13 January 2022

Charity and Slavery: The Wills and Fry families of Bristol

The city of Bristol would look very different if it were not for the activities of generations of philanthropists.

Countless institutions across the city owe their existence to gifts across the centuries. Indeed, the building which houses Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, along with many items in its collection, was a gift from the Wills family.

The toppling of the statue of slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston in June 2020 has resulted in a great deal of soul searching for many of these institutions. It is no longer enough to simply recognise that money was gifted, it is important to also reflect on how that money was made.

In a situation where feelings run high, and myth and rumour prevail, it is essential that reflections on charity and slavery are based on as accurate an understanding of past events as possible.

It is in this spirit that this talk examines the history of the Wills and Fry families. It explores how the two families established their fortunes through trade in tobacco and chocolate respectively, popularising the cigarette and inventing the chocolate bar along the way.

It considers the role of slavery in the production of ingredients used by the two family firms, including a scandal that embroiled the Frys. On the other side of the coin, it examines their involvement in the movements to abolish slavery and the transatlantic traffic of enslaved Africans, and considers the motivations for their numerous acts of charity.

Speaker: Dr Richard Stone, University of Bristol @Dr_RGStone

How to take part

This free, online talk will be held over Zoom. Please book your place below. Details of how to join the session will be in your registration email. Please check your spam folder if the email does not arrive. Bookings close at 11am on Thursday 13 January.

Although this talk is free, we would be grateful if you could consider making a donation.

Please visit the Zoom website for guidance on joining meetings.

This talk is part of our monthly season of late lunchtime talks.