The Thomas Highflyer project team at the gravestone removal ceremony in January 2018. Photo: Bert Williams MBE. 

The Thomas Highflyer project team doing research at the Keep. A selfie moment in the lift! 

Tilley’s Stonemasons and the Thomas Highflyer project team on site at Woodvale Cemetery one day before the special memorial ceremony to reinstate Thomas’s restored gravestone. 

On board the Brighton & Hove Thomas Highflyer bus, you can learn about his life and read poems written by schoolchildren from St Marks School, accompanied by an art work portrait of Thomas, created by Ludovic Foster. Photo: Ray Gibson

Letter-carver Ollie Laughton, from Tilley’s Stonemasons of Brighton, restores Thomas Highflyer’s grave. Photo: Andrew Hasson

The Thomas Highflyer bus was put into service to transport schoolchildren from St Mark’s School to Woodvale Cemetery for a special memorial to reinstate Thomas’s restored grave. Photo: Ray Gibson

It started with a tweet…..

In 2018, Brighton & Hove Black History initiated the city-wide project Thomas Highflyer Project, which aims to honour the life of an African slave boy who lived and died in Brighton 148 years ago as an important part of Brighton’s heritage.

The project is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and in partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council and Woodvale Cemetery.

Thomas M.S. Highflyer was rescued from a slave dhow on 24 August 1866, along with two other boys by Captain Thomas Malcolm Sabine Pasley of the Royal Navy’s East African Anti-Slave Trade Squadron. He was sent to Brighton to be educated and lived at 19 Great College Street, Brighton where he lived until his premature death on 20 June 1870 at age 12. He was buried in Woodvale Cemetery, Brighton.

Simon Bannister discovered Thomas’ grave by accident and alerted Black History with a tweet on Twitter……

Achievements so far

Since the project was launched the group has seen a number of key achievements:

  • On 19 January 2018, Thomas’ gravestone was removed as part of the official project launch, attended by many city dignitaries.
  • For 3 months, the gravestone was restored by Tilleys Stonemasons
  • In May 2018, Brighton & Hove Bus named one of their city buses after Thomas. The bus features art work and information about Thomas’ life. as well as poems and writing from school children from St Marks Church of England primary school, Thomas’s old school.
  • On 20 June 2018 , the restored gravestone was reinstated at a memorial ceremony attended by city leaders and special guests, including St Marks schoolchildren, who read out their poems about his life
  • On 24 November, the group offered a free tour of the city’s Black historical landmarks, Thomas Highflyer Heritage Bus Tour, narrated by Black History researchers Bert Williams MBE D.Lit. and Suchi Chatterjee.

About Black History 

Brighton and Hove Black History was formally launched in Brighton in October 2002 by co-founders Sarah Lee and Bert Williams MBE. The group’s existence owes a lot to the passion and persistence of Bert Williams MBE, who has spent much of his retired life researching and presenting the multicultural history of the city. The group has now expanded to encompass a thriving team of local volunteers from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

The Team

Project Managers: Sarah Lee & Ebou Touray
Researchers: Bert Williams MBE and Suchi Chatterjee
Educational Specialist: Gabrielle Rowles
Historical advisor: Samira Teuteberg
Volunteers: Johnny Worthy, Josef Cabey, Ludovic Foster
Artists: Josef Cabey, Ludovic Foster

Film: Alex Buckley
Sound: Will Hood
Music: Saidi Kanda
Presenter: Bobby Brown
Featuring: Bert Williams MBE, Suchi Chatterjee and others

Thank you to the following for their support: 
Staff at Woodvale Cemetary
Staff and pupils at St Marks School
Staff at the Keep
Brighton & Hove Buses
Brighton & Hove City Council
Simon Bannister

Special thanks to Michelle Pooley and Richard Tusset for all their support


Our educational specialist has created free resources for teachers to use in the classroom to explore the story of Thomas’s life from a historical perspective. They are designed to inspire and educate young minds ages 10/11 (Key Stage 2) and age 14 (Key Stage 3).



The project aims to honour the life of an African slave boy who lived and died in Brighton 148 years ago. Initiated by Brighton & Hove Black History in partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council and Woodvale Cemetery and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.