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"The Iron in My Soul": A Performance

  • Backlit Art Gallery Alfred House, Ashley Street Nottingham, NG3 1JG United Kingdom (map)

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Please join Backlit Art Gallery and the University of Nottingham for an evening performance celebrating the lives of Samuel Morley and Josiah Henson.

Their connected story represents the campaign for freedom, equality and human rights in Nottingham, and beyond. The performance chronicles both men in their older years, reflecting on their lives, struggles and achievements throughout the revolutionary changes of the nineteenth century.

From enduring and resisting the cruelties of a Maryland plantation to meeting Queen Victoria at Windsor Palace, Josiah Henson (1789-1883) possessed deep determination, perseverance and a desire to constantly resist racism and oppression. He eventually escaped slavery and settled in Canada, where he established a school for labourers and wrote an autobiography of his life.

Henson was believed to be the inspiration behind the character of ‘Uncle Tom’ in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and attracted great celebrity in America and in Britain because of it. He travelled to Britain several times (including Nottingham in 1876), and exhibited some of his carpentry in the internationally famous Great Exhibition in 1851 (and was the only black person to do so). He was also invited to meet Queen Victoria in 1877. 

Samuel Morley was a businessman, social reformer, political radical, and a champion of fair working conditions and pay for all those who were employed by his international company, I. & R. Morley. He introduced pensions long before it became compulsory and paid his workers well. He was a pioneer of both adult and newly developing state education in Nottingham and London, and as a philanthropist he donated money to Nottingham Castle, Theatre Royal Nottingham, University of Nottingham, and Nottingham Trent University.

Morley set up a trust fund for Henson, provided a foreword to his autobiography, and raised money for his Dawn settlement, which was the first occupational school in Canada.  Morley provided support for Henson again during his visit to Nottingham in the winter of 1876. It is most likely Morley organised a lecture for Henson in December and allowed him to stay at his residence.

The performance will take place at Backlit Art Gallery, in a building once owned by Samuel Morley. There will be a short introduction by Matthew Chesney and Hannah-Rose Murray, followed by a Q&A afterwards.


Josiah Henson: Jim Findley

Samuel Morley: Melvyn Rawlinson

Scriptwriters/Producers: Hannah-Rose Murray (University of Nottingham) and Matthew Chesney (Backlit Art Gallery)


This event forms part of a wider series of public engagement events in collaboration with the Univeristy of Nottingham, Backlit Art Gallery, and the National Justice Museum. Matthew Chesney (Director of BACKLIT) and Hannah-Rose Murray (PhD student, in the University of Nottingham) have curated a small exhibition to Josiah Henson and his friend and benefactor, manufacturer and philanthropist Samuel Morley. We have organised five 'Penny Lectures' across the last few months in three different institutions in the city (National Justice Museum, the New Art Exchange and Nottingham Contemporary) to discuss subjects both men were passionate about, including slavery, social justice and commuinty activism. This was inspired by Samuel Morley's decision in the late nineteenth century to organise a series of 'Penny Lectures' for the working classses. Designed to increase their education, men and women would pay just a penny to attend a variety of lectures on numerous subjects from science to politics.


This Performance (and the aforementioned Penny Lecture Series) are supported by the following organisations and projects: 

Journey to Justice Nottingham 

Backlit Art Gallery

National Justice Museum

The British Association for American Studies

M3C (Midlands3Cities)

The University of Nottingham Research Priority Area in Rights and Justice

The AHRC-funded Antislavery Usable Past project