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Geoff Ledden found the following article in The Times on 9 November 1994:


Slave trade returns to haunt architect of Armada victory


"Plans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir John Hawkins, knighted for his part in the victory over the Armada, have fallen victim to political correctness.

Plymouth City Council, which last year tried to ban the word “manager” because of its sexist leanings, has called off its celebrations for Sir John because of his links with the African slave trade.

The decision by the Labour-controlled council has astonished nautical historians and distinguished seamen. Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin, chairman of the trustees of the National Maritime Museum, described the decision as appalling.

Sir John, a former MP for Plymouth, numbered Sir Francis Drake among his pupils. He was behind the reconstruction of the Elizabethan navy that did battle with the Spanish in 1588. History books laud his period as Treasurer to the Queen’s Navy when the conditions of mariners were greatly improved. As well as the knighthood for his pivotal role against the Armada, he was made a vice-admiral by a grateful monarch.

However, his involvement with the pioneer trade routes between Europe, West Africa and the Americas – he was the first Englishman to traffic in slaves in 1562 – has proved too much for Plymouth council, which is refusing to provide funds for any public commemoration.

One of the city’s MPs, David Jamieson (Lab. Plymouth Devonport), defended the decision last night. He said: “If they feel the person’s past is improper they are quite right not to celebrate it.”

Lord Lewin said: “It is a disgrace. Will they refuse to honour Sir Francis Drake?

Everyone was involved in the slave trade in those days. Drake was an apprentice to Hawkins. His role cannot be understated in naval history.”

Dame Janet Fookes (C. Plymouth Drake), said: “I thought I had heard it all when they tried to ban ‘manager’. There was such an outcry they were forced to do a U-turn.

“Labour should beware of taking modern attitudes and foisting them on people who lived centuries ago. He should be judged by the standards of his day and not ours.”  


Tom Jones, a Conservative Plymouth councillor who was helping to organise the celebration next year, said: “The politically correct brigade has gone crackers. Few historical characters are without blemishes.

“We wanted a simple but meaningful programme of commemoration. By all means put slavery into its context, but to damn the man and his achievements outright for activities thought normal at the time strikes me as contemptuous.”


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