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Liberty Bound: Slavery and St Helena

4 April 2014 to 6 April 2015

This exhibition has now closed

Please note that this video includes images of human remains.
Read a transcript of this video.

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This exhibition focused on one of the most important archaeological finds of recent times in one of the most remote places on earth.

This was the first ever exhibition to look at the recently re-discovered burial ground containing the remains of 'liberated' Africans in Rupert's Valley, St Helena, in the South Atlantic. Items from the excavations that were on show at the museum included coins, jewellery, buttons, iron tags and fragments of clothing. These simple finds from archaeological excavations revealed a moving story of the men, women and children that owned these items.

The graveyards were uncovered during archaeological work carried out in advance of an airport development. Between 2007 and 2008 excavations were undertaken by archaeologists from the UK, supported by St Helenian volunteers.

old newspaper illustration of a large group of seated Africans

Africans from the Zeldina (wearing tin tickets) © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

The burial grounds were the final resting grounds for enslaved Africans freed from illegal slave-running  vessels, or 'slavers', by the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron in the middle decades of the 19th century. Many enslaved Africans did not survive the trauma of their transportation and died in the British receiving depot at Rupert's Valley. Excavations only uncovered a very small proportion of the estimated 8,000 burials on St Helena.

Although remote geographically, this small valley is of immense cultural and historic significance and the archaeological investigations enhance our understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies.  

This exhibition revealed that liberation could be cruel. For those Africans who survived the ordeal of being enslaved, freedom came with a caveat, as most never saw their homelands again.

Further information

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The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Government of St Helena, the Museum of St Helena and Dr Andrew Pearson. The Rupert's Valley archaeological project was funded by the UK Department for International Development.