Rural consultancy gives London, UK, slavery exhibition go-ahead

March 31, 2007 (PRLEAP.COM) Education News
A slave trade exhibition on the River Thames, London, to help mark the bicentenary of the UK Parliament’s abolition of slavery can go ahead thanks to the contribution of a rural Somerset, UK, business.

Wilkins Health and Safety Services, based near Langport, on the Somerset Levels, UK, was commissioned to carry out a health and safety audit of all aspects of the exhibition, which is being held in the hold of a replica of a notorious slaveship The Zong.

It was one of the most unusual commissions the consultancy has carried out, with principal Jon Wilkins inspecting the slaveship while in dry dock in Gloucester.

The Zong gained an infamous reputation in 1781 when its captain threw 133 slaves overboard to drown because the ship was short of fresh water – and later won an insurance claim of £30 a head for his lost ‘cargo’.

Mr Wilkins said: “Although it was one of our more unusual commissions, as a health and safety consultancy we were able to apply just the same principles as if the exhibition was taking place in a museum.

“We regularly go all over the country in all kinds of circumstances and we ask basically the same questions but apply the answers in a different way to show whether or not something is as safe as you can make it for the public and staff who will be involved.

“Going below decks of The Zong was a very claustrophobic experience and created a real sense of the terror and suffering which slaves would have endured when they were thrown into the dark and damp hold of the ship to be chained and caged for the voyage.

“It must have been an horrific experience for them, and I would recommend anybody to go and have a look at the exhibition.”

The Zong is to be moored for 10 days next to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from March 30 to April 9, inclusive, for visitors to see how slaves were transported and learn about the conditions they suffered.

The ‘Free at Last?’ exhibition has been constructed by North Devon firm H&H Creative, of Bideford, for The Spirit of Wilberforce Project, which has invited the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to visit the display.

H&H Creative is run by managing director Mark Hewitt, who called in Wilkins Health and Safety Services to ensure all the relevant health and safety legislation was met.

The Zong is a 153 ft square rigger owned by Square Sail Shipyard Ltd, of Charlestown Harbour, St Austell, Cornwall, and has been used in many films and television productions.

The Spirit of Wilberforce Project may also sail her to Bristol and Liverpool because of the two cities’ close links with the slave trade.

Free at Last? examines and uses the past to educate and strengthen visitors for the future, exploring the abolition, the legacy of slavery, modern slavery, and the value of life itself.

An important part of the project is to draw public attention to the evidence that slavery in a variety of forms is still virulent today - people trafficking, sex trafficking, drugs, and even debt are forms of oppression which enslave many people today.

More information about the Free at Last? exhibition is available by visiting and more information about the replica slaveship – real name Kaskelot – is available at

Information about the Wilkins Health and Safety Services consultancy is available by calling 08704 030470 or emailing or by visiting