Edward Colston, by John Cassidy
Edward Colston

Edward Colston (1636-1721), by John Cassidy (1860-1939). 1895. Bronze on a Portland stone pedestal. Originally erected to great fanfare on Colston Avenue, Bristol. Colston, a Bristol-born merchant and MP, was responsible for a number of philanthropic projects in his native town, and was much honoured there — until a greater recognition of the source of his wealth, from the slave trade, made him a deeply controversial figure. The statue itself is a fine one. Somewhat larger than life, Colston wears appropriate seventeenth-century costume, and is leaning on his cane looking deeply thoughtful. Bronze dolphins from his family crest, and reliefs relating to his merchant life and good deeds, decorate the base: one of the reliefs shows the legend from which the dolphin on his crest was taken, that a dolphin once saved one of his ships by plugging a hole in it (see Hulme, and Merritt 31). The statue is Grade II listed, the first reason given for this being that it is a "handsome" one, as indeed it is. The text adds that it was "erected in the late C19 to commemorate a late C17 figure," and that "the resulting contrast of styles is handled with confidence." However, angry protestors at the "Black Lives Matter" demonstration of 7 June 2020 toppled the statue and rolled it down over the harbour wall. We may understand the passion and support the cause, but still hope that the statue can be reclaimed and preserved, perhaps in a museum setting, as a record of past evils and for its artistic qualities.


After this entry was updated, Bristol City Council issued the following statement, which appeared on their Twitter account on 11 June 2020: "Early this morning we retrieved the statue of Colston from Bristol Harbour. It is being taken to a secure location before later forming part of our museums collection."

Photograph by Wiliam Avery, reproduced and slightly modified here from its Wikimedia Commons page, with many thanks. Text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee, Associate Editor, the Victorian Web. [Click on the images for larger pictures.]


"Statue of Edward Colston, Bristol." British Listed Buildings. Web. 11 August 2012.

Hulme, Charlie. "Edward Colston Statue, Bristol." John Cassidy, Sculptor. Web. 11 August 2012.

Merritt, Douglas. Sculpture in Bristol. Bristol: Redcliffe, 2002.

Last modified 11 June 2020