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Science Museum axes slavery exhibits

23 January 2022

9:25 PM

23 January 2022

9:25 PM

An iconoclastic spirit has swept much of Britain’s institutions over the past two years. Just last month Mr S revealed that a painting of a fictitious scene from the American Civil War had been removed from Liverpool University’s library, despite it having hung there for decades. And it seems the university is not alone in its efforts, with Steerpike discovering that London’s Science Museum has removed no fewer than eight exhibits for historical or political insensitivity reasons.

Among the items are three objects from the vast collection of pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome, including two nineteenth century slave whips and a German man-catcher which pulled riders off horseback. All were removed after curatorial work uncovered that their provenance was uncertain, with the museum also claiming that the way they were displayed did not enable any contextualisation of the items.


The other items were five model boats. They formed part of a series which used an ‘outdated’ interpretative approach first introduced in the 1931 Childrens Gallery at the museum. It showed the models in an ‘evolutionary’ sequence, moving from ‘primitive’ to more sophisticated designs. Among them included a sculpture of a Norse Whale-boat, a canoe hollowed from a tree trunk and a dug-out canoe with its sides and ends built up.

A spokesman for the museum told Mr S: ‘Our curators regularly research items in the collection, including those on public display, refreshing exhibits in light of this research to ensure our museum remains up-to-date and relevant for our visitors. As part of this ongoing curatorial work, objects are sometimes added to or removed from display.’

Steerpike looks forward to checking again in a year’s time to see which exhibits are next to be axed.

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