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Black Salt at Tate Liverpool

An Untold Story!

I was so lucky to see this exhibition a few months ago before it ended. It stories a part of British and African and Caribbean history that is little told.  The exhibition was held in Liverpool at the Tate Liverpool.   It proved to be a fitting place to hold it with its history and location as a slave port and there was relevance for my journey, both personal and professional. And to be honest I was surprised and delighted by the exhibition, a small glimpse into past and present history.

The following text is taken from the Tata Liverpool’s website

Lives of Britains Black Sailors

Black Salt: Britain’s Black sailors revealed the contribution Black seafarers have made to some of the most significant maritime events of the past 500 years.

The exhibition was based on the book ‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by historian Ray Costello. It combined personal stories, historical data, objects and memorabilia to chart a course through the often troubled waters of Britain’s maritime past and explore the work of Black sailors. Historically overlooked, Black Salt showed how Black seafarers contended with the dangers and hazards of life at sea, and challenged inequality on board and ashore. 

The painting ‘The Death of Nelson’ by Daniel Maclise, which normally hangs at the Walker Art Gallery, showed that there were sailors of African descent who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. Displays examine the turmoil between communities and social change during the 20th century, with examples from the 1919 race riots archives and the work of leading Black Activist Chris Braithwaite, who campaigned for seafaring workers’ rights.

Liverpool sailors featured in the exhibition included Joseph Gibson, who served in the merchant navy and fought in the First World War, and generations of both the Quarless and Savage families. Their experiences were told through personal items including service books and medals.

Elder Dempster was the largest shipping company trading between Europe and West Africa from the late 19th century to the 1980s. The exhibition featured collections relating to the company which, from the 1950s and 1960s at the height of trade, employed more than 4000 people including 1400 Nigerians and 400 workers from Sierra Leone.

The Black seafaring experience was brought up to date with a display about current sailors including a profile on Belinda Bennett, who in 2016 became the first Black female captain working in the cruise industry.

‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by Ray Costello is published by Liverpool University Press and is available from the Merseyside Maritime Museum shop.