Monthly Archives: June 2012

Of an unjust imprisonment and a shocking legacy

By Thomas Hudon, engraved by Johan Faber (The National Maritime Museum), via Wikimedia Commons

Many who are new to tales of Jamaican slavery are deeply shocked when they discover that freed slaves and mixed Jamaicans often themselves owned slaves. I think this is understandable (which is not to say justifiable), if you accept that for most people in the eighteenth century slavery was a fact of life and one which they generally did not question. Since owning slaves reflected your economic and social status it is unsurprising that freed slaves and mixed race Jamaicans would want to reinforce their new status, in much the same way as aspiring middle class Victorians in England would employ a live-in maid or a cook. A key difference of course being that the latter were free to leave for other employment.

However, I did find it particularly shocking when I read the Will of Francis Delap to discover, that in freeing and educating his little six year-old mulatto son Arthur, he was requiring his executors to provide Arthur with ‘three new Negro Boys nearly of his Age to be bought for him by my Executors immediately after my death to be marked AD and to be bred to the same Trade with himself’.  Not only were three little African boys straight off the boat to be branded with Arthur’s initials, but they were to be the slaves of another child of their own age.

Since they were all to be bred up in the same trade I presume Francis was trying to provide Arthur with the ultimate means of setting himself up in business. And of course this is not the only case of a child being given his own slaves.  But shocking nevertheless.

Francis Delap has however gone down in history for quite another reason. He was at the centre of the great Jamaican controversy in the mid 1750s surrounding the location of the island capital.

When the British arrived in Jamaica in 1655 St Jago de la Vega was the Spanish capital, situated inland for easier defence against seaborn raiders. After the 1692 earthquake and a later fire largely destroyed Port Royal, Kingston rapidly grew to be the centre of mercantile activity. By the mid- eighteenth century a schism had grown up between the planter and administrative classes who favoured Spanish Town, where the Assembly met and legal cases were heard, and the merchants who wanted to move the capital to Kingston. Apart from the disruption this would have caused, planter social life centred on the times of year when they arrived from their estates to enjoy the Spanish Town entertainments and attend the races, to get married and to baptise their children. Any move of the capital would also have had a depressive effect on property values in Spanish Town which had just been ascertained in the 1754 Census.

When Sir Charles Knowles arrived in Jamaica as Governor he sided with the Kingston lobby in favour of the move, falling out with the Spanish Town inhabitants and choosing to move to Kingston rather than as was traditional living in Spanish Town. He also insisted on the supremacy of the English parliament over the Jamaican Assembly.  This direct confrontation with the Assembly came to a head when the Governor dissolved the Assembly and elections were called. There was not of course any universal franchise, only free white men who were freeholders could vote.

It appeared that the votes for the three members for Port Royal were going to be critical and the pro-Kingston lobby wanted to ensure that the vote was not supervised by the Provost Marshall Francis Delap, who was thought to favour the Spanish Town cause. Uncertain what to do for the best when told to hand over the Writs, Delap had the Writs and all his papers locked in two chests and deposited  them with Charles Price and Dr William Wynter.

The Governor had Delap arrested and ordered him to surrender the Writs for the election so that new ones could be issued, putting a Mr Johnston who he had appointed as the new Provost Marshall in charge of the election. Delap had serious doubts about the legality of this, but was unable to act beyond securing all his papers, as Governor Knowles had him committed to the Kingston jail where he was clapped in irons, deprived of the use of pen and ink and prevented from communicating with anyone.

Knowles intended to have him shipped out to England as a prisoner, but the Island Council decided instead to prosecute him for a misdemeanour and he was at last able to apply for a writ of Habeas Corpus and to obtain bail. Following a court appearance in June 1755 Delap was fined £500 and once again imprisoned.

One of Delap’s friends and supporters was Rose Fuller, who had earlier clashed with Knowles as a result of which he had resigned as Chief Justice. In the Spring of 1755 he heard that his brother John had died in England and so after two decades in Jamaica Rose Fuller returned to England, arriving in August of 1755. His presence there enabled him to coordinate support for Delap’s case in London and eventually Delap was freed. Papers held at the East Sussex Record Office at Lewes show that Fuller had raised a letter of credit on Arnold, Albert and Alexander Nesbitt of London  for £6000 for Delap’s legal support, based on a valuation of Delap’s Jamaican estate which ‘recently stocked with a great strength of able negroes and mules, is good security for £30,000’ (ESRO  SAS-RF/21/42).

