Historian: call to pull down Nelson's Column 'like destruction of culture by Isis'

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A London history professor has branded calls to have Nelson’s Column pulled down as “the height of cultural vandalism”.

Sky journalist Afua Hirsch, also a novelist and writer, made the controversial suggestion after campaigns to remove similar statues in the US sparked violent riots in Charlottesville where one woman died.

Writing in the Guardian, she claimed that Admiral Horatio Nelson was “what you would now call, without hesitation, a white supremacist”.

She added: “He believed that black people were inferior, that they belong on plantations working under conditions of torture and exploitation and he used his incredible position of influence to try and prolong that situation.

“My real issue is when we remember these figures from British history we don’t remember the full picture. We only remember the pro Imperial propaganda that he was a good person, that he was a hero.”

The statue of Lord Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square, London, was pictured with an Olympic themed hat, as part of a summer of cultural ‘firsts’ to mark the London 2012 Olympics.

Ms Hirsch said that “figures like Nelson spring to mind when I hear the latest news of confederate statues being pulled down in the US”.

Critics have accused the columnist of attempting to “erase history” by suggesting the iconic Trafalgar Square landmark should be removed.

Jerry White, professor of London history at Birkbeck College, told the Standard: “Almost any historical figure that we could think of, when tested, will come off looking like they had views that would be unacceptable to people living now.”

Controversial claims: Afua Hirsch (© Twitter/@afuahirsch)

Dr White said pulling down the statue would be “the height of cultural vandalism” 

He added: “It would be absurd to base that decision on something someone said in the 1790s.

“It is comparable to Isil in Iran destroying a culture they believed was unacceptable and thinking it could be erased.”

Others took to social media to slam Ms Hirsch’s suggestion.

Simon Wheatley wrote: “Really ? Take down Nelsons Column because he had racist idea’s how can you apply modern values to someone who lived and died 200 yrs ago.” 

Andy Fleetham added: “History can’t be changed, but you can learn from it. Social opinions 200 years ago won’t be erased by kicking over statues #NelsonsColumn.”

The 51.6m statue was erected outside the National Gallery between 1940 and 1943 to commemorate the Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in the Battle of Tafalgar in 1805.

Admiral Nelson played key roles during the Napoleonic Wars.

Students at Oxford University previously launched an unsuccessful campaign to tear down a monument of Imperialist Cecil Rhodes over fears it might offend ethnic minorities.

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