Archive for December, 2011

Robert Kelly – Master at Arms

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

The taking of the Princessa a Spanish Man of War, April 8, 1740, by his Majesties Ships the Lenox, Kent and Oxford

By Peter Monamy (Collections of the National Maritime Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

In 1758 Robert Kelly, a Jamaican in the Royal Navy, endured an adventure that included capture by the French, imprisonment, escape and resulted in him fetching up in London penniless and alone.

Robert was the son of Ann Rose, sister of Mary Johnston Rose, mentioned here before. His uncle was Denis Kelly of Jamaica and Lisduff in Ireland, and his father was therefore one of Denis Kelly’s brothers – Edmund, Darcy, Charles or John, all of whom lived in Jamaica between about 1710 and 1740. Sadly gaps in the parish registers mean it has not been possible to establish which one was the father of Robert nor exactly when he was born, although it is likely this was in the 1730s making John Kelly the most likely candidate for his father since the other three all died between 1728 and 1731.

By 1757 Robert was a Master at Arms on board the Oxford, a man of war in the Royal Navy when the ship was paid off at Plymouth. He was promised a place on another ship, but having heard nothing decided to make his way to London on board a merchant ship in order to contact the Admiralty directly. The condition of the roads was generally so bad that travel by sea would normally have been the quicker route.

Somewhere in the English Channel the ship was captured by a French privateer and all on board were taken to Bayonne in France where Robert was imprisoned. The ship in question may have been either The Africa or The Venice, both of which were reported in the Leeds Intelligencer of Tuesday 15th March 1757 as having been captured by Bayonne privateers.

Another report refers to Bayonne as harbouring over thirty such privateering vessels. These were privately owned vessels licenced by Letters of Marque to prey upon ships of an opposing country, and whose master and crew hoped to make their fortune taking rich prizes. As such they aimed to capture a ship rather than engage with it or sink it. Sale of the captured goods and ransom of any important prisoners added to their income.

Robert was not wealthy, nor was there anyone who would have paid a ransom for him but by a stroke of luck after eight months in prison he was able to escape and made his way across the border to Spain, having by now lost everything he had. Somehow he found himself a ship, probably working his passage, and eventually arrived back in London expecting to be able to make contact with his uncle Denis Kelly. Disaster struck again, for he discovered that his uncle had died in an accident in Ireland the previous December when an eagle had attacked the horse of the chaise he was travelling in causing it to be overturned.

Robert now found himself at the Ship Ale House in Buckingham Court, Charing Cross, with the promise of a ship from Admiral Forbes and a lodging bill he could not pay. Unless he could discharge the debt he would be prevented from taking up the warrant from Admiral Forbes and would be destitute and deprived of all means of earning a living.

We know all this because Robert then wrote to the only person he could think of who might be able to help – Rose Fuller for whom his aunt Mary Johnston Rose had been housekeeper for many years, and who he had last seen sixteen years previously.

There is no account of what happened next, but I am inclined to think that Rose Fuller did come to the rescue – for one thing the letter from Robert Kelly is among his personal papers (East Sussex Record Office ref: ESRO SAS-RF/19/167). Also there are Admiralty records for a Robert Kelly who was a gunner in the navy between 1779 and 1783, although that may of course be another Robert Kelly.

It was a great pity that Denis Kelly, erstwhile Chief Justice of Jamaica, did not live to learn of his nephew Robert’s resourcefulness which was in stark contrast to the behaviour of his brother Edmund’s legitimate son Henry Kelly (who died in January 1745 aged nineteen). Henry was packed off back to Jamaica by Thomas Beckford in December 1740, his behaviour in England having been thoroughly reprehensible.

Having put him on board the Ashted, Beckford wrote to Denis Kelly, who was then still in Jamaica:

I am very much concerned that he should have made no better use of the Education You have been at the expense of for him, and wish you may be able to turn his mind to better Principles; No advice would do him any service here, and had he stayed, I should have expected to have found him in some Gaol, for some Crime or other.  Mr Corkran, who I understood had married a Gentlewoman who was his Relation, was so good to invite him to his house, a little way from the Town, on purpose to divert him, and keep him from Ill Company, as well as to give him good advice, but he gave him the Slip, and Carried away two books which he sold.

(National Library of Ireland, Westport Papers, MS 40,910/5(5) ).

Henry Kellys’ behaviour was relatively extreme, but the lot of small children of the colonists was not always a happy one. Sent to England for the sake of their health and to obtain an education, they often lacked both love and supervision, boys in particular were often subjected to regular beatings at school. It is probably not surprising that some of them went wild.

