Hugh Quarshie – Who Do You Think You Are?

Finally, a WDYTYA episode that one, has an imperial twist, and two, doesnt try to make us all feel guilty for the British Empire! Actor Hugh Quarshie (Ric in Holby City) is of Ghanaian ancestry. The first part of the programme shows Hugh travelling to Ghana to trace that side of his family tree.

Interestingly, the programme sheds light on the fact that Ghana – known as the Gold Coast – had imperial masters before the British, in the shape of the Portuguese, and then the Dutch. And Quarshie’s family had Dutch blood, in the shape of a Dutch imperial civil servant who married a Ghanaian woman and had children with her. The Dutchman, Peter Kamerling, founded the village where Hugh’s ancestors lived. And when he visits the village, we get a surprise – none of present day inhabitants are bothered about the imperial past. In fact, he is greeted as minor royalty, and other villages who have links with the Kamerlings are very proud of their heritage. Kinda throws new light on the liberal assumption that Empire is terrible and that the natives are always hard done by.

Then Hugh travels to Holland, and manages to trace more records about the Dutch side of his family. And, incredibly, he meets a Dutch descendant of the Kamerlings, who has researched his family tree. Although Kamerling has apparently deserted his Ghanaian family to return to Holland, Hugh finds that his will made provisions for all of his children in Ghana, and he even included their birth certificates in his will in order to prove that they were his children. Although he had left them, he had not forgotten them.

The Dutch Empire of the 17th Century is all but forgotten in the race to lay on the guilt over the British Empire. The Dutch built an impressive trading network, covering parts of North America, the west coast of Africa and the East Indies. The Dutch were methodical record keepers, which helped Hugh trace that part of his family history. But they were also ruthless. I have read an account from modern day Indonesia, where Dutch merchants caught an English rival trading in one of their ports. They chased him, and when they caught him he was cut, and ‘washed in salt and vinegar’. Lovely!

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4 Comments

Filed under Empire History, Family History, On TV

4 responses to “Hugh Quarshie – Who Do You Think You Are?

  1. x

    You wouldn’t have got very good marks in the Imperialism module at the Kremlin……….. ;)

  2. James Daly

    The PC police would throw me away and lock up the key for my thoughts on Empire ;)

    Actually one of my units at Uni was ‘Europes Maritime Empires 1650-1800′. And the over-riding theme was that Empires did have benefits for all parties, and were the birth of multiculturalism. Some Europeans went native, whilst some natives embraced the new cultures that arrived on their shores.

    Look at the Roman Empire – all we hear about the Roman history of Britain is how they brought us sewers, baths, civlization, buildings etc, not about how they invaded and pillaged the landscape. In some ways the effects of the British Empire are similar – the most stable post-Imperial countries seem to me to be the ones that embraced the positive aspects of British rule in their new found independence.

  3. x

    It could be argue that “social reform” and philanthropic movements of the 19th century and early 20th century were manifestations of the British middle and upper classes going “native” in their own country.

    Yes “Celtic” (there is a loaded term nowadays) Britian was quite civilised and sophisiticated.

    PS: “The Kremlin” was the old nick name the villagers used to call our local university. No names; no pack drill!

  4. James Daly

    Empire did give a lot of imagery to mid and late victorians philanthropy – kids being referred to as street arabs, the underclass being depicted as apes, and the realisation that rookeries in London were little better than the blackholes of Calcutta. And then theres Jerusalem, and the dark satanic mills…

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