This site celebrates the life and work of sculptor John
Cassidy (1860 - 1939).
by a committee instigated by J W Arrowsmith, head of the Bristol
printers of that name, this statue stands in Colston Avenue, Bristol as
a memorial to Edward Colston (1636-1721). A competition was
organised for the best design; out of 32 entries, Cassidy's won the
approval of the Committee. The public statues in Aberdeen and Belfast also
date from that decade.
The bronze casting from Cassidy's models was done by the Coalbrookdale Company.
It was unveiled by the Mayor of Bristol, Mr W.H. Davies, on 13 November 1895; the picture above shows the crowds gathered for the event.
From the statues page at about-bristol.co.uk:
'Subscriptions for the statue were not sufficient and the remaining balance was contributed by an "anonymous gentleman".
'Bronze dolphins decorate the corners of the statue's plinth. According to legend, Edward Colston took the dolphin as a symbol following the safe return of an uninsured vessel. The ship was in danger of sinking due to a large hole, which a young dolphin plugged with its body.'
The same story inspired the name of the Dolphin Society, whose symbol, not looking much like a dolphin, is clearly the inspiration for Cassidy's bronze beasts. The society was founded in 1749 by 18 gentlemen members of the Colston Society who commemorated Edward Colston’s birthday by dining at the Cock Tavern in Corn Street, when they made a charitable collection for the poor. Ever since, it has launched an annual charity appeal.
Edward Colston was born on 2 November 1636 in Temple Street, Bristol, the eldest son of William Colston (1608–1681), a merchant, and his wife, Sarah, née Batten (d. 1701). A royalist and an alderman, William Colston was removed from his office in 1645, during the English Civil War, after Prince Rupert surrendered the city of Bristol to the Parliamentary forces.
The family moved to London, where Edward grew up to become a prosperous merchant: as the Dictionary of National Biography puts it, 'Much of his wealth is thought to have been made in buying and selling slaves.'
From the 1680s he took an interest in his native city, although his main home remained at Mortlake near London.
In the 1690s he founded and endowed almshouses in Bristol. He also endowed Queen Elizabeth's Hospital, a school for boys, and was instrumental in helping the Merchant Venturers to found Colston's Boys' School, which opened in 1710. Two years later he donated money for a school in Temple parish to educate and clothe forty poor boys. He gave money to other charity schools in the city and paid for the embellishment of several of the city's churches, including the Cathedral.
Colston, who never married, was a strong Tory and high-churchman, and an opponent of Catholicism, dissent, and Whigism.
In October 1710 he was returned as MP for Bristol, but he took little part in the work of parliament.
He died on 11 October 1721 at his home in Mortlake, and his body was carried in a hearse from London to Bristol for burial on 27 October amid 'much pomp and ceremony' at All Saints' Church.
He became something of a hero among the city's business community: his memory was celebrated for many years by several societies, including the Dolphin Society, set up by the Tories in 1749; and by the Anchor Society, founded by the Whigs in 1769. The anchor and dolphin are duly prominent on the statue.
Celebrating Colston's memory was part of the civic ritual of Georgian Bristol, the anniversary of his birth becoming virtually a public holiday after the 1720s. Colston's Day is still commemorated every 13 November by the Bristol schools and charities founded in his name. Presumably 13 November is used as the equivalent to his birth date, 2 November 1636, after the English calendar was moved on 11 days to match the Gregorian calendar in 1752.
His name appears on several streets in Bristol, and in the name of the Colston Hall which is a major concert venue.
The increased awareness of Britain's involvement in the slave trade in recent years has created a controversy around this statue, with some people calling for it to be removed. The following is from a web article written in 2005 by a writer called 'The Debutante':
'Colston's dependence on the trade in human life for his fortune means that many people see his benevolence as dirty and tainted. His statue is frequently defaced, and bands such as Massive Attack have refused to play at the Colston Hall. Recently, there have been calls for the Colston Hall to be renamed, acknowledging the plight of transported Africans. Maybe, though, we need a reminder as to who he was and what he did, for humanity's sake?'
Links and referencesColston's Day at Bristol. The Times, Thursday, Nov 14, 1895; page 10.
Edward Colston in the BBC 'Business of Slavery' gallery.
Colston in Wikipedia
This picture of the Colston plaque was taken for inclusion in the original version of this page by the late Dr Roy Tyldesey, (1921 - 2005) uncle of Lis Nicolson. This page is dedicated to his memory.
Edward Colston statue, Bristol
On visiting Bristol in December 2009, we asked at a tourist information desk for advice on locating the statue. 'At the end of the city centre', the lady replied, drawing an X on a map for us. 'He looks like he's making a mobile phone call.' And so he does! And he looks very worried and thoughtful, too.
This old picture shows the statue in a pleasant wide-open space ...
... but in 2009 a face-on view is quite difficult to obtain as a busy road runs across where the people are promenading.
The bronze statue is, although slightly larger that life-size, rather dwarfed by its surroundings. According to contemporary reports it is eight feet eight inches tall, and the pedestal is ten feet high.
Cassidy's signature on the base.
The various bronze items around the plinth are interesting. On the four corners we find 'dolphins' - vaguely resembling the one on the Manchester Jubilee Fountain which was unveiled a couple of years later. (See the dolphin story in the left column.)
On the faces of the plinth are bronze plaques: the one on the front carries the inscription:
ERECTED BY CITIZENS OF BRISTOL AS MEMORIAL TO ONE OF THE MOST VIRTUOUS AND WISE SONS OF THEIR CITY A.D.1895
ans is signed at the bottom 'JOHN CASSIDY FECIT.' On the other three sides are scenes rendered in relief, with no explanation of their meaning.
This is Colston distributing alms to the poor.
This one depicts the unfortunate dolphin in the process of saving the ship.
And here are some mermaids lifting an anchor with the help of a flying merhorse.
Written by Charlie Hulme, January 2010.