Category Archives: Biographies

Down the rabbit hole

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Rabbit hole art from Deviant Art

It is remarkably easy to head off down a genealogical rabbit hole and, following a trail you believe will lead in one direction, find yourself arriving by quite another route.

A case in point relates to a Chancery document I recently requested from the National Archives because it referred both to a family called Bayly and a John Augier. I have wanted for a long time to establish who was the John Augier who was father of the remarkable Augier sisters about whom I have written before. The spelling of Bayly is an unusual one and I already knew of Zachary Bayly, the uncle of the Jamaican historian Bryan Edwards,who had extensive connections with Jamaica. In addition the Bayly family in the Chancery case came from Bristol, a city with extensive trading and slavery connections, and not far from the Wiltshire roots of Zachary Bayly. So far so good.

The Chancery case dated 1717 was a complex one and, like many cases within Jamaica, made the more so by the deaths of most of the protagonists! Put as simply as I can John Rowe of Bristol was suing for the inheritance of his dead son, a minor also called John Rowe. The child’s mother was Mary Bayly the daughter of Samuel Bayly whose other children were Anne and Richard. In her Will written about 1703 Mary Grant, the Bayly girls grandmother left them a substantial inheritance in money, Plate and furniture. She made various provisions for how the money was to be divided in the event of the deaths of either of the young women and for Mary’s son John Rowe. The Trustees in the various Wills involved included several of the Bayly brothers and their cousin Thomas Weare (like his cousins a mercer).

Samuel Bayly was a mercer of the City of Bristol and his brothers were also mercers and linen drapers. His brother Richard was also a soap boiler. John Rowe senior’s case was that Richard Bayly had claimed to be insolvent and so offered to pay only twelve shillings in the pound to his creditors, which included the Trust fund. He believed that Richard Bayly had in fact paid some of his creditors in full. Rowe said that Samuel Bayly had promised to make good any deficiency on behalf of young John Rowe, but had not done so before his death in about 1708 despite owning considerable property at Henbury about five miles from Bristol.

Meanwhile Samuel’s son Richard Bayly had married Mary Hayes and then died leaving her free to marry John Augier. John Rowe’s contention was that the various Trustees of the legacy of Mary Grant had conspired together with John Augier to pretend that Richard Bayly senior’s business had failed and hence to defraud the only descendant entitled to that legacy – the now dead John Rowe junior. Since John Rowe senior was administrator of his infant son’s  property, and indeed would inherit anything he left, he was effectively suing on his own behalf! Moreover in addition to the various items left by Mary Grant he also claimed that John Augier and his wife had taken a bed from a house in Bristol High Street to which John Rowe was entitled.

If you would like to read the full details of the case I have transcribed the document because although it is not a Jamaica suit it is probably fairly typical of the kinds of arguments that arose when estates went unadministered and legatees died before claiming their inheritance. At the very least John Rowe was requesting that the Court should enforce the provision of evidence by those he was suing to demonstrate what had happened to the property and to provide full accounts for the expenses. For example Rowe claimed that more had apparently been spent on his mother-in-law’s funeral than the fifty pounds she had specified in her Will.

Reading some of the Bayly family Wills it seems likely that they were telling the truth about the failure of Richard Bayly’s business and that Samuel Bayly had tried to make some kind of provision for little John Rowe. Whether Richard Bayly had actually lost some of the Trust fund fraudulently propping up his failing business we will never know.

And what about the Jamaican connections I had been searching for? I have so far failed to link this Bayly merchant family in Bristol with the family of Zachary Bayly, which is not to say such a link may not exist. But certainly the John Augier cited in the case is not the John Augier who died in Jamaica about 1720.

However it turns out there is a Jamaica connection.

