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Cambridge University Library


During research into the University’s past links with the Atlantic slave trade, it has been established that a founding benefactor of Cambridge University Library, Tobias Rustat, was a major investor in a 17th Century slave trading company.

Rustat, a courtier to Charles II, derived great wealth from the Royal African Company, which was responsible for shipping more enslaved Africans to the Americas than any other institution during the period of the slave trade.

In 1667, he gave the University Library its first endowment, £1000, to be spent on books of its choosing. Rustat was later memorialised by a small stone statue overlooking West Court at The Old Schools, the original site of the Library.

The Advisory Group on the Legacies of Enslavement has been asked by the Vice-Chancellor and the University Library to make recommendations on the future of both the statue and the endowment, which generates income of around £5000 a year.

No firm decisions have been taken, but preliminary inquiries are being made with Historic England to understand the process for removing a statue from the exterior of a Grade 1 listed building.

Income to the Library from the Rustat Fund continues to this day, in modest quantities. We are currently taking legal advice to determine how the fund might be remodelled (and renamed) in order to support active research into the slave trade and its legacies. 

For the 20/21 financial year, income from the fund will be spent on resources about the transatlantic slave trade and about the Black diaspora. Possible purchases will be identified collaboratively by library staff and researchers and final decisions will be taken by the Libraries’ Decolonisation Working Group.

Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian, said: “The devastation caused by the Atlantic slave trade continues to affect millions of people globally to this day. We cannot effectively demonstrate solidarity with our Black colleagues and students at Cambridge – and with others around the world – without first examining and understanding how we as an institution have benefited from the proceeds of slavery.

“As well as asking the Inquiry to look into the Rustat benefaction, we also want to determine, with the critical help of our colleagues from the BAME community at Cambridge, how the income generated by this historic donation is best dispersed going forward.”

A statement from the Librarian on Diversifying Collections and Practices is available on the University Library website.

An initial report from the University’s Advisory Group on Legacies of Enslavement was issued in May 2020. A final report is due in Easter Term 2022.