monuments like this were erected when slavery was widely practiced around the world, and they need to be seen in context and preserved.

The UK spearheaded the abolition of slavery in the early 1800s and subsequent police surveillance of the practice.

‘Seventeenth-century slave traders like this were often great charitable benefactors too. Strange that we forget their charity when demolishing their memorials.’

The dedication to Thomas Corker (1670-1700) has been mounted on the wall of the church of King Charles the Martyr since the early 18th century by order of his brother Robert.

The monument to Corker is over 300 years old and contains macabre images of a skull, as well as a rope around the edges

The monument to slave trader Thomas Corker (1670-1700) is housed in the Church of King Charles the Martyr, Falmouth, Cornwall, where he was baptized


Thomas Corker (1670-1700) was born in Falmouth, Cornwall, the second son of a merchant family, and was baptized in King Charles the Martyr Church on February 4, 1670.

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His father died early and at the age of 14 Corker was sent to the coast of Guinea in West Africa as an apprentice to the Royal African Company. The group had a monopoly on British trade with West Africa, including gold, silver and slaves.

The Royal African Company promoted Corker to agent at the York Island Company Fort at the mouth of the Sherbro River in Sierra Leone.

He married an African princess known as ‘Seniora Doll’ and had two sons. Their sons inherited a claim to the West African chieftain from their mother, and through their father they became part of the merchant class and received an education in England.

In 1700, Thomas Corker made a business trip to Falmouth, bringing enslaved Africans with him, where he died on September 10, aged 30.

His elder brother Robert (1668-1731), who remained as a merchant in Falmouth, commissioned a ‘baroque marble and freestone monument’ in the church in which he was baptized in memory. Robert also donated money for church improvements in 1708.

Thomas Corker’s Euro-African sons founded a family dynasty in Sierra Leone. The spelling of the family name became Caulker. A family history entitled “The Caulkers of Sierra Leone: The Story of a Ruling Family and Their Times,” written by Imodale Caulker-Burnett, was published in 2010.

Source: Whistler History

Ms Thomas added on Facebook: ‘The omission’ [of Corker’s career] has created a collective amnesia about Falmouth’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade through the generations of the people of Falmouth and instead the memorial of Thomas Corker and the man himself have been admired by church visitors for over 300 years.”

The campaign has called for the monument to be moved elsewhere as part of an exhibition. The organizers are planning to online meeting

on Friday to discuss their options.

Bishop Hugh Nelson said: “We condemn the slave trade, which was abhorrent. We are deeply troubled by the existence of a memorial to Corker, who was a slave driver, in a church that points us to the God of liberty and justice.

“Because the church is a public building, we want to continue this conversation with the wider community and welcome the opportunity to hear everyone’s perspectives and views.

“It may be that removing the monument is the best option, but there may also be better and more creative ways to commemorate those who have suffered the horrors of slavery in the past and to encourage more people to get involved.” set for a just and good world today.

‘We also want to explore those options – and then come to a clear decision.’

In 2020, the Church of England began rolling out a consultation process for churches with the aim of having them assess memorials as part of a process over disputed heritage.

King Charles the Martyr Church started their own process late last year to decide on measures regarding the future of the monument.

In the months that followed, discussions took place with city councillors, members of the black community, local historians and a direct descendant of Thomas Corker who is of mixed heritage himself.

As a result of that first meeting, it was decided to add a temporary notice during the works stating: ‘There is contentious heritage around this monument.

“The church is working with members of the black community and interested parties to move forward and explore whether this can be used as an educational tool to address the abuses of the past.”

Meetings have been fruitful so far, but progress has been slow over the past 12 months.

A church spokesman said: “However, there is a clear commitment from all concerned, including the church community, to find a way to use this as an opportunity for education and awareness on issues of race, slavery and discrimination, both in the past as today. ‘

George Morland’s ‘The Slave Trade’, 1867. Captured Africans are rounded up by slave traders on the shoreline. A young student (center) helps tow a boat

Prisoners are taken aboard a slave ship on the west coast of Africa

The memorial is close to a memorial to Joseph Emidy, a prominent black musician and freed slave who married a local woman and settled in Falmouth.

The church said the proximity of these memorials, with wildly contrasting stories of the transatlantic slave trade, would provide an opportunity to educate about Falmouth’s part in the slave trade and the 21st century response to it.

Revd Canon Bill Stuart-White, pastor of King Charles the Martyr Church, said: ‘The Corker Memorial is in a prominent place in the church and the message it is currently carrying about the despicable transatlantic slave trade clashes strongly and deeply. with the message of the Christian gospel.

“None of the current generation of worshipers would want to be associated with the sentiments of the memorial or in any way glorify the deeds of the man who remembers it.

“This is an issue the Church takes very seriously and we are determined to find the best and most sensible way to make up for the complex shortcomings of the past.”

To view the campaign petition, visit here.


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