Councillors vote to move statue of British war hero

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Councillors have voted to move the statue of a British war hero after officials said it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’. 

A council review into the continued appropriateness of the Grade 11 listed bronze statue, which depicts General Sir Redvers Buller, in Exeter, Devon, recommended it was relocated due to the army general’s connection to the British Empire. 

The statue triggered public debate following the Black Lives Matter protests partly due to references to colonial campaigns on its plinth, which bears the words ‘he saved Natal’, that ‘sought to advance British imperialist interests in other countries’.

An equality impact assessment undertaken for the review also found the statue would impact anybody who ‘does not define themselves in binary gender terms’.

Councillors in Exeter voted in favour of the report’s findings. It has been estimated that relocation from outside Exeter College will cost a minimum of £25,000. 

General Sir Redvers Buller, pictured above

A council review into the continued appropriateness of the Grade 11 listed bronze statue (pictured left), which depicts General Sir Redvers Buller (right), in Exeter, Devon, recommended it was relocated due to the army general’s connection to the British Empire

The 1905 Buller statue depicts General Buller astride his favourite horse, Biffen, with the words ‘he saved Natal’ on its plinth as a reference to his actions in South Africa.

The review previously stated: ‘The General Buller statue represents the patriarchal structures of empire and colonialism which impact negatively on women and anyone who does not define themselves in binary gender terms.

‘The consultation will need to ensure that the views of women, transgender and non-binary people are captured and given due weight.’ 

The University of Exeter’s Dr Todd Gray described General Buller as ‘a very straightforward wealthy elite empire man’.

The University of Exeter's Dr Todd Gray said the army general (pictured above) distinguished himself during the Boer War in the 1880s, before his competence as a leader was criticised

The University of Exeter’s Dr Todd Gray said the army general (pictured above) distinguished himself during the Boer War in the 1880s, before his competence as a leader was criticised

It comes after statues and their role in public life were thrown into the spotlight amid the global Black Lives Matter movement (pictured above: protests in London in June 2020)

It comes after statues and their role in public life were thrown into the spotlight amid the global Black Lives Matter movement (pictured above: protests in London in June 2020)

Who was General Sir Redvers Buller?

General Redvers Buller, born in 1839 near Crediton, in Devon, purchased a commission in the British Army in 1858. 

He has been criticised for his ruthless  defeat of the Zulu people while serving as commander of the mounted infantry of the northern British column in 1879 during the Second Zulu War.

But he won the Victoria Cross by rescuing two fellow officers during a pitched battle in what is now modern day South Africa.

He was later appointed head of the British forces sent to South Africa during the Second Boer War, presiding over Black Week in which it was defeated three times by the Boers with nearly 3,000 men killed, wounded and captured.

Upon his return from South Africa, the British Army requested he resign, in part as a scapegoat for the failures of the military command.

Despite this General Buller was awarded the freedom of Exeter and presented with a jewelled sword by the County of Devon. 

A bronze statue depicting him astride his favourite horse was erected St David’s Church in Exeter, Devon, in 1905.

Unusually the statue, paid for by public subscription, was unveiled while he was still alive.

The local newspaper said he was rumoured to have been involved in the introduction of concentration camps in the Boer War but historians have disputed the accuracy of these claims. 

He said the army general distinguished himself during the Boer War in the 1880s, before his competence as a leader was criticised.

Dr Gray said: ‘It’s part of that public humiliation, of him being thrown out of the army, that produces this statue which is one of the most iconic in the South West.

‘It is a tremendous statue.’

He added that the ‘triumphant’ nature and prominence of the statue outside Exeter College ‘annoys some people’.

The review said: ‘The current location is inappropriate because it is outside an educational establishment which includes young people from diverse backgrounds.’

An Exeter City Council spokesman said: ‘The Buller statue has become a cause of some public debate not only because of the man it portrays, but also because of the names carved on the plinth of colonial campaigns which sought to advance British imperialist interests in other countries.

‘The statue and plinth are Grade II listed, and as such any relocation or changes made to it require formal listed building consent.’

It is not clear where the statue will be moved, although his descendant Henry Parker said the council was welcome to move the statue to the grounds of Downes House, the family’s country estate near Crediton.

General Redvers Buller, born in 1839 near Crediton, Devon, purchased a commission in the British Army in 1858.

He has been criticised for his ruthless defeat of the Zulu people while serving as commander of the mounted infantry of the northern British column in 1879 during the Second Zulu War.

He won the Victoria Cross by rescuing two fellow officers during a pitched battle in what is now modern day South Africa.

He was later appointed head of the British forces sent to South Africa during the Second Boer War, presiding over Black Week in which it was defeated three times by the Boers with nearly 3,000 men killed, wounded and captured.

Upon his return from South Africa, the British Army requested he resign, in part as a scapegoat for the failures of the military command.

Despite this General Buller was awarded the freedom of Exeter and presented with a jewelled sword by the County of Devon. 



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