Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate – Telegraph

Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate – Telegraph.

Richard Dawkins and Long-Dead Ancestor, Henry Dawkins...

“The ancestors of Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner against superstition, intolerance and suffering, built their fortune using slaves, it has been revealed.” Daily Mail style Headlines from the Sunday Telegraph

For starters, none of us are responsible for the actions of others (aside from the children in our care and that is relinquished once they are 18) – least of all our long dead ancestors – any more than we are entitled to take personal credit for their innovations.  For The Telegraph to take this stance, they must have been REALLY desperate for something to print.  How on earth did this epitome of demagogic hackery get past the editor of a national broadsheet?  Were they asleep on the job?  I was aware of this article prior to it’s release, as many others who read the RDF website were, and he reported the aggressive and accusatory approach of the ‘news-gatherer‘.  If the Telegraph values it’s reputation at all, it will offer a front page apology to Proff. Dawkins (for this shameful attempt to slander his character) written by the journalist who wrote it, retract the article and discipline the editor.  The comments on the Telegraph article have been disabled.  I wonder why.  This is NOT an awkward truth.  He has done nothing wrong by being related to a property owner; one among hundreds who owned slaves nearly 300 years ago.  For people to arbitrarily declare that he personally owes an apology for historical events, is both crass and and parochial and indicative of a much bigger problem.

“Plantation owners were not the only customers who wanted to buy slaves. Many people in the cities of North America, including New York, Charleston and Providence in Rhode Island on the east coast, employed enslaved Africans as domestic servants, sailors and construction workers.” – Portcities Website, ‘Plantation owners’

Lets go through some of it shall we?

Before I start, I am by no means justifying the existence of slavery.  I find the idea of owning someone abhorrent – and the fact that it continues to this day, even more so.  What I aim to do in this post is clarify the events without applying a my 21st century ideals.

The first mistake that should be mentioned is the deliberate omission from popular history of where and how the slave merchants obtained their stocks.  European access to Africa was extremely limited.  Where colonies of British and European settlers existed, they were confined to a handful of  coastal areas of West Africa and solely at the pleasure of the African Tribal leaders.  Africa is a continent, not a single country, a fact which the ignorant (the writer of the article), seems blissfully unaware of.  The individual kingdoms had their own leaders, their own customs, and where European presence was met with hostility and deemed unwelcome, this was not the universal rule.  The neighbouring kingdoms also had their own conflicts and tensions, so when the Europeans came along they saw an opportunity to gain an advantage over their neighbours through trade.

“He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.” 

The mistake people commonly make is confusing simplicity for stupidity.  The second mistake is to apply modern standards, and impose modern motives to figures and events of the past.  The Africa of the 17th and 18th century was extremely simple in comparison with Europe but that does not make them ‘primitive’ or inferior.  As I said, each region had its own laws and customs.  One of those customs was to either kill or enslave criminals (all crimes were capital) and prisoners of war. If they had a harvest to collect, prisoners would be put to work, if not, they would execute them.  What the Europeans did was alter the equation.  The letters of Lieutenant John Matthews of the Royal navy provide first hand evidence (4), that the presence of European traders on the coast, willing to buy slaves, inspired some African leaders to lead raiding parties into other villages for sale to slave traders on the coast in exchange for gunpowder, weapons and other items which would add to their prestige and give them an advantage over their neighbours.  For those demanding monetary regress between the descendants of planters, traders and slaves are extremely remiss in their adamant claims that blame lies entirely at the feet of the planters and their descendents.

“One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.” 

“The Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.”

 The Beckford family (5) were also made extremely rich by their sugar plantations. In fact they were the richest family in England for the best part of 200 years.  They did not do what they did illegally.  At the time their actions were all legal and considered acceptable.  As did, the Dawkins family.

“Over Norton Park, inherited by Richard Dawkins’s father, remains in the family, with the campaigner as a shareholder and director of the associated business.”

“Professor Dawkins, the atheist evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene, claimed associating him with his slave-owning ancestors was “a smear tactic”.