I’d love to know what happened to Robert Kelly in the end, but as with so many of those we encounter in old letters and documents, we glimpse a moment in their lives and then they fade from view.

A Bowl of Christmas Cheer

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

 Modern copy of a Famille Rose Punch Bowl (chipped on the rim just as the real thing often was!)

 

Christmas as we know it was largely a Victorian invention – Charles Dickens and Prince Albert fixed the white Christmas and the decorated fir tree as a permanent part of British celebrations. Christmas cards were made possible when the penny post was enhanced by the invention of the postage stamp in 1840 and extended to the Empire in 1898. Santa Claus in his red suit achieved his permanent image thanks to Coca Cola in the 1930s. But even in the 1950s in Scotland Christmas Day was not a public holiday and many had to work, celebrating at New Year instead.

In the eighteenth century much of life went on as normal on Christmas Day, children were baptised, people were married and buried, and trade often carried on. Many would have gone to church, but it was not a hugely religious age and many would not have done. Old English customs such as mummers and carol singing were imported. Slaves could expect a doubling of their meagre rations, normally about half a pound of salt fish per day supplemented by whatever they could grow in their provision grounds.

Jamaican colonists by contrast fed extremely well and needed little excuse for socialising. In Jamaica at all times of year a bowl of rum punch was an essential part of any social occasion. Back home in England it had originally been mainly brandy punch. Originating from the East Indies and the Hindi word ‘panch’, it was made from alcohol, sugar, lemons, water and tea or spices. One contemporary recipe called for two pints of claret and half a pint of brandy with grated nutmeg, sugar and lemon juice added and served with a piece of toast floating on the top. A hot punch would be made by plunging a red hot poker from the fire into the bowl.

Barbadian punch was made with “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak” – instead of lemons it used limes, sugar, rum and water with a dash of bitters or nutmeg. Variations of this recipe used additional fruit juices – pineapple and orange with cayenne pepper, bitters and liqueurs such as Curaçao. Syrups such as Grenadine were also added. The result came to be known as Planters’ Punch.

Punch could be served in a china or porcelain bowl, or a silver or silver gilt one. An online search for eighteenth century punch bowls brings up many beautiful objects, often imported from China before the quality European ceramic industry was established. Old china bowls often have chips on their rims where the punch ladle has made clumsy contact. Later bowls may have sets of matching cups, or were made of glass with individual glasses. Convivial images of the preparation and drinking of punch were created by Gilray, Hogarth and others.

 

Whatever your preference for Christmas cheer, be it alcoholic or otherwise, may I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.

Blocking Legacies to Negroes and Mulattoes

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

 

In December 1761 the Jamaican Assembly passed an Act, which was subsequently ratified in London, “to prevent the inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises, made by white persons to negroes, and the issue of negroes; and to restrain and limit such grants and devises.” It is sometimes referred to as the Devises Act.

You can read the full text of the Act here.

Owing in part to the shortage of white women settlers in Jamaica, and to a more relaxed attitude to marriage than would be the case a century later, many white planters and other European migrants formed relationships with non-whites both free and enslaved.  The children resulting from these relationships were often brought up in what amounted to a stable family situation, and their education and welfare was provided for in the Wills of their white fathers.  In many cases the children were apprenticed to a trade, or sent to England for a liberal education in one of the professions.  Many had careers in the Army or Navy, as merchants, or later in the 18th century in the developing colonies of south Asia.  Where there were no legitimate offspring to inherit the wealth the father had accumulated in Jamaica, that wealth and property, including slaves, was often left to their illegitimate mixed race children.  It was this that the act of 1761 was designed to prevent or at least to limit.

Under the act the amount that a child could inherit was to be limited to £2000 which although it was a large amount of money, equivalent perhaps to £286,000 today using the retail price index, or £2,850,000 relative to average earnings[1], was a mere fraction of the total of some of the larger estates.  The act was designed to prevent the leaving of a larger legacy to “any negro whatever, or to any mulatto, or other person not being in their own issue born in lawful wedlock, and being the issue of a negro, and deemed a mulatto.”  This therefore restricted legacies, even if left to a legitimate child, where that child was mixed race and at least one eighth black.  Nor could the restriction be avoided by leaving the property in trust to a white person on behalf of such child.  The  limitation of £2000 even extended to property left by such a mixed-race person to their children.  The only exception related to those mixed race Jamaicans who had already been granted the legal status of white persons.

In the event, until this act was later repealed, it was possible for white planters and others who had made their fortune in Jamaica to apply for a private act of the Jamaican Assembly to permit them to transmit their inheritance to their children, or to remove their property from Jamaica.

