Exploring the University's historic links to the slave trade

Exploring the University's historic links to the slave trade

Following the United Nations' International Day for the Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade on March 25, the University of Aberdeen will host a special event exploring its own historical connection to the slave trade.

Powis Gateway: Slavery and Memory in Old Aberdeen will take place as an online event on March 30.

Researchers will discuss Powis Gateway, located in the King’s College Campus, which is the most tangible link between the University of Aberdeen and slavery-derived wealth.

The gateway was built in the early 1830s by the Leslie family of Powis, using profits derived from slavery in Jamaica.

The online event will explore the history and iconography of Powis Gateway and speakers will include Kelly Foster, a public historian and London Blue Badge Guide specialising in depictions of Africans in British heraldry. She will discuss the significance of the arch and shield on the back which carries Leslie coat of arms as well as a depiction thought to be of three slaves.

The event is part the University of Aberdeen’s ongoing work to recognise the legacies of historic slavery and a question and answer session and participant feedback will be used to inform planning for a commemorative plaque and interpretation panel which will add greater context to the history of the gates.

Dr Richard Anderson, who is leading research into the legacy of historic slavery to the University of Aberdeen within the context of the broader region, said the event aims to provide wider understanding of the history of Powis Gateway and to shape responses to contextualising its legacy.

“We are delighted to welcome Kelly Foster to this event to consider some important questions in regard to the heraldry on Powis Gateway,” he added.

“It has long been thought that the depiction was of three slaves but more recent suggestions point to a heraldic pun on the Powis Leslie family's ancestral name: Moir/moor, or possibly even represented a boast about beheading moors in the crusades.

“While this aspect of the history of the gates is subject to some debate, what we do know is that they were built using wealth from plantations and compensation the Powis Leslie family received through the Abolition of Slavery act in 1834. Meanwhile those freed from slavery received nothing for their years, lifetimes, of unpaid labour and depraved treatment as chattel.

“It is important that moving forward this is reflected more clearly so that all those who pass through them can better understand their legacy. We hope to have permission to erect a plaque in late summer and work is ongoing on an interpretation panel. The questions and issues raised through events like this will help to inform the content.”

The event will conclude with a presentation and reading by local ceramic artist Helen Love and a poem by spoken word artist Noon Abdelrazig based on their Aberdeen Art Gallery Micro-Commission, “Quasheba /Powis Gateway Project /the Violence of Identity.”

To reserve a place visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/powis-gateway-slavery-and-memory-in-old-aberdeen-tickets-300107267917