Time for an Update!

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It seems amazing to think that already four years have passed since I set up this website with the help of the lovely Alex Barrett of Wick IT Services.

In that time I have written over a hundred posts, transcribed more than fifty Wills, uploaded various documents and images relating to Jamaica and maintained a database of over 7000 individuals with historic connections to eighteenth century Jamaica.

Meanwhile technology has moved on and since so many people now access the internet through their phones and tablets it is time for a makeover.

The fundamentals of the site are unchanged but the redesign makes it easier for those using the newer technology. I have also taken the opportunity to make the archive of old posts easier to look through and you will now find that on the right hand side of your screen.

The most major change relates to the family trees which previously were difficult to upload and keep updated. Using some different technology (the Rootspersona plugin) I have now created a number of new family trees taken from my main database and they are presented in what I hope you will agree is a much easier to read format with the information arranged in tabs. Those who have access to Ancestry can still find my main database called Jamaican Connections there. One difference however is that on Ancestry my rough notes are not made visible whereas I have taken the decision to include them here.

As with all genealogical research the work is never done, so it always comes with the caveat that where the information matters to you please double check my research against original sources wherever possible. And of course I am always happy to receive updates and corrections.

I hope you like the redesign and find the site easy to use however you access it.
 

Image courtesy of cliparts.

How not to jump to conclusions!

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Tenby Harbour

 

I had a salutary lesson in the dangers of jumping to conclusions in genealogy this week.

As part of the work I did on the Hungerford Morgans from Bristol I had located the man I thought was one of the sons of the first James Hungerford Morgan who had lived and died in Jamaica. There was a well constructed and sourced line of descent from his eldest son Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan but not much to go on in relation to either of his siblings baptised in Jamaica after him – a sister called Juliana after her mother and a second James Hungerford Morgan baptised in June 1792, and born in May of that year.

The man who was apparently James Hungerford Morgan II was an unmarried retired  Lieutenant living on half pay,  in Tenby in Wales, by the time of the 1841 and 1851 censuses. This fitted well enough with the fact that Henry Morgan, his apparent grandfather, had died in Wales.

Further investigation revealed a sister called Mary Morgan who outlived him, and that’s when the alarm bells started ringing, for at his death in April 1851 she was referred to as his only living relative despite the fact that the family of Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan were alive and well, living mainly in London and India.

Moreover when Mary Morgan died a few months later without having administered her brother’s Will it was left to her nephew the Rev Thomas Sleeman to tidy things up. If James and Mary had a nephew with a different surname it implied that there must have been another sister in the picture, albeit one who had died before 1851. It turned out this was not Juliana Morgan born in Jamaica, but an Elizabeth Morgan who had married wine merchant Thomas Sleeman at Tenby in 1806. A search for the Will of Thomas Sleeman and a bit more investigation made it quite clear that I was dealing with a different family from the one with the Jamaican connections.

Fortunately all these documents were easily available via the National Library of Wales website where you can view them for free and download for £3.50.

I had been a little wary from the first when the census data about dates and places of birth did not match up with what was known about the Jamaican family, but the census enumerators often did make mistakes in copying out their returns, so on its own it was not enough to do more that raise a nagging doubt.

In the end although I proved that James Hungerford Morgan baptised in Tenby in 1788 was not the same as James Hungerford Morgan born in Jamaica in May 1792 there is the intriguing possibility that the families were actually connected and that the coincidence of names may not be mere coincidence.

The father of the Tenby Morgans was called Harry Morgan and it seems likely that he was the Harry Morgan who married Elizabeth Dew in 1779 when he gave his parish as St Nicholas, Bristol. On his early death in 1793 at Tenby, after he had become bankrupt,  he gave his profession as mercer. Newspaper reports of his bankruptcy referred to him as a linen draper like the linen drapers of the Bristol family of the other Morgans and Hungerfords, many of whom lived in or were associated with the parish of St Nicholas.

St_Nicholas_from_Bristol_Bridge

St Nicholas from Bristol Bridge

So we have two families called Morgan with connections to Bristol, who shared a trade and were in some way linked to the Hungerfords.

This time I’m not going to jump to conclusions – but my instinct says there is a link to be found.

What do you think?

 

Picture of St Nicholas from Bristol Bridge – By NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Brickwalls and a Bristol Linen Draper

Brickwall

 

Brickwall is the term used in family history research to describe the situation that arises when you are completely stuck in trying to trace your ancestors further back. Sometimes the solution is not to try to batter your way through but to work your way around it.

There are some family names that are so common that they make research particularly difficult. My father’s family name Wilson was once said to be the most common name in the Glasgow phone book. When I worked on a human resources system, based largely in London, Williams and Patel were the most common names.

So when I was contacted by someone with the surname Morgan my heart did sink a little. Of course Henry Morgan is one of the most famous names associated with early Jamaica, but there was no suggestion that this family were related to him.

My starting point was James Hungerford Morgan who was listed in the Bristol Poll Book for St Nicholas in 1774 as a linen draper. On the 29 November 1782 he married Juliana Wisdom James, from a long established colonial family, in Trelawny, Jamaica. They had four children baptised there before James died in April 1792. Juliana remarried the following year on the Fontabelle estate to William Pitter and had four more children with him.

The line of descent from the two sons of James and Juliana (Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan and James Hungerford Morgan II) had already been well traced by my enquirer who really wanted to know who were the parents of the first James Hungerford Morgan after whose marriage many descendants bore the double name Hungerford Morgan, sometimes hyphenated. This certainly suggested that Hungerford was an important family name and a connection to be cherished.

The obvious starting point was to look for a marriage between a Morgan and a Hungerford and sure enough there was George Morgan married to Mary Hungerford in August 1685 in London’s St James Dukes Place, which had a reputation as a ‘marriage factory’ where you could go to get married in a hurry and relative anonymity. It may be that Mary was already pregnant or that her family disapproved of George, or both, since back in her home parish of Windrush in Gloucestershire the following year their daughter Margaret Mary was baptised in July and their son James in November. The Hungerfords were prominent in Windrush but when James was baptised the parish register only recorded him as James with no middle name. In any case it seemed likely that James Hungerford Morgan was born in the early 1750s so although geographically Windrush and Bristol are not far apart this left a period of about seventy-five years to bridge.

