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Poet discovers he is the descendant of both slaves AND slave traders

A black poet was shocked to learn that he is the descendant of slaves, slave traders, a prime minister and the first black international footballer.

Malik Al Nasir, born in 1966 in Toxteth, Liverpool, noticed he looked similar to a black Victorian footballer and went on a 15 year journey into his family history, uncovering links to slavery.  

He was a victim of racist abuse growing up on a council estate and, when spotting a photo of footballer Andrew Watson, decided to research his origins. 

To his shock, not only is he the descendant of African slaves, but he is also distantly related to former Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Mr Al Nasir was born to a Welsh mother and a black Guyanese father who had served in the Royal Navy in the Second World War. 

Growing up, he said he was called a n***** and told to ‘go back to where you came from’.

In his 30s, he came across photographs of Andrew Watson, who he described as his ‘spitting image’. 

It inspired him to dive into his family history and, on the back of his research, he was given a place at St Catharine’s College at Cambridge University to investigate further. 

He told the Times: ‘I never expected to find prime ministers and mayors and high sheriffs but that’s what I found, so I focus on them, their plantations and their business interests. 

‘As a consequence what I’ve been able to do, which no one else seems to have been able to do, is make all the interconnectedness of these characters, to show a picture of their entire mercantile operation in a manner which has never been seen before. They are at the epicentre of the slave trade.’ 

He saw a documentary about Watson, the first black international footballer, and discovered that he was descended from his uncle, who was a white slave owner.

This made Watson, who played for Scotland, Mr Al Nasir’s first cousin three times removed. 

He discovered that relatives were still living on land that had formed part of the plantation which their ancestor once managed for his family firm. 

Explaining his links to the slave owner, he said: ‘It was customary for rich mercantile gentlemen to take on a black woman who would be a wife in all respects except she would not sit at the table at formal dinners. 

‘The reason was that there was so much venereal disease. You had a lot of poor white overseers who would do whatever they wanted with the slaves.’ 

He added that the mixed race children of these relationships inherited wealth and had privileged upbringings. 

Footballer Watson went to public school and Mr Al Nasir discovered that his white relatives in British Guyana, Liverpool and Glasgow built large fortunes owning and managing plantations and shipping slaves and their output, such as sugar, rum and cotton.  

In 1825, the family firm Sandbach, Tinne had assets of more than half a million pounds.

The Watsons were descended from the family of George Robertson, one of the founders of the company. 

Samuel Sandbach, mayor of Liverpool in 1831 also married into the Robertson family, and a distant cousin was married to the slave owner Sir John Gladstone and was mother of the Liberal prime minister. 

Mr Al Nasir said: ‘It would have been a lot easier for me to say I’ve got the blood of a slave, but to have the blood of the slave owner too, I have to deal with that side.’ 

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