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This display explores the changing image of the West India Regiments, starting from the life a single man, Samuel Hodge, the first black soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for valour. It focuses on the history of Britain’s West India Regiments from their creation at the end of the 18th century up to the First World War. Read more about the extraordinary story of Samuel Hodge.
Founded in 1795, the West India Regiments were military units based in the Caribbean and, later, west Africa, created by the British army during the war with Republican France. British army commanders established twelve West India Regiments in total with the view that black soldiers were necessary for the security of the British islands as white soldiers suffered terribly from disease. More than 13,000 enslaved African men and boys were bought at a cost of about £70m in today’s money.
After the slave trade was made illegal in 1807, the British army looked for a new source of soldiers. Men liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy were given the option of enlisting in the army and this became the main source of new recruits. After slavery was ended in the British Empire by 1838, free men enlisted, including Samuel Hodge, who was a West Indian Regiment volunteer soldier and was later awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery.
It speaks directly to many of the themes in the permanent displays at Docklands, notably enslaved resistance, black agency, and visual representation. The theme is explored primarily through prints, ephemera and maps, as well as a large framed oil painting by Louis William Desanges entitled The Capture of the Tubabakolong, Gambia 1866, which depicts Private Samuel Hodge of the 4th West India Regiment, who was the first African-Caribbean soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
The display is curated by David Lambert, Professor of History at the Department of History. It has been created in partnership with the University of Warwick and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and draws on research undertaken as part of the 'Africa's Sons Under Arms' research project. Find out more about the wider project research project. Watch the display film 'Representing Samuel Hodge, V.C. '
The Museum of London would like to thank the following lenders for their contribution to this display:
The British Library, London
Council of the National Army Museum, London
Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance
Professor David Lambert
With special thanks to the late W D Cribbs and his family.
This display was created in partnership with Professor David Lambert, University of Warwick.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
In partnership with
The University of Warwick
“The key message from this display is that people of African and Caribbean descent played a significant part in our military history long before the First World War. This was not well acknowledged at the time, or well known since, which is why it is important to highlight this history in this display.”Professor David Lambert, Professor of History at the University of Warwick