The Ancestors: Finding Our Voices

Watch five brand new monologues, shining a light on the lives of the Caribbean Prisoners of War held at Portchester Castle in the 18th century.

Behind-the-Scenes of 'The Ancestors' Monologues at Porchester Castle (1)English Heritage

Collaborating with Shout Out Loud, twelve young Black women from the National Youth Theatre (NYT) explored historical sources connected to Revolution in the Caribbean and to Portchester Castle, reimaging a play written by a white French Prisoner of War about the Revolution in Haiti. 

They also created several monologues based on the likely experiences of the women transported to England during the Revolution in Haiti.

  Many families were torn apart during the Revolution in Haiti and invasion of the Caribbean islands of St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada. People may have lost parents, siblings and children before being captured themselves, placed onto military transport ships and taken to prisons in England, including Portchester Castle, near Portsmouth. 

For many it was their first time crossing the Atlantic, and they endured appalling conditions on the journey. The fact that this experience was tied to their capture and imprisonment made the journey not just physically tough but mentally and emotionally arduous too.

  The passage to Britain took months on board ships some of which were barely seaworthy. Others were damaged in storms and wrecked en route. Travelling in cramped and unhygienic conditions, disease was rife and not all prisoners survived the journey. Historical evidence tells us that some of the women were pregnant as they made this long and difficult passage.

Survivors had their names recorded on arrival in England, meaning it’s possible to know how many women and children came from the Caribbean. 

Arriving at a cold and damp castle in England during winter must have been a shock for the Caribbean prisoners and not all survived, including a number of children. British officials looking after the prisoners did make efforts to help them adapt to life in Britain, by providing extra clothing and attempting to replicate a Caribbean diet. They also moved the women and children to a prison hospital nearby so that they could be better cared for.

Behind-the-Scenes of 'The Ancestors' Monologues at Porchester Castle (1)English Heritage

Learn more about the development of the final play, ‘The Ancestors’ here. You can also see a selection of these monologues as part of ‘The Ancestors’ Uncovering their Journey.

Credits: Story

Head to the Shout Out Loud project page where you will be able to see some of the performance as part of a short documentary film. Or if you want to know more about Portchester Castle, including how to visit, all the information can be found here.

Find out about how to join the National Youth Theatre here.

This project and the performances were made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, DCMS Youth Accelerator Fund, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the David Toguri Bursary Fund, Arts Council England, the Culture Recovery Fund and Playful Productions.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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