The Board of Trade eventually decided in favour of Spanish Town on a technicality and Governor Knowles left Jamaica. A huge procession of carts brought the island papers back to Spanish Town and the celebrations included two huge bonfires, one topped with an effigy of Governor Knowles and the other one of his ship[1].

When Delap died over twenty years later most of his wealth was left to his siblings in Ireland, but he also made provision for the care of four mixed race children, whose mother was Mary Shippen, and for little Arthur, now the master of his own slaves.





[1] You can read a fuller account of the Spanish Town versus Kingston controversy in Gone is the Ancient Glory, Spanish Town, Jamaica 1534-2000 by James Robertson, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston 2005; and a contemporary account of the trial of Francis Delap in An account of the trial of Francis Delap Esq upon an information for a misdemeanour: at the Supreme Court of Judicature, held in the town of Kingston, in Jamaica, on June 18, 1755. Ecco Print Editions (print on demand).

Murder or Manslaughter – The Trial of Daniel Macginnis

A Trial at the Old Bailey by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


We would probably never have heard of Daniel Macginnis (sometimes written Macgenise) if he had not had the misfortune to be tried for murder at the Old Bailey in January 1793. What makes his case interesting for me is the number of highly distinguished men with connections to Jamaica who were prepared to testify in his defence.

Daniel was a doctor, aged nearly sixty, and lodging in London at the house of one John Hardy, a Hatter and Hosier of Newgate Street .

On the 28th of December 1782 Hardy and his wife and their maidservant were having tea in a downstairs extension at the back of the house, built out into the yard and with a skylight. When ‘water’ fell upon the glass Hardy rushed upstairs to confront Daniel Macginnis who had emptied his chamberpot out of his window as the maid had failed to collect it earlier. Hardy ranted at Macginnis telling him he wanted him out of the house and had started off back downstairs when Macginnis answered him back. According to Macginnis, Hardy then rushed back upstairs, forced his way into the room, pushed Macginnis to the floor and began to drag him out by his hair.

In the struggle, and fearing for his life, Macginnis drew a bayonet out of his pocket and stabbed his landlord through the heart. Hardy fell backwards down the stairs coming to rest on the landing. Macginnis, who had probably called out of his window for help during the attack, locked himself in his room until he could be certain that he would be taken up by an officer of the law and not murdered by the mob. He then gave himself up and handed over the murder weapon.

There was never any doubt that Daniel had killed John Hardy, although the maid, and another one who arrived back just as the commotion was in progress, disagreed on some of the details. What is remarkable is the legal team that represented Daniel and the number of extremely influential character witnesses who were called.

Those who have watched the BBC series Garrow’s Law will recall a barrister called Silvester. The TV series was only loosely based on fact and on a number of real life legal cases, but John Silvester really existed and was a friend of William Garrow and witness at his marriage in 1793.

John Silvester and Thomas Erskine appeared for the defence in Daniel Macginnis’s trial. Thomas Erskine was also a very distinguished barrister who famously had defended Lord George Gordon after the Gordon riots in 1780, and later Thomas Paine. He eventually became Lord Chancellor. Neither lawyer would have been cheap. As Daniel was effectively penniless someone wealthy must have paid for his defence. The first Jamaican connection mentioned comes in Daniel’s own statement in which he mentions General Sir John Dalling who had just completed a tour as Governor of Jamaica, and was shortly to be posted to Madras.

My circumstances never were affluent, but of late I have had assurances from those in power to be preferred to the rank of physician to the army, in an expedition that was then in contemplation, to be sent out under General Dalling , who was always my friend.

Daniel Sheen (or Shiel, the newspapers have a different spelling from the court transcript) a West India Merchant, testified to having known Daniel in Jamaica and told how Daniel had tried more than once to persuade him to buy goods from John Harvey in order to further his business.

He was followed by Lord Viscount Barrington who was a former Treasurer of the Navy and former Post Master General. He said that he knew Daniel as a very mild mannered man and that, had he been in the country, he was sure Lord Hillsborough who knew him even better would have testified for him.

Next up was Thomas Howard, Earl Effingham, whose mother Elizabeth Beckford was a daughter of Peter Beckford and sister to William Beckford, hugely wealthy Jamaican landowner and sometime Lord Mayor of London. Effingham would later be a Governor of Jamaica.

Major General Murray, an uncle of the Duke of Athol, appeared next and testified that Daniel

had at different times, while he had the care of sick men, divested himself of fresh provisions and given to those sick men, that he had likewise at times laid on the boards to give his bed to the sick men.