“One of the most disagreeable verses of the Bible – amid strong competition – says the sins of the father shall be visited on the children until the third or fourth generation,” he said.”

Even if inherited sin was not a disgusting guilt-tactic cynically adopted by the early church to maintain fear and through fear, control, the fact that 6 generations have now passed, cannot have escaped the ‘reporter’s’ notice.  It holds individuals responsible for actions they could not have possibly had anything to do with and condemns infants to answer for, and somehow atone, for the sins of not only their parents but their grandparents, great grandparents and great, great grandparents.  This so-called journalist has appointed himself judge in this instance and demanded, that Dawkins answer for the ‘crimes’ (I will reiterate, that owning slaves was a legal and common practice in the 18th century).

“In 2010 Richard Dawkins wrote an obituary for his father, describing how John Dawkins had inherited Over Norton Park from a distant cousin and how the estate, in the Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty, had been in the family since the 1720s. He omitted, however, to mention how previous generations made their money.

And why should he have done?  What business is it of ours?  If it had been him, personally, owning slaves and profiting from their labour, we would probably be rightly shocked. It wasn’t him.  It was the 18th century and most of the wealthy landowning class, DID earn their money that way. It wasn’t shocking.

He quoted Scripture – disparagingly – to insist: “I condemn slavery with the utmost vehemence, but the fact that my remote ancestors may have been involved in it is nothing to do with me.

“One of the most disagreeable verses of the Bible – amid strong competition – says the sins of the father shall be visited on the children until the third or fourth generation.”

Audibly irritated, he added: “You need a genetics lecture. Do you realise that probably only about 1 in 512 of my genes come from Henry Dawkins?”

Well the reporter called his house (twice) and accused him of being guilty of enslaving a thousand people who died 3 centuries ago.  Who wouldn’t be ‘irritated’?  For the last time, Dawkins is NOT responsible for the actions of  his ancestors.

“”For goodness sake, William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.”

Richard Dawkins’ sister Sarah Kettlewell, 67, is thought still to live on the estate, which has a farm shop and pedigree cattle. According to Companies House records which list Professor Dawkins as a director, Over Norton Park Limited made a £12,000 profit last year.”

For those outside the UK, £12,000 is less than one person would earn on minimum wage in a year. And weren’t most people Christians and church-goers in the 18th century?

He insisted: “The estate is now a very small farm, struggling to make its way, and worth peanuts. The family fortune was frittered away in the 19th Century. Such money as I have is scarcely inherited at all.”

He earns his money from his work as a biologist, writer and public-speaking.  The little his family estate is worth or makes is shared among his other relations.  I fail to see a problem with this.  He’s doing nothing illegal.

He is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past.

Esther Stanford-Xosei, of Lewisham, south London, the co-vice chairman of the Pan-African Reparations Coalition in Europe, said: “There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

“The words of the apology need to be backed by action. The most appropriate course would be for the family to fund an educational initiative telling the history of slavery and how it impacts on communities today, in terms of racism and fractured relationships.”

The revelations come after a difficult few days for the campaigner.”

Only due to the fact that few hacks in the media and (several in the cabinet), have been making claims that not only fly in the face of reason, but are completely devoid of truth.  Baroness Warsi, an unelected, token Muslim woman in the Conservative party, is not unknown for her spurious claims about non believers and has made no effort at all to listen when corrected.  Her comments, and Cameron’s,  about this country being ‘Christian’ and needing a resurgence of religious fervour is, in my view, a sinister distraction tactic.  I have little doubt that Cameron knows that his party is in trouble with public opinion.  He backed Osborne’s economic austerity measures and they have made the situation far worse and is now attempting a policy of divide and rule among believers and non-believers in order to retain favour with the white, male, business owners.  He has even put in plans to force people on JSA to work for nothing, or risk losing the £53 per week they live on now.

