Richard Gildart

WAG 10637


This artwork has been identified as having links to a person connected with transatlantic slavery. This research is part of the Walker Art Gallery’s ongoing work to be more transparent about the collection’s relationship to Britain's colonial past. This is a portrait of Richard Gildart (1671 - 1770). He was one of Liverpool’s most prominent citizens in the 18th century. His substantial fortune was made in the transatlantic slave trade. He was a ship-owner and was involved in five voyages, that we know of, between 1714 and 1718. These entailed the trafficking of enslaved African people from West Africa to the Americas. There, they were sold and forced to work as enslaved labour on sugar or tobacco plantations. Gildart grew rich through these activities and became a powerful figure in Liverpool. He was the town’s elected Member of Parliament between 1734 and 1754 and Mayor of Liverpool in 1714, 1731 and 1736. He was also a committee member of the African Company of Merchants. Founded in 1752, the company was British chartered and replaced the Royal African Company. It operated in the Gold Coast of West Africa where trade in enslaved African people was a principal part of the economy for many years. The African Company of Merchants was managed by a committee. This was composed of nine members, three from each of the major ports in Britain trading in enslaved African people - London, Liverpool and Bristol. Gildart’s mercantile business success may have been assisted by his family associations. In 1707 he married Ann Johnson (born 1790), daughter of Sir Thomas Johnson (1664 - 1728). Johnson amassed a fortune in the sugar and tobacco trade and is believed to have been one of Liverpool’s earliest people involved in transatlantic slavery. He was also Mayor of Liverpool in 1695 and Member of Parliament from 1701 to 1723. Johnson was also the driving force behind the construction of the Old Dock in Liverpool, which served ships in the transatlantic slave trade and its associated economies. The political positions of both Johnson, and later Gildart, show how central slavery was to Liverpool and its development in the 18th century. Gildart Street and Sir Thomas Street in Liverpool are named after them. The influence and legacies of the Gildart family continued in Liverpool for many years. This portrait was painted by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1768, when Gildart was 97 years old. Gildart had seven sons and six daughters. His son James Gildart (1711 - 1790) was Mayor of Liverpool in 1750. James continued to run the family business and incurred huge losses during the American War of Independence (1775 - 1783). Gildart's daughter Ann (1721 - 1800) married Spencer Steers (dates unknown), son of Thomas Steers (possibly 1672 – 1750), who engineered Liverpool’s first dock. The artist Joseph Wright (1734 - 1797) was the north of England’s foremost portraitist, recently arrived in Liverpool.