Looking again at the Bristol records there was a Henry Morgan, also a linen draper, in the Poll books at the same time as James Hungerford Morgan. There is also a catalogue entry in the Bristol Record Office dated 1778 for a mortgage “James Hungerford Morgan, planter of Jamaica, now resided in Bristol, to Henry Morgan of Bristol, linen draper”. This also suggests a connection between the two, perhaps as brothers, uncle and nephew, or father and son. Unfortunately there is no online record for a baptism for James Hungerford Morgan, although plenty for James Morgan in and around Bristol in the relevant period. Of course with the surname Morgan he might have been an incomer from Wales, there being regular commerce and connections across the River Severn down the centuries.

The solution came via a catalogue entry at the National Archives for a legal case involving ” Henry Morgan, linen draper of Bristol and Catherine Morgan his wife (late Catherine Oliver, spinster)”. When I found that Catherine had a brother named Hungerford Oliver I knew I was on the right track – her first son Edward was named after her ironmonger father Edward Oliver and James after, it must be presumed, her favourite brother. Hungerford Oliver later married Prudence Milward of Old Swinford, Worcestershire, apparently rather against her father’s inclinations and had something of a reputation as an eccentric. Sadly their son Thomas Milward Oliver who trained as a doctor was later to hang for murder.

The confirmation of the parentage of James Hungerford Oliver comes from a series of family Wills, although finding his father’s Will proved challenging. Catherine Oliver’s mother Jane was clearly a wealthy woman with property in Bristol and on her death in about 1772 she left legacies to numerous family members including her grandchildren among whom were Thomas Hungerford Powell (son of her daughter Jane) and the four children of her late daughter Catherine and Henry Morgan, who was one of her executors.

Tracking down Henry Morgan’s Will took a bit of guesswork. There was no Will for a Bristol linen merchant of that name so I wondered, since his grandson James Hungerford Morgan II had died at Tenby, whether Henry Morgan had retired to Wales. There were four plausible candidates and looking at the map of south Wales I opted to start with “Henry Morgan of St Brides in the County of Glamorgan Gentleman” and struck lucky. It was not uncommon to make the transition from trade to gentleman, and Henry’s Will finally confirmed for certain that he was the father of James Hungerford Morgan. How the name Hungerford came into the Oliver family and whether there was any connection to the Hungerfords of Windrush must remain a question for another day.

That James Hungerford Morgan who became a Jamaican planter came from Bristol is not surprising. With connections to the haberdashery and linen trades and a grandfather who was an ironmonger, it is highly likely that his extended family had been exporting goods to Jamaica for some time. What direct connection they may have had with the slave trade, other than as owners of slaves in Jamaica is unclear, but his son Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan died a wealthy man and his estate made compensation claims on two estates.

old_derbyirongate

All Saints Derby – now Derby Cathedral

Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan had married Elizabeth Lawson from Falmouth who, according to Morgan family tradition, later burnt most of the family papers! Whether she was just obsessively tidy or was trying to conceal something is unclear. Her husband left a legacy of £200 to a young woman called Julia Hungerford, and, curious to know whether she would explain the link to the Hungerford family, I tracked her down in the parish register of All Saints Derby, where in 1842 she married Richard Lindley giving her father’s name as Henry Rhodes. The later census records show her as having been born in Jamaica, so it seems likely that she was the illegitimate, probably mixed race, daughter of Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan, baptised in Manchester Jamaica in 1819, about three years before his marriage to Elizabeth Lawson.

So if you have a brick wall in your current research do not give up, the solution is often out there and with more records becoming available online every week it may just be waiting to be found.

 

 

 

Skeletons in the cupboard

 

This week I have been pondering the issue of skeletons in the family cupboard and our attitudes towards them.

I had been exploring the history of West Horsley Place in Surrey, recently in the news when it was inherited by Bamber Gascoigne but which belonged to my maternal grandfather’s family for over a century and a half until it was sold to Lord Crewe in 1921.

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West Horsley Place c.1840

In the process I came across my mother’s great uncle and his wife Daisy Oliphant who lived at West Horsley at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Curious about her, and thankful her name was relatively unusual, I tracked her back only to discover that her father, who was a journalist and foreign editor of the Morning Chronicle, appeared to have left his wife and first family to live with a young Scottish actress who in turn had left her husband. Now they would simply have divorced their first spouses and remarried, but divorce was expensive and socially frowned upon, and simply living as if married was cheaper and more convenient. The arrangement cannot have been too acrimonious since some of the first family turn up as witnesses to the weddings of the second.

In the records of Wills, and sometimes on death records, you may find a clue to such an arrangement where the person in question is shown with two surnames, for example in this case ‘Catherine Bland or Oliphant’. Her maiden name of MacNab was discovered because when she moved south to live with William Oliphant her mother came too and was present in a census record!

Sometimes the use of two surnames on a record may indicate that the person was illegitimate and the record is giving the surname both of the birth mother and the acknowledged father. But be careful about making such assumptions without further evidence. Particularly in more recent records the use of two surnames for a woman may simply indicate that a previous husband had died.

I enjoy uncovering these little histories in my family, but I am conscious that not everyone is pleased to find out that an ancestor was illegitimate, or left his wife, went bankrupt or worse still engaged in criminal activity. Therefore when I am asked to help find out about someone else’s family history it does occasionally present an ethical dilemma.

If someone contacts me because they are searching for a long lost living relative, and I happen to discover who that person is what should I do with that information? Does the other party want to discover they have an unknown sibling? In that particular case I was saved having to make the decision as the people in question found each other by another route.

Most people now seem to be relatively comfortable with the notion that an ancestor was illegitimate, or fell upon hard times and entered the workhouse, or was unfortunate enough to become mentally ill and was consigned to an asylum. Distance lends a certain objectivity and we no longer regard birth out of wedlock or mental illness as the stigmas they once were.

