Some of Brighton’s key figures, including leader of the Council Warren Morgan, recently came together to be part of a special ceremony to remove a head stone marking the grave of a slave boy who lived in Brighton after being rescued from a slave Dhow (ship) and died here 145 years ago. Brighton & Hove Black History, a community group that seeks to reveal Brighton’s past, joined with Morgan and launched the project to honour the boy whose name was Thomas M.S. Highflyer.
Thomas Highflyer was rescued on August 24th, 1866, with two more boys, by Captain Thomas Malcolm Sabine Pasley of the Royal Navy’s East African Anti-Slave Trade Squadron. It’s estimated he was about eight or nine when he was rescued. Very little is known about what happened to Tom after he arrived in England in 1868, after being at sea for two years, and nothing is known of the fate of his two companions.
On the 1st September 1868 reported the news that,
“Captain TMS Pasley of the HMS Highflyer captured slave dhow for which prize money is about to be distributed and three African boys all were found on board the dhow have been brought to England and will, we hear, be well cared for by some of the officers. They had become great favourite on board and had been named respectively Tom Highflyer, Sam Oldfield, and Bob Dhow.”
What is known is that Tom was sent to Brighton to be educated and lived at 19 Great College Street, until his early death in 1870. when Tom died at about 12 or 13 years old, he was given quite an expensive and elegant gravestone that was quite unusual for a young, unknown person of his social status. This certainly reveals something about the family he was living in, who evidently valued him very highly and felt he deserved a dignified, proper burial.
The project will consist of Thomas Highflyer’s head stone being removed and then restored, to be returned to its original place at Woodvale Cemetery. The Heritage Lottery Fund have funded this project, and it is organised by Brighton & Hove Black History, Brighton & Hove City Council and Woodvale Cemetry.
Bert Williams (President of Brighton & Hove Black History) has said:
“The Thomas Highflyer project is a very important project for our Black History group to help share the important contribution that Black people have made in Sussex.
“The story of his life and the unexpected discovery of his headstone is yet another piece of Brighton and Hove”s hidden Black heritage uncovered thanks to our team of volunteers.
“By restoring Tom’s grave, we hope to preserve his story and legacy for generations to come.”