Murray was followed by Edmund Burke who said that

He was recommended to me originally as a man very knowing in his profession, very innocent, and rather helpless and unable to forward his own interest: as far as I have had an opportunity of knowing him, and I have known persons that knew much more of him than I could, I have heard that his knowledge is very extensive, I have always heard from every body that knew him, that he was a man of remarkable good nature, and it interested me so much in his favour, that I endeavoured to serve him in several little pursuits that he had, in which I thought he had very ill fortune to say no worse of it: from that opinion of him, I confess I feel much in seeing him in this situation.

Next came a Major Fleming who previously, wanting to give Macginnis work,

called him in, and in the course of a few days I found he had not only given strict attendance, but that much the greater part of his fee was given back to these poor people, to the very wretches whom he attended, given to buy wine and rice and sago, and other things that they wanted; this I mention as one instance of his humanity.

Further testimony was given by Alderman John Sawbridge, MP for London and former Lord Mayor; and finally John Nugent, the Lt.-Governor of Tortola.

Erskine then offered to call further character witnesses but was told it would not be necessary.

Even the prosecuting counsel seemed sympathetic towards Daniel, but despite strong evidence that Daniel had acted in self defence, and a very sympathetic summing up by the judge Mr Justice Willes,  the jury found him guilty of wilful murder and he was sentenced to hang. However the carrying out of the sentence was held over for two weeks during which time much work obviously went on  behind the scenes on his behalf  and a Royal Pardon was obtained on the 14th of February, while nevertheless requiring that he should serve two years in Newgate Prison.

What happened to Daniel thereafter is unclear. Did he survive his imprisonment? It is to be hoped that his influential friends were able to ensure that his time in jail was not too uncomfortable. It was then possible to pay for a ‘better class’ of cell, and to have fuel, food, candles, clothes and blankets delivered to make life more bearable.

What had been Daniel’s past history that so many wealthy and influential men with West Indian connections wanted to help him? Apart from a reference in the correspondence of Robert Cooper Lee that led me to the trial, and the trial transcript itself, I have seen no other contemporary references, and yet Daniel was clearly very well known among the West India lobby in London.

Daniel’s kindness, humanity and innocent goodness shine through the testimony of those who spoke for him at his trial. I do hope he lived out a comfortable old age.


Jubilees, Longevity and connecting with the past


This last week has seen the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II both here in the UK and around the world. The Queen is not yet Britain’s longest reigning monarch. George III lived to be nearly eighty-two and reigned for just short of sixty years. Queen Victoria reigned for sixty-three years and seven months, so our present Queen has only to reign for a further three and a half years to become the longest reigning British Monarch.

Queen Victoria celebrated two Jubilees, following a period of relative unpopularity after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 when she went into deep mourning and relative seclusion.  Her Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 1887 and her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

In 1977 when the present Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee after twenty-five years on the throne, my four year old daughter peered through rain and gloom, similar to that experienced across Britain last Sunday, to see a distant Jubilee Beacon. By her side was my grandmother who in 1887 at the same age had watched the beacon for Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

This got me to thinking about those historical links that excite the imagination and allow us to jump backwards into history. When my mother was about twelve in the 1920s, and had been ill, she was taken to the seaside to recover. Staying in the same hotel was an old lady whose father as a young boy had fought at the battle of Waterloo.

In 1991 I read the obituary of Alexandra Stewart, the last speaker of Perthshire Gaelic. As a young girl she had met Lizzie Lothian, who died in 1911 aged 93, and who remembered her grandfather John Lothian’s  tales of escaping from the battle of Culloden in 1745.

Making such lengthy connections for Jamaica’s early history is much harder since so many of the colonists died young.  John Favell, whose Will was dated 1720, and who was probably born about 1649, is most unusual in mentioning a great-grandchild – Susanna Bernard, daughter of his grand-daughter Mary Bernard. He left her £150 in plate. Susanna must have been an infant when John Favell died and so unlikely to remember him.

The only other Jamaica Will I know of that mentions great grandchildren is that of Mary Dehany (born Mary Gregory in Jamaica) who died in London in 1813 aged ninety.  Her grandmother Jane Gallimore had also lived to be ninety and had lived through the reigns of six British Monarchs – seven if you count William and Mary as two! Good genes in that family.

You can play a game similar to ‘six degrees of separation’ by thinking of the longest backward links you can make into our past through someone you have met. So I can get to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 in two moves through my mother. Do you have anything similar in your family?

