Zachary Macaulay – A Case For Biography?

I have long been a “fan” (if that’s the proper word) of the ideas of Lord Macaulay. His speeches to Parliament on the Indian question, and other topics generally, I consider to be fine specimens of political thinking.

I was a little surprised, therefore, when a Facebook friend of mine posted a quotation from him to the effect that the best way to keep the Indians under the jackboot of British Empire rule was to deprive them of their native culture by teaching them English. That seemed so totally out of tune with Macaulay’s own position that I ran some checks and started reading Trevelyan’s “Life and Letters” to see if I had somehow misinterpreted the, what seemed, profoundly radical position Macaulay had actually taken on it. It did seem I was right and that the quotation was a complete fabrication being spread around by Hindu Nationalists.

My response has been to record a series of videos quoting Macaulay directly during his time in India and uploading them to You Tube (“Lord Macaulay In India- In His Own Words”). I hope that this will set the record straight as regards that.

However another thing I discovered in my reading was what an extraordinary father he had had. Young Zachary Macaulay, following family tradition, was sent to a plantation of some sort to look after the slaves. There, revolted by what was going on, he eventually threw in the job (much to his father’s chagrin) and became an ardent abolitionist and one of the main members of the so called “Clapham Sect”. In this position he traveled (as a slave) in a ship and recorded his experiences.

Later on he was to supervise a new colony of freed slaves in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He helped construct the town and, despite raids from French former slave owners demanding their slaves back, made quite a good job of it. He kept a detailed journal of the colonies ups and downs. Sadly his papers all seem to be in American hands at the moment which is a shame.

Though in later life he displayed the negative side of his evangelical faith ( at one point he berated Thomas for reportedly speaking out against the Peterloo Massacre, and was also very keen to stop his son from indulging in the sin of novel reading), he seems to have a been a great inspiration to his son and very pleased with what he was doing generally.

It would be fascinating to hear his story told, or even his journals published (or put in the public domain at least). Sadly, I guess he’s just too obscure now.

It certainly throws a fascinating light on T.B. Macaulay’s own radical outlook.


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