Tavistock Town Council and West Devon Borough Council discussed the concerns that have been raised and the Town Council fully associates itself with the jointly agreed response issued by West Devon Borough Council Leader Neil Jory when he said:
“I was shocked to see the circumstances that led to the death of George Floyd and I understand the depth of feeling that led to the protests which followed. Even before the weekend’s events, we had started to question whether, as a Council, there was more that we could, and should, be doing to ensure that our policies do not promote inequality, injustice and discrimination in any way.
“In my view, it is important that we respond in a positive way to affect and improve the present and the future for all of our residents. I know not everyone will agree with me, but the statue of Sir Francis Drake is an imposing local landmark which commemorates his heroic achievements – including being the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe and the defeat of the Spanish Armada – and these are an important parts of our heritage.
“It also serves as a reminder that there was an appallingly dark side to the history of seafaring, exploration and colonisation, that was being played out at that time. In my view, there are lessons to learn from Drake’s involvement in slavery and piracy that should encourage us to continue to strive to create a more just and equitable society. Rather than airbrushing Drake from history, there are stories that should be told and history that should be taught; Drake’s statue gives us the opportunity to do that and to recognise the different aspects of his life and character.
“Overall, I think the statue should stay but that more should be done to recognise the other parts of this story and to recognise the great wrongs of the past. Let’s use it though as a catalyst to look again at how our society works and to make sure that we build a fairer society with opportunities for all now and in the future. We have an opportunity to do just that though the Tavistock Heritage Trust’s discovery of the Tudor War ship painting as a way of illustrating the town’s links with Maritime History via Drake’s story. This could provide an opportunity to present people with a complete picture of the history of that time both good and bad.”
The Town Council Clerk, Carl Hearn added that it appreciates the depth and diversity of the concerns that have been raised in the public discourse. It is already in the early stages of delivering a heritage project over the next 12 months and, recognising those concerns, will now take the opportunity to look at how best to articulate all the strands of history for the Town. Most especially a commitment to the interpretation of the darker side of how wealth was created through practices such as slavery, oppression and conquest - the associated suffering and its continuing legacy to help everyone appreciate the complicated and often dark and difficult heritage of our modern society. The Town Council will also follow the approach set out by Plymouth City Council to provide an explanatory narrative safely located close by the statue referring to the role of the slave trade.