The Wisbech and Fenland Museum is one of the oldest, purpose-built museums in Britain. With its origins dating back to 1835, visitors are welcomed into a real ‘treasure house,' with collections housed in original nineteenth century cases. The museum is free to enter and focusses on local history, housing the vast and varied collection of the town’s literary and museum societies. Using these, the museum presents displays on a range of themes relating to key local industries, wildlife, archaeological finds and important people from the area.
One of these important people is Wisbech-born Thomas Clarkson, and it is through him that the theme of antislavery fills several of the largest cases in the main gallery. Using a combination of personal collections, archive material and objects linked to the wider slave trade (notably whips and a manacle), the museum follows Thomas Clarkson’s contribution to the abolition campaign, both in Britain and abroad. The museum also exhibits the narrative of Thomas’ brother John Clarkson who was instrumental in facilitating the movement of freed-slaves from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Sierra Leone.
This display was developed as a larger, standalone exhibition for the 2007 bicentenary entitled ‘A Giant with One Idea,’ but this was reduced following the end of the commemorations as funding was withdrawn.
A Giant with One Idea told the story of the anti-slavery campaign through the personal narrative of the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, who was born and raised in Wisbech. The exhibition included an overview of the transatlantic slave trade, major campaigners in the abolition movement, the antislavery campaign after 1807, and details of Clarkson’s travelling chest, which he used to help illustrate the cruelty of the slave trade. The exhibition later travelled to other venues in the area. Accompanying the exhibition was a handling box based on Clarkson’s chest available for schools and community groups, as well as a children’s activity booklet led by the character of Clarkson himself. The museum also supported the publication of a number of books telling the life stories of Thomas Clarkson, and his less well known brother, the naval officer John Clarkson.