A SPECIAL ceremony was held to lay a new gravestone for a 12-year-old slave boy who was rescued by abolitionists.

Community groups, academics and representatives from Brighton and Hove City Council attended the service yesterday in Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton, to remember Thomas Malcolm Sabine Highflyer.

He died in Brighton 148 years ago on June 20, 1870.

Bert Williams, president of Brighton and Hove Black History, said: “The research has been going on for several years.

Someone tweeted me a picture of Thomas’s grave and asked me if I could do some research on it.

“The story of his life and the unexpected discovery of his headstone is yet another piece of Brighton and Hove’s hidden black heritage uncovered thanks to our team of volunteers.

“By restoring Tom’s grave, we hope to preserve his story for generations to come.”

The research was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by the council, Brighton and Hove buses and Woodvale Cemetery.

Thomas was born in 1858, somewhere in east Africa.

He was rescued from a slave boat on August 24, 1866, off the coast of Zanzibar, in Tanzania, by Captain Thomas Malcolm Sabine Paisley of the HMS Highflyer.

The vessel was part of the Royal Navy’s East African anti-slavery squadron.

The young boy spent two years on the Highflyer, travelling the world, until the crew returned to England in 1868.

Thomas was sent to Brighton and was looked after by Henry Thompson and his wife Eliza in a house in Kemp Town.

He went to St Mark’s CE Primary School, in Manor Road, Brighton.

However, he fell ill and died from tuberculosis at the age of 12.

Although Thomas lived a short life, he left a legacy of hope and humanity.

Paul Campbell, parks project and strategy manager at the council, said: “Thomas is a beacon of light for us.

“We are a nation who went out of our way to support abolition.

“He illuminates the goodness of our community.”

During the servive, pupils from St Mark’s School read out poems and laid flowers at Thomas’s new headstone.

He was remembered as a bright boy who loved school.

Mr Williams said after his grave was blessed and restored, he was no longer in the shadows of the city’s history.

Bus named after Thomas Highflyer

A Brighton and Hove bus has been named in honour of the young African slave boy Thomas Highflyer. 

It coincides with Brighton and Hove Black History Group’s restoration of Thomas’s grave and a memorial service held for him yesterday.

Bert Williams, co-founder of Brighton and Hove Black History and also a member of the Windrush Generation, said it was an honour to have a bus named after Thomas.

He said it was a sad story but also a story of kindness and the abolition of the slave trade, a trade which Britain was complicit in for scores of years.  

He said: “Thomas might have lost his African family but he possibly found another one here in Brighton.

“We were instrumental in the slave trade and instrumental in stopping it.”

Mr Williams said it was exciting for pupils to see the bus named after the boy.

He said: “I think it’s important that we look at what we’ve achieved since 1945 and what we’ve contributed in Europe and England. 

“Everything – music, fashion, language and food. We should celebrate and let the younger people know there were other people before them.

“The kids at St Mark’s are very proud that he went there. They wanted to know the bus number and they were so excited it was going to pick them up.”