Even in the nineteenth century illegitimacy was sometimes glossed over. I recently had a conversation on the Facebook group Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society about the family of the distinguished geologist Sir Henry De La Beche whose father and uncle had changed the family name from Beach in 1790 in what may well have been a spurious attempt to claim Norman inheritance.

Halse Hall Great House

Halse Hall Great House today

Thomas Beach from Wiltshire married Helen Hynes in Jamaica in 1755 and hence acquired the Halse Hall plantations via her mother Jennet Guthrie’s first marriage to Francis Sadler.  Thomas and Helen had at least four children – Thomas, Jannet, John Hynes and Rose Sadler of whom only Thomas and John survived to change their surname.

Unless Sir Henry’s father Thomas De La Beche was married twice (which is of course possible) it appears that Sir Henry was probably illegitimate and his parents married only about a year after his birth. Thomas De La Beche had a minor career in the army until he inherited the Jamaican plantations and he died in Jamaica in the summer of 1801. His widow then took five year-old Henry back to England, surviving shipwreck on the way.

When Henry grew up he married Letitia Smith and they had one daughter, Elizabeth, named presumably after his mother. The marriage was not a success and while Henry was on a geological trip abroad his wife had an affair with Henry Wyndham, son of the Earl of Egremont, and they separated, the separation being made legal in 1828.

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Sir Henry De La Beche (The National Museum of Wales / Amgueddfa Cymru)

It must have been evident to most people that Sir Henry’s daughter Rosalie who was born in 1834 was not his wife’s child. However when Rosalie died young, not long after her father, the press notice referred to her as his youngest daughter. She had lived in his household for a number of years and was on perfectly friendly terms with her married half-sister Elizabeth. Her probate record refers to her as Rosalie Torre Gay or De La Beche so it is reasonable to suppose that her mother’s surname was Gay, but I have not found a baptism record, and her birth occurred before civil registration.

It is unlikely, I hope, that any modern descendant of the De La Beche family will be offended by these discoveries, however in the context of the joint histories of Jamaica and Great Britain a difficult issue can arise. Some people are absolutely delighted to discover they have mixed ancestry but I know of at least one case of someone who when presented with irrefutable evidence of black Jamaican inheritance absolutely denied its truth.

It became clear to me as I gradually became acquainted with the history of 18th-century Jamaica and the way in which the mixed race descendants of the Plantocracy were often absorbed into mainstream British society, that sometimes these origins were consciously obscured and sometimes they were simply forgotten.

For myself I think that family skeletons should be brought out of the closet and re-clothed in the stories of their lives. It is a way of honouring those who went before and reclaiming them from the dust of history.

 

 

March v. Ellis a bitter family dispute

 300px-The_Court_of_Chancery_during_the_reign_of_George_I_by_Benjamin_FerrersThe Court of Chancery in the reign of George I  (source: Wikipedia)

The case of Francis March against members of the Ellis family is very typical of 18th-century Jamaican Chancery cases. Many of these arose because of the early deaths of colonists and their reliance on loans taken out in expectation of repayment from the profits of their estates, profits which did not always materialise. Add to this the problems of remote management of estates for absentee owners, inadequate record keeping, records lost by accident or destruction by the Jamaican climate, and you have a difficult mix in which disputes about Wills and land ownership could drag on for many years.

Moreover decisions of the Jamaican court had to be ratified in England and so a litigant might find themselves fighting in the courts of both Jamaica and London. This is the context of a case that spanned the first quarter of the eighteenth century involving the descendants of John Ellis and his son-in-law Francis March.

John Ellis arrived in Jamaica either with or shortly after the first group of colonists and rapidly acquired several estates and plantations. When he died in August 1706 he left three of 11 children still living – John, George and Martha. His daughter Martha had married Frances March in 1701 when she was 17 and he was about 21 and Ellis appointed his son-in-law as one of his Executors.

John Ellis junior married Elizabeth Grace Nedham (sometimes written Needham) and they had four children living at his early death in England only three years after his father. John the elder had left legacies to his daughter Anne, and to his grandchildren Sarah and John March as well as to the poor of the parish of St Katherine’s. The bulk of his estate was left to his son John, who on his death had made a will leaving £2000 Jamaican currency to each of his daughters Mary and Martha when they married, plus an additional £1000 to each of their first children. He left £1000 to his sister which appears to have been due to her from their father’ s will and £500 to Abigail Demetrius who was then a minor. Having made provision for the education of all his children and Abigail he left various parcels of land to his son George making his elder son John residuary legatee. This third John Ellis later died without having made a will or having married.

As Executor Frances March apparently discovered after the death of the second John Ellis that none of the legacies due from John Ellis the elder had been paid and that John Ellis the younger had died in debt to the tune of over £8000 (which would have a purchasing power of nearly £900,000 today).

The Ellis property in Jamaica consisted of the Caymanus Plantation, a large part of the Crawle Plantation, two thirds of the Sixteen Mile Walk Plantation, plus some other uncultivated land and all the associated sugar works, slaves, stock and equipment.

The Sixteen Mile Walk Plantation was owned in part by Susanna Cooke who had leased it to a man called Carlton Goddard in return for an income of £50 per year, and in about 1704 the younger John Ellis had agreed to buy out Carlton Goddard’s share for £1800, paid in instalments with interest. Ellis took possession of the land, but failed to pay most of the money and all of the rent.

Before the legal formalities had been completed conveying the land to John Ellis, Carlton Goddard was declared bankrupt and his Jamaican property was assigned to a London merchant called Samuel Clarke. Francis March, who was then in Jamaica, was sending money back to London for the maintenance of the four Ellis children and their aunt Anne Ellis, and he was now faced with the demand from Samuel Clarke to hand over Goddard’s share of the Sixteen Mile Walk Plantation. March told Clarke that the conveyance had not been completed but Clarke agreed to the conveyance going ahead on payment of the Ellis debt by March in person out of his own funds.

