This October the Old Royal Naval College will examine the history of the Black mariners who played a part in the venue’s own history.

John Simmonds (c.1784-1858), Courtesy of the family of John Simmonds.

The Old Royal Naval College is set to present its brand new exhibition Black Greenwich Pensioners from the 3rd October to explore the hidden histories of the Black Royal Navy personnel who formed one of Britain’s earliest Black communities when they became pensioners at the Royal Hospital for Seaman on the site where the Old Royal Naval College stands on today.

Co-curated by Black British heritage consultant S. I. Martin, Black Greenwich Pensioners will look at the presence and impact of the recorded Black communities which have been resident in Greenwich for over 200 years. Through the exhibition, the stories of Black seamen , some of whom were volunteers and others who were enslaved, are brought to life – tracing their dangerous and unpredictable lives during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Black Greenwich Pensioners will also highlight the roles that Black Mariners played in British naval conflicts as well as delving into the personal histories of prominent Greenwich pensioners such as John Thomas, who escaped slavery and was later returned to enslavement in Barbados; John Simmonds, a Jamaican veteran of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar whose descendants still reside in the UK; and Briton
Hammon, the author of the first slave narrative.

In order to explore many of the stories, the display will feature paintings, prints and photographs and a small selection of objects. There will also be a number of workshops and tours during the exhibition’s run.

Talking about the exhibition S. I Martin said: “using the Royal Hospital for Seaman, Greenwich as a lens, the exhibition shines a light the social and political history of Britain’s maritime and naval past and uncovers the
remarkable and varied personal stories of the men who lived there. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all narrative. This is global story told on a local level. Our hope is that anyone who visits will come away with a deeper understanding of their cultural history having discovered a seldom told story about
the roots of their local community.”

Black Greenwich Pensioners will run at the Old Royal Naval College from the 3rd October until the 21st February. For more information visit: https://ornc.org/uncovering-the-history-of-black-british-mariners/