Family and alumni protest planned removal of slave trade investor’s memorial at Jesus College
Jesus College has outlined plans to relocate the memorial of Tobias Rustat, a prolific investor in the slave trade
Descendants of Tobias Rustat, an investor in the slave trade and benefactor of Jesus College, have spoken out against the College’s plan to remove a memorial of Rustat currently present in the college chapel.
The family’s comments follow the objection of 31 Jesus College alumni, who have instructed a lawyer to stop the removal of the memorial as they believe it is “one of the most important pieces of funerary art in the country.”
Last year, Jesus College outlined plans to have the memorial removed from the chapel and instead potentially placed into a disused wine cellar following recommendations made by the Legacy of Slavery Working Party.
In replacement, the college planned to commission and install a commemorative plaque at the entrance to the college that acknowledged both Rustat and hence the college’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
Tobias Rustat made a donation to Jesus College in 1671 that would today be equivalent to £450,000 in order to fund scholarships for orphaned children of the Anglican clergy, making him one of the college’s most generous donors. But, throughout his career, Rustat also heavily invested in the Royal African Company, which shipped more slaves to the Americas than any other institution during the transatlantic slave trade.
In response to the removal plans, Rustat’s tenth great nephew, Stephen Hemsted, along with his three brothers, has filed a complaint to the college and an objection to the Church of England, citing that the money Rustat gave to the college was independent from any profit made from the Royal African Company.
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Hemsted believes: “It’s a mistake to try to link his investment in the Royal African Company to this memorial and the bequeath he made to Jesus College. There seems to be no justification on slavery grounds for removing the memorial.”
Instead, in conversation with the college master, Sonita Alleyne, Hemsted has expressed his support for an additional plaque to be installed in the chapel that acknowledges his uncle’s role in the slave trade, but goes alongside the memorial.
In response to the objections of the family and the alumni, a college spokesperson told the Tab Cambridge that the college is “considering the views of various heritage advisory bodies […] including relocating the memorial to a more fitting educational space within the college. Relocating the memorial to a wine cellar is not an option that is currently under active consideration.“