UK

Exeter council slammed for ‘historical wokery’ over statue removal

A council has been accused of ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over the removal of a statue of a British war hero.

Exeter City Council set up a task group after the Black Lives Matter protests to decide whether a statue of General Sir Redvers Buller should be moved from its prominent position in the city.

The review stated the statue had attracted public debate in part due to references to colonial campaigns on its plinth which ‘sought to advance British imperialist interests in other countries’.

An equality impact assessment carried out as part of the review also concluded the statue would impact anybody who ‘does not define themselves in binary gender terms’.

It read: ‘The General Buller statue represents the patriarchal structures of empire and colonialism which impact negatively on women and anyone who does not define themselves in binary gender terms.

‘The consultation will need to ensure that the views of women, transgender and non-binary people are captured and given due weight.’

The council set up a task group to decide whether a statue (pictured) should be moved from its prominent position in the city

Exeter City Council has been accused of ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over the removal of a statue of a British war hero. The council set up a task group to decide whether a statue (right) of General Sir Redvers Buller (left) should be moved from its prominent position in the city

Historian Andrew Roberts (pictured) argued anger at General Buller was misdirected. He said: 'This is ridiculous and historical wokery at its worst'

The review stated the statue of General Buller (pictured) had attracted public debate in part due to references to colonial campaigns on its plinth which 'sought to advance British imperialist interests in other countries'

Historian Andrew Roberts (left) argued anger at General Buller (right) was misdirected. He said: ‘This is ridiculous and historical wokery at its worst’

The review – due to be discussed at a meeting of council tomorrow – recommended the council move to have the statue relocated.

Who was General Sir Redvers Buller?

General Redvers Buller, born in 1839 near Crediton, in Devon, purchased a commission in the British Army in 1858. 

He has been criticised for his ruthless  defeat of the Zulu people while serving as commander of the mounted infantry of the northern British column in 1879 during the Second Zulu War.

But he won the Victoria Cross by rescuing two fellow officers during a pitched battle in what is now modern day South Africa.

He was later appointed head of the British forces sent to South Africa during the Second Boer War, presiding over Black Week in which it was defeated three times by the Boers with nearly 3,000 men killed, wounded and captured.

Upon his return from South Africa, the British Army requested he resign, in part as a scapegoat for the failures of the military command.

Despite this General Buller was awarded the freedom of Exeter and presented with a jewelled sword by the County of Devon. 

A bronze statue depicting him astride his favourite horse was erected St David’s Church in Exeter, Devon, in 1905.

Unusually the statue, paid for by public subscription, was unveiled while he was still alive.

The local newspaper said he was rumoured to have been involved in the introduction of concentration camps in the Boer War but historians have disputed the accuracy of these claims. 

 

The impact assessment also noted the need to consult with minority ethnic groups on the statue. 

The Grade-II listed bronze statue was erected in 1905 and depicts the general, who won the Victoria Cross, astride his favourite horse Biffen.

The words ‘He saved Natal’ on its plinth are a reference to General Buller’s actions in South Africa.

General Redvers Buller, born in 1839 near Crediton, in Devon, purchased a commission in the British Army and won the Victoria Cross during the Second Zulu War, rescuing a number of comrades while under enemy fire.

He was later appointed head of the British forces sent to South Africa during the Second Boer War, presiding over Black Week in which it was defeated three times by the Boers with nearly 3,000 men killed, wounded and captured.

Upon his return from South Africa, the British Army requested he resign, in part as a scapegoat for the failures of the military command.

Despite this General Buller was awarded the freedom of Exeter and presented with a jewelled sword by the County of Devon. Unusually the statue, paid for by public subscription, was unveiled while he was still alive.

The local newspaper said he was rumoured to have been involved in the introduction of concentration camps in the Boer War but historians have disputed the accuracy of these claims.

Historian Andrew Roberts argued anger at General Buller was misdirected.

He said: ‘I think it is important to point out that the general fought against the white regime in South Africa. In the year 1900 every man was a sexist.

‘This is ridiculous and historical wokery at its worst. There are reasons why they should not have put up a statue in the first place – he was a bad general.

‘But these are really bad reasons. The lot of women was improved by the British Empire.’

General Buller’s biographer Keith Barker, labelled the decision ‘utter nonsense’.

‘I think the so-called “equality impact assessments” espoused in this report are utter nonsense.

‘This man was always a great supporter of and campaigner for the many native communities he came across.

‘Buller had a powerful radical, liberal streak. No doubt his views on sex and gender would have been somewhat unorthodox but they would have represented those specifically of the era in which he lived.

‘Everything should be understood in its context and to not do so is a historical travesty.’

It comes after statues and their role in public life were thrown into the spotlight amid the global Black Lives Matter movement (protests in London in June 2020, pictured)

It comes after statues and their role in public life were thrown into the spotlight amid the global Black Lives Matter movement (protests in London in June 2020, pictured)

Dr Todd Gray, honorary research fellow at Exeter University, admitted the council should check whether the statue was appropriate but pointed to a knock on effect following the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, last year.

‘I think any council is right to look twice at anything in its care,’ he said.

‘We are reaping what we have sown in that society has ignored empire for so long and people do not know their own history.

‘His sin is being triumphant about Empire.

In June, protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston (pictured)

In June, protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston (pictured)

Reviews into statues such as Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University's Oriel College (pictured) and Thomas Guy - the founder of Guy's Hospital in Southwark, south London - are also being carried out

Reviews into statues such as Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University’s Oriel College (pictured) and Thomas Guy – the founder of Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, south London – are also being carried out

‘These things have conspired to make it unpalatable for people, although I think it is just a portion of the public.

‘I do not think it would have come up if not for Colston and that is the only real target that there is in Exeter.’

The proposals put to the council tomorrow will request information boards be erected near the statue as part of a public consultation.

General Buller’s descendant Henry Parker said last night the council was welcome to move the statue to the grounds of Downes House, the family’s country estate near Crediton.

‘This was his home and it is an obvious place for the statue. I have offered to have him here though my wife may not be very happy about that,’ he said.

‘It seems a nonsense but I don’t want to comment on it because I just don’t understand it.’

A spokesman for Exeter City Council declined to comment. 

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