Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

Model of a freed slave

Made in 1834-1836
Mixed media

Object number T.1977.9
Given by Margaret Langdon, 1977

See this object at The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester This object may not always be on display. Please check with the venue before visiting.

Model of a freed slave

This model is one of a group of four, possibly made to mark the freeing of his slaves by Ralph Henry Samuel, a textile merchant from Liverpool who also ran a successful cotton plantation in Rio de Janeiro.  The Samuel family made regular visits to their Brazilian plantation, unlike most plantation owners who left their holdings entirely in the hands of often brutal overseers. Samuel chose to free his enslaved workers in 1834, over 50 years before emancipation in Brazil in 1888. Perhaps the 1833 legislation to free slaves in the British Empire gave him the impetus to emancipate those on his British-owned piece of Latin America.

The figures themselves are individualised and dressed in clothing that reflects their new status. However, this female figure also carries a white baby, illustrating that black women were often the primary carers of their masters' children. Images of African people became increasingly stereotyped during the 1800s, prompted by the development of the 'blackface' minstrel show, and characterised by very black skin, thick lips and often buffoonish expressions. It is unclear how much these models were based on such caricatures.

This information was provided by curators from The Whitworth Art Gallery.


'I understand that these dolls were produced around the 1830s, specifically for the family. I do not think they portray stereotypes based on minstrels. They are too early for this."

It is my opinion they were made in the image of the slaves on the plantation who possibly cared for the children. There is no argument they are images of slaves, but I do not think the images are racist, on the contrary, I think they were made to remind the children of the servants they were closest to.

Images portrayed after 1860 were minstrelsy. Minstrelsy relegated black people to dehumanizing roles. Skin the colour of coal, ruby lips around a toothy grin, tattered clothing, buffoons, foolish and stupid. Lazy, singing and dancing, child like.

The dolls here are black with red lips, but remind me of African dolls I have seen for sale in West African markets made with felt, wool and cotton cloth. Dolls made by Africans, in the image of the people around them, not intended to be racist.'

Leslie Braine Ikomi, collector of black art and member of Manchester Museum's Community Advisory Panel, on the opening of the Trade and Empire exhibition in 2007