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historical context

The Dark is based in the 18th century, when Britain ruled the worlds of shipping and commerce, and created vast profits from the slave trade.
The Dark uses ghosts and 'ghostliness' as metaphors -  for both the dark and hidden aspects of our past, as well as for the difficulty that we experience when we need to respond to things that we can hear, but cannot see. The ghosts of The Dark are based on the following real people and events from the 18th century.

Edward Rushton
(1756 - 1814)

Radical poet from Liverpool


Edward Rushton's poetry:
About a Robin

Will Clewline

'Kunle' in The Dark
A young African man


John Newton
(1725 - 1807)

The 'Captain' in The Dark
Captain of a slave ship

Edward Rushton was a Liverpudlian who went to sea aged eleven and developed considerable sailing skills. His experiences on a slave ship in his twenties caused him grave concern.

Unusually for a crewman in this era, he was appalled by the condition of the human cargo on board and decided to pass food and water to slaves contained in the hold. By doing so, he contracted the highly contagious disease Opthalmia, which had spread among the slaves. Like many of the slaves, Rushton became blind and his career at sea was ended.

Over seven years Rushton adjusted to his new condition, and hired boys to read to him. The books he heard exposed him to a wide range of politics, religion and philosophy. Rushton began writing through dictation to his boys, and became known as a radical and popular poet.

He fought for the enslaved sailors that made up such a high percentage of the British Navy at this time, as well as for the black slaves transported from Africa to work the British plantations in the new world.

These writings included letters to Thomas Paine and US President George Washington questioning their hypocrisy in fighting for what Rushton saw as a very limited 'Liberty'.

How can you, who have felt the oppressor's hard hand,
Who for freedom, all perils would brave,
How can you enjoy peace, while one foot of your land
Is disgraced by the toil of a slave!

Extract from American Independency by Edward Rushton

In 1791, Rushton was one of the key people who worked to open a school for the blind in Liverpool - the first school of its kind in the country.


image of ghosts


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