To add inventive this scheme, big companies are also exempt from offering any of the benefits or rights that their other employees have (including minimum wage).  The only thing that will do is allow businesses to take on unpaid temporary staff on a continual stream and avoid paying contracted staff overtime.  The only people who actually gain are the board members and the shareholders.  While slavery is being brought back by stealth and Cameron systematically dehumanises the poorest of the British public, the trash-news aided and abetted by the Telegraph find it prudent to publish the family history of a specific prominent figure who speaks out against religious privilege in an attempt to deprive him of support.  It doesn’t bode well…

On Tuesday 14 February, some critics branded him “an embarrassment to atheism” after what many listeners considered a humiliation in a Radio 4 debate with Giles Fraser, formerly Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, in which the professor boasted he could recite the full title of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, then when challenged, dithered and said: “Oh God.”

Critics of the movement have always found an easy target in the shape of  Professor Dawkins and other outspoken atheists, viewing any opposition or contradiction to their beliefs as the height of rudeness.  The only thing we can do as a movement is to continue to push back and hold our ground.  It’s worrying enough that the British PM has begun pushing his Christianity and encouraging others to push theirs while complaining they are being marginalised by equality laws, but how long will it be before non-believers are more stringently penalised?  Our tax-funded faith schools already have the right to exclude the children of non-believers.  Let me make one thing quite clear, preventing one group of people from discriminating against another does NOT under any stretch of the imagination, amount to oppression, marginalisation, or persecution.  It amounts to fairness, where all people have equal rights under the law, without exception or privilege.

From the sublime to the ridiculous…

It gets worse.  On the 14th of February The Telegraph published and article applauding a former cleric and ‘Thought for the Day’ know-it-all, for rendering Professor Dawkins ‘speechless’ when he could not roll of the top of his tongue, the full title of Charles Darwin’s (going to be the name of my 3rd child if I have a third) ‘Origin of Species’.  It’s ‘On the Origin of Species by Process of Natural Selection‘ but as most copies are printed with the shortened title, including mine, it’s not surprising that most people don’t know it.  The fatuous challenge was issued after Dawkins pointed out that most people who call themselves Christian, cannot name the first book of the bible which is true.  However the point is more than about knowing what something is called.  It is about understanding the content.  The Rev. was not ‘stylish or mature.  It was a simple case of playground ‘I know you are, but what am I”, posturing. The second article uses their favourite ad hom – ‘militant secularists -against those of us who object to having the superstitions of other people foisted upon us by means of legislation.  When religious institutions start paying tax and making a real contribution to society, they can then start having a say on political reforms. Untill such time, can they shut up.

“We all hear about Muslim leaders issuing fatwas against homosexuals, preaching hate and the extermination of the Jews. But who hears of an Imam who is a credit to their religion?

And yet the extremists are merely a flipside of the atheists. Their actions, too, are entirely negative, aimed at winning plaudits from fellow atheists and in the process poisoning the rest of society against them.” – Stephen Pollard of The Daily Telegraph

The telegraph and the Independent have both gone downhill. It seems nationalist anachronistic crap now qualifies as reasonably objective and fashionable journalism to papers more concerned with sales than with quality and they are fast losing all credibility.

Related articles and Sources…

  4. Matthews. J (1787-8), ‘Letters of John Mattews‘ in Gibbons. R (ed.) ‘An Anthology of Primary Sources‘, Manchester University Press, New York, (pp. 266-270).

Haters: Named and Shamed.

To the people so viciously attacking a 16 yr old girl,

I say shame on you all! There is no excuse, especially if the abusers (yes, abusers!) are adults.

The children, some her fellow students, have learned to hate those with differing views from their parents and church leaders who should be equally ashamed of twisting those children’s minds. That is not to say that these young adults should not know better than to gang up and harass one individual in a very public pogrom. While it is your right to hold which ever religious views take your fancy, SO does Jessica have a right to not have your delusional superstitions foisted upon her. It does not matter how long the banner had been there. It should not have been there in the first place. Might I remind you that under US law that ‘prayer’, in all it’s forms is illegal in public schools. Last time I checked, none of us get to pick and choose which ever laws (just as you cherry-pick from the Bible) fit our convenience. You want religion in school? Join a church school!

