Grave of enslaved African vandalised in ‘revenge attack’ over Colston toppling

Composite image of grave of Scipio Africanus before and after it was attacked
Bristol’s mayor has called for unity after the grave of an enslaved African man was attacked (Picture: SWNS)

The historic grave of an enslaved young African man has been vandalised in an apparent ‘retaliation attack’ following the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Two headstones in memory of 18-year-old Scipio Africanus, who lived in the city in the 18th century, were smashed and a threatening message was scrawled in chalk on flagstones nearby.

The message said ‘look at what you made me do’ and called for the statue of Colston to be put back or ‘things will really heat up’.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and the leader of the Conservative opposition councillor group, Mark Weston, have both expressed their sadness over the desecration of Scipio’s grave, which is Grade II listed.


Scipio Africanus grave at St Mary's parish church, Henbury, Bristol
Scipio Africanus’ grave at St Mary’s parish church, Henbury, Bristol, before it was vandalised (Picture: William Avery)

The brightly painted memorial is situated in St Mary’s churchyard in the Henbury area.



Cllr Weston, who represents Henbury, said on Facebook: ‘This looks like a retaliation attack for the recent events involving the Colston statue.

‘I am deeply saddened by what is happening. We have seen war memorials defaced and statues vandalised and I have to wonder where this will end.’

Scipio Africanus’ grave is an early example of a memorial to a man born into slavery and who ended his life as a servant in an English aristocratic household, Historic England states on its website.

Most of the available information about him is ‘inscribed on his tomb’, it says.

The badly damaged grave of an enslaved young African Scipio Africanus after it was attacked
The headstones were vandalised with a message suggesting it was a retaliation attack after the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston (Picture: SWNS)

During his life, Scipio Africanus was servant to Charles Howard, the 7th Earl of Suffolk.

The headstone, which features black cherubs, states he was born in about 1702 and died on December 12 1720.

It is thought his name was given to him by the Earl or by a previous ‘owner’.

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, described the memorial as an ‘iconic piece of Bristol’s history’.

 He called for the public to refrain from ‘tit for tat’ racially motivated attacks during his fortnightly Facebook Q&A session on Wednesday.

Tensions have been rising following the toppling of Colston. Earlier this month, protesters used ropes to pull down the statue, which was erected in 1895, from its plinth in Bristol city centre.

It was then dragged to the harbourside, where it was thrown into the water near Pero’s Bridge – named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

Bristol City Council have retrieved the statue from the water and confirmed it will be displayed in a museum along with placards from the Black Lives Matter protest.

Police are investigating the vandalism of the headstones.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said: ‘We have received a report of criminal damage to a monument at Henbury Parish Church.

‘We believe the incident occurred between 12pm on Tuesday June 16 and 8am on Wednesday June 17.

‘Our investigation into what happened is at an early stage. Officers have been at the scene and have carried out house-to-house and CCTV inquiries.

‘Anyone with information is asked to call 101 and give reference number 5220132067.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at

For more stories like this, check our news page.



Bristol – Metro