Slavery role should boost World Heritage case, says expert

A cave system in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar has been put forward for World Heritage Site status, along with the UK’s famous Forth Bridge.

But a member of the original selection panel says St Helena’s own case for the accolade should be looked at again.

Dr Mike Pienkowski says new information about its role in ending the slave trade would make its case even stronger.

The island was one of 11 sites submitted to Unesco, the world cultural organisation.

Four other sites – including The Lake District and Chatham dockyard – were then put forward to a UK panel of heritage experts.

They then decided that the Forth Bridge and Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar – the last known outpost of Neanderthal Man – should be formally submitted to Unesco.

If selected, they will rank alongside wonders such as Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal – as well as Gough Island, in the South Atlantic.

St Helena remains on a “tentative” list of possible sites that could be put forward at any time in the next ten years.

It was chosen only for its natural wonders – which include 400 types of invertebrate and 45 plants found nowhere else in the world – but not for its human history.

The island’s connection with Napoleon Bonaparte and the unparalleled extent of its coastal fortifications were major parts of its cultural case.

It also played a crucial role in the establishing of the British Empire, by providing a refuelling post for ships bound for the Indies.

But the significance of the island’s role in ending the trans-Atlantic slave trade has only been realised since the tentative list was drawn up.

Dr Pienkowski has told St Helena Online that the island’s heritage case should be reviewed in the light of information uncovered by archaeologists who excavated 300 graves of slaves who were buried in Rupert’s Valley.

They died as a result of their ordeal on slave-running ships that were captured by a British squadron, set up after the abolition of slavery by the UK. Some died at sea, others in the “liberated Africans” depot in Rupert’s Valley.

It is thought 5,000 Africans were buried in the valley in the mid 19th Century.

Dr Andrew Pearson and his team also discovered long-forgotten information in the island’s archives – overlooked by other historians.

Dr Pienkowski, honorary director of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, said: “I was one of the so-called expert panel deciding which sites should go on the tentative list for World Heritage status.

“It was proposed as cultural and natural site.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the site should be on for natural purposes. I’m not an expert in the cultural side but I was most impressed by the information given.

“I hope those with expertise in this area might consider revising the listing so it includes the cultural side as well.”

He said St Helena’s designation can be revised at any time while it is on the shortlist.

“It’s quite an elaborate procedure, but St Helena has so many friends in the natural heritage world and cultural heritage world, they ought to be able to pull in the advice to put it together.”

Recognition as a world heritage site would give a big boost to efforts to promote the island’s natural wonders and colonial history. But it would also bring extra pressure to maintain its cultural assets.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the United Nations has expressed concerns about modern development round Parliament Square and the Tower of London.

St Helena National Trust was complained that the island has no law to protect its built heritage.

SEE ALSO:
AUDIO SLIDESHOW: ‘My intense grief for St Helena slaves’
Slavery
‘Heritage damaged’ as Trust calls for new law

LINKS:
The Guardian: Forth rail bridge and Gibraltar cave in running for world heritage site status
UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum
World Heritage Sites

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