The statue of 17th century donor Bartholomew Wortley, who the report claims held £500 in a company involved in the slave tradeLouis Ashworth

A researcher looking into Gonville & Caius College’s links with the slave trade has quit after facing pressure from fellows who objected to the findings of the report.

The report, commissioned by the College Council, aimed to see if the College had taken any donations from individuals connected to the slave trade.

However, Sam (not his real name), the postdoctoral student overseeing the report, claimed that after fellows produced an eighteen page criticism of his report in January, he was told that he’d have to change it with the help of someone who “knows the fellowship tone” – a demand he described as “censorship” and “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in leading him to cut ties with the College.

Sam said the fellows’ objections were “disproportionate” and expressed in a “distressing” way.

He also denounced the “non-academic working environment” he claims exists at the College, referring to the “cliquey behaviour of life fellows in cahoots”.

One figure the report identified was Bartholomew Wortley: a 18th century benefactor who still has a statue at the College today, and whose donation was essential for the buying of the College’s land. He held nearly £500 (roughly £57,000 today’s money) in investments in a company that was responsible for shipping thousands of slaves to the Spanish Americas.

However, life fellows, dons who do not teach regularly but hold a range of senior positions within the College, objected to the findings.

One accused the report’s researchers of trying to “slather the past” with the “moral wisdom of a particular fashionable ideology”, arguing it was “infused with the ideas of Critical Race Theory”.

In separate emails seen by Varsity, a different fellow said the report represented an “impending dark hour for the College”. Another agreed, asking “how many more disasters do we need?”.

They wanted the report to focus on the College’s role in abolitionism despite this not falling within the scope of the project and donations for this purpose being “minimal”, according to the Sam.

One life fellow said the report’s “tone and content tend to press the evidence beyond what they can bear”.

He questioned whether the researcher was an “independent scholar”, despite acknowledging his own ancestors were plantation owners in the West Indies.

David Abulafia, a life fellow at Caius who is said to have fought against the report’s publicationSCANPIX

Following the objections and Sam’s departure, publication has been delayed.

However, not all fellows are hostile to the report.

Younger fellows at Caius spoke about a “generational divide” at the College and argued that the existence of 28 life fellows was antiquated and “should have died”.

One life fellow hit back to a similar accusation in a chain of emails, saying “slagging off life fellows is a form of ageism, no better than if you had said ‘Asians’ or ‘the working class’.”

Discussions were also fraught with comments some found racist and sexist.

In a meeting, one life fellow against publishing the report claimed “culture and family” were the reasons behind low admissions rates from black students.

When the discussions became particularly tense, the same individual told a junior colleague “shut up, sit down, woman”.

Another life fellow asked via email: “Who counts as Afro-Caribbean?…What about the descendants of European slaves, such as those transported from Ireland under Cromwell? The ‘red legs’ are among the most downtrodden in the W Indies today.”

He also said: “I was taken up short, for example, by the statement that Britain kidnapped 3.2M Africans, when it is well known that much of the kidnapping was done by Africans themselves.”

Sam condemned the comments for implying that Africans themselves are to blame for the slave trade. “You can’t debate people who make these sorts of statements”, he said.

One source in favour of publishing the report said that they were viewed as “woke warriors” by the fellows for wanting to investigate the College’s historic links to slavery.

Life fellows at Caius have been outspoken on ‘culture war’ topics. Anthony Edwards, 86, a statistician, argued that Caius “obliterated the memory of one of its most famous sons” for taking down a commemorative window to eugenicist and Caius alumnus, Ronald Fisher.

David Abulafia, 72, a historian, who is said to have fought against the report’s publication, argued that white males from private schools were the applicants being disadvantaged by the Cambridge admissions process in The Spectator.

Abulafia also defended the College’s decision not to fly the pride flag back in January as “eminently sensible”.


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A Caius spokesperson said the College will publish the report in full when it’s complete.

“There is open dialogue with the author of the report seeking some clarifications to ensure accuracy. The researcher was employed on a one-year fixed term contract which ended in September 2021.”

Despite this, Sam continued to work on the report after his contract was up.

Caius added: “The College’s working group on the Legacies of Slavery are still working on the Report and its recommendations before bringing them to the College Council.”

When asked about the influence of ‘culture war’ issues on its governance and the use of language with racist and sexist undertones, the College said: “The allegations are being taken extremely seriously and are being investigated.”