Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jamaica in the 18th century British Press

I was searching the British Newspaper Archive last week and in an idle moment wondered just how much coverage there was of Jamaica. A search for the single word ‘Jamaica’ was revealing. Even bearing in mind the rapid increase in the number and size of newspapers, particularly during the 18th century, the increase in references to Jamaica is an indicator of its rising importance to the British economy, and sadly during the 20th century also its decline.

  • 1710-1749      5,703
  • 1750-1799    28,818
  • 1800-1849  169,096
  • 1850-1899  390,761
  • 1900-1949     74,838
  • 1950-1999          648

A further breakdown in the first half of the 18th century is also revealing (again bearing in mind that the number of papers was also increasing).

  • 1710-19        96
  • 1720-29      996
  • 1730-39    1,147
  • 1740-49    3,464

Incidentally re-running the search a day later produced a few more references, either due to minor vagaries of the indexing system, or to the addition of new newspaper scans. The ten year project to digitise the newspaper collections of the British Library is on-going, so as with many on-line sources it’s worth popping back from time to time to see if an item of interest is now available.

And like maps, I find old newspapers endlessly fascinating. Where else could you learn that in 1742 a clerk to a vinegar merchant in Hoglane, reputed to be worth £2000, a widower for thirty years and who had pass’d his Grand Climackterick five years had married a lass of nineteen!

More particularly for the family or other historian you may find mention of someone in an unexpected context – perhaps a house sale, or as victim (or perpetrator) of a crime.

For example I wrote a while back about the scandal involving Joseph Biscoe and his wife and found that not long after the court case Biscoe sold all the contents of the house he had owned in Derbyshire, from which it sounds as if he was getting rid of everything that might be connected with her.

Biscoe sale

But to return to Jamaica. Many of the early references are records of which ship has arrived and what the cargo was. On the 2nd of September1712 the Newcastle Courant announced that a galley called the Rapier had arrived from Jamaica carrying a cargo of ‘sugar, cocoa, indigo etc.’ Many announcements during periods of war related to British ships being captured, or enemy ships that had been captured and their cargo taken. For people anxiously awaiting news of the arrival of friends or family, or whose fortune was tied up in a particular cargo, the shipping news in the papers was a vital source of information, especially for those who did not live in one of the major ports.

It was through the British Newspaper Archive that I discovered a reference in 1768 to a box addressed to Joseph Lee being washed up on the shore near Penzance with a large quantity of mahogany presumed to be from a shipwreck. As I knew that Joseph Lee was visiting London at the time and the box was addressed care of Messers Thomas and Stephen Fuller, Merchants in London, I knew for certain this must relate to the Joseph Lee whose letters feature in A Parcel of Ribbons.

Sadly also there are sometimes adverts relating to runaways.

Missing black boy 1807

This one appears to be a boy who was free rather than a slave, but one wonders what it was that made John Thomas run away from his apprenticeship and offer himself to someone else. The age given is young for an apprentice, so was he in fact a slave whose master wished to disguise the fact at a time when emancipation and an end to the slave trade was very much under discussion?


Newspapers are an invaluable source of information I’ve only touched on the British ones here, but of course there were newspapers published in Jamaica, and you will also find many references in American newspapers.

Murder most foul


The Old Bailey By Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes in family history research wandering down an unrelated byway reveals a story you could not have invented.

Reading the Lee letters [1] I wondered who was the school master at Chelsea who had married an heiress?   According to the letter written in November 1749  – Mr Rothery was marry’d last May to that Lady at Chelsea with 3 thousand pound fortune.

1749 11 20b Frances Lee to R C Lee

A little investigation through British History Online revealed that At Turret House, Paradise Row, the parish lecturer William Rothery taught boarders and day boys including the botanist Thomas Martyn (1735-1825), who attended for ten years and remembered him as an excellent master but one who had died in 1759 ‘lost in drink’ [2].  Indeed it is likely he is also the same William Rothery of Chelsea declared bankrupt in 1756[3].

