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Isaac Newton's achievements should not be 'belittled' by links to slavery, says Grantham Civic Society

Controversy over links Sir Isaac Newton may have had to slavery should not 'belittle' his achievements in science, says the Grantham Civic Society.

The controversy was stirred this week when Grantham-born Newton was labelled as a potential beneficiary of “colonial-era activity” in draft plans to “decolonise” the engineering curriculum at Sheffield University.

Newton, born in 1643, had shares in the South Sea Company which traded in slaves but there is no evidence which suggests he directly profited from slavery.

Statue of Isaac Newton in Grantham. (36854859)
Statue of Isaac Newton in Grantham. (36854859)

Courtney Finn, chairman of Grantham Civic Society, said: "We don't think Newton's scientific achievements should be affected or belittled by any links he may have had to slavery.

"I think we can still be proud of his life and work and that he lived and went to school here."

Newton attended the King's School and would later lay the foundations of modern science with his theory of gravity and theories on light and calculus.

It has now been reported that students learning about the mathematician and scientist’s three laws of motion, the core of modern physics, could see changes in their teaching to explain the “global origins and historical context” of his theories.

Newton biographer James Gleick said: "Whether Newton's foolish investment in South Sea shares in 1720 means that he participated in the slave trade is arguable. I would say that all England benefited from colonialism."

The draft plans at Sheffield University are the latest in a drive by high profile organisations to 're-evaluate' their links to slavery and racism, following the Black Lives Matter protests.

Historic England recently published an audit of buildings with historic connections to the transatlantic trade between the 15th and 19th centuries. These included Little Ponton Hall near Grantham, the Grade II-listed home of George McCorquodale, whose aunt was Princess Diana and as such is cousin to Duke of Cambridge Prince William and Duke of Sussex Prince Harry.

Historic England said: "Little Ponton Hall is associated in the mid-nineteenth century with Vere Fane, a London banker and partner at Praeds and Company, awarded compensation for estates in Jamaica and Grenada jointly with his brother-in-law Rev. Henry Chaplin. He also inherited East India stocks from his father, Henry Fane. His daughter Emily married Colonel Edward Birch Reynardson and they lived at the Hall."

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