Meanwhile by about 1712 Susanna Cooke had died, and a man called John Hayward offered to buy out her son George Cooke’s share of Sixteen Mile Walk and his share of the Crawle Plantation and various other pieces of land, which had he succeeded would have seriously affected the value of the Ellis properties. So Francis March set out for England to get agreement from George Cooke in person to sell all this property to him. Again March paid for this from his own funds intending it for the benefit of his own family and about Christmas 1713 he travelled back to Jamaica and attempted to sell John Ellis’s “wastelands”, as requested under the terms of the will. He sold a small amount of land to Ezekial Gomersall, but could not find a buyer for the rest.

Francis March seems to have been a regular transatlantic traveller because in 1718 he again returned to England where in the meantime Anne Ellis had become administratrix of the Will of her sister-in-law Elizabeth Grace Ellis. The four Ellis children now being orphans their aunt Anne Ellis was named as their “next friend” and a group action was taken in the Court of Chancery to demand that Francis March should produce accounts of what had happened to the various Ellis properties. Many of March’s papers were still in Jamaica but he did produce a formal response and then returned to Jamaica in 1721.

By this time the two Ellis boys had reached the age of seventeen (the age at which they were to inherit) and their sister Mary had married John Manley who appears to have been somewhat older than the Ellis children and to have acted for them in their minority.

The Ellis family now took matters into their own hands and forcibly occupied all the property that had belonged to John Ellis senior, to his son Major John Ellis and to Carlton Goddard, including the land bought from George Cooke by Francis March with his own money! Moreover they also took possession of all the stock of slaves, cattle and equipment, and produce in the form of sugar and rum which March later valued at over £12,000 Jamaican currency and they took all the regular income from the plantations.

Having expelled Francis March they then exhibited a bill of complaint in the Jamaican Court of Chancery against him to which March duly responded. By this time the third John Ellis had died and the seized estates were being managed jointly by his younger brother George Ellis and John Manley.

Francis March was forced to sue for the money that he had laid out in paying for the land the second John Ellis had committed to purchasing from Carlton Goddard as well as paying off Goddard’s debt in order to secure the purchase. Moreover according to March the legacies due to Anne Ellis and to his two children as well as to the poor of the parish of St Catherine’s had still not been paid.

By this time Frances March had been in Jamaica on and off for many years and like so many colonists his health and that of his family was suffering. He sent his son ahead to England and prepared to leave the island with the rest of his family at which point the Ellis contingent threatened him with an injunction to prevent him leaving the island while what they claimed was a debt to them was still outstanding. This was a common procedure since it was not unusual for debtors to try to escape Jamaica leaving their debts behind them. Desperate to get back to England Francis March paid the Ellis family the amount that they had counterclaimed and left on a ship called the Resolution.

His troubles were far from over for the ship caught fire and March lost most of his possessions, including all his accounts and papers, and he and his family barely escaped with their lives. Back in London by 1724 John Manley was already dead as was Abigail Demetrius, George Ellis had reached the age of 21 and Francis March again attempted to enforce on George Ellis the payment of the legacies due under the Wills of his grandfather John Ellis and his father.

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Westminster Hall where the Court of Chancery sat
(source: Wikipedia)

Once again Frances March petitioned the Court of Chancery, this time in London, in an attempt to get the whole confused mess finally resolved by asking the Court to require George Ellis to agree to pay him £3794 Sterling, the amount he had disbursed on behalf of the Ellis family. Given the size of the profits from their estates their is no reason to assume they could not easily have afforded this.

Sadly I am not aware of any record to indicate that George Ellis did finally pay up.

Francis March died in about 1736 and the Ellis family continued to prosper in Jamaica acquiring further lands, including the Montpellier estate from Francis Sadler Hals who received it as reward for his efforts in the Maroon War settlement of 1739. There is a very good account of the Ellis family’s various holdings and acquisitions in Barry Higman’s book Montpelier Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom 1739-1912.

I wrote on a previous occasion about the fate of George Ellis’s son John Ellis and his two great nieces Anne Maria and Bathshua Herring Ellis, who were all lost at sea in the great storm of 1782 when two of his servants had an absolutely miraculous escape.

 

Note: I have to thank David M Oakley without whose hard work transcribing a key legal document this posting would not have been possible.

 

 

Scotts of Ireland, Jamaica, Dominica and Nova Scotia

Happy New Year

The New Year is a time for good resolutions and at least one blogger I have read recently has promised to post more often. I’m conscious that I have not posted regularly in recent months and will try to do better in 2015.

I shall begin with a correction.

One feature of genealogy is that it is never done, and too often evidence emerges that shows conclusions drawn in the past, which seemed reasonable at the time, to have been wrong. So it was that I was contacted by someone researching the Scott family who challenged my assumption that their earliest ancestor in Jamaica had been the Rev John Scott who was presented to the parish of St Catherine on 14 March 1720 and married Elizabeth Millner (possibly the daughter of Elizabeth Rose of Mickleton) the following year. That John Scott died in November 1734 and so could not have been the father of the Scott brothers who grew up alongside the Lee family (see the book A Parcel of Ribbons).

In fact it seems clear now that the Scott family who were prominent in Jamaica from the mid-eighteenth century had come from Ballingarry in north Tipperary, Ireland where Jeremiah Scott (who had fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690) settled in the time of William III. Jeremiah’s son – yet another John Scott – had a large family of at least ten children many of whom were mention in the Will of their sibling the Hon. John Scott of Jamaica, proved in 1776.

This John Scott had brothers who ventured out across the colonies, Michael to Grenada, George to Dominica and Joseph to Nova Scotia. George, who was a professional soldier, was appointed Governor of Grenada but then left to be Governor of Dominica where he was killed in a duel in 1767. Michael seems to have remained in Grenada and by the time of his brother John’s death was still in dispute with him about George’s Will. Other brothers, and several sisters remained in Ireland.

Joseph Scott went to Canada where he built himself a delightful manor house at Fort Sackville, Bedford, Nova Scotia on land that had belonged to brother George. It is one of the oldest houses in Nova Scotia and is now a museum.

Scott Manor House Nova Scotia 7093_Medium

Joseph traded in a variety of goods, including rum which presumably came via his brother John in Jamaica. He also had huge timber holdings and he may well have traded lumber back to Jamaica in return. He imported butter from Ireland which was also a popular item traded into Jamaica, although its rancid flavour by the time it reached the tropics was an acquired taste!