Chelsea was then a pleasant village lying alongside the Thames away from the hurly burly and pollution of London.  The school was close to the Physic Garden which had been founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and also to the Chelsea Royal Hospital founded under Charles II for retired servicemen, the Chelsea Pensioners. Paradise Row is now known as Royal Hospital Road and Paradise Walk which in 1750 led directly down to the banks of the Thames, is now separated from it by the Victorian houses that front onto the Chelsea Embankment, but in 1749 much of the land next to the Thames was marshy and there were extensive osier beds at Chelsea.

William Rothery, baptised 18 February 1704 at St Martin in the Fields, London, and with an MA from St John’s College Cambridge, married Lydia Rooker in 1749.  If the letter is correct this was in May although a Vicar General Licence was issued on 07 Feb 1749. Guessing that if they had a daughter she might be named after her mother I quickly found little Lydia Rothery in IGI, baptised at St Luke’s Chelsea in December 1752, then her older brother George baptised in February 1750. Sadly little George died and was buried in St Luke’s on the 15th  of June 1752.

Further online searching of the National Archive website turned up a number of documents held at the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock relating to the Perrin family.  This included the Will of William Perrin of Vere in Jamaica which left William Rothery, his brother-in-law, a legacy of £500 and named him as residuary legatee in the event that Perrin’s wife and children died.  This would have made Rothery an extremely rich man as William Perrin was one of the wealthiest sugar planters in Jamaica.  The Will was proved in September 1759 which meant that the legacy to William arrived too late to save him from drink and bankruptcy since he had died in June of that year. However the Will suggested to me that Frances Perrin was probably Frances Rooker before her marriage and I found they had married at St Vedast Foster Lane in London on 22 July 1738 by Vicar General Licence dated the previous day.  Between 1740 and 1747 five children were born to them and baptised in Westminster, of whom only William Philp Perrin and Sarah survived to adulthood.

Also mentioned in Perrin’s Will was Benjamin Victor who it turns out is still well known in the history of theatre. Born about the beginning of the eighteenth century he married Mary, another of the Rooker sisters, on 3rd July 1722 at Charterhouse Chapel, Finsbury by Faculty Office licence issued on 13 June. He began life as a barber and linen draper, but the lure of the theatre proved strong and he moved to acting in and writing plays. In October 1746 he settled with his wife in Dublin as treasurer and deputy manager of the theatre in Smock Alley under Thomas Sheridan (1719-1788).  The theatre was moderately successful but closed in 1759 and Benjamin Victor returned to London alone, Mary having died two years earlier. He became Treasurer at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and published a history of the theatre in Dublin and London spanning over forty years that is still consulted by theatre historians today. He married again and died in Charles Street, Covent Garden, on 3 December 1778 and was buried in Bunhill Fields on the 6th.  Even today he rates a lengthy entry in the Dictionary of National Biography[4]. Boswell who met him at Thomas Sheridan’s on November 30, 1762, described him as an honest, indolent, conversable man [who] has a great many anecdotes.

Searching for further information about the Rooker sisters I discovered that Jane Rooker had married Mason Victor, Benjamin’s brother, on 11 April 1730 at St James’ Clerkenwell.  Mason Victor was a Cordwainer (a shoemaker and leather worker, probably employing a number of  men) who died twenty-five years later apparently childless. It seems he disapproved of his siblings since in his Will proved on 26 May 1755 he left only a shilling to his brother Benjamin, a shilling to his sister Elizabeth and everything else to his wife Jane.  He was probably buried in Bunhill Fields although the Victor buried at that date is not given a first name.  Jane Rooker may have carried on his business  in Holborn since when she died in 1787 she left small legacies to two journeymen shoemakers[5]. She too was buried at Bunhill fields.

