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The British Newspaper Archive

British Newspaper Archive

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Sebastian Coe on Who Do You Think You Are?


Published on 25 Aug 2011 10:36 : coe who do you think you are : 0 comments : 1140 views

Last night was episode three of Who Do You Think You Are? and focused on one of Britain's most successful athletes, Sebastian Cole. Sebastian won Olympic medals in 1980 and 1984 and today is best known for his role on the 2012 Olympic committee. Sebastian was keen to uncover more information on his mother's side of the family as he admitted that his knowledge only went back as far his grandmother. He grew up in Sheffield so in the opening of the programme he travels to the North of England where he meets a local historian who tells him the romantic story of how his grandparents met and even shows him a portrait of her.

Sebastian's family history then takes an interesting turn when he discovers that he has ancestors in Jamaica, he says he spent his whole career surrounded by Jamaican athletes and is keen to discover the links. He travels to Jamaica and soon finds out that his ancestor George Hyde Clarke was a wealthy plantation owner who led a colour life with a string of women and illegitimate children. People made enormous fortunes from sugar cane or ‘white gold' and land owners often invested their money in properties back in England and on lavish life styles. It transpires that George Hyde Clarke had 297 slaves on his plantation. Sebastian learns that life was tough for slaves in those times, they endured hard labour and harsh punishments were enforced if rules were broken.

By tracing the Clarke name further Sebastian is taken to America where he discovers an ancestor who was a lieutenant governor in New York. A historian explains to Sebastian life in New York in 1741 was hard, unemployment was high, money was scare and those who were enslaved suffered the most. New York was in a difficult time and many people started to revolt and there was an attempt to burn down the city. Clarke was in charge of bringing order to the city and to prosecute those involved. People were caught and publically executed but the situation was still volatile. It was only when Clarke offered cash incentives and freedom for slaves that people came forward with information. The results were extraordinary and hundreds of people came forward to incriminate those involved, the ringleaders were dealt with and the city returned to normal.

Sebastian said it was an awe inspiring journey and he felt proud that his family were sitting in the centre of British history. He ends the programme by apologising to his grandmother saying he regretted not listening to her while he still had the chance.