Gladstone resident John Bell says a discussion should be had about the naming of the city after William Gladstone, whose family was entrenched in slavery in England.
Gladstone resident John Bell says a discussion should be had about the naming of the city after William Gladstone, whose family was entrenched in slavery in England.

Leaders reject calls to rename Gladstone

DEBATE has ignited about renaming Gladstone to permanently erase any links to slavery, but all three levels of government are strong supporters of the city retaining the name it was adorned with in 1846.

Historian Paulette Flint said the city was named after British colonial secretary William Ewart Gladstone, who from 1868 to 1894 was prime minister on four separate occasions, despite his family’s entrenchment in slavery.

West Gladstone resident John Bell emailed The Observer this week asking “Why is the City of Gladstone named after one of the world’s most highly successful slave trading families?”

The uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen England’s Liverpool University agree to rename a building named after the former PM and his family, plus other calls to remove statues of William Gladstone around the nation.

Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher said he was adamant the city should keep its name.

“Gladstone is a very proud community and is proud of its name, so I don’t see any reason to change that,” he said.

“Any change in the name of Gladstone would only be a backward step for the city and for the community.

“Despite any links to slavery in another country, I don’t see that as a reason to change the city’s name.”

Gladstone region mayor Matt Burnett agreed the name of the city should remain. Do I think we should change the name of Gladstone? My answer to that is no,” he said.

“I have been asked that before when this was raised a few years ago at a different university.

Former British PM William Ewart Gladstone.
Former British PM William Ewart Gladstone.

The name of the city is Gladstone and we won’t be changing the name of it.”

Flynn MP Ken O’Dowd said people today must learn from mistakes of the past.

“Changing the name of a town because the founder was linked to the slave trade industry will not alter people’s views on racism,” he said. “We can however make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Mr O’Dowd would not say whether he thought the name of the city should be changed.

Mr Bell pointed to the fact there is a statue of the former British PM in the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum, but said the city’s name should remain.

“Former British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was a vigorous supporter of his father’s very, very profitable slave-trading business and Gladstone used his parliamentary position to delay the abolition of slave trading for years,” Mr Bell said.

“I am not suggesting for a moment that Prime Minister Gladstone’s statue in the Gladstone art gallery be defaced, but perhaps there could be a plaque added to the statue explaining his misdeeds.

“In comparison to inaction by the Queensland Government, the West Australian Government is now removing the name King Leopold Ranges, as the Belgian king was responsible for deaths in the Belgian Congo.”

When slavery was abolished in the UK in the 1830s, the Gladstone family received the equivalent of $17.35 million today in compensation for the predominantly West Indian slaves they were forced to free.

Cr Burnett also said renaming South Gladstone’s Coon St wasn’t on the agenda.



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