Black Salt: Britain’s Black sailors reveals the contribution Black seafarers have made to some of the most significant maritime events of the past 500 years.
The exhibition is based on the book ‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by historian Ray Costello. It combines personal stories, historic 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 shows 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, shows 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 include 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 are 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 features 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 is 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 now from the Merseyside Maritime Museum shop.