After he had been discharged from the RAF on 31 March 1947, Exell made his way to Hull. During his service, he met the founder of the Boyd Line’s son, Thomas Boyd Senior, who had promised the West Indian a job after the war. True to his word, Boyd offered Exell a position onboard a trawler as a fireman and trimmer. This was not unusual as Black sailors were typically given unskilled jobs in the engine room of vessels (click here to read about Black sailors in Hull). Within a short time, Exell decided that he wanted to become a ship’s cook instead of a fireman and trimmer. Thus, he attended the Nautical College in Hull and passed his examinations in March 1952.
In the 1950s, the Jamaican settled in William Street, Hull and invited his brother to join him in the city. McFarlane was an electrician and thus when he arrived in this region, he gained a job as an engineer at Masscold, the commercial and industrial refrigerator company. One day when he was installing a refrigerator at the Quality Fish Shop on Hessle Road he met Pam, who he thought would be a perfect match for his brother. McFarlane was right as Pam eventually became Exell’s wife.
Eventually McFarlane left his career behind as an electrician and followed in his brother’s footsteps becoming a ship’s cook. However, this change of profession led to McFarlane’s untimely death in 1959. On 23 August at 1:30 am the trawler he was working onboard, Staxton Wyke collided with the superior sized ore carrier, Dalhanna. Within 90 seconds the trawler had sank. However, remarkably out of 21 crewmen only five men perished - sadly one of them was Exell’s brother. Gill lists the lost sailors as Norbert William Perrins, Albert Triffett, Anthony Wardle, McFarlane and his assistant cook, Donald Wilde. Exell had no idea about the tragedy as he was on board the trawler, Arctic Buccaneer.
However, when he disembarked, the Pastor of the Fishermen’s Bethel, Tom Chappell gave him the sad news of his brother’s passing. Exell rang his mother, who was living in New York, to tell her what had happened to McFarlane. Devastated and angry she paid a Hull solicitor to seek compensation for her son’s death. However, she eventually dropped the case. Exell named his second child Arnold in memory of his brother. More recently, in November 2014, a plaque commemorating Hull’s lost trawlers, including the Staxton Wyke, was unveiled in Rayner’s pub in Hessle Road.
In 1964, the Black sailor retired from work onboard trawlers and instead obtained a position as a Cook Steward on board tugs with the United Towing company. However, although Exell loved his new job, he spent a lot of time away from his wife and three children, who he missed terribly.
Sadly, Exell died in 2003 having fought in the Second World War, and been involved as a sailor in the Falklands, first Gulf war and two Cod Wars. It is clear from Gill’s work that he had a rich and fulfilling life, loved his family and the vibrant music scene in Hull. 
To read more on Exell Gill’s book Nick the Cook: Hull’s black fisherman can be purchased from Amazon.
With thanks to Alec Gill for giving us permission to use this story and for the wonderful photographs.
 Alec Gill, Nick the Cook: Hull’s black fisherman (Hull: The University of Hull, 2004), p.4
 Ibid, p. 5
 Ibid, p. 12
 Ibid, p. 12
 Ibid, p. 13
 Ibid, p. 14
 Ibid, p. 14 and 15
 Ibid, p. 24
 To read more about the Staxton Wyke consult the Hull Daily Mail, 31 August 2010, p. 3
 Ibid, p. 25
 Ibid, p. 27
 Ibid, p, 27
 Hull Daily Mail, 19 November 2014, p. 12
 Ibid, p. 28 and 29
 Ibid, p. 30 and 31
 Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916-2005 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
 Hull Daily Mail, 4 November 2017, p. 15
 Hull Daily Mail, 29 November 1949, p. 2
 Aberdeen Evening Express, 4, 6 and 7 December 1954, p. 2 and Fife Free Press & Kirkcaldy Guardian, 4 December 1954, p. 1/
 Hull Daily Mail, 4 November 2017, p. 15
 Hull Daily Mail, 5 June 2010, p. 3
 Hull Daily Mail, 4 November 2017, p. 15
and academics, Stephen Bourne, Ray Costello, Linda Hervieux, Mark Johnson and Andrea Levy among others, have all made valuable contributions to uncovering the lost history of Black Service Personnel during the First and Second World Wars. However, far more work needs to be done on a national, regional and local level to uncover further information about Black men and women within British military history from all time periods. Only when we acknowledge the bravery of white and non-white service personnel together, can we truly begin to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by all during war.