This spreading out of a group of brothers from the British Isles is typical of what happened in many families during the eighteenth century. As time went on the next generation would be more inclined to look east towards India, Sumatra and China rather than west to the Caribbean and North America.

Joseph Scott’s family became well established in Canada and he died there in 1800 leaving a substantial fortune and over 8000 acres to his second wife Margaret.

John Scott married two wives in Jamaica adding considerably to his lands in the process. His first wife Frances Mary Henderson brought him lands in Clarendon but died giving birth to her namesake in November 1755. His second marriage to Lucretia Favell Gregory consolidated his dynastic credentials since her family included Gregorys, Gallimores and Favells, all early settlers.

By the time his son Jack Scott returned from education in England in the late 1780s to take over management of the family estates they were among the wealthiest on the island, albeit Sir George Nugent did not think much of him. The Scotts owned the Retreat and Kensington Park plantations in St Thomas in the East and Clarendon Park in Clarendon, but Sir George called him ” a silly, vain, chattering blockhead who…constantly blabs out all that passes in Council” (Lady Nugent’s Journal p.315). His brother George had settled to the life of a landed gentleman in England and Matthew had a distinguished naval career becoming a Vice Admiral in 1819.

All three Scott brothers married daughters of the plantocracy, but in Jack’s case not before he had fathered mixed race children with at least three women in Jamaica. Of his thirteen known children only five were legitimate (the last born posthumously in 1814 six months after his father’s death), whereas all thirteen of his brother Matthew’s were. The Scotts maintained close contact with the Lee family throughout their lives – Jack wrote regularly from Jamaica to Richard Lee, Matt Scott settled his family in Devonshire Place just around the corner from Frances Lee, and General John Lee named Matt Scott as one of his executors.

There have been distinguished Scott descendants down the years, but in recent times perhaps the most notable is Lt.-Cmdr. Desmond Edward Patrick Dehany Scott who claimed Rockall for the Crown in 1955!

 

A Parcel of Ribbons now on Kindle

Parcel of Ribbons Front Cover V3 resized 300

The book A Parcel of Ribbons is now available on Amazon Kindle

 

You can of course still buy the paperback from Amazon or Lulu.com and other outlets which has the advantage of being a physical book and of having the index. Kindle format still does not support indexing although it does include the illustrations. The footnotes from the paperback are converted into endnotes for Kindle and I have made some minor corrections, mainly of typos. Some of these arose because I transcribed many of the letters using Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which is extremely impressive (no I don’t have shares!) but occasionally produces some oddities, a few of which I missed when proof reading.

One piece of information not in my possession when I wrote the book was that Robert Lee junior did not die at Lisbon as much later members of the Bevan family believed but in fact, like two of his brothers before him, shot himself. It is no wonder that Favell Bourke Lee, by then Mrs David Bevan, sought consolation in evangelical religion. For three out of six siblings to die by their own hand was a terrible burden for the family to have to bear.

Despite this shadow that fell over the family in the nineteenth century, their eighteenth century letters remain full of life, hope and insight into the interactions between Britain and Jamaica and the lives led in London by returning colonists.

A Family Saga and A Theatrical Disaster

The falling of the New Brunswick Theatre, 28 February 1828

An imagined vision of the Brunswick Theatre collapse – hand coloured print

 

I have written before about the descendants of Scudamore Winde, the close friend of Robert Cooper Lee after whom he named his youngest son.

Scudamore Winde made his fortune as a merchant in Jamaica, but elected to remain there until his death rather than returning to England. He made generous provision for his illegitimate children – Robert whose mother was a slave and Penelope, John and Thomas the children of Sarah Cox, who was probably a free Negro. John died young and Thomas elected to work as a merchant in Kingston like his father. Robert became a merchant in London and Penelope in due course married David Steel, bringing with her a handsome dowry.

David Steel began life as a barrister, but his father (also David) ran an important printing business publishing nautical charts, and when he died in 1799 his son took over the business. David Steel bibliogDavid Steel senior had an interest in the theatre, and indeed probably a rather close interest in the wardrobe mistress Ann James, who with her four children was left well provided for at his death! In the last decade of the 18th century David Steel senior bought the Royalty Theatre, situated in Well Street running parallel to Wellclose Square in the East End of London.

The Royalty had been built for the actor manager John Palmer who ran into difficulties over the licensing of the premises, because at the time only a limited handful of ‘patent’ theatres were permitted to perform plays. The remainder were licensed on an annual basis to put on musical entertainment, ballet, and the increasingly popular melodramas. In this they were the predecessors of the music halls. Some also, such as Philip Astley’s Amphitheatre, had performances which prefigured modern circus.

When David Steel senior died he left his shares in the theatre equally to his sister Elizabeth and his son David. Royalty Theatre

David senior and Elizabeth also had a sister called Hannah who in 1784 married Thomas Maurice. They had a son David Samson Maurice. After Hannah died in 1788 Thomas Maurice left England for America where he set up as a merchant in Albany, New York and appears never to have returned to England. His son was apprenticed to a printer under the guardianship of David Steel senior, and it seems likely that Elizabeth Steel, who never married, stood in place of a mother to David Samson Maurice.

In January 1803 David Steel junior died at his house in Union Row, Little Tower Hill, which was also the premises for the printing business. In his Will he left his wife Penelope the option of either selling the business or, if she preferred, continuing to run it in her own right, and this she chose to do, keeping the business afloat for the sake of her for surviving children. Three and a half years later she married William Mason, and with him had a son called William Scudamore Mason who died as an infant, by which time Penelope was about forty.

Nothing seems to be known about William Mason who must have died before 1818, when Penelope married for the third time to Stanley Goddard who was about twenty years younger than she was. Her marriage to Mason may have had something to do with the family row that caused her eldest son David Lee Steel to leave home, since from 1810 onwards he no longer lived at Union Row in his mother’s house. He died in May 1818 at the relatively young age of thirty.

