All Souls College

All Souls and the Colonial Past 

The links between All Souls College and the colonial past have many aspects, notably in relation to the Caribbean, India and Africa.  

The Caribbean 

In 1710 Christopher Codrington, the governor-general of the Leeward Islands, who had been born in Barbados in 1668, and became a Fellow of the College in 1690, bequeathed his books to All Souls and £10,000 for the building of a library. Much of his wealth derived from his family’s plantations in Barbuda and Barbados, which were worked by slaves. Codrington also made a bequest to found Codrington College in Barbados, which was to be supported by a plantation with ‘three hundred negroes at least Kept thereon, and a convenient number of professors and scholars ... obliged to study and practice physick and chirurgery, as well as divinity, that by the apparent usefulness of the former to all mankind they may both endear themselves to the people, and have the better opportunity of doing good to men’s souls, while they are taking care of their bodies.’ Codrington made money from slavery. He also stated in a letter to William Popple in 1699 ‘I have always thought it very barbarous that so little care should be taken of the bodies… of our poor slaves. Their condition has cost me many a mortifying reflection, and yet I know not how I shall be able to mend it in any one respect but feeding my slaves well. I shall certainly be opposed by all the Planters in general if I should go about to secure their limbs and lives by a law, though I will certainly recommend something of the kind, but much more if I should promote the baptizing of all our slaves.’ His legacy was not in itself sufficient to fund the building of the library, which was supported by several other benefactors, but the College has had extensive discussions about how best to address this aspect of its colonial legacy, and in 2020 decided to cease to refer to the library as the ‘Codrington Library.

In 2018 a plaque was erected at the entrance to the library in memory of those who worked in slavery on the Codrington plantations in the West Indies. The wording of the memorial was developed in discussion with descendants of those it commemorates. Inside the library itself the statue of Codrington is accompanied by an account of his life. Busts of William Wilberforce (1759-83), whose great-grandson was a fellow of the College and an anti-slavery campaigner, and of Stephen Lushington (1782-1873), a Fellow of the College who devoted much of his life to ending the institution of slavery, have been positioned at the east end of the Great Library. The College has also made grants to Codrington College in Barbados, and has endowed graduate studentships which give full support for up to three students from the Caribbean in any one year, named in honour of Sir Hugh Springer (1913-94), who was the fourth governor-general of Barbados. He became one of the ten national heroes of Barbados, and was a Visiting Fellow of the College. His portrait hangs in the College Hall. 


 A number of Fellows of All Souls were involved in colonial administration in the first half of the twentieth century.  Three were Viceroys of India – Lords Curzon (1899-1905), Chelmsford (1916-21), and Irwin/Halifax (1926-31), who had close dealings with Mahatma Gandhi.  The lawyer Cyril Radcliffe chaired the commission on the partition of India and Pakistan when they became independent.  The second president of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (18881975), was also a Fellow of the College from 1936 and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics. His portrait also hangs in the Hall, close to that of Curzon and Halifax.  Thus the portraits in the College represent its past associations with the government of India both before and after independence.


The young Oxford graduates who formed Lord Milner’s ‘Kindergarden’ in South Africa after the Boer War were mainly drawn from New College, but four became Fellows of All Souls, including Lionel Curtis, who founded Chatham House.  Due to him, L.S. Amery and others, the College became an important base of the Round Table – an association formed to promote closer union between Britain and its self-governing dominions.  One result of their efforts was the election to Fellowship of T.E Lawrence. 
A different world existed after the Second World War.  One mark of this is the portrait, also in the Hall, of William Abraham, elected a Prize Fellow in 1959, who was a close adviser to President Kwame Nkrumah following Ghana’s independence and later became Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana. 

Further reading 

S. Gopal, “All Souls and India”, in S. Green and P. Horden eds., All Souls and the Wider World, OUP 2011. M. Howard, “All Souls and the ‘Round Table’”, in S. Green and P. Horden eds., All Souls and the Wider World, OUP 2011. S. Mandelbrote, “The Vision of Christopher Codrington”, in S. Green and P. Horden eds., All Souls under the Ancien Régime, OUP 2007.