Shielded by their Royal Charter of 1552, the Society of Merchant Venturers (SMV) helped shape Bristol’s past and present, but will they shape the city’s future? Regarded today as the doyen of Bristol’s charities, this undemocratic, unelected club for wealthy business(men), is guardian to a goodly proportion of Bristol’s schools and university, presenting itself as an innocuous force for good. Others are convinced that the SMV are outdated and outmoded.
通过投资早期的探索和殖民化，SMV利益在整个17次大大扩展th世纪。这导致了加勒比海和美洲的种植园。为了保护他们的海外烟草贸易，SMV抑制了当地种植者并增加了他们在种植园中的迫使和保税劳动力的利用，该社会竞选参与跨大西洋奴隶贸易。SMV Master，Charles Clark，于1920年说：
For nearly forty years the Bristol merchants engaged in a truceless warfare as champions of free trade with Africa against the would-be monopolists of London [Royal African Company or RAC].
In 1698, the wishes of the SMV were granted by Parliament and the African trade was opened up to merchants across the country. Within ten years of the overthrow of the RAC monopoly, Bristol’s African slave-trading fleet had grown to almost 60 vessels.
Many dynastic families in Bristol were members of the SMV, including several generations of Colstons. In 1709 Edward Colston chose the Society to act as his trustees with the aim of perpetuating his memory – looking after ‘his’ school and other endowments. Other families, like the Eltons, first prospered in the Brass industry and then banking in the 1750s. Many SMV members used the Corporation (modern day Bristol City Council) to climb the power ladder, Alderman, Mayor, Sheriff, MP etc.
Amongst them was Sir James Laroche (SMV Master 1782) responsible for over 132 slave trading voyages and Thomas Daniel (SMV Warden 1789, Master 1805 and 1834) who received the equivalent of over a £100 million in compensation money for the enslaved people he ‘owned’. SMV historian Francis Greenacre described Daniel as: “…one of the most powerful defenders of slavery”.
Defoe’s ‘[Bristol] corporation-tyranny’ was as true in the 1820s as it was in the 1720s. Over 100 years of election violence, bribery, lack of representation, blackmail, and corruption led directly to the turbulent 1830s where reform of Parliament, Municipal Corporations and finally Emancipation held sway. It is clear Bristol’s merchant elite used the Corporation, SMV and Bristol Dock Company to further their own economic and political interests – whilst the Colston Societies were employed to enhance their popularity and influence through charity and patronage.
第一个academic study of Bristol slavery and the slave trade was written by Professor C. M. MacInnes. His 1939Gateway to Empire，充满着帝国主义劝诫，试图将英国奴隶系统描绘为最人性化，并将奴隶主描绘成“善意的人”和“社会支柱”。这本书致力于SMVS：“......谁的团契在帝国历史上发挥了如此值得注意的部分。”
We all regret that the slave trade happened. Slavery was a trade in which all of Bristol was involved in, but we believe an apology is totally meaningless.
This ‘we were all in it together’ position was another deliberate attempt to try and lessen the important role the SMV had played historically in slavery and to make all Bristolians culpable; something which was patently untrue.
In 2018 SMV member Francis Greenacre, was involved in an attempt to sanitise the history of Edward Colston during the statue plaque controversy, which the Society subsequently stated was “inappropriate”. Though this was only after Colston’s statue was dumped in the docks. In response to the latter the Mayor announced a new (as yet undefined) ‘History Commission’ – despite the city already having a well documented past. Is this yet another smokescreen for inaction? Bristol desperately needs both change, ridding itself of the influence of unfair and undemocratic business(mens)’ clubs, and an international memorial to the victims of enslavement…
本文写的Mark Steeds首先出现在The Bristol Cable, Issue 23.
For a more detailed history of the Merchant Venturers and the transatlantic slave trade see Mark’s recent bookFrom Wulftsan to Colston。