Tobias Rustat (1608-1694) was one of Jesus College’s biggest benefactors before the 20th centuryRodhullandemu

The memorial to slave trader Tobias Rustat will not be removed from Jesus College’s chapel, a church court ruled today.

The decision follows three days of hearings held last month, in which the College was pitted against a coalition of Rustat’s descendents and alumni opposed to the monument’s removal.

Tobias Rustat, one of the College’s biggest benefactors before the twentieth century, was an investor in both the Royal African Company and the Royal Adventurers, corporations that trafficked and traded enslaved Africans.

The College argued that it was necessary to remove the marble memorial from the chapel for it to be a “welcoming Christian community”, and that the monument could be properly contextualised in an exhibition space elsewhere in College.

At the hearings, the court heard that the memorial caused “pain and discomfort” to Master Sonita Alleyne, the first black woman to lead an Oxbridge college.

However, the judge overseeing the case, David Hodge QC, found that the College’s case was based on the “false narrative the Rustat had amassed much of his wealth from the slave trade, and that it was money from this source that he used to benefit the college.”

He pointed out that the historians acting for both sides had found that Rustat got “no financial returns at all” from his investment in the Royal Adventurers, and that his investments in the Royal African Company were made 20 years after his gifts to the college, and five years after the completion of the memorial.

Hodge further noted that the memorial’s removal would cause “considerable, or notable, harm to the significance of the chapel as a building of special architectural or historical interest”.

The College said that it was “disappointed” and “shocked” by the decision.

“Rustat’s involvement in the slave trade has never been in question, as confirmed by expert historians acting for both the College and the opponents. The widespread opposition to the presence of his memorial in the College Chapel is the result of this involvement in the slave trade and not any false narrative allegedly created by the College about the sources of Rustat’s wealth.


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“This celebratory memorial to an active participant in the slave trade remains a barrier to worship in our Chapel for some members of our community.”

Last month the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, came out in support of the college when, speaking at the Church of England’s General Synod, he asked: “Why is it so much agony to remove a memorial to slavery?”

Hodge wrote that although “no-one disputes that slavery and the slave trade [...] are entirely contrary to the doctrines, teaching and practices of the modern church”, he was not convinced that relocating the monument “has been sufficiently clearly justified on the basis of considerations of pastoral well-being and opportunities for [Christian] mission”.

Indeed, he suggested that keeping the memorial in the chapel would make it “an appropriate vehicle to consider the imperfection of human beings and to recognise that none of us is free from all sin”.

Hodge acknowledged that Rustat’s willingness to invest in the slave trade was a source of concern, but hoped that “when Rustat’s life and career is fully and properly understood, and viewed as a whole, his memorial will cease to be seen as a monument to a slave trader”.

He added that while any church must be a “safe space”, that does not mean it should be a place where one should “always feel comfortable… otherwise one would have to do away with the painful image of Christ on the cross, or images of the martyrdom of saints”.

Jesus College, however, maintains that it was right to have tried to remove the memorial, and will now “carefully consider” next steps.

The President of the Jesus College Students’ Union, Jezz Brown, told Varsity that “the JCSU executive will maintain an active stance against the Rustat memorial and will ensure that every avenue is pursued in terms of appeal and alternative proposals.”

“The JCSU executive firmly maintains that the Rustat memorial serves as a barrier to welfare in the Chapel and sends all the wrong messages about equality, diversity, and inclusion. Jesus is a college where there is a real push to make positive progress and the decision made by a single individual at the expense of a large and diverse student body is not one that I accept.

“The suggestion that a false narrative has been portrayed is outrageous. The justification given for the verdict is harmful and regressive. I am concerned that the precedent established by this case will discourage communities from opposing monuments, statutes and memorials of a similar nature, and thus we must vehemently oppose the verdict given today.

“However, I am positively optimistic that in the near future the decision made to uphold a memorial to an individual actively involved with the slave trade will place the Church on the wrong side of history. Change will come. It might not be seen in this decision, but it will come.”

This article was updated at 18.22 on 23/3 to include a statement from the Jesus College Students’ Union