24 November 2014
Unsung - Liverpool's Most Radical Son is an exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool celebrating the bicentennial of the life of Edward Rushton (1756 – 1814). DaDaFest marked the beginning of Disability History Month with a day of talks in the museum about the life and impact of the City's most implacable anti-slavery abolitionist, human rights activist and pioneer for disability rights. Review by Cate Jacobs
The museum is billed as a place where people can explore how the port, it’s people and their creative history have shaped the city, so it was the perfect venue to host the afternoon event where Steve Binns (Liverpool Community Historian) Alexandra Robinson (Liverpool university) and Dr Franca Dellarosa explored the life and legacy of Edward Rushton.
Steve Binns was missing his first Everton home game for 30 years in order to speak to us, which he said showed how important he believed Edward Ruston’s life and legacy to be! (And considering the result was 2-1 to Everton, it was sacrifice indeed!)
Steve wove anecdotal stories of his time at Liverpool Blind School with hard facts about Ruston’s life and the importance of the school, which Rushton founded in 1791 for the visually impaired community, both then and now.
Binns told us that society would have considered blindness as a curse in Rushton’s time and described him as a heroic individual who stood for right against all odds at a time when his community was considered the lowest.
Alexandra Robinson is an expert in the Liverpool slave trade and Edward Rushton’s contribution to the abolitionist movement. She gave us an interesting and comprehensive account of the history and developments of the slave trade in Liverpool. She argues that although Rushton is often portrayed as a forgotten hero today, in his time he was very much recognised. On his death the Liverpool Mercury ran two obituaries about him and one Irish newspaper ran a 13 page tribute to him.
Binns said recently that: "Rushton wouldn’t have cared about being remembered. He was a radical who showed he didn’t give a damn what people thought."
But he cared passionately about what was inherently wrong and wasn’t afraid to do something about it. As a role model and an activist he is as relevant now as he was then and in many senses as disabled people we stand on the foundations he laid for us.
Dr Franca Dellarosa brought to life with great passion, Rushton the radical poet and bookseller – who in his poetry constructed an alternative narrative for the oppressed; concerning himself with the plight of slaves, seamen and the Irish. He gave a voice to the voiceless!
I was particularly taken by the influence that poetry had in those days, it really was a political tool – if only that were so today:
“Ye statesmen who manage this cold-blooded land,
And who boast of your seamen’s exploits,
Ah think how your death-dealing bulwarks are mann’d,
And learn to respect human rights.”
The afternoon, although interesting, was pretty intense. There was an awful lot of information to take in and the talks ran over time which sadly meant there wasn’t a space for Q&A and opening the discussion which was disappointing.
The day was billed as celebrating an unsung hero and here at the end of that day - that hero has been well and truly sung back into our remembrance!