Robert Cooper Lee who had four mixed-race children born illegitimate in Jamaica, and was responsible as a trustee and guardian for his illegitimate mixed-race nephews, made such an application in December, 1776, in an Act “to authorize and enable Robert Cooper Lee, late of the Island of Jamaica, but now of the kingdom of Great Britain, esquire, to settle and dispose of his estates, both real and personal in this island, by deed or will as he shall think proper, notwithstanding an Act of the Governor, Council and Assembly of this island, intituled, an Act to prevent inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises made by white persons and the issue of negroes and to restrain and limit such grants and devises.”

What is in many ways most interesting, is that three members of the Assembly dissented from the act and a copy of their objections remains at the East Sussex County Record Office at Lewes as part of the Jamaica papers of Fuller family of Rosehill in Brightling – ref: ESRO SAS/RF 20/66.  A transcription of this is included at the end of the text of the 1761 Act.

The three dissenters were Norwood Witter, Edward Clarke, and William Wynter.  Witter and Clarke were both members of the assembly for Westmorland, and William Wynter served on the Assembly as a member for St Thomas in the Vale, St Thomas in the East, and St Catherine at various times.  In 1757 he became a member of the Jamaican Council. He has already been mentioned here as the father of Thomas Wynter, mixed race son of Mary Johnson Rose.

In a clearly set out document they argued that the proposed act was unconstitutional because it restricted the right of a British citizen to leave his property as he wished; that it would encourage vexatious law suits based on the mere suggestion that someone’s ancestor was of mixed race; that limiting the financial transactions that could be made by mixed race Jamaicans might encourage them to take their money out of the island and even to emigrate; and that it restricted a father from providing for his children even where they had received a liberal education and looked white.  They also regarded it as unreasonable to penalise “a quiet and peaceable people who have ever shown themselves true and faithful to the White Inhabitants” and who had shown themselves highly supportive during the recent slave uprising.  In summary, they said:

We think it unreasonable.

As we apprehend it lays the Penalty on the innocent, We deem it severe

As we apprehend it tends to depopulate the Country, it is impolitic

As we apprehend it takes away the Right of Free Born Britons, it is unconstitutional

And as it lays a restraint on the parental affection it is unnatural

And on the whole we think it equally Inconsistent with Liberty, sound Policy, and pure Religion. 

Their objections however were overruled and the bill was passed into law on the 19th of December 1761.

Between 1768 and 1790 thirteen private Acts were passed giving the right to dispose of property as the person thought fit, including the example of Robert Cooper Lee above. They included Thomas Wynter, and in some cases also listed the names of the children who were at the same time being granted the rights of white people.

Perhaps the most interesting is that of 1784 granting the right to dispose of her property to a free quadroon, Sarah Morris of Kingston. She left her estate to her natural daughter Charlotte Stirling (daughter of a wealthy Scottish planter Robert Stirling) who was also granted the rights of a white person. During that period she was the only woman to obtain such a right.

The others who obtained the rights were:

1768 William Patrick Bourne of St John

1775 George Brooks of St Elizabeth

1776 Robert Cooper Lee

1777 John Williams of St Ann

1783 Thomas Wynter,  and William Wright of Portland

1784 Sarah Morris (as above), Patrick Duncan of St Ann and Thomas Roper of Portland

1787 John Angwin of St Ann

1788 John Russell of Clarendon

1789 George Lesslie of Westmorland

1790 George Bedward



[1] Source: http://www.measuringworth.com

My Ancestor Settled in the British West Indies – Book Review

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

 

If you are looking for a Christmas present for someone researching their family in the West Indies, this new publication from the Society of Genealogists may be just what you are looking for.

The book covers Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Guiana (Guyana), British Honduras (Belize), The British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent, Tobago, Trinidad and the Turks and Caicos Islands. (Bermuda is included, although not in the Caribbean, because administratively it was considered by the Colonial Office in London to be part of the West Indies.)

The author, in his introduction says “To write about genealogical research in the West Indies is to aim at a moving target; archive holdings may be augmented or reduced, be catalogued or left in a chaotic mess; the repositories where records are held may change, as may their addresses; websites come and go, urls are often altered or lost without trace, and new sites are appearing almost daily”. It is to provide some guidance among this confusion that the book has been written.

The book opens with a general survey of genealogical sources, including manuscript, printed and internet resources. A chapter on the historical background is followed by separate chapters for each individual territory. These are treated systematically under the headings of Location, History, Economy, People, Records held in the UK and Records held locally, Secondary Sources, Further Reading, Maps and Websites.

