Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society


Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding (Thorvaldson: Wikimedia Commmons)

I promised to report back from last week’s University of Derby conference on Enlightenment, Science and Culture in the East Midlands c.1700-1900 if it turned out that there was any connection with Jamaica. It was no surprise to find one, although in a place I had not hitherto connected with Jamaica.

The small Lincolnshire town of Spalding is now something of a backwater, but in its hey-day it was a thriving east coast port connected to the sea via the river Welland. Now best known for its spring bulbs and for Lincolnshire’s rich agricultural lands, it also has the distinction of having been the first place in the UK where barcodes were used, according to Wikipedia!

Maurice Johnson was born at Ayscoughfee Hall in 1688. He founded the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society in 1710, the same year that he married Elizabeth Ambler with whom he went on to have twenty-five (some sources say twenty-six) children! Although some died in infancy and some in childhood, eleven seem to have lived to grow to adulthood, and it was one of his younger daughters Ann Alethea Johnson who provides the connection with Jamaica.

On the 15th of August 1751 Ann Alethea married Richard Wallin of Jamaica. He was made a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society on the 5th of December that year. “Proposed by the Reverend Mr Johnson That Richard Wallin Esqr (only son of John Wallin Esqr late of St Jago de la Vega in Jamaica deceased) At his own instance be elected a regular member assented to be subscribed with these proposers by the Secretary Dr Green and the Operator Mr Michael Cox”.

Their first child Ann Lydia was baptised a year later at St James, Westminster but died young, possibly before her parents sailed for Jamaica. There Richard Wallin took up his inheritance and three more children were born – Richard about 1753, Lydia Elizabeth in 1754 and Ann Alethea in December 1757. Their mother was buried in St Catherine’s parish on the 9th of June 1758, and little Lydia Elizabeth died the following year leaving Ann Alethea Wallin to inherit the Wallin estates.

Her father Richard Wallin was the only surviving child of John Wallin and his second wife Lydia Stoddard – a brother John, who may have been the elder, matriculated at Oxford in 1745 but then disappears from the record. There seem to have been no children of John Wallin’s third marriage to Mary Sackville in 1744.

John Wallin was an early settler in Jamaica and Lydia Stoddard’s mother was Anna Williamina Archbould grand-daughter of Captain Henry Archbould one of the original colonists.

Ultimately the Wallins seem to have bequeathed little to Jamaica other than their name. The widowed Richard Wallin travelled to Philadelphia where in 1760 he married Catherine Shippen and died about six months later. His daughter Ann Alethea Wallin was brought up in England and married the Rev. Charles Edward Stewart who became Rector of Wakes Colne in Essex from 1795-1819. They had at least six children between 1775 and 1794 and Ann Alethea died some time before 1817 when Stewart married a second time.

An estate referred to as Wallens in St Thomas in the Vale, which may be the same as Wallins, was recorded as being in the possession of James Blackburn in 1788 and it is reasonable to presume that the trustees appointed by Richard Wallin sold it on behalf of his only daughter.

A further connection with Jamaica is through Robert Hunter (1666-1734), Governor of Jamaica between 1727 and 1734. Maurice Johnson was Steward for his manor of Crowland near Spalding. Hunter left his extensive estates in Jamaica and England to his son Thomas Orby Hunter on condition that he did not marry Mrs Sarah Kelly, the widow of Charles Kelly! The reasoning for this was probably not any prejudice against the young widow, but rather fears of his son becoming entangled in the labyrinthine debts left by Charles Kelly.

As for the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, it was formed in a very ‘clubbable’ period of the eighteenth century, a time which spawned clubs and associations for all sort of purposes – all male of course. William Stukeley, another a Lincolnshire man, friend and contemporary of Johnson pioneered archaeology investigating Stonehenge and Avebury. Johnson and Stukeley also re-founded the Society of Antiquaries in 1717, and started the Ancaster Society in 1729 while Stukeley founded a botanical club at Boston (Lincolnshire) in 1711, the Belvoir Club in Leicestershire in 1727 and the Brasenose Society at Stamford in 1736. The latter took its name from the brazen nosed door knocker taken there in 1330 by a breakaway group of  Oxford students.

All these clubs and societies very much reflected the Enlightenment, reading letters sent from abroad, papers on various subjects and discussing everything from sea shells, to new engineering techniques for fen drainage and new agricultural methods of improving crops and animals. Another member with a Jamaican connection was John Harries, who was re-embarking for Jamaica in 1732 having brought home a collection including coral to make lime for sugar boiling, shells, nuts and petrified hard wood which he presented to the Society. Among the many distinguished members of the Spalding Society were Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane (another with Jamaican connections of course), the poet Alexander Pope, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir George Gilbert Scott and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Many of these societies lasted only a short time, some had their collections preserved by amalgamation with others and some were simply dispersed. The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society is highly unusual in having survived the loss of its founding spirit – Maurice Johnson died in February 1755 barely two months after his redoubtable wife Elizabeth.

By 1770 the Spalding Society had become more of a book club with occasional lectures, but it continued throughout the nineteenth century and in 1890 it was revivified by Dr Marten Perry and its collection is now housed in a purpose built museum, opened in 1911.  You can visit by appointment and see the original minute books and letters as well as the collections.

I owe my new found knowledge of the Spalding Society to a fascinating lecture given last Saturday by Diana and Michael Honeybone, who have together edited The Correspondence of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society 1710-1761, published by the Lincoln Record Society in 2010.

Indexing the Website – find your way around


Traditional card index system from the Archives of Ontario


Just a brief posting this week to draw your attention to a new feature on this website, courtesy of my lovely web support at Wick It Services.