The very obvious fact that you all seem utterly incapable of upholding the values laid down in the banner proves that you don’t deserve to have it. Why am I doing this list? So that there is a permanent and lasting record of the hate you have directed at one person because they stood up for the law, the constitution of the United States, and her rights. In short, a REAL American if we are going to use the criterium you seem to so vehemently cling to. You claim to be proud patriotic, Americans? Wrong. From where I am standing the only phrase which succinctly describes any of you is “religious bigot”.

I will begin…

  • Jenn Gould
  • Matt Starchild
  • Donna Higgins
  • Wes Wyatt
  • Elijah Kilbane


  • Amanda Aldridge @amandajanicexo
  • Margarett @margarett538
  • Silly symbols rather than a name? @MichaelRebel_
  • iCrotchsnot (seriously?) @Crotchsnot
  • Destiny Marcello @destinymarcello
  • Sydney Magner @Sydthakiid
  • Tayler Crocker @TayCrooks
  • Gab Zaccaria @Gab_zaccaria
  • Zach The Dog @Zachthedogg
  • Caleb McDevitt @C_McDevitt
  • Dominic Asprinio @dominicasprinio/li>
  • Alyssa Pingitore @alyssaping
  • A. J. St. Angelo @AjSaint
  • Ryan A Simoneau @Ry_Simoneau
  • REK @RachelKinight
  • Im Dante Smith @NotDante
  • carys @XXXX_carys
  • Cracked Lens @zombiecamera
  • Eric Rosa @etr131
  • Alexandra Vachon @Alexandraa_x7
  • Gabriella Cimarelli @G_Cimarelli
  • Christ @Chris_lawt0n
  • Kam @Kam_Sadiq

If you want a reminder of the hateful things you said, go here. There are far more and as soon as more names come to light I shall be adding them to this list. You will not remain anonymous for long and you will not get away with your abhorrent behaviour.

Update 14/1/12 23:14 (GMT)

Melissa says:

The title to this rediculous report is above all wrong. Its not just “so called” christians saying these things, its reg ppl too. and im glad she is getting commented on and harrassed. shes a child that knows nothing about waht rights are. she dont even know who SHE is yet. and for adults to think shes right…. you are pathetic. the true christians are not sending ugly threats or comments, they are praying for her and the mess she caused and all in all GOD will deal with her, not our problem to solve.

arty says:

All you people are idiots and this girl should just sit down and shut the F up. I agree fully with the threats.

If she is old enough to stand up for something then she can surely take on everything else.

A New European Pogrom?

French police evacuate a Roma family in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, near Lille

A very moving article in The Independent this morning details a small portion of the history of the Roma people in Europe and some of what is going on in France and Italy.  It is well worth mentioning the vitriol and venom expressed within the Disqus comment thread.  Some were nothing short of outright racism and I was even accused of “reverse-racism” by one John Standing for apparently not caring about ‘The English’ and not sharing their white-supremacist views.   I am ashamed to show some of my international readers the hateful nature expressed by some of my fellow countrymen, comrades, I really am. Unfortunately it would be the height of dishonesty to hide it.  I will leave the comment thread to the end as it really would be wrong to take it out of context.

A group of northern councils in the firing line for public spending cuts has won funding to help Roma communities integrate in Europe.

Leeds, Wakefield and a partnership of other Yorkshire authorities will lead the £1m European Union-funded project, which also involves cities in Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Spain.

This coming Thursday will mark the next steps in a move to forcibly integrate the Roma population.  The Council of Europe, a group of academics, government advisers and Roma representatives, will be discussing their media-and-PR-friendly project entitled “The Decade of integration 2005 to 2015“.  The idea behind this is apparently to improve their socio-economic standards of living and will entail Romany representatives all over Europe being paraded in museums and displayed like artefacts to talk about their culture to alleviate our fears.  Does this seem to you as it does to me, like blaming them for the prejudices of the majority which have been vastly amplified by media hype and political vote-winning hyperbole?  This initiative is understandably very low key and low funded but now that the French president, Mr Sarkozy, (who is in very real danger of losing the next election) has joined with Silvio Burlusconi in a sickening plan to eject the Romany people from their respective countries of residence.  They would have us all believe that they are a grave security threat but by trying to make us believe this, they betray their own prejudices.