Black service personnel have had a long history in the British forces. Men such as John Lewis Friday were part of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. He, along with some of his white and Black counterparts, received the prestigious Waterloo Medal for their bravery on the battlefield.
During World War One, soldiers of African descent were enlisted into regiments across Britain. Even predominantly white regiments often had Black servicemen in their battalions. In 1915, the Hull Soldiers Club gathered for an awards ceremony, in which a ‘coloured soldier’ of the East Yorkshire Regiment was given a prize for bravery. Another soldier of African descent who fought as part of the East Yorkshire Regiment was Theophilus Davis. He sadly died during the conflict and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium (we will be bringing a larger story out on Davis soon so keep checking our weekly releases).
Another soldier of African descent, Private Palmer Samson, who was born in Calabar around 1897, enlisted at Beverley during the First World War. We know very little about his life, other than that he was adopted by Susannah Wilson and lived with her at 10 Bolton Terrace, Hotham Street, Hull. Although he signed up in East Yorkshire, Samson ended up in the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment which fought on the front line in Belgium. Sadly, he was killed in action at the Battle of Broodseinde, near Ypres on 4 October 1917. It is probable that his adopted mother Susannah received Samson’s medals and memorial death plaque after the war to acknowledge his contribution to the conflict. Last month marked the centenary of his death.
During World War Two, West Indian volunteers flocked from the colonies to join the RAF as pilots and ground staff. Many of these men trained in East Yorkshire, some losing their lives here such as Byron Martin, Wilfred Octavius Dawns, Vivian Florent and Patrick Constantine Marshall (click here to read our previous blog post on war graves). However, their contributions are often overlooked. As are the roles played by women of African descent during war, such as Liverpool-born Lillian Bailey/Bader, who also joined the WAAF becoming an Aircraftswomen First class, before she was promoted to Acting Corporal.
'Lest we forget' on this Remembrance Sunday, that people of different races from across the globe have fought for Britain during various military campaigns, many paying the ultimate price. During war, they stood shoulder to shoulder fighting for this country so let us celebrate, commemorate and remember them together.
Below is a slideshow of images of some of the many Black servicemen and women who have links to the Hull and East Yorkshire region. To find out more about them click on each image to go to relevant pages on the project website.
In September, Henry Marsden conducted research at Hymers College to uncover the school’s Black presence between its opening in 1893 and 2007. As certain records are inaccessible, Henry focused on Hymers extensive photograph collection. In total, he reviewed 400 pictures and found 10 which showed students of African descent. Although, Hymers has pictures dating back to the 1890s, the first photograph he found of a Black pupil was in 1973. However, it is possible that students with African heritage studied at the school before this date but were not captured by a photographer. Other images include students in class pictures, sports teams and at high-profile events. Below are a number of photographs showing Hymers pupils of African descent. This research is valuable in that it demonstrates Black history at Hymers.
Thanks to Henry Marsden for conducting this research. If you would like to get involved with our project by charting your school or college’s Black History, click here to contact us.
Click on each image to enlarge.
On 6 October, 15 Year 9 students from the Boulevard Academy attended Hull College for our Schools Event to support the 'Our Histories Revealed' exhibition. So following on from yesterday's blog post review of our recent exhibition and events a couple of the students from the school have kindly put together a report for us about what they experienced and what they took away from the day.
During the event the students heard a presentation about the background to Black History Month, heard about the African Stories project and then were treated to a live oral history interview with Bax and Lans, members of the popular local band Bud Sugar. This was followed by a guided tour of the exhibition at the Hull History Centre.
We are pleased to have received some feedback from two of the students Dean Denton and Jack Brettlell
African Stories in Hull & East Yorkshire
By Dean Denton, with help from Jack Brettell
On Friday 6th October, a selection of students travelled to Hull College to unravel the history of “African Stories of East Yorkshire”.
It took place at Hull College’s Arts Building. We were given a presentation about the achievements of some of Hull’s most remarkable – if sometimes forgotten Black citizens.
