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Richard Roxburghs ancestors caught up in the bloody battle over slavery

Friday, July 18, 2014
“You would like to find that people lived good and rich lives, and contributed something, and that
was the story of your ancestors” – Richard Roxburgh

Richard Roxburgh has made his name playing complicated characters, but knows little of the players in his own past. Richard discovers his family’s footprints in an unexpected corner of the world in the new Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are?7:30pmTuesday 29 July on SBS ONE.
Learning of two ancestors caught up in the bloody battle over slavery, Richard’s journey takes him first to Trinidad and Tobago, and then to Jamaica. Only knowing of Scottish and Irish heritage, Richard is surprised to learn of the conflicting impact his ancestors have had over these communities and the slave trade in the 1800’s.
Richard travels to Trinidad, where his Great Great Grandfather Thomas Roxburgh arrived from Scotland in 1818, at a time when Trinidad was a thriving British colony based on highly productive sugar plantations. Richard learns of his forefather’s involvement in the slave trade. His disappointment in Thomas is evident, as he learns that Thomas progressed from retaining household slaves, to having sugar plantations which owned a staggering 109 slaves. Despite the abolishment of slavery in all British colonies in 1833, it was decreed there would be a further six years of free labour before emancipation. Thomas, along with fellow white establishment plantation owners, objected and sought compensation from the British Empire for the loss of his free labour. Richard feels Thomas was the ultimate capitalist.

“To my mind, it’s about the choices that you make in this life, and he made his choice. And they wouldn’t be my choices. He was a cog in the corporate machinery that presided over one of the ugliest periods in human history” – Richard Roxburgh

Richard travels to Jamaica where he learns of his other Great Great Grandfather Reverend James Watson. Tracing down James Watson’s story proves the ultimate juxtaposition to that of Thomas’. James was a missionary, traveling around the plantation estates and preaching to the enslaved. James was one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in Jamaica and his work went beyond preaching. He wanted to educate the slaves, even though such attitudes were abhorrent to the plantation establishment.

“I feel incredibly proud. He seems like quite a man of substance. Really quite tough and determined and special” – Richard Roxburgh

In a moving service tribute to James Watson at St Andrew’s Scots Church, Richard reflects on his ancestors and their different paths as the Jamaican locals play the ‘Redemption Song’.

“So much of the journey has been about a contemplation on freedom, and what it means”-Richard Roxburgh

Who Do You Think You Are? is produced by Artemis International and Serendipity Productions for SBS.
Richard Roxburgh’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? airs 7:30pm Tuesday 29 July on SBS ONE.
The sixth series cast of acclaimed genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are also stars Andrew Denton, Rebecca Gibney, Jacki Weaver, Amanda Keller, Adam Goodes, Lisa McCune, and Paul McDermott.
Twitter: #WDYTYA
For further information please contact:
Jessica Parry PH: 02 9430 3786 E: jessica.parry@sbs.com.au