Council votes to remove statue to Victoria Cross-winning general over 'British imperialism' links

Craig Simpson
·3-min read
The statue of General Sir Redvers Buller in Exeter 
The statue of General Sir Redvers Buller in Exeter

Councillors have voted to move a statue of Victoria Cross-winning general Sir Redvers Buller over connections to “British imperialism”.

The Zulu War veteran’s likeness was erected in Exeter in 1905 with the help of public donations but the city’s current Labour council has backed its relocation because of links to “colonial campaigns”.

Plans to move the statue have met with criticism from historians who argue the Boer War commander was a hero and “political liberal” who should be “lauded” for his military efforts against an oppressive white regime.

The decision to remove the statue, which could cost £25,000, followed a report into the “appropriateness” of keeping the monument outside Exeter College following Black Lives Matter protests.

Devon-born Buller won the Victoria Cross for saving two fellow soldiers in the 1879 Zulu War, but has been criticised for fighting in what the council report termed “campaigns which sought to advance British imperialist interests”.

Councillors heard that because of Buller’s military career the officer's statue was a “reminder of the trauma that colonised countries experienced”.

They also heard that the British Empire was founded “on the premise that other nations and peoples were inferior”, and Buller  “represents the patriarchal structures of empire”.

The statue was therefore deemed inappropriate because it stands outside an educational establishment, Exeter College, which includes “young people from diverse backgrounds”.

Councillors must now seek permission to remove the Buller’s Grade II listed monument, which was paid for by donations from an admiring public despite press vilification for his defeats in the Boer War.

Singling out the once popular general from generations of officers who fought for the Empire has been branded “unfair” by experts.

Historian Andrew Roberts said of his campaigns against the Boers:  “He was fighting against the Afrikaans, who were the vigorous oppressors of the native south African tribes, so if anything he ought to be lauded by the modern PC crowd.”

Buller earned the Victoria Cross in 1879 for saving two fellow officers
Buller earned the Victoria Cross in 1879 for saving two fellow officers

Military historian Dr Spencer Jones said:  “Beyond his soldiering he was a political liberal with a strong radical streak.

“It does seem unfair to single out Buller, who is unacceptable not because of his own actions, but because of his association with imperialism.  

“Redvers Buller was an enormously popular figure in his own lifetime.  He was known for his bravery in battle and for his care for his soldiers.”

The popularity of the general endured despite press criticism centred on a series of defeats in the Second Boer War before being sacked.

Dr Jones added:  “The decision to erect the statue was, in part, a rebuttal of the criticism which Buller faced.

“It is a tremendous piece of art appropriate for a man who was highly respected within his own community.”

Because the statue is listed any needs formal contest to go ahead, and an ultimate planning decision would be made with public consultation.  Funding would also have to be found for the estimated  £25,000 relocation cost.   Buller was born in 1839 near Crediton in Devon, and joined the British Army in 1858.

He distinguished himself in the army during the Zulu and Boer Wars in what is now South Africa in the 1870’s and 1880s, before his competence as a leader was questioned

Despite being thrown out of the army he was awarded the freedom of Exeter and presented with a jewelled sword by the County of Devon.