Here is the list of notable Black people from our area:
Saturday was sadly the last day of our exhibition 'Our Histories Revealed' at the Hull History Centre. The last four weeks have been extremely rewarding as they have enabled us to engage with local people as well as visitors who have travelled from far and wide to see our findings showcased through the medium of video, audio clips, art instillations, photographs and text.
To compliment the exhibition we have hosted several events which have been very well attended and have successfully captured the interest of diverse groups of people including notable dignitaries, children, members of various history societies, those with a keen interest in local, regional or Black British History and academics. Below is a more detailed account of our exhibition activities.
Opening Night and Visitors Comments.
A blog about our opening event can be found here and some of the fabulous comments we have received from visitors about the exhibition can be found here. If you visited our exhibition and didn’t leave a comment but on reflection would like to, please submit your thoughts to us here.
In the Media
The project has featured in the media several times over the past month. We have appeared on the television and radio stations promoting the exhibition and speaking more generally about the project.
Here is one of our latest media clips. You can view and listen to more in our media section here.
Newspaper coverage of our project exhibition from the Yorkshire Post 25 September 2017
Schools Study Day
On 6 October, we held a study day for school and college students to tie in with our exhibition and Black History Month. Although, we reached out to every school in the area, unfortunately only two took the opportunity to attend this free event. Nonetheless, a total of approximately 60 students from Boulevard and Hull College came to our schools’ study day. We began by giving an overview of British Black history before moving on to discuss some of the people of African descent who had visited, lived or worked in Hull and East Yorkshire between 1750 and 2007. This discussion was followed by a live oral history interview with brothers Bax and Lans (pictured below) from the band Bud Sugar. They spoke about their family, growing up in Hull and their connections to Africa. The students also visited our exhibition and filled in our Adinkra worksheets.
We had an amazing morning with the students and hope they all learned something new about Black history and African culture. The reports from their teachers were very positive.
Study Day at WISE
On 7 October, the project team held a conference at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE). In total 70 people attended this event where they heard from various speaks about the interesting stories of Black service personnel, African lion tamers and the Brandesburton Pygmies.
Dr Lauren Dawin, our Lead Researcher, gave an overview of the project findings, the themes that were used to shape the exhibition and our plans for the future. Dr Carolyn Conroy, our Website Manager, explored Black Lion Tamers and Boxers in nineteenth-century Hull and East Yorkshire. Mark Johnson, a historian who has published the pioneering book Caribbean Volunteers at War, talked about the West Indian pilots who fought for the mother country in the Second World War. Jeffery Green, a specialist in Black history, delivered the story of the Brandesburton Pygmies. Jeff described their journey to the region, experience in Britain and their arrival back in Africa. John Ellis, an experienced history teacher, retraced the Black presence in the British army from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In particular, he highlighted soldiers of African descent who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, including John Lewis Friday. Below is a slideshow of some images from the event.
A Big Thank you!
Finally, we would like to say a huge thank you to all of the wonderful City of Culture volunteers who have helped throughout our exhibition and associated events and we hope that those of you who have missed the exhibiton in Hull this time around, will join us in Beverley in 2018! Watch this space for more details.
We are entering the final few days of our exhibition 'Our Histories Revealed' at Hull History Centre so we strongly encourage you to go along and catch it while you can!
Saturday 21 October is the last day for a visit and the History Centre will be open until 4.30pm on that day. For more information about getting to the centre follow this LINK.
Exhibition Comments Page
So many wonderful messages and comments have been left by visitors to the exhibition that we have decided to share them and put some of them on a dedicated page on the project website. To take a look go to our new 'Exhibition Comments' page HERE.
Peter Fryer was pivitol in educating the public about the presence of people of African descent in Britain.
The son of a master mariner, Fryer was born in Hull on February 18, 1927 and raised in the city. He won a scholarship to Hymers College in 1938. He was impressed by the local Communist Party’s opposition to Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists, and when he was 15 he joined the Young Communist League.
Aged 16 he became a trainee journalist at the Yorkshire Post. His Communist views did not sit easily with the paper’s Tory politics and he was dismissed from his job for refusing to leave the Communist Party. At the end of 1947 he joined the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star) and for this paper he covered the arrival of Caribbean settlers on the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in 1948.
