University of Cambridge’s historical involvement with Tobias Rustat
During research into the University’s past links with the Atlantic slave trade, it has been established that a prominent benefactor of Jesus College and Cambridge University Library, Tobias Rustat, was a major investor in a 17th-century slave trading company.
Rustat, a courtier to Charles II, derived great wealth from the Royal African Company, which was responsible for shipping more enslaved Africans to the Americas than any other institution during the period of the slave trade.
In 1667, Rustat gave the University Library its first endowment, £1000, to be spent on books of its choosing. Rustat was much later memorialised by a small late 19th-century stone statue overlooking West Court at The Old Schools, the original site of the Library.
The University’s Advisory Group on the Legacies of Enslavement was asked by Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope to make recommendations on the future of the Rustat statue. In parallel, the University Library gave consideration to the Rustat endowment, which generates income of around £5000 a year.
No decision has been made regarding the statue, but preliminary enquiries are being made about the process for removing the statue from the exterior of a Grade 1 listed building.
The Library is currently determining how income from this Rustat Fund might be remodelled (and renamed) in order to support active research into the slave trade and its legacies. For the 2020-21 financial year, income from the Fund will be spent on resources about the transatlantic slave trade and about the Black diaspora. Possible purchases will be identified collaboratively by library staff and researchers and final decisions will be taken by the Library’s Decolonisation Working Group.
Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian, said: “The devastation caused by the Atlantic slave trade continues to affect millions of people globally to this day. We cannot effectively demonstrate solidarity with our black colleagues and students at Cambridge – and with others around the world – without first examining and understanding how we as an institution have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery.
“As well as asking the Inquiry to look into the Rustat benefaction, we also want to determine, with the critical help of our colleagues from the BAME community at Cambridge, how the income generated by this historic donation is best dispersed going forward.”
Jesus College has also announced that it has decided to make changes wherever Rustat is explicitly celebrated in College, following recommendations from the College’s own Legacy of Slavery Working Party.
An initial report from the University’s Advisory Group on Legacies of Enslavement was issued in May. A final report is due in Easter Term 2022.