Dictionary definition of the word ‘Gypsy’

  • itinerant: a laborer who moves from place to place as demanded by employment; “itinerant traders”
  • a member of a people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and who traditionally live by seasonal work and fortunetelling; they are believed to have originated in northern India but now are living on all continents (but mostly in Europe, North Africa, and North America)
  • Romany: the Indic language of the Gypsies

It began in Italy, where the descriptive noun ‘Gypsy’ has been deemed to be synonymous with ‘Criminal’.  Since the 15th century, Gypsies from the Balkans have been emigrating into Italy and the estimated population is now 180,000.  Many are believed to have been sedentary for centuries.  These are people with their own language and heritage and who are the rest of Europe to say that they have no right to their lifestyle even if they had chosen it? We did it to the native Americans when we stole their land and forced them onto ‘reservations’.  We did the same again to the Australian Aboriginals.  We should, as Europeans, take pains to not allow history to continue on this loop of repetition.

When Romania entered the EU in January 2007, it’s citizenry were given relative freedom of movement around Europe.  It resulted in vast influx of immigration into Italy and a panicked realisation that they were entitled to be there.  The Romany people are but a tiny fraction of this.  The majority of Romany people in Europe are settled and contributing members of society but Burlusconi and Sarkozy will put an end to the progress they have made by ejecting them from France and Italy on the basis of a single principal; they are Roma.  In Communist Yugoslavia, education was compulsory for all including the Roma. The Romany who were educated were then able to get jobs and improve their lives without the artificial stigma of their heritage barring them from a settled life.  In Romania they were enslaved through much of the 19th century and in Italy, they remain the marginalised and easy polemic scapegoat for the country’s social problems.

During the conflict in Bosnia Italy refused to recognise a people with a nomadic history as refugees and rather than help them to reintegrate, they forced them back into being an itinerant people by making them live in camps and continual notification to quit.  Is it any wonder then, that they bear those who have foisted that lifestyle upon them any resentment?  Italy has not allowed them to integrate and therefore it is morally wrong for them to condemn the Romany for not doing so.  The land that these camps are placed on is little more than wasteland and to pretend magnanimity by ‘allowing‘ them to stop there is dishonest to say the least.

The city of Rome did nothing to prevent unauthorised camps (of refugees they had refused to help) from appearing, beggars on the subway, strangers raiding bins, and unlicensed windscreen cleaners and the authorities seemed content to let them struggle in poverty.  When, in November 2007, a wife of a naval captain was mugged and murdered in a dark lane, a Romany gypsy was the ‘suspected culprit’ so the mayor ordered the demolition of all unofficial camps and brought in a law calling for the expulsion of any and all foreigners who he deemed a security risk.  Mr Veltroni is a hypocrit.  He claims to be on the side of the weak and deems the weak to be those who suffer.  By that reasoning he should be PROTECTING and ASSISTING  the Romany inhabitants and not persecuting them further with a populist cure-all to win votes on polling day.  It will not solve the country’s problems but exacerbate them, and when the Italian and French authorities realise this they will no doubt be looking around for yet another minority group to pile all their woes onto and send out into the desert.

Their intent is to make Via Idro a transit camp with a maximum stay allowance of three months. ALL of the residents have been given notice to quit so the may move the Romanians in and close the much worse informal camps.  Moving one problem out to make room for another?  Isn’t that what the Nazi’s did in their concentration camps to make room for each new shipment of their ‘stock’?  I’m sure you’ll pardon me for noting the similarity, but ignoring it will not simply make it go away.  What the Presidents of France and Italy are doing is deeply and morally wrong and they cannot be allowed to get away with it.  After an outbreak of violence, the inmates of the Romanian camp were sworn to a pact of “sociality and legality” if they wished to stay.  This meant they were offered the ‘choice’ between a promise to refrain from stealing and begging, and from having overnight house-guests, or to be moved on yet again.  Yes, they were all assumed to be naturally corrupt and the authorities even went so far as to dictate how they should socialise.  What they were offered was not a choice but an ultimatum and they are being treated as prisoners held under erroneous charges, with neither hope of parole nor release or, indeed, any fair opportunity to improve their own lives and this should NOT be happening  in the 21st century.

