Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Jamaican Diaspora

 

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British settlers landing at the Cape Colony

 

There was of course a huge Jamaican diaspora in the second half of the twentieth century. After the second World War the Windrush generation left the Caribbean in large numbers to work in Britain, in the USA and Canada. Many ended up remaining and making new homes rather than returning.

However, there is a sense in which there has always been a Jamaican diaspora, if it is defined as people born in Jamaica leaving for what was perceived as a better life elsewhere.

I was reminded of this when I came across the name Hercules Ross this week. I have written briefly before about the family of Hercules Ross of Rossie, who made his fortune in Jamaica as a merchant and who had two families. Like so many young white men, while in Jamaica he had a stable relationship outside marriage with a mixed race woman, Elizabeth Foord, with whom he had seven children five of whom survived to adulthood.

Ross, who was one of thirteen children of an impoverished excise man, went to Jamaica about 1760 to work as a naval clerk, became owner of a general merchant’s store and two trading sloops, captain of militia, ADC to a Major General, JP for Kingston and was owner of the 200 acre Bushy Park estate. The young Horatio Nelson was nursed back to health from a fever at Bushy Park. During the War with America from 1775 Ross became Prize Agent for Jamaica taking a cut of the prize money for captured vessels, and running his own privateers. He left Jamaica in 1782 and bought the Rossie estate in Scotland in 1785 for £33,250. Like a number of such men he then married. Harriet Parish was the daughter of a wealthy Scots Hamburg merchant and they had four legitimate children.

However he provided well for his three Jamaican sons and two daughters who came to Britain with him. The daughters became school teachers and his sons had positions in the East India Company. Best known was Daniel Ross, who was one of the two or three greatest hydrographic surveyors of the 19th century and has been called ‘the father of the Indian surveys’. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1822. He died in Bombay, and his obituary was published in the Straits Times dated 18 December 1849.

Of his brother David nothing seems to be known, and it is a common name which makes him harder to trace. Their brother Hercules Ross is believed to have been murdered by pirates, along with his wife, in the East Indies in 1810.

What prompted me to write this piece was encountering a reference to a young Hercules Ross who was Secretary to General Craig in the Cape Colony, on the very respectable salary of £1500 a year, in about 1798. He was referred to by Lady Anne Barnard in one of her letters to Henry Dundas, later Lord Melville, written between 1797 and 1801 and published in book form a century later. It is not certain that he was the same Hercules Ross as the son of Elizabeth Foord, but it is quite likely.

As the nineteeth century began the British Empire was expanding rapidly. No longer did young men seek their fortunes planting sugar in Jamaica, but their descendants, particularly their mixed race sons, often looked to the newly expanding colonies to make their fortunes. Parental influence could get them a place in the East India Company or the Indian Army, or a place in the colonial civil service. Moreover it may be that for those whose mixed race was more obvious it was easier to make a name abroad than at home.

And so a generation born in Jamaica spread out across the world in the first wave of the Jamaican diaspora.

 

Education at Home and Abroad

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 Jan Steen (1625/1626–1679)  via Wikimedia Commons

Much has been written about the failure of Jamaica to establish a self-sufficient and expanding white colony during the eighteenth century by comparison with the success of the rest of the North American colonies. The appalling death rates from yellow fever, malaria, smallpox and other diseases meant that it was difficult for those young men (and it was mainly men) who arrived seeking to make their fortunes to get a permanent toe hold. Even if they survived long enough to marry, and there were too few white women available for them all, their children also died in great numbers.

However there is another reason why those colonist families that did begin to become established did not remain on the island, which has perhaps received less attention than it deserves. Jamaica failed to establish a really good education system and did not found a university.

This meant that the colonists sent their children back home not just for their health, but to be educated, and once there, experiencing the wider world of eighteenth century Europe, and with the apparently limitless resources provided by the parental plantations at their disposal, they lacked the incentive to return to Jamaica. Many preferred to buy their way into the landed upper middle classes, build grand houses, and participate in Jamaican interests at a distance through the West India lobby or involvement in the building of the West India Docks.

Elsewhere in North America Harvard University was begun in 1636, William and Mary College in 1693 and Yale University in 1701, but there was no parallel development in Jamaica.

There were some early attempts to establish schooling on the island. In 1695 An Act for erecting and establishing a free-school in the Parish of St Andrew was passed, along with other Acts relating to island defence. Subsequent Acts of the Assembly were more concerned with ensuring the rights of minors, defending the island, building roads and bridges, and trying to encourage further white migration than with educating those who were already there. The incentive to provide schools for their own children was also reduced among families for whom the employment of a private tutor (if you could persuade one to come) was the norm.

When William May arrived in Jamaica as a young clergyman, he wrote home to his bishop in far from flattering terms about the early colonists, and in the case of Jonathan Gale and his son Colonel Gale he marked them both as ‘illiterate’, as he said was the father of John and Samuel Moore. There were some Jamaican schoolmasters mentioned by William May – the fathers of both Colonel Peak and Colonel Sadler were said by May to have been teachers, but their sons preferred to make money from their plantations rather than seek an academic career.

You can find the full text of May’s letter in Caribbeana – he clearly had a very poor opinion of his parishioners! But many of the very early settlers probably had little use for more than basic literacy, being concerned to carve out their estates from virgin territory. On the other hand the merchants who imported the goods they needed and who traded their produce for them had to be well enough educated to keep good records, as did the attorneys who managed their legal affairs. But like so much of their food, tools and luxury goods these skills were generally imported by the settlers rather than being home grown.

On the 3rd of February, 1730, Peter Beckford, another man of whom William May held a low opinion, and who died five years later worth over £300,000, gave £2000 “for a school and poor housekeepers”. However, there appears to have been was no real concerted effort to establish good quality schools during the eighteenth century and it became the norm for children, both boys and girls, to be sent to England for their education. The two Moore brothers mentioned above matriculated at Wadham College Oxford in 1700 and 1702, with Samuel going on to register at the Inner Temple.

Both John and Samuel Moore returned to Jamaica after their time at university, but as the century progressed it became more and more common for those who had made their fortunes in Jamaica to relocate to Britain and seek a place in British society. If Jamaica had had good schools and a centre of learning sufficient to attract students from elsewhere in the Caribbean, it is possible more young men would have remained on the island.