Penelope’s second son Scudamore Winde Steel began what would be a distinguished career in the Indian army in 1805. Her two daughters Penelope Sarah and Ann remained at home. In 1820 Stanley Goddard was declared bankrupt and the printing business which had been variously known as D.Steel, P.Steel, P.Mason, Steel & Co., Steel & Goddard and Steel, Goddard & Co, and had moved from Union Row to Cornhill not long after Penelope’s marriage to William Mason was sold to J. W. Norie & Co, which already had an established business in Leadenhall.

Penelope must have retained some money in her own right, or else the sale of the business the house and the furniture cleared Stanley Goddard’s debts and left them still with some money, for when she died in 1840 Penelope was living at 14 Euston Place, a pleasant address on the south side of what is now Euston Road opposite Euston Square. The elegant terminus for the London and Birmingham Railway was opened just three years before her death.

A particular feature of that first Euston station was its beautiful iron roof. Euston_Station_showing_wrought_iron_roof_of_1837 resized 250Iron roofs had been in use since the late 18th century, and the 19th century railway stations created many of the most beautiful ones.

However it was a wrought iron roof which brought tragedy to Penelope’s daughter Ann.

Ann Steel married her cousin David Samson Maurice in 1824. In 1826 the Royalty Theatre burnt down. It was sadly common for theatres to be destroyed by fire. In this instance it was not due to the spectacular special effect of the eruption of Mount Etna at that evening’s performance, but to gas lights at the side of the stage which had not been properly turned off after the performance and which set light to some scenery. The man whose responsibility it was to tend the furnace that created the gas spotted the fire late in the evening and was able to rouse the family who lived on site and get them out. But by the time he had gone next door to wake the landlord of the Black Horse the flames were already bursting out of the stage door into the street. It was only the collapse of the roof, which helped to dampen the flames, that prevented the fire spreading to the adjacent sugar refinery in Dock Street and the many houses of ill repute serving sailors from the docks.

Following a payout on the fire insurance Elizabeth Steel made the theatre site over to David Samson Maurice and gave him the £6,000 insurance money with which he decided to rebuild the theatre. Together with an ambitious partner Richard Carruthers, who combined wholesale haberdashery with selling a patent fluid for lubricating carriage axles, he sold shares in the new Brunswick Theatre to raise the necessary capital of about £20,000.

Building work began on 3 August 1827, and the walls went up with astonishing speed, tied together with temporary wooden beam that were removed when the iron roof went on. The architect was Stedman Whitwell, and he produced a splendid design combining classical Greek with Egyptian styles sculpted in cement on the brick frontage. Brunswick Theatre resized 250Natural light was let into the theatre through a series of tall narrow openings in the front wall filled with a glazed iron lattice. Particular attention was paid to fireproofing the building, with stone staircases, gas lighting rather than candles, water piped through the walls (presumably to provide an early form of fire fighting) and a wrought iron roof. Whitwell seems not to have known much about the actual workings of the theatre (unlike David Maurice who was said to enjoy amateur theatricals) and arrangements were made for him to visit Drury Lane Theatre to see how the flies were constructed and the theatre machinery installed.

Whitwell claimed afterwards that his brief extended only to completing the shell of the building which was roofed over in haste in order to meet the licensing deadline in October, with the intention of being open for the first performance at the end of December. It proved impossible to meet this deadline and a new date was scheduled for the end of January. On the 26 January David and Ann Maurice’s elder son was buried at St Botolph Aldgate aged just twenty-one months.

The theatre finally opened on Monday 25 February to a full house of about 3000, with a second performance on the Tuesday. Work fitting out the interior was still continuing on the Wednesday in expectation of the next performance on Thursday. On the Monday there had been a problem when the scenery flats would not slide in the grooves of the flies which had dropped on one side. All the weight of the flies, the theatre machinery and the painters and carpenters workshops, amounting some estimated to 100 tons, was hung from the wrought iron roof, as was common practice in theatres with timber roofs. Whitwell was there on the Monday when instructions were given to crank up the flies by throwing a chain over a tie beam, and a similar process was gone through on the Tuesday after the flies had dropped on the other side. It was assumed that the scenery had swollen slightly due to the damp – after all the building had been given no time at all to dry out and it was winter.

On Thursday 28 February David Maurice and his friend William Evans, a former editor of the Bristol Observer, left Anne Maurice to go and visit friends and went to the theatre where rehearsals were in progress. There were about 80 people in the theatre including dancers, actors, musicians, gas fitters, roofers, and carpenters. Some were in the dressing rooms and the Green Room under the stage, some on the stage, others were right up at the top of the building. Shortly after half past eleven an odd rumbling was heard, there was a sound as if something had been dropped in the carpenters’ workshop above the auditorium, but no one paid any attention. Then there was a sharp crack like a firecracker followed by two or three more and the entire roof collapsed down into the building pushing the front wall out into the street.

Brunswick collapse resized 450

David Maurice was killed but his partner Richard Carruthers survived. In all fifteen people died, although the last of those severely injured did not die at the London Hospital until the end of April. Two of the victims had been passers-by in the street but there were many miraculous escapes. A group of carpenters were persuaded by one of them not to try to flee but to remain on the staircase (which you can see in this print was tied into the south-east corner of the building) while the slates and beams cascaded around them – all of them survived. Many people were dug out of the wreckage and in many ways the hero of the day was the Reverend George Smith. An ex-Navy man who had fought at the Battle of Copenhagen he organised the initial rescue attempts, later in the afternoon assisted by Philip Hardwick who brought over a large number of men from St Catherine’s Dock to help. By the middle of Friday all the victims had been accounted for.

A fund was initiated for the support of the survivors, a number of families had lost their chief breadwinner, many workmen had lost all their tools and both actors and workmen were expecting to be paid on the Saturday. Destitution threatened them. The landlord of the Star Inn, which lost its front wall, was ruined because he was on a repairing lease.

George Smith wrote an immediate and very vivid account of the events (he was an enthusiastic evangelical and inveterate pamphleteer) and the inquest was a protracted affair lasting for many weeks. The ultimate verdict of the jury was that the roof had collapsed because of the weight of the flies and theatre machinery suspended from it. I suspect that the filling of a large lead cistern in the painters shop above the stage shortly before the accident may have been the final straw. There was of course a great deal of interest in the disaster not simply because so many had died, and so many more would have died had it happened a few hours later, but because of the innovative technology used in the wrought iron roof.

