'The Black Boy' c1844

William Windus (1822 - 1907)

Painting of young Black boy

The boy in this portrait is said to have crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool as a stowaway, and was discovered by local Pre-Raphaelite artist William Windus on the doorstep of the Monument Hotel. He was apparently reunited with his parents after a relative saw the portrait in the window of a frame-maker's shop, although it is not certain if this touching anecdote is true or not.

  • Oil on canvas, 76.1 x 63.5cm
  • Accession number WAG1601

The prospect of a better life in England

Before the American Civil War, Black Americans in particular found the prospect of living in England tempting. It was a potential haven where their freedom was guaranteed and where they could move in a less hostile atmosphere. However, on arrival in England, stowaways who had managed to escape were often forced onto the streets. English attitudes towards the Black in the mid-century ranged from egalitarian friendship to open racist hatred. Despite this, those who fled to England publicly testified to the improvement in their condition.

Liverpool's early Black presence

There have been people of African descent in Liverpool since at least the 1700s.

Some Africans were sold in the town in the 1760s and 1770s but very few enslaved Africans were brought to Liverpool directly from Africa. A number of merchants brought slaves from the West Indies to work as servants in their homes.

Some African chiefs also sent their sons to be educated here and in the 1790s over 50 were at school in Liverpool.

With the development of the palm oil trade after 1807, African seafarers were increasingly employed to crew the ships. Many of them settled on the outskirts of the town, in the area we know as Liverpool 8.