The story of a young African boy who was sold into slavery who died in Brighton in the nineteenth century will be told in words and pictures inside the bus recently named after him, the Thomas Highflyer, in time for Black History Month in October.
Eight-year-old Thomas Highflyer (real name unknown) was rescued from a slave ship off the east coast of Zanzibar, along with two other African boys, by the British anti-slave ship the HMS Highflyer in 1866. He was named after the boat and the man that rescued him, Captain Thomas MS Pasley.
When the HMS Highflyer finally docked in Portsmouth in the Autumn of 1868 Tom was sent to Brighton to be educated. He was cared for by the family of a Royal Naval officer and later by the officer’s friend, a retired coastguard, and his wife.
Tragically, Tom became ill and died of tuberculosis two years after his arrival in England.
Thomas’ story captured the imagination of Brighton & Hove Black History Group, who recently restored Tom’s grave at Brighton’s Woodvale Crematorium and held a memorial service for him.
Four children from Tom’s old school, St Mark’s Church of England Primary School in Brighton, travelled to the memorial ceremony on board the new Thomas Highflyer bus to pay their respects to him.
Co-founder of Brighton & Hove Black History Group, Bert Williams said it was an honour to have a bus named after Tom and exciting for local children to see it.
“The kids were beautiful,” he said. “They were proud that he went there and he had a love of cricket. They wanted to know the bus number and they were so excited it was going to pick them up.”