By 1759 all three surviving Rooker sisters were widows and appear to have been living most of their time in London, although Frances retained interests in Derbyshire, and of course in Jamaica as absentee involved in the management of the plantation on behalf of her son.

Enter their brother Richard involved, as a witness, in one of the most horrific murders of the day. Richard had been apprenticed to their father, a noted clockmaker of the same name, and had the Freedom of the City of London in the Clockmakers Company, but the trade had evidently not suited him for by 1759 he was keeping a Grocery business in Water Lane, High Holborn and renting a room in the house of Sarah Metyard.

Sarah Metyard kept a Haberdasher’s shop in Bruton Street, and with her daughter Sarah Morgan Metyard supervised a group of parish apprentices who knitted mittens and purses for sale.  These children were bound to a mistress for seven years by their parish to avoid them being a charge on the poor rate, to give them a useful trade and keep them out of the workhouse. When it worked well it was a system that had merits.

Among the apprentices at Bruton Street were two young sisters Ann and Mary Nailor sent there from the parish of Tottenham High Cross north of London.  Ann was slow at her work and seems to have been picked on from the outset for particularly harsh treatment.  Given less of the meagre food available than the other girls she was regularly beaten, by both Metyard women, with broom handles, shoes and a walking stick.  When she developed a whitlow on her finger Mrs Metyard took her to have it amputated.  As conditions worsened about late September 1758 little Ann tried to run away, but bumped into the milkman Jeremy Brown who brought her back. At the later trial he said She desired and pressed upon me that I would let her go, and said she should be starved if she staid there. I said, my dear, you will not be starved. She said, pray, milkman, let me go, for I have had no victuals for so long a time (the time I cannot recollect). The daughter and the mother came running down stairs, and desired I would stop her.[6]

The attempted escape led to a severe beating administered by both Metyard women and Ann was then taken upstairs and fastened with a string around her waist and her hands tied behind her back so she could neither sit nor lie down. For three days she was kept without food, only untied at night to go to bed (and once when her sister cut the string, earning a beating for it). At the end of this the other apprentices saw that Ann hung limp from the string that tied her. Sarah Morgan Metyard came and hit her with a shoe, but when she still did not move the mother called for ‘drops’ (probably sal volatile, spirits of ammonia, used to treat fainting) and the dead child was taken upstairs to the garret.

The Metyards then contrived to make it look as if Ann had run away, and after keeping the body hidden in the garret for two months until the smell became impossible, Mrs Metyard cut it up and wrapping the parts in ‘bed furniture’ took them at night to the Chick Lane Gully hole. She had to make two trips from Bruton Street, a distance of over a mile. The other apprentices had no doubt Ann was dead as she had left behind all her four small shifts and her shoes, but they did not dare to say anything. The Watchmen who found and reassembled the body parts and arranged burial had no way of knowing who it was.

Life went on as usual at Bruton Street until about two years later when Richard Rooker came as a lodger.  He was so upset at the treatment he saw meted out to the girls that he soon moved out to Upper Hill Street, and feeling sorry for her persuaded Sarah Morgan Metyard to come away as his servant.  Later he inherited a house at Ealing (probably on the death of his father) and retired there taking young Sarah with him.  They were pursued there by Sarah’s mother screeching abuse, threatening her daughter and generally making life impossible until one day Rooker and his gardener heard screaming and found the mother, who had just dropped the knife she had been holding to her daughter’s throat.

Curious about the references he had overheard Sarah make to the Chick Lane ghost and the gully hole, Rooker questioned  his servant and the whole story came out. Believing Sarah to have been bullied into it by her mother, and wanting to deal with her once and for all, he wrote to the Magistrates at Tottenham, where Ann Nailor had come from, and in due course the mother was arrested.  Her apprentices were sent to the Workhouse and some days later Sarah Morgan Metyard was also taken into custody. The full account of the trial and the additional information to be gleaned from the evidence of the Ordinary (Chaplain) at Newgate can be read at  and in the Annual Register for 1762 (p.132 ff.). Included in the indictment was the charge of also murdering Ann Nailor’s sister Mary aged about eight.