Poor Ann Maurice who had lost both her child and her husband in the space of a month found herself in serious financial difficulty. In September 1828 the newspapers reported that she had decided not to rebuild the theatre and the site was sold to George Smith and a group of trustees who created the very first purpose-built mariners asylum to provide shelter food and clothing for seamen and to protect them from the corrupt practices of crimping.

Ann was clearly made of the same tough stuff as her mother Penelope for she carried on the printing business on her own account. Eighteen months after the tragedy she remarried to Robert Edgar, the brother of a man who had worked for her first husband. Edgar, a wine merchant,  was declared bankrupt in 1834 and died six years later (both Ann and her mother seem to have had better business sense than their husbands) but Ann continued in business until the late 1850s when she retired, dying at Kilburn in 1868.

Ann’s son Richard Lee Steel died young and his widow took her family to America, where descendants still live today. Her daughter Eliza married the widower of her own cousin Mary Steel (Anglo-Indian daughter of Scudamore Winde Steel) – he died soon after and she brought up his two surviving children. Ann’s other son Robert Edgar worked as a writer for the Reuters Telegraph Agency as did his son. Their descendants still live in England, almost certainly quite unaware of their connections to a theatrical disaster and a black heritage in Jamaica.

 

NOTE ON SOURCES:
I have to thank Yuri, a reader of this website, for alerting me to Penelope Winde’s third marriage and the history of her publishing house. It was while looking further at her family that I came across the story of the ill-fated Brunswick theatre.
Most of the images displayed here have been taken from a wonderful scrapbook about the disaster compiled about the beginning of the twentieth century and now in the possession of the East London Theatre Archive. There and in some other places the theatre is referred to as the Royal Brunswick.
This blog includes a full version of the story of the disaster written some years later by Charles Dickens, which drew upon the many press reports of the disaster and the lengthy inquest.
Other sources include:
A Bibliography of the Works Written and Published by David Steel by Mario Witt, Greenwich Maritime Monographs, 1991.
A Directory of Printers and Other Allied Trades London & Vicinity 1800-1840 by William B Todd, Printing Historical Society, 1972.
George Charles Smith of Penzance : from Nelson Sailor to Mission Pioneer by Roald Kverndal, William Carey Library 2012.

Down the rabbit hole

rabbit_hole_by_detea-d5ob1id resized 350

Rabbit hole art from Deviant Art

It is remarkably easy to head off down a genealogical rabbit hole and, following a trail you believe will lead in one direction, find yourself arriving by quite another route.

A case in point relates to a Chancery document I recently requested from the National Archives because it referred both to a family called Bayly and a John Augier. I have wanted for a long time to establish who was the John Augier who was father of the remarkable Augier sisters about whom I have written before. The spelling of Bayly is an unusual one and I already knew of Zachary Bayly, the uncle of the Jamaican historian Bryan Edwards,who had extensive connections with Jamaica. In addition the Bayly family in the Chancery case came from Bristol, a city with extensive trading and slavery connections, and not far from the Wiltshire roots of Zachary Bayly. So far so good.

The Chancery case dated 1717 was a complex one and, like many cases within Jamaica, made the more so by the deaths of most of the protagonists! Put as simply as I can John Rowe of Bristol was suing for the inheritance of his dead son, a minor also called John Rowe. The child’s mother was Mary Bayly the daughter of Samuel Bayly whose other children were Anne and Richard. In her Will written about 1703 Mary Grant, the Bayly girls grandmother left them a substantial inheritance in money, Plate and furniture. She made various provisions for how the money was to be divided in the event of the deaths of either of the young women and for Mary’s son John Rowe. The Trustees in the various Wills involved included several of the Bayly brothers and their cousin Thomas Weare (like his cousins a mercer).

Samuel Bayly was a mercer of the City of Bristol and his brothers were also mercers and linen drapers. His brother Richard was also a soap boiler. John Rowe senior’s case was that Richard Bayly had claimed to be insolvent and so offered to pay only twelve shillings in the pound to his creditors, which included the Trust fund. He believed that Richard Bayly had in fact paid some of his creditors in full. Rowe said that Samuel Bayly had promised to make good any deficiency on behalf of young John Rowe, but had not done so before his death in about 1708 despite owning considerable property at Henbury about five miles from Bristol.

Meanwhile Samuel’s son Richard Bayly had married Mary Hayes and then died leaving her free to marry John Augier. John Rowe’s contention was that the various Trustees of the legacy of Mary Grant had conspired together with John Augier to pretend that Richard Bayly senior’s business had failed and hence to defraud the only descendant entitled to that legacy – the now dead John Rowe junior. Since John Rowe senior was administrator of his infant son’s  property, and indeed would inherit anything he left, he was effectively suing on his own behalf! Moreover in addition to the various items left by Mary Grant he also claimed that John Augier and his wife had taken a bed from a house in Bristol High Street to which John Rowe was entitled.

If you would like to read the full details of the case I have transcribed the document because although it is not a Jamaica suit it is probably fairly typical of the kinds of arguments that arose when estates went unadministered and legatees died before claiming their inheritance. At the very least John Rowe was requesting that the Court should enforce the provision of evidence by those he was suing to demonstrate what had happened to the property and to provide full accounts for the expenses. For example Rowe claimed that more had apparently been spent on his mother-in-law’s funeral than the fifty pounds she had specified in her Will.

Reading some of the Bayly family Wills it seems likely that they were telling the truth about the failure of Richard Bayly’s business and that Samuel Bayly had tried to make some kind of provision for little John Rowe. Whether Richard Bayly had actually lost some of the Trust fund fraudulently propping up his failing business we will never know.

And what about the Jamaican connections I had been searching for? I have so far failed to link this Bayly merchant family in Bristol with the family of Zachary Bayly, which is not to say such a link may not exist. But certainly the John Augier cited in the case is not the John Augier who died in Jamaica about 1720.