Like skimming pebbles on a pond the ripples of our memories fade out into the past.


Jamaica and the Founding of the British Museum

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)

It is perhaps surprising, but the British Museum might be said to have had its origins in Jamaica.

In September 1687 a young Anglo-Irish doctor, who had trained in London and France, accompanied his patron the Duke of Albemarle on a voyage to Jamaica. Hans Sloane was to spend a relatively short time there as the Duke died the year after their arrival, but during that time he practised medicine and studied the island’s plants, later producing the great Natural History of Jamaica. He was already an accomplished botanist and had been made a member of the Royal Society at the early age of twenty-five.

In Jamaica Sloane met fellow doctor Fulke Rose, and together they treated the retired pirate and ex-Governor of Jamaica Henry Morgan for the effects of too much drink and socialising, administering millipedes and oil of scorpions! Unsurprisingly this treatment seems to have had no beneficial effect and Morgan died not long afterwards. Treatment of many of his other patients was more successful, perhaps owing to his foresight in taking with him to Jamaica a large quantity of Peruvian Bark – the source of quinine used in treating malaria.

While in Jamaica Sloane was introduced to cocoa taken with water which he found unpalatable. However he later mixed it with milk and prescribed it medicinally. Our modern drinking chocolate had been born.

Sloane returned to London with his collection of Jamaican specimens and drawings, and set up a fashionable medical practice, living for the first six years in the household of the widowed Duchess of Albemarle.  His practice was characterised by a common sense approach to treatment, if not to any great advances in medical science, including simple diet and exercise.

He kept in regular contact with various correspondents in Jamaica, and following the devastating earth quake of 1692 he published some of their letters in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. One correspondent wrote to Sloane on the 23rd of September, “We have had a very great Mortality since the great Earthquake (for we have little ones daily) almost half the people that escap’d upon Port-Royal are since dead of a Malignant Fever, from Change of Air, want of dry Houses, warm lodging, proper Medicines, and other conveniences.” Another wrote “The Weather was much hotter after the Earthquake than before; and such an innumerable quantity of Muskitoes, that the like was never seen since the inhabiting of the Island.”[1] Sloane had commented on the use of ‘gause’, that is bed nets, against insects but of course did not know of the connection between mosquitoes and malaria.

Following the earthquake Fulke Rose returned to London to plead the islanders’ case and died there in 1694. His last child Philippa was born posthumously, and the following year Fulke’s widow Elizabeth married Hans Sloane. She had already had eleven children and went on to have four more with Sloane. Four of her daughters with Fulke Rose, and two of Sloane’s daughters, lived to grow up and Hans Sloane was a kindly stepfather and guardian.

Sloane’s medical practice and his good connections led to him attending various members of the royal family and also to promoting the use of inoculation against smallpox. Following the near death of a daughter of the Princess of Wales he conducted experimental inoculation on five prisoners whose lives had been spared for the purpose. The success of the inoculation was then tested by having one of the men nurse, and lie in bed with, a victim of a particularly virulent epidemic in Hertford. The benefits of inoculation would later be taken to Jamaica by British doctors, although in fact the practice was already known in Africa and some cargoes of slaves were inoculated before being sold.

However, I have wandered a long way from the British Museum.

Hans Sloane outlived his wife by more than a quarter of a century, living to be ninety-two and dying in January 1753. At the time of his death his house at Chelsea, where his name is remembered in Sloane Square, was filled with a vast accumulation of books and artefacts collected over his long life, often by buying up the collections of others. His legacy included 42,000 books, a room full of dried plant specimens, cases full of ancient Greek and Roman statues, gold and silver medals, diamonds, jewels and other precious stones. A large panel of Trustees was set up under Sloane’s Will to supervise the disposal of his collection, and the most valuable items were immediately removed to the Bank of England for safety.

In June 1753 an Act of Parliament was passed for the creation of the British Museum. It would house Sloane’s collection (purchased from the Trustees for £20,000, well below its market value), the King George II and Cotton libraries, the books and manuscripts of Arthur Edwards and the Harleian Manuscripts. A lottery was held and raised £95,000 for the purchase of the collections and the purchase and repair of Montagu House in Bloomsbury on the site of the present museum. There was money left over to purchase government stock for the on-going maintenance of it all.

The British Museum opened to ‘all studious and curious persons’  in January 1759, the first free national public museum in the world.

How many of today’s visitors know of the connection of its most illustrious founder to Jamaica?



[1] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1694, 18, pp.78-100.