A controversial statue which has divided opinion in Denbigh for more than a decade will stay where it is after a public vote resulted in overwhelming support for the bronze figure.

The statue of famous explorer Sir Henry Morton (HM) Stanley was commissioned by Denbigh Town Council more than ten years ago, with artist Nick Elphick fashioning the scuplture.

However, Stanley’s association with European imperialism led to protests sparked by Black Lives Matters in 2020. 

Earlier this month, a public consultation on the hotly debated future of the statue, located outside the town library, took place more than a year after it was promised due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After a raft of protests last year, activists called for the effigy to be removed.

Denbigh Town Council held a meeting in June 2020 to discuss its future. Members voted 6-5 to keep it in lieu of a public consultation on whether to retain it long-term or move it from the wider public’s gaze.

READ MORE: 

However, Mayor at the time of the debate, Cllr Gaynor Wood-Tickle, promised people in Denbigh a “democratic vote” and full public consultation on the matter.

On October 15 and 16 of this year, locals casted their votes to end the uncertainty surrounding the statue for good.

During a full council meeting held on Wednesday October 27, Denbigh Town Council confirmed the statue would be staying where it is - outside the town library.

A questionnaire was filled out by 69 people (of which 62 were in favour of keeping the statue where it is).

When the questionnaire asked; 'If the statue was to be moved, where should it be moved to?', the majority of those opposing suggested it be relocated to Denbigh Museum.

That was then followed by the public vote which saw 592 Denbigh residents cast their votes on where the statue would end up.

471 people voted in favour of keeping the statue where it is, with 121 wanting it removed - meaning that 79.6% of those who voted were in favour of seeing it stay put.

What is perhaps surprising though is the fact that just 8.8% of the 6,725 Denbigh residents eligible to vote on the matter, turned out to do so.

Denbigh Town Mayor Cllr Rhys Thomas gave thanks to the town councillors for 'taking on this task and seeing it through to its conclusion'.

Cllr Dyfrig Berry suggested that further historical information should be added to accompany the statue in future.

The National Wales: HM Stanley was instrumental in creating the "Congo Free State", which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for the brutal King Leopold II of BelgiumHM Stanley was instrumental in creating the "Congo Free State", which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for the brutal King Leopold II of Belgium

Journalist and explorer HM Stanley is synonymous with the phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume”, after finding the Scottish explorer who had been lost in central Africa.

Stanley, born John Rowlands, started life fatherless in Denbigh in 1841 and was put into the Asaph workhouse in nearby St Asaph.

He emigrated to the United States as a teenager, where he reinvented himself.

After fighting in the American Civil war, Stanley became a journalist and then an explorer – finding the source of the Nile, mapping central Africa’s Great Lakes and also the borders of the present day Democratic Republic of Congo.

His work was instrumental in triggering the "scramble for Africa", which saw the violent colonization of the continent by European nations eager to plunder its resources.

Stanley established the "Congo Free State" for King Leopold II of Belgium, travelling the country persuading largely illiterate native rulers to sign away their land rights to the king.

His behaviour was considered particularly brutal even for his time, and he was known to kill indigenous people for even the smallest provocation. Fellow British explorer Richard Burton commented at the time that Stanley shot African people like they were animals.

The National Wales: Statues of King Leopold II have been taken down in Belgium after his descendants expressed remorse over the "acts of violence and cruelty” that took place in the Congo under his ruleStatues of King Leopold II have been taken down in Belgium after his descendants expressed remorse over the "acts of violence and cruelty” that took place in the Congo under his rule

One entry from Stanley's diary at the time describes an encounter with African villagers who laughed at him on his arrival: "The beach was crowded with infuriates and mockers...I opened on them with the Winchester Repeating Rifle.

"Six shots and four deaths were sufficient to quiet the mocking.”

Another describes his Black servants as "lying, thievish, indolent knaves, who only teach a man to despise himself for attempting a grand work with such miserable slaves."

More than 10million people in the Congo are thought to have been killed during King Leopold's 23-year colonisation - half of the country's entire population.

The region was rich in rubber, which was extracted for use in Europe through force.

Locals were made to meet steep rubber quotas, and failure to meet targets was punishable by death and other similarly horrific acts.

An account by missionary and documentary photographer, Alice Seeley Harris, who visited the country, describes appalling acts of inhumanity.

"He hadn’t made his rubber quota for the day so the Belgian-appointed overseers had cut off his daughter’s hand and foot," she writes of one man.

"Her name was Boali. She was five years old.

"Then they killed her."

Stanley's defenders say he was not working for the Belgian despot when the atrocities occurred, and he has been unfairly tainted.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Wilks.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.