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Balliol College apologises for 300 years of taking money linked to the slave trade

Anvee Bhutani reports on Balliol's apology for its historical acceptance of donations related to the slave trade.

The Master of Balliol College, Oxford has apologised for the historical acceptance of donations linked to the slave trade over the past 300 years. Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, said the college’s research showed that it had accepted the equivalent of £2 million in today’s money from benefactors with links to the slave trade. This accounts for around 10% of donations between 1600 and 1919.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Ghosh said: “Of course, looking back on this now we are sorry that we took those donations — whatever might have been in the minds of people who took them at the time.”

Some of the donations came from the owners of slave plantations and those who owned ships that transported slaves. Ghosh described this connection as “highly regret[table] whatever the level of donation”. The research, which will be published later this year, also revealed that Balliol’s most notable benefactor is William Beckford, whose family owned a slave plantation and bought the Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire.

The college’s endowment is worth around £123 million. In recent years, the college has seen a wave of progressivism including starting a scholarship fund for black and ethnic minority students named after Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana and a former Balliol student. It has also taken measures including divesting from fossil fuels and increasing accessibility within the college. Ghosh is the former director-general of the National Trust where she established a research program to investigate how Britain’s great country homes were linked to the slave trade. 

Balliol’s decision is part of a series of steps taken by various colleges to help retrospectively rectify their relations with colonialism. All Souls College, recently paid a £100,000 grant to a college in Barbados in recognition of its funding from Christopher Codrington, a wealthy slave owner who left £10,000 to build a library. The building was also renamed in January in an effort to make amends over Oxford’s contentious history, though they have kept the statue of Codrington. A decision on whether Oriel College might remove their statue of Cecil Rhodes is also expected soon.

Balliol College has been contacted for comment.

Image Credit: Betty Longbottom/CC BY-SA 2.0

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