Whether you are just starting out on the search for a West Indies connection, or have been researching for some time there will be something for you in this book.

Available in paperback from the Society of Genealogists in London. There is a glitch on their website preventing some people from ordering online, but my telephoned order was with me the following day, and you can order by email.

 

My Ancestor Settled in the British West Indies (with Bermuda, British Guiana and British Honduras), John Tilford, Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd, London 2011. ISBN:978-1-907199-08-0.

Paperback. Price £9.99, reduced to £8.99 for members.

 

Newspaper Libraries on-line

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

This is just a brief posting to alert those who have not yet discovered them to two on-line sources for old newspapers.

You can find the Jamaica Gleaner archives dating back to 1843 here.

The latest addition to the world of digital newspapers is the British Newspaper Archive which came on-line this week.

Both are subscription services – the Jamaica Gleaner offers a one day pass for $7.95 with reductions on quarterly and annual membership. Searching without having taken out a subscription displays the number of potential hits for your target but no detail.

The British Newspaper Archive operates a points system, searching is free and displays a brief few lines of context (often with optical character recognition problems which don’t affect the article when displayed). The charge to access the articles is points based, a two day 500 credits account costs £6.95 with subsequent reductions for a thirty day or annual subscription.

Unless you are going to need regular access, I’d suggest dipping your toe in with a basic package. I was amazed at how much I found out in a couple of days, including extra information about the Landovery that I included in the article about Stephen Blankett, and the bankruptcy of an ancestor that I’d had no idea had happened.

The earliest British newspapers date from 1700 and there are mentions of Jamaica from very early on. The organisation of early papers is very different from now and you will find brief news items of all kinds mixed in with advertisements for patent medicines, war reports and local news. If you are searching for Jamaican shipping news you will find details of the departures and arrivals and of ships that have been lost or captured by an enemy or by privateers.

Both sites offer the option of obtaining print-outs. The Jamaica Gleaner offers a full-sized reproduction of any newspaper page in the archive, and the British Newspaper Archive offers A1 sized prints of scans of any page printed on quality paper.

Stephen Blankett – A Captain on the Jamaica run

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

 

Ships in Kingston Harbour c.1745

I first came across Stephen Blankett when he was mentioned in the Lee letters as captain of the Landovery, the ship in which Robert Cooper Lee sailed to Jamaica.  I was curious to know what might be discovered about such a man and amazed to see how much I could find out armed with only the name of the ship and her captain’s surname.

Stephen Blankett must have been born about 1705, or perhaps a little earlier, for he married Elizabeth Born in 1726 at St Marylebone by Vicar General’s licence issued on the 15th of September.  He may have come from a family of Thames lightermen, the skilled sailors of small boats who plied their trade in London’s river ferrying goods to and from larger ships anchored there, and acting as a river taxi service for passengers wishing to avoid London’s crowded  streets, or to cross from one bank of the river to the other.

Stephen and Elizabeth settled in Maidenhead Court in Wapping where the first six of nine children were born between 1728 and 1738, and baptised at the church of St John at Wapping.  About 1740 they moved across the river to Rotherhithe where three more children were born and baptised at St Mary’s Rotherhithe.  Living so close to the river was obviously ideal for someone who earned his living from the sea.

The first official record I have come across for Stephen Blankett and his ship the Landovery is in 1740 when for several months they were held in port, fully loaded and ready to sail, but unable to do so because no convoy was available to protect them on the voyage to Jamaica.  On June 25, 1740 the Landovery was waiting at Deptford, and the Sheldon under Captain William Bird was moored nearby at Gallions Reach.  By the 4th of July it was reported that The Industry a stores ship, with William Clarke as Master, was at Blackwall and due to leave for Spithead and then Jamaica with a cargo similar to that of the Sheldon and Landovery.  Official papers recommended that she should sail with the same man of war as the other two ships.  On the 7th of  July Stephen Blankett arrived at Spithead and wrote to request orders to sail.

However the National Maritime Museum holds a letter written in early October from “the owners of the Sheldon, Landovery and Industry transports who have been ready to sail for 3 months. Captain Renton, who was due to convoy them, sailed in July. Commodore Anson sailed on the 18th Sept without them. They claim demurrage from that time and ask for a special convoy.”  In four months the ships had only travelled as far as Portsmouth.

Sailing in the Caribbean carried with it the risk of hurricanes and in 1749 several ships leaving Jamaica in early September suffered severe damage, the Landovery however, leaving on the 1st from Pig Bay had escaped.

