A small churchyard in a quiet corner of Clapham has a largely forgotten and sad part in
Britain’s black colonial history. Zachary Macaulay was one of the leading members of the
Clapham Sect, a network of individuals working for the abolition of slavery in the British
dominions. He is remembered by a memorial in Westminster Abbey, a plaque on the site of
his former house just by Clapham Common Tube and a road next to the Common.
Macaulay had worked in the Caribbean and seen slavery first hand and returned determined
to end it. He was the numbers man, providing William Wilberforce MP with the facts to
demonstrate the trade’s scale and barbarity. Macaulay became the governor of Sierra
Leone, the colony set up in west Africa for freed formerly enslaved people, many of whom
fought for King George in the American War of independence.
In 1799 Macaulay returned to Britain, bringing with him 25 children, aged from 10 to 19. He
set up just opposite St Paul’s Church by Clapham Old Town the School for Africans, and the
Georgian house that was the school still stands. The objective was to train the next
generation in the skills to support the colony and to return to Africa. Practical skills were
taught, but the emphasis was on religious instruction.
The school ended in tragedy. The initial history of the school stated that “one by one they
succumbed to the cold”. Slowly the children died, not of the cold, but measles. Of the original
25 only six students had survived by 1806.
They were buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard. But unlike for Macaulay no memorial remains,
their tombstones, if they did indeed even have tombstones, have been cleared away a long
time ago. All that are left are the records in the Clapham burial register. The myth of the
English cold continued and when the Windrush brought Jamaicans to help rebuild a war-torn
London in 1948 MPs confidently stated the young men would return after one British winter.
In : Georgian
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