THE gravestone of an African slave boy who briefly charmed 19th century Brighton has been taken away for a wash and brush-up.

A headstone marking the final resting place of Thomas Highflyer in Woodvale Crematorium in Lewes Road was dug up on Friday ahead of restoration work.

“He was loved,” said Bert Williams, co-founder of Brighton and Hove Black History.

“He was a great favourite of the children at school and the teachers fell for him.

“When he arrived at St Mark’s School in Whitehawk, the headmaster made an announcement saying they had a black fellow at the school now and they wanted to show him how good and kind children with white skin and Christian names can be to a black boy.”

Thomas was picked up off Zanzibar in 1866 by a patrol ship sent by Queen Victoria, who had taken it upon herself to put an end to slavery in East Africa.

The trade had been abolished in British colonies in 1807 but was still widely practised when Thomas and several other boys were plucked from an Arabian ship containing 152 Africans and put to work on the HMS Highflyer. Thomas, who was eventually named after ship captain Thomas Malcolm Sabine Pasley of the Royal Navy, worked as a valet on deck for two years before disembarking in Brighton in 1868.

He ended up at a lodging house run by the Thompson family on Great College Street, Kemp Town.

“They wanted him to be educated, to be able to read and write and to be a good Christian boy,” said Bert.

“He was a regular church-goer. He became friends there with a white boy called Samuel.”

Thomas attended All Souls Church, near Kemp Town – the first church built by the Reverend Henry Wagner to serve the poor.

But at the tender age of 12 he succumbed to a combination of tuberculosis and dropsy.

Bert said: “The English climate didn’t suit him. But you can tell by the expensive gravestone at Woodvale that he was loved. He was treated like a son by Mrs Thompson.”

Thomas was not the first African to become part of the fabric of Victorian Brighton.

Another was George Bridgetower, born to Barbadan parents, whose violin performances in orchestras saw him hailed a virtuoso by contemporary newspapers.

Another was Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a Nigerian princess gifted to Queen Victoria. She was married to a wealthy Brighton businessman in 1862.