With well over eighty articles on the site it seemed a good time to introduce an Index, which you can see at the bottom of the left hand menu. That means there are two ways to search for topics of interest, using either the ‘Search’ box above the main menu which will search for anything you enter there, and the Index which lists all the tags that have been attached to articles. So for example you can see there are four references to Rose Hall, five to smallpox but only one to lunacy!

Thank goodness I don’t have to type up and organise a card index system like the one pictured. Quite co-incidentally it refers to Kingston, but in this case it is in Canada rather than Jamaica.

If you are interested in transcription of Wills or other documents it is always worth checking out the ‘Latest Additions’ page.

Today I am off to a conference at the University of Derby on Enlightenment, Science and Culture in the East Midlands c.1700-1900. While I expect the emphasis to be largely local it will be interesting to see whether there are references to the West Indies and Jamaica. If there are I will report back.


Belisario – a great Jamaican artist



This is not a book to be taken lightly in any sense. It is a large and solid tome, one to be requested as a birthday or Christmas present, to be proudly displayed and frequently pored over. It is carefully researched, beautifully put together and wonderfully illustrated.

Jackie Ranston came to the story via the history of the Lindo family and rather than simply begin with the birth of the artist, born in Kingston in 1794 the son of Abraham Medes Belisario and Esther Lindo, she first sets him in his Jewish family context. The families fled to England from the Inquisition and settled in the small London Jewish community. Ranston traces their activities in London and Europe and then tracks them to Jamaica where Abraham Mendes Belisario arrived as an adventurous 18 year-old in 1786, and where Alexandre Lindo, who had arrived two decades earlier, was already established as a property developer, slave trader and Kingston’s leading Jewish merchant. In 1791 Abraham married Lindo’s daughter Esther who brought with her a generous marriage settlement.

Early in the nineteenth century Alexandre Lindo lent large sums to the French, then in conflict with the British, and subsequently unable to recover his money died demented and bankrupt in London in 1812. The Belisario family were also back in London and suffering hard times – Esther and her daughters set up a boarding school for Jewish girls in Clapton, and in 1809 Abraham Mendes Belisaro was appointed to manage a sugar estate on Tortola. There the slaves were treated with unimagineable cruelty, particularly by Arthur Hodge, owner of the Bellevue estate. Such were his excesses that he was eventually prosecuted for murder, most unusually the testimony of a black woman was accepted by the court, and Hodge was hanged. Abraham Belisario had the account of the trial published in London at his own expense, but never returned to live there, dying in Tortola in 1825 a year after Esther had died in London.

Meanwhile young Isaac Mendes Belisario had become a pupil of Robert Hills and one of his first known works was a watercolour of the interior of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, painted in 1812. For two decades he painted in London, became a member of the Stock Exchange, had a short lived partnership with his uncle Jacob, who had a role in the fraudulent Poyais scheme (involving a fictional Central American state) and eventually, having finally obtained access to some family funds from the sale of the last remaining Lindo properties to Simon Taylor, left London for Jamaica for the sake of his health.

Given what we know of the graveyard that Jamaica could be for white settlers this may seem an odd ddecision, until you also remember what a damp, crowded, insanitary and smog filled city London was in the 1830s.

Isaac arrived in Kingston in December 1834 and having made contact with various cousins still on the island, immediately sought out premises for a studio. Among four portraits he painted in 1835 were those of Jamaican Chief Justice Sir Joshua Rowe and his wife. Later he was commissioned by the Marquess of Sligo to paint his Jamaican estates, the Marquess having been appointed as Governor of Jamaica. Sligo was a descendant of Dennis Kelly, who with his brothers had owned large estates in Jamaica and whose Wills are transcribed here.

Jackie Ranston’s book takes its title from the prospectus that Belisario prepared during the time that Sligo was Governor Sketches of Character, In Illustration of the Habits, Occupation and Costume of the Negro Population, in the Island of Jamaica. The lithographs were planned to illustrate the carnival known as Jonkonnu or John Canoe a fusion of African and European traditions dating back to the early days of slavery, and Belisario researched carefully for the accompanying text. Ranston’s book reproduces in full folios 1, 2 and 3, which came out in 1837 and 1838.

At this point Belisario ran into trouble, he had lost the services of the person who coloured the prints, and his own health was suffering. In fact he had tuberculosis and he now returned home to live with his sisters in Clapton, where the damp air from Hackney Marshes can have done little to improve his condition. Perhaps it was this that prompted him to journey once more to Kingston where not long after his return he witnessed a catastrophic fire which began in a foundry on Harbour Street and destroyed a swathe of downtown Kingston. Belisario captured the event in three dramatic lithographs and a map of the area affected by the fire, on which he collaborated with Adolphe Duperly.

Some time after this, Belisario left Jamaica for the last time and he died at his sisters’ home in Lower Clapton on the 4th of June 1849.

Apart from a number of maps, the book contains family trees of the Lindo and Belisario families, extensive endnotes and bibliography, and is fabulously well illustrated, not only with Belisario’s work but with numerous images relating to Jewish history, Jamaica, slavery and emancipation. Underpinning it all is a wealth of detailed research.

This is a fabulous book, and while not cheap is absolutely worth the price for anyone interested in Jamaica, Belisario, his background and his art.


Belisario : sketches of character : a historical biography of a Jamaican artist by Jackie Ranston. Mill Press, Kingston, Jamaica 2008

ISBN: 9768-16816-1 and ISBN 13: 978-9768-16816-0