The Bayly brothers had a sister called Mary who married the wonderfully named Uzziel Bussell. Uzziel had a father William Bussell, a Bristol baker, who died about February 1679/80 and in his Will (not proved until after the death of Uzziel in 1695) mentioned his brother Edmund in Jamaica. William did not sign his Will but made his mark and so was either illiterate or too ill to be able sign and therefore it is reasonable to assume that his brother’s name should have been Edward. For one of the original settlers in Jamaica was Edward Bussell. There is some evidence that the Bussell family may have been non-conformists and so may have left England at the Restoration, having been on the ‘wrong’ side in the Civil War.

Edward Bussell and his wife Grace had seven children baptised in the parish of St Andrew between 1666 and 1681. Edward was recorded as owning eleven acres of land in the first survey of Jamaica in 1670 and there is also a grant of 60 acres to ‘Francis Bussell and Smith’. Edward’s son William lived to grow up, married and had at least one child, another William baptised in 1682. There are eight Bussell burials in St Andrew between 1689 and 1702, and although it is impossible to distinguish father from son and mother from daughter where they share the same name, it seems likely that Edward died in 1693 and his wife in 1702.

Although there were Bussells in Jamaica in the nineteenth century the probability is that the early settler family had died out by the first decade of the eighteenth century, as had so many of the first colonists. Whether their connection with the Bayly family of Bristol is in any way related to the decision made by Zachary Bayly to go there half a century later remains to be discovered.

And I am still searching for the origins of John Augier!

 

 

Telling History versus Story Telling

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The Kenwood portrait of Dido and Elizabeth, now at Scone Palace and attributed to Zoffany

I have just been to see the film Belle, the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate great niece of Lord Mansfield, daughter of a black mother, and the sparkling personality who shines out of a dual portrait that for many years had her labelled simply as the black servant of her cousin Elizabeth Murray. The differences between the story told in the film and the few known facts of Dido’s life lead me to ponder the differences between writing history and telling a story.

Before going to the cinema I had also read Paula Byrne’s book of the same name which, besides presenting the few known facts of Dido’s life, gives an excellent account of the background to her life in the context of the growing anti-slavery movement, and tells the story of the Zong massacre which had a profound influence on public opinion.

This deeply shocking case concerned a heavily overloaded slave ship, poorly navigated on its way to Jamaica, with a crew who jettisoned the ‘cargo’ when water ran short and whose owners then claimed on the insurance. However, it later became clear that the real reason for murdering about 142 souls was that disease had taken its toll and they were of greater value to the owners dead than alive. The first hearing before a jury found in favour of the owners, but the insurers appealed and Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench was then called upon to adjudicate.

The presence of a young mixed race woman in Lord Mansfield’s household, not as a servant, but in many respects as an adopted daughter, was viewed by his contemporaries as having influenced his judgments in both the Zong case and in the legally more significant case of James Somersett. Although the exact wording of the Somersett judgment is only available via press reports (Mansfield lost his library and all his papers when his house was attacked during the Gordon riots in 1780 and Dido, Elizabeth, Lady Mansfield and Mansfield himself only just escaped from the mob) it established the precedent that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will and as such was a significant step on the way to reform and emancipation.

The best historical writing tells a story as true to the facts as the writer can make it, in the full knowledge that there will always be interpretation of those facts – none of us can totally step outside our own time or the limits of our own knowledge and prejudices. The writer of a story based, more or less loosely on historical facts subsumes the history into the need to tell a dramatic tale, sometimes with an implicit political or social message, that they hope will entertain and hold the reader or viewer, and perhaps in the process educate as well.

So how much does it matter if the story teller diverges from the historical facts?