However it turns out there is a Jamaica connection.

The Bayly brothers had a sister called Mary who married the wonderfully named Uzziel Bussell. Uzziel had a father William Bussell, a Bristol baker, who died about February 1679/80 and in his Will (not proved until after the death of Uzziel in 1695) mentioned his brother Edmund in Jamaica. William did not sign his Will but made his mark and so was either illiterate or too ill to be able sign and therefore it is reasonable to assume that his brother’s name should have been Edward. For one of the original settlers in Jamaica was Edward Bussell. There is some evidence that the Bussell family may have been non-conformists and so may have left England at the Restoration, having been on the ‘wrong’ side in the Civil War.

Edward Bussell and his wife Grace had seven children baptised in the parish of St Andrew between 1666 and 1681. Edward was recorded as owning eleven acres of land in the first survey of Jamaica in 1670 and there is also a grant of 60 acres to ‘Francis Bussell and Smith’. Edward’s son William lived to grow up, married and had at least one child, another William baptised in 1682. There are eight Bussell burials in St Andrew between 1689 and 1702, and although it is impossible to distinguish father from son and mother from daughter where they share the same name, it seems likely that Edward died in 1693 and his wife in 1702.

Although there were Bussells in Jamaica in the nineteenth century the probability is that the early settler family had died out by the first decade of the eighteenth century, as had so many of the first colonists. Whether their connection with the Bayly family of Bristol is in any way related to the decision made by Zachary Bayly to go there half a century later remains to be discovered.

And I am still searching for the origins of John Augier!

 

 

Telling History versus Story Telling

Dido

The Kenwood portrait of Dido and Elizabeth, now at Scone Palace and attributed to Zoffany

I have just been to see the film Belle, the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate great niece of Lord Mansfield, daughter of a black mother, and the sparkling personality who shines out of a dual portrait that for many years had her labelled simply as the black servant of her cousin Elizabeth Murray. The differences between the story told in the film and the few known facts of Dido’s life lead me to ponder the differences between writing history and telling a story.

Before going to the cinema I had also read Paula Byrne’s book of the same name which, besides presenting the few known facts of Dido’s life, gives an excellent account of the background to her life in the context of the growing anti-slavery movement, and tells the story of the Zong massacre which had a profound influence on public opinion.

This deeply shocking case concerned a heavily overloaded slave ship, poorly navigated on its way to Jamaica, with a crew who jettisoned the ‘cargo’ when water ran short and whose owners then claimed on the insurance. However, it later became clear that the real reason for murdering about 142 souls was that disease had taken its toll and they were of greater value to the owners dead than alive. The first hearing before a jury found in favour of the owners, but the insurers appealed and Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench was then called upon to adjudicate.

The presence of a young mixed race woman in Lord Mansfield’s household, not as a servant, but in many respects as an adopted daughter, was viewed by his contemporaries as having influenced his judgments in both the Zong case and in the legally more significant case of James Somersett. Although the exact wording of the Somersett judgment is only available via press reports (Mansfield lost his library and all his papers when his house was attacked during the Gordon riots in 1780 and Dido, Elizabeth, Lady Mansfield and Mansfield himself only just escaped from the mob) it established the precedent that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will and as such was a significant step on the way to reform and emancipation.

The best historical writing tells a story as true to the facts as the writer can make it, in the full knowledge that there will always be interpretation of those facts – none of us can totally step outside our own time or the limits of our own knowledge and prejudices. The writer of a story based, more or less loosely on historical facts subsumes the history into the need to tell a dramatic tale, sometimes with an implicit political or social message, that they hope will entertain and hold the reader or viewer, and perhaps in the process educate as well.

So how much does it matter if the story teller diverges from the historical facts?

Paula Byrne’s verdict on the film was that “Like all historical-biographical movies, it takes considerable artistic licence even with the few facts that we know about Dido. The Zong case, being more dramatic, is made the centrepiece of the courtroom drama, although the Somerset case was really the more significant for the abolitionist cause. And John Davinier becomes an idealistic clergyman’s son, with a little of the Granville Sharp about him, instead of a faceless French servant. But the spirit of the film is true to the astonishing story of Dido’s bond with Lord Mansfield.”  [Byrne, Paula (2014-04-01). Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle (p. 238). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

The man Dido eventually married, after the death of her adoptive parents and the marriage of Elizabeth Murray was some kind of servant, not the crusading son of a vicar portrayed in the film, who is in turn loosely based on the anti-slavery activist Granville Sharp. Dido herself was probably kept more in the background at Kenwood than the film suggests and was certainly not an heiress. Mansfield left her a comfortable legacy and it is possible that her father left her £500, if she is indeed the reputed child Elizabeth mentioned in his Will, but the amounts of money involved were not enough to attract the attentions of an impoverished aristocrat looking for a rich wife as shown in the film. In the film these characters stand as placeholders or exemplars of the attitudes of the day, demonstrating the prejudices and hypocrisy Dido must have faced, but for which we have no specific evidence.

It was brought home vividly to me recently how much the history that I take for granted can be a closed book to others when I was talking to a young woman who had quite literally never heard of the Holocaust, who had no concept of what had happened. Her friend suggested that she should watch The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as a way of beginning to understand even though that is an entirely invented story.

When Twelve Years a Slave came out it caused a stir, particularly in America, and clearly there were many people who had no idea what slavery had entailed, how appallingly brutal it was, nor the risks run by free black and mixed race people before slavery was abolished. Similarly there has only relatively recently been an awakening in the UK, not simply of the importance of our slave owning past, but of the fact that there had been a considerable black presence in Britain before the eighteenth century. For example see the work of Miranda Kaufmann, who is incidentally a descendant of Robert Cooper Lee.

So to return to my original question, would it matter if someone who watched the film Belle believed every word to be historically accurate? Yes I think it would. I think the story teller has a duty to make clear that their story is ‘based on’ historical fact and is not a historical documentary.

But if watching the film Belle caused someone to be interested in the facts of the case and to try to discover these for themselves then that would I believe be a good thing. Moreover it is a good film, with wonderful settings and costumes and makes very enjoyable viewing!