The hitherto prominently displayed bust of British Museum’s founder, Hans Sloane, has been removed in the context of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign and his links to slave trade before he died in 1753 aged 92.
Sloane Square in central London is one of several public places named after the physician, who was known as an avid collector of books, manuscripts and specimens, including many linked to the East India Company ranging from medicine, natural history to religious tracts, among others.
His collection of over 45,000 printed items formed the foundation of the British Museum, from which the British Library and the Natural History Museum were later born, but the BLM campaign has prompted a reconsideration of his place in the widely visited museum.
Hartwig Fischer, the museum’s director, told the media that the likeness of the Anglo-Irish Sloane (1660-1753) has been placed in a secure cabinet alongside artefacts explaining his work in the context of the British empire.
He said: “We have pushed him off the pedestal. We must not hide anything. Healing is knowledge. Dedication to truthfulness, when it comes to history is absolutely crucial, with the aim to rewrite our shared, complicated and, at times, very painful history.
“The British Museum has done a lot of work – accelerated and enlarged its work on its own history, the history of empire, the history of colonialism, and also of slavery. These are subjects, which need to be addressed, and to be addressed properly. We need to understand our own history,” Fischer told the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.
Sloane’s marginalisation in the museum is part of recent attempts to re-visit Britain’s history of slave trade and colonialism, sparked by George Floyd’s death in the United States of America (USA) in May. There have since been demands to remove statues and re-name public spaces in the United Kingdom (UK).
The statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol in June.
However, the demand to remove colonialist Robert Clive’s statue in Shropshire was turned down by the local council.