Despite support for the daughter from character witnesses, both were condemned to hang at Tyburn on 19th July 1762.  Gruesomely the mother became insensible and suffered fits on the night before the execution but nevertheless was taken to the gallows and hanged in that state. The daughter attempted to ‘plead her belly’, having been told this would earn her a reprieve, but was examined by a group of ‘matrons’ appointed for the task and found not to be pregnant. She later denied that she had ever had ‘criminal conversation’ with any man although it was widely assumed at the time that she was Richard Rooker’s mistress.

Richard Rooker died in 1763 leaving his estate[7] to his sisters and to the twin children of widowed Anne Thompson, who I initially assumed was another Rooker sister .  And there the story might have ended, until in the National Archives I came across a request made in May 1774 for letters of administration from the three Rooker sisters.

Letters of Admin Rooker T 1_508_001

In 1772, with their fellow executor Charles Blackwell, they had obtained control of the East India Bonds that had been left to the twins Ann Elrington Thompson and James Elrington Thompson, born on the 18th May 1759, who were now dead. By May 1774 Blackwell, a Holborn druggist, had gone bankrupt and was no longer a fit person to administer the bonds. The petition requested control be given to the Rooker sisters. It also revealed that the twins were Bastards of Rd. Rooker deceased. In a further twist, I noticed that there was an Ann Thompson who gave evidence at the trial in favour of Sarah Morgan Metyard – was she the same Ann Thompson who was the mother of Richard Rooker’s twins?

And Richard himself?  Berrow’s Worcester Journal  for Thursday, February 10th, 1763 reported that  On Thursday Mr. Rooker was found dead in a Lane near his House at Ealing, dismembered, and his Throat cut in a shocking Manner. This unfortunate Man formerly kept a Grocer’s Shop at the Corner of Water Lane, Fleet Street; and he appeared as an Evidence on the Trial of Sarah Morgan Metyard, who was executed with her Mother, for the barbarous Murder of an Apprentice Girl some Time ago.[8]

At the inquest the following day it was revealed that Richard Rooker had not been himself for some time.

On Friday last the Coroner’s Inquest sat on the Body of Mr. Rooker, who was found dead by the Side of a Ditch the preceding Day on Ealing Common, and brought in their Verdict Lunacy; it appeared on Examination, that he had been disordered in his Mind for some Time past, and once attempted to cut the Jack-Line, that the Weight might fall upon his Head; the Morning of the Day when he murdered himself, he went to his Washer Woman for some clean Linnen, and told her it was the last Time she would wash for him; and then getting himself shaved, told the Barber it would be the last Time; he first dismembered himself, and then cut his Throat, but had not Strength enough to cut the Wind Pipe, however the great Effusion of Blood put an End to his Life.

How much his state of mind had been affected by the Metyard case we will never know.

Frances Rooker’s son William Philp Perrin died in 1820 without having married or ever visited the Jamaican estates on which his huge fortune was based. After the death of their mother the whole residue of the estate went to his sister Sarah who had married Sir William Fitzherbert of Tissington in 1777. Tissington Hall is still lived in today by the Fitzherbert family.


Tissington Hall By Joe Empson (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons



Both Lydia and Jane Rooker left their estates to their niece Lydia Rothery, and she also inherited £2,500 from her cousin William Philp Perrin in 1820.  In 1787 Lydia married Thomas Bunnett and in 1842 Thomas Bunnett of Hanworth, mentions in his Will a bureau and bookcase that had belonged to the late Mr Perrin.

And in answer to the question I started with – how did Lydia Rooker come to have a fortune of three thousand pounds? Almost certainly it was her inheritance from her father Richard Rooker the clockmaker, but until I can find details of his death and his Will this must remain a supposition.


[1] Now published as A Parcel of Ribbons, Anne M Powers, 2012

[2] ‘Social history: Education: private schools’, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea (2004), pp. 190-195.