His honest reporting of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 led him to write a book Hungarian Tragedy in defence of the revolution and this led to his expulsion from the Communist Party. Shortly before his death he was informed that Hungary’s president had awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic, in recognition of his “continuous support of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight”.
Of his many other books, the most well-known is Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. Originally published in 1984, this 600-page, meticulously researched volume begins in Roman times with the famous opening words, “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here.” It continues to be considered the definitive history of Black people in Britain.
A highly accomplished blues pianist, he was also a leading authority on blues music, its history and related music in Africa and South America. At the time of his death he was working on a volume of Black American history – a study of life in Mississippi in the 19th and 20th centuries, under the working title “Behind the Blues”.
Yorkshire Post obituary, 4 November, 2006 http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/obituaries/peter-fryer-1-2398379
Guardian obituary by Terry Brotherstone, 3 November, 2006
Last week, Tuesday 26 September, we held our exhibition open evening at Hull History Centre. It was a fantastic occasion and attended by the Lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull, Councillor John Hewitt and his Lady Mayoress, Honorary Alderman Betty Hewitt and William Wilberforce – all patrons of the William Wilberforce Monument Fund. Around one hundred people connected with the project also attended the event which showcased the multi-sensory experience on offer. It was clear from those that were there that much work had gone into creating this ground-breaking exhibition, which looks at the histories of people of African descent, an often neglected aspect of British social history in this region. Comments were made on how the artwork, colour, auditory and visual media used made the experience highly varied with added interest at every turn.
We received overwhelmingly positive responses to the evening which proved thought provoking for some and a very emotional personal experience for others. Other positive comments have been coming in since, from local visitors and those from further afield such as Louth, Bristol and London.
Last Friday we had the privilege to host His Excellency the High Commissioner of Ghana and Lord John Prescott who both visited the exhibition together with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Hull who kindly made a return visit.
The High Commissioner was representing the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor who was unable to attend. It was a privilege to host such a distinguished visitor to the city and the project team is immensely proud to have hosted his visit. We are grateful to them for taking time in their hectic schedule to visit our exhibition.
**The ‘Our Histories Revealed’ Exhibition is on at Hull History Centre until 21 October 2017**
Exhibition Opening Night Slide Show
This is an exceptionally busy period for our project team as we prepare to host a range of engagement activities in Hull. We hope to meet as many people as possible and further demonstrate that Black men, women and children contributed to the social, economic and cultural fabric of this fantastic region.
'Our Histories Revealed' Exhibition
Last Tuesday 26 September marked the opening of our exhibition, entitled ‘Our Histories Revealed’ at the Hull History centre, showcasing the wonderful stories, heirlooms, and artifacts connected with our project. Don’t forget you can bring along a copy of a photograph which celebrates African presence in Hull and East Yorkshire for our ‘Who do you know’ exhibition board.
Schools Study Day
On Friday 6 October, we are hosting a study day at Hull College where we will be talking to secondary school and college students about Black history. Our Project Lead, Gifty Burrows, will give an overview of our project and I will speak about how we can integrate Black British history into the curriculum, before Jerome Whittingham and Bax (from local band Bud Sugar) conduct an oral history interview and highlight the Contemporary Voices strand of our project. To end this fabulous educational event, we will be taking students to the Hull History Centre to show them our exhibition.
Project Study Day at WISE
On Saturday 7 October, we are hosting a conference at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) between 10am and 3.15pm. The project team together with Mark Johnson, Jeffery Green and John Ellis will be speaking about a range of topics which include lion tamers, pygmies and soldiers. Please consult our Events page for further information. If you have not yet registered, please make sure you contact us to reserve your place.
Hull History Centre Presentation
On 10th October, I will be giving a presentation between 12.30 and 1.30pm at Hull History Centre’s lunchtime club. I will be speaking about William Wilberforce’s legacy and how people of African descent honoured the abolitionist while visiting this region.
Exhibition Guided Tours
On 17th October, I will be conducting guided tours of our exhibition at the Hull History Centre between 2pm and 4pm to give additional information on the stories we have featured and will answer any questions about our exhibition before it closes on 21 October.
Alongside these events we also have a new batch of stories and blogs which will be brought to you throughout October. Please continue to check our website, project blog, Facebook and Twitter for notices of our latest releases.
Dr Lauren Darwin
African Stories Project Researcher.