Cardinal Lavigerie in Britain

By Denis Starkey W.F.


On Tuesday 31st. July, 1888, at 3 p.m. Cardinal Lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers and Carthage, addressed the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. The venue was the Prince's Hall situated to the rear of six shops fronting on Piccadilly, London. The site was badly damaged by bombs during the 2nd World War and the Prince's Hall was demolished. It is now the premises of Pan American Airways.


Although only four days notice had been given for the meeting, there was a large and enthusiastic turnout. Earl Granville presided and amongst those on the platform were Cardinal Manning, Bishop Smythies (of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa), the Rev. Horace Waller (Livingstone's companion), and Sir John Kirk (late Consul-General of Zanzibar). Numerous guests representing a broad spectrum of public life and clergymen of all denominations arrived. Even the King of Belgium was reputed to have been in the body of the audience.

In the opening proceedings, Lord Granville explained that he would have to hand over as Chairman after Cardinal Lavigerie's speech to Mr. Edmund Sturge (then chairman of the Anti-Slavery Society) as he had to appear for a debate in the House of Lords.

The Cardinal addressed the Assembly in French which most appeared to have understood. He made quite an impression and paced backwards and forwards as he spoke. A reporter for the 'Birmingham Daily Post' described him as a "strange figure, attired in long Oriental caftan, black and red, representing to the imagination all the fervour and the fiery zeal which the hot breath of the desert seems to infuse into the champions of Christendom who have dared in all ages to make it their abode."

Of course, the Cardinal was speaking to the converted and had a captive audience. He described his personal experiences of slavery over twenty nine years in Africa and those of his missionaries, the White Fathers and White Sisters. He explained that the situation was not improving and that even whole provinces had consequently been depopulated. Apparently, neither Livingstone nor Stanley when addressing the Society had been as graphic in their descriptions of the horrors of slavery as Cardinal Lavigerie that day.

The lasting impression given by his speech was that he was a Crusader. He clearly saw the need to use force against slave-traders by training and arming Africans to repel the attacks in an organised manner. Again in the 'Birmingham Daily Post' he was described as " a rapid and brilliant orator, accustomed to authority over men, clear and precise in his descriptions, and admirably adapted to undertake a propaganda in favour of the principle he advocates."

As soon as the Cardinal had finished he sat down and received enthusiastic and prolonged applause. Then when this had died down he left the hall. Cardinal Manning stood up and apologised on behalf of Cardinal Lavigerie, explaining that he had been forced to retire since he was suffering from neuralgia.


What was most remarkable about the whole affair was that, in an age when Ecumenism was not particularly high on the agenda, a French Cardinal stood on the platform of an English Anti-Slavery meeting whose members were composed mainly of Non-Conformists and the Society of Friends! One of the immediate results of the meeting was that a letter was sent to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, The Marquis of Salisbury, urging the British and other European Governments to unite in proclaiming the Slave Trade a crime against humanity and a violation of the Laws of Nations.

Later during the summer of 1888 Mr. Charles Allen, the Secretary of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society at the time, had an interview with Cardinal Lavigerie. The discussion commenced with a description of the Cardinal's anti-slavery campaign in Belgium and France. He then went on to explain how he had been misrepresented in both French and Belgian newspapers, in which he had been accused of organising a campaign against Islam. The Cardinal saw these attacks as emanating from groups interested in supplying forced labour for the sugar plantations of the French Colonies. He strongly denied attacking Islam in any way, insisting he had many Muslim friends in Africa. He pointed out that the true object of his attacks were the Arab slave raiders who posed as Muslims, and engaged in a system of wholesale murder, while owing no allegiance to any law, human or divine. He went on to condemn the right of citizens in Muslim countries to retain human beings as property since by doing so the demand for slaves continues to exist.

The 'Daily Telegraph' of 10th. August, 1888, reporting on the departure of Cardinal Lavigerie from Britain, expressed the view that he "is thoroughly in earnest, and his experience and energy are invaluable to the cause which he also eloquently advocates.".

Pictures used: A cartoon from 'Punch' of 11th. August, 1888,
reproduced in the magazine with their kind permission.

The Cardinal in the year he came to Britain, from the White Fathers' archives.

This article first appeared in "White Fathers - White Sisters" (UK), issue 302, of February-March 1992.
It may be published freely with due acknowledgements to the "White Fathers - White Sisters" magazine.

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