Are we ever going to learn that when a minority is forced to scrape a living on the outskirts of society as the Roma people have, that is where they will stay?  It is equally wrong to deprive them of the choices we all expect as our due.  Barring them from any form of settled life is NOT the same as natural economic or human competition.  The key-word here is people and we are talking about an individuals right to not be forced to live on a scrap of waste land because those of us who chose to live a ‘normal’ life have an irrational fear of those they have little or no understanding.  To label every person of Romany heritage as naturally immoral is no better than claiming that those of us with blonde hair and blue eyes is a Nazi, simply because somebody else many decades ago had some twisted irrational idea of a ‘master-race’.  Maybe they do have members of their clans that steal but so does every other nationality and they need to be aware that among those they demonise as ‘naturally criminal’ are children and infants.

And here we are at the Comments.  61-90 on an ‘oldest first’ filter is where you can find my comments. This is the one I replied to from John Standing, but by no means the worst of them.  He was busy attacking someone else for basic human decency when I was so rude as to question his own motivation.

John Standing

You are not “human and decent”. You are selfish and you don’t care about other people at all.

If you don’t know what altruism is, I suggest you check it out. Add the word “competitive” to it, while you are at it.

I don’t think that my reply was particularly harsh but I had some questions that he is yet to answer.

Does telling yourself that decent humane behaviour toward other people who are otherwise strangers is abnormal help you ease your own conscience and justify your ill-informed prejudices?

We know what altruism is and most of us don’t need to make a conscious effort not to be sociopathic monsters only out for ourselves. What your idea of ‘self-loathing’ implies is that not putting ourselves at the forefront of our ambitions is abnormal behaviour. There is no such thing as pure altruism as this defies any instinct for our own survival, but what you decry as “acts of out-group altruism” is actually a call to discontinue the dehumanising of these people. These people have been confined to camps and treated as criminals on the basis of ‘race’. They have already been subjected to centuries of harassment and persecution. What you are implying is that the discontinuation of this and the cessation of forcing an entire demographic into the same nomadic lifestyle that has, in many cases, been the source of a culture of distrust of them, is not only wrong, but selfish. It is my experience that the truly selfish often try to scapegoat their problems and mistakes rather than face up to their own part in it and find a REAL solution.

That, Mr Standing, is a disgusting and selfish attitude. I sincerely hope that you reconsider your out-moded ideas and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

I received this reply.


There is no cost that you would not ask Europeans to pay so you can cleave to your idiotic illusions of goodness and decency.  You do not care whether the English survive into the 21st Century.  But you care about the Yamomani.  You do not care about the degradation of the English working class.  But you care about black education and black employment opportunity.  You do not care about the preservation of our cultural institutions such as freedom of speech and association, and even marriage and the family.  But you care about Tibetans and Palestinians.

I find you totally repugnant and anti-human, and your assumption of moral supremacy, while characteristic in the extreme, to be really a mental disease.

Link to comment:

Nice huh?


Firstly don’t presume to know me. Secondly these people have no desire to be looked after and have traditionally been either self sufficient or taken local jobs and moved on only when there was no work. For your info, I am very happily married and stay at home mum, so your assumption about my disregard for ‘family’ is just as erroneous as the rest of the utter garbage you have be spouting on this thread. You are a very good example of what the rest of us should strive hard not to become.

Secondly, don’t project your sickening racism on to the rest of us. You seem proud of your deep-seated prejudices which is all the more worrying. I refuse to get involved in an argument with a white-supremacist, fascist, bully. Nor will I get into a discussion with a close minded bigoted moral-reprobate who seems to delight in deprecating those who do not share your illusory nationalistic pride.

This is where the comments stopped.  I think he went off to pick on an easier target.