Human Cargo, Shire Hall, Dorchester

Submitted review by Harriet Still


SONGS and stories of migration echoed around the Georgian courtroom of Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Matthew Crampton and Jeff Warner’s show, Human Cargo.

The two folk performers used humour, poignancy and hard-hitting facts to tell the tales of individuals who have moved across continents. The thought-provoking stories spanned centuries with examples of slavery, transportation and the clearances, while maintaining a link with the great migrations of our own time.

The music ranged from soulful songs of the slave ships to music hall numbers of the 1920s, and the storyteller and musician stood in the judge’s podium, from which so many sentences of transportation were delivered. Matthew Crampton’s research added immediacy by weaving in stories from close to home, such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Dorset slave owners.

Jeff Warner said afterwards that their job as historians was to “make history as interesting as it really was. That job was made stunningly easy at the Shire Hall Museum. History was all around us, at every turn. It was an honour to perform at the courthouse.”

Matthew Crampton said: “The Shire Hall, as expected, was rich in atmosphere. But it was also a lovely venue in which to perform. Storytellers long for settings that help lift their stories. Where better than an old courtroom to tell tales of poor folk transported unjustly in past centuries?”

The event was supported by the Verne Visitors Group, Dorset Race Equality Council and the Multicultural Network, and was part of the programme for Shire Hall’s free temporary exhibition, Journey to Justice, which runs until the end of August.

Caz Dennett, a volunteer from the Verne Visitors Group , said: the Human Cargo show had highlighted the history of migration across the world and past and present injustices.

This was the first time the Georgian courtroom had been used as a performance space since the opening of the new museum.  For more information on events at Shire Hall visit

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