[3] dealer in books book/paper/printing trades(s) Gentleman’s Magazine, March, 1756.

[4] W. P. Courtney, ‘Victor, Benjamin (d. 1778)’, rev. David Goldthorpe, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [

[5] PCC Prob 11/1156

[7] Will proved 8 Feb 1763,  PCC Prob 11/884.


Street Cries Ancient and Modern

Paul Sandby London CriesTitle Page resized 450

Paul Sandby (1730 or 1731-1809) Title page of Twelve London Cries (via Wikimedia Commons)

An unlikely internet sensation of 2012 was the success of Mohammed Shahid Nazir a seller of fish in Queens market, Upton Park in East London. Having been told after his first day on the fish stall that he was not shouting loudly enough, he developed his own sing-song street cry:

Come on ladies, come on ladies
One pound fish, one pound fish
Have-a, have-a look
One pound fish
Very, very good, very, very cheap
One pound fish
Six for five pound one pound each

Passers by filmed him on their mobile phones and his song went viral, resulting in the TV appearances and a recording contract.

Whether Mohammed was aware of it or not, he was part of a long tradition of London Street sellers, whose distinctive cries were developed for exactly the same reason – to make themselves heard above the din of London’s streets.

We think of pre-industrial streets as being quieter that modern traffic noise, however imagine for a moment the area around London’s main meat market at West Smithfield.

London’s food arrived on the hoof.  Cattle, pigs, sheep and flocks of geese were driven in from as far afield as Wales and East Anglia along the drove roads.  If they arrived from the west they came in along Oxford Street, from Kent they passed over London Bridge and through the City itself.  The area around Smithfield would have been constantly noisy with the bellowing of cattle, the squeals of pigs, the shouts of traders and the sounds of slaughter. Iron shod cart wheels rumbled over uneven cobbled streets and the clatter of horses hooves added to the din. Anyone trying to sell something to make a living had to have some way of standing out from the background noise, and anyone who regularly plied the same streets would want to be recognised as the person you usually dealt with – thus personalised cries would evolve, such as the woman selling fish who cried Rare Mackerel, three a groat or four for sixpence. Incidentally mackerel were far from rare – her cry meant that they were of rare (excellent) quality.

In 2011 the Museum of London ran an exhibition on Images of London’s poor from the 17th to the 19th century and many of the prints displayed can be viewed on line. You can even purchase copies. The eighteenth century was a great age for prints with a huge expansion in their production and the market for them. They could be purchased plain or, for extra cost, hand coloured. Some were relatively literal renderings, others such as those of Hogarth and Rowlandson closer to caricatures.

In the case of street vendors the picture was often accompanied by a caption of the street cry, or perhaps a rhyme such as Old chairs to mend! Old chairs to mend! If I had the money that I could spend, I never would cry Old chairs to mend!

Sometimes a vendor sold more than one kind of item, and the well-dressed young lady who cried Will your honour buy a sweet nosegay or a memorandum book may have plied a different trade for her male customers. Street selling could provide a convenient cover and advertisement for prostitution.

The street cries provide a snapshot of what the eighteenth century housewife might need to buy Do you want any spoons, any hard-mettle spoons; All a growing, a growing, heres Flowers for your Gardens; Buy a trap, a rat-trap, buy my trap and curiously there is an image of a man scooping ‘brick dust’ into a large bowl for a young servant girl, probably for use as an abrasive cleaner cheaper than the silver sand used in some households.

A more romantic view of London street selling was provided in the musical Oliver with the song Who Will Buy? and interest in the nineteenth century was such that books were produced collecting the cries together. You can find reference to several of them here.

I’m not aware of any equivalent collections of Jamaica street cries, but I suspect that just as street markets and street sellers have existed ever since people came together in towns and cities, so Jamaicans must have had, and perhaps still have their own street cries. I’d love to know.