Throughout the 18th century, apart from the hazards of the weather, ships regularly faced the danger of capture by privateers, or opposing navies.  This posed particular problems for the colonists in the Caribbean islands who were far from being self-sufficient, unlike those on the mainland of North America, and who were over dependent on imported supplies.

Jamaica had virtually no indigenous manufacturing and imported a huge range of necessities.  The cargo of a ship like the Landovery would have included items such as barrels of salt beef and pork; casks of butter from Ireland (its rancid flavour on arrival being something of an acquired taste!); beer and wine; oil for lamps; clothing and shoes; rolls of cloth; pots and pans; powder and shot; copper stills for rum making and sugar boiling equipment; iron collars and shackles for restraining slaves; agricultural tools for working the plantations; high quality ready-made carpentry such as window frames for planters’ mansions; and luxury items such as tea, furniture, silverware, oriental silks and porcelain.

And of course there were passengers such as the young Robert Cooper Lee.  We sometimes underestimate the extent to which people travelled to and fro across the Atlantic during the 18th-century, and it was common for merchants and planters to make trips back to Britain on business, for families to travel “home” perhaps to visit England for the first time, for sick colonists to travel back to Europe in the hope of regaining their health, and for quite young children to be sent to England for their education. On the outward voyage there would also be young men (and they were mainly men) off to seek their fortune, and particularly in the early part of the century indentured servants who had sold their labour for a fixed term and hoped to gain independence and some land at the end of it.

The convoy eventually sailed, but in November 1744 the Westminster Journal was again reporting that the Jamaican convoy had been held in port since April for want of a naval escort.  It must have been a considerable relief to everyone concerned when the War of the Austrian Succession came to an end in 1748 and for nearly a decade the seas were a little safer – until the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1757.

It was common for Jamaican ships to be named after the estate which they supplied, and there was a Landovery estate in the parish of St Anns, so it is likely that the original owners of the ship were the owners of the Landovery estate.  Stephen Blankett may have had a share in his ship, or he may simply have made use of the opportunities it provided.  Either way by the early 1760s we find him trading as a merchant in his own right when ‘Stephen Blankett and Company of Rotherhithe’  based at Princes Street, owned a ship called the London, a vessel of 300 tons armed with 18 carriage and 4 swivel guns.

The Landovery herself seems to have had a chequered history during the 1750s. In November 1753 returning from Jamaica under Captain Miller, she was listed as lost off Boulogne and 20 crew were reported drowned. There may in fact have been more men on board than normal, for another newspaper reported that she had picked up the crew of the  Charming Betty sailing from Dublin to Bordeaux which had been run down by a Dutch dogger heading from Cork to Nantes. It seems possible the Landovery was successfully salvaged. At the time  “forty puncheons of rum and some planks of mahogany” were recovered, and in October 1756 the Leeds Intelligencer reported that a ship of the same name sailing from Liverpool to Jamaica under Captain Johnson was captured and taken to Havre de Grace.

By the time Stephen Blankett made his will in 1762 he was a relatively wealthy man able to leave much stock and personal property to his wife Elizabeth, and to request that she should sell enough of his investments in the 3% consols to provide each of his children with £500.  Blankett died at 26 Princes Street Rotherhithe in March 1765 and was buried at St Mary Rotherhithe on the 29th of March.

In June of 1765, two months after the death of Stephen Blankett, Princes Street in Rotherhithe, was largely destroyed in a terrible fire caused when a pitch kettle boiled over.  More than two hundred houses, numerous warehouses and other buildings were destroyed and 250 families were made homeless.

Of Stephen Blankett’s nine children, at least five lived to grow up.  William became a shipbuilder, Lydia married John Beach a mariner of Princes Street, Esther married Samuel Meek a ship owner, and Elizabeth married George Dominicus an East India merchant.

John Blankett (1741-1801) following his father to sea, had an interesting naval career. At one point condemned to death in Gibraltar for a murder, he was later reprieved and attempted to gain support for various voyages of exploration but was turned down in favour of Captain Cook.  By 1799 John Blankett had become a Rear-Admiral and commander of the Leopard. He died on the Leopard near Mocha on the 14th of July 1801.  According to the Dictionary of National Biography, he was described as ‘an unusually good linguist, having a perfect mastery of French, Italian, and Portuguese. Seen by many as a good officer and an accomplished and amiable gentleman, he was criticized by others for his bad temper and eccentricity during his last days in the Red Sea.’

Elizabeth Blankett outlived her husband by a decade, and was buried at St Mary Rotherhithe on the 8th January 1775.