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24 September 2014

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You are in: Dorset > Abolition > Moving on from a colonial past

Mark Warner

Mark Warner

Moving on from a colonial past

Mark Warner is a chaplain living in a quiet Dorset village. He's been researching his family history - and found strong links with the slave trade. He tells BBC Dorset about how he moves on from his family's colonial past.

Mark Warner is embarrassed by his family’s past. As Baptist minister living in a quiet Dorset village, it’s hard to see how he is connected to one of the most immoral trades in history. But by blood, he is.

Joseph Warner, great grandson of Sir Thomas Warner

Joseph Warner, great grandson of Sir Thomas Warner

“My ancestor Sir Thomas Warner was the first coloniser of the West Indies,” he begins. “And that means my family was heavily involved with the slave trade.”

Mark has recently been researching his family history. Stories include the slaughter of Carib Indians on St Kitts, the betrayal of ‘Indian Warner’ and the beginnings of the slave trade. 

It makes uncomfortable reading. “I don’t think I can be personally guilty for my family’s past but I can carry a responsibility.”

“If I carry the name Warner I have to acknowledge that the Warners were slave owners, brutally transporting and subjecting hundreds of people from West Africa.”

"I don’t think I can be personally guilty for my family’s past but I can carry a responsibility."

Mark Warner

Eight generations of the Warner family were involved with the slave trade. They imported slaves to work on their tobacco and sugar plantations in the Caribbean. When the slave trade was abolished, the family was heavily compensated for its losses.

Mark hasn’t found evidence that any of his Warner ancestors called for abolition. “Charles Warner was involved with the reorganisation of slavery in the West Indies. He oversaw a peaceful transition, but didn’t campaign against the institution of slavery.”

History book

So he is at least relieved that his mother is descended from a Quaker family, who were the chief opponents of the slave trade: “That’s quite a balance of justice.”

Mark now works as a minister with the British and International Sailors’ Society. He also campaigns for fair trade, promoting anti-poverty initiatives in his preaching.

 “I believe that God wants justice for all people, since we are all made in his image. I’m so glad that my job gives me the opportunity to work towards that.”

last updated: 04/03/2008 at 14:00
created: 07/03/2007

Have Your Say

Does your family have links with the slave trade? We want to hear your stories here on BBC Dorset.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Carmen Tobalawi (nee Harvey)
I think one of my maternal Great Grand fathers was a slaveowner and the owner of Bayfords Plantation St Kitts. The property was sold to the government, but I would like to find out the name of my ancester, possibly Brumbille or Brownbill. Can anyone help?

Dr Peter Warner
Sir Thomas Warner's family came from Parham in Suffolk. Aucher Warner's book (illustrated above) has several large genealogical tables, which family history researchers might be interested in. Would it be useful to circulate a digital copy of it? Or is there one already out there. There is a copy in the Cambridge University Library - I could ask for it to be digitised.

george mortimer warner/morris
I am proud to say that my Grandfather Jacob Mortimer Warner is now the oldest living descendant of Sir Thomas in the Caribbean. He now lives in St. Thomas US VI's. At the Ripe old age of 101 he is the family's last link with the old days of Slavery. On a recent visit to celebrate his 100th I had the privilege to hear him recall his Grandmother who was i think born a slave. Although our ancestor was a slaver we are still very proud of him as the founder of our family line in the Caribbean. I would be ecstatic to be able to contact other Warner's, be they Black or White. After all we are all branches from the same tree.

george morris
Like Mr Mark Warner I am a direct decendant of sir thomas warner. My family history is based in St. Kitts. My Grandfather Mr Jacob Mortimer Warner Is Now the oldest Living member of the Family tree at 101 years old and now lives in St Thomas usvi. Although we are the decendants of slaves and my ancestor was undoubtably a slaver! We are very proud of him. It would be great to explore our joint history further. He obviously passed on his name to us. I'm curious as to how and more importantly to me why? Sue from BBC Dorset writes - George is keen for Mark Warner to get in touch. Email and I will pass on his details to you. Thanks.

Camille Warner
We are american Warners. Our parents immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago in 1960. Our father's family originated in St. Kitts, West Indies and we are descendants of Sir Thomas Warner. We would like to contact Mark Warner in England. Can you help us contact him? You can email us at or Thank you.

Juliet Davenport
I have English Colonial roots in St Kitts, and am just now beginning to bring some facts and stories to light. I want to know if and how my family was involved in slavery in St Kitts. My grandmother, Gwendolyne Wigley, was born in St Kitts in 1872, was educated in England, came back and married a US Naval officer, James Leys, a Philadelphia Quaker. I remember my Grannie. She took care of me when I was a small child. The Wigleys first came to St Kitts in about 1825 and married into old families -- Burt and Rawlins and Rumsey and Bayford. The Wigleys lived in Spencer House in Basseterre and were mostly government administrators, but they owned sugar fields at Frigate Bay. How can I find out about their connection to slavery in the West Indies? They were relative newcomers who married into old established families. I have several amazing pictures of my St Kitts people -- the last embers of the last western ray of the sun which set on the British Empire.

Natalie Joseph
I am a descendant of Sir Thoams Warner. My grand-father name was Joseph Warner from Sandy Point, he was quite light in complexion with straight hair. When you meet another Warner you know that you are connected.

A relative
Wow, I was just researching online about Sir Thomas Warner and found this site. I too am related to Thomas Warner. My grandfather told me about him as a kid and tons of sources on him.

Rich Warner
I´m interested in finding info about the Warner family history and to truely find out if I´m a descendent of Sir Thomas Warner.I live on Antigua,West Indies

Kieran Williams
Like Mark Warner, my family believes that we are also descendants of Sir Thomas Warner. My Great Grandfather was born on the island of Nevis, West Idies, and was named James Warner. Unfortunately i am unsure of his fathers name, but was from the Warner Family from St Kitts. can you help me is my email address, io would much appriciate a reply

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