Paula Byrne’s verdict on the film was that “Like all historical-biographical movies, it takes considerable artistic licence even with the few facts that we know about Dido. The Zong case, being more dramatic, is made the centrepiece of the courtroom drama, although the Somerset case was really the more significant for the abolitionist cause. And John Davinier becomes an idealistic clergyman’s son, with a little of the Granville Sharp about him, instead of a faceless French servant. But the spirit of the film is true to the astonishing story of Dido’s bond with Lord Mansfield.”  [Byrne, Paula (2014-04-01). Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle (p. 238). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

The man Dido eventually married, after the death of her adoptive parents and the marriage of Elizabeth Murray was some kind of servant, not the crusading son of a vicar portrayed in the film, who is in turn loosely based on the anti-slavery activist Granville Sharp. Dido herself was probably kept more in the background at Kenwood than the film suggests and was certainly not an heiress. Mansfield left her a comfortable legacy and it is possible that her father left her £500, if she is indeed the reputed child Elizabeth mentioned in his Will, but the amounts of money involved were not enough to attract the attentions of an impoverished aristocrat looking for a rich wife as shown in the film. In the film these characters stand as placeholders or exemplars of the attitudes of the day, demonstrating the prejudices and hypocrisy Dido must have faced, but for which we have no specific evidence.

It was brought home vividly to me recently how much the history that I take for granted can be a closed book to others when I was talking to a young woman who had quite literally never heard of the Holocaust, who had no concept of what had happened. Her friend suggested that she should watch The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as a way of beginning to understand even though that is an entirely invented story.

When Twelve Years a Slave came out it caused a stir, particularly in America, and clearly there were many people who had no idea what slavery had entailed, how appallingly brutal it was, nor the risks run by free black and mixed race people before slavery was abolished. Similarly there has only relatively recently been an awakening in the UK, not simply of the importance of our slave owning past, but of the fact that there had been a considerable black presence in Britain before the eighteenth century. For example see the work of Miranda Kaufmann, who is incidentally a descendant of Robert Cooper Lee.

So to return to my original question, would it matter if someone who watched the film Belle believed every word to be historically accurate? Yes I think it would. I think the story teller has a duty to make clear that their story is ‘based on’ historical fact and is not a historical documentary.

But if watching the film Belle caused someone to be interested in the facts of the case and to try to discover these for themselves then that would I believe be a good thing. Moreover it is a good film, with wonderful settings and costumes and makes very enjoyable viewing!

 

 

A Lady in Jamaica – Book Review

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There is relatively little available about eighteenth century Jamaica written by women, unless you count the diary of Lady Nugent, written on the cusp of the nineteenth century, but recently memoirs of nineteenth century Jamaica have started to appear. I reviewed Diana Lewis’s memoir A Year in Jamaica last year.

A Lady in Jamaica 1879 is the account of her visit to the island written by Martha Jefferson Trice and edited by Jasper Burns. As may be guessed from her name Martha, who was born in 1855, came from an old established Virginian family and was a descendant of the sister of Thomas Jefferson. Martha was very well educated, and a published poet, but her family life had been severely affected by the American Civil War and the death of her father. After the death of her mother she and her sister Margaret took in children as boarding students while their brother Dabney ran the family farm, all assisted by their youngest sister Lucy.

Martha suffered from serious ill health, although the cause is not entirely clear, she appears to have had an abscess on her stomach that would not heal and was sent to Jamaica in an attempt to cure her. The trip was paid for by relations and she went to stay with some old family friends, the Evans whose daughter Sophia was five years older than Martha and whose son St George cherished romantic intentions towards her that were definitely not reciprocated!

Although Martha’s health did improve somewhat as a result of her trip, when she returned home her family were caught up in a typhoid epidemic and both Martha and Margaret died tragically young.

But the account Martha left behind has given her a kind of immortality.

She began her diary at the end of January 1879 with her trip to Washington and New York, the ‘great Central Depot was one of the largest buildings I ever saw’, and then she boarded the Etna where she was disappointed to find that her cabin was ‘about half as large as our little dressing room and has four berths’. She was however advised by the Captain to stay on deck as much as possible to avoid sea sickness.

She described her fellow passengers vividly, ‘the nicest are two Jews’ one of whom had been born with only three fingers on his left hand ‘and no right hand at all’. He was a commission merchant named Lazarus and the other man whose name she forgot was a native of Jamaica who grew bitter wood, quassia and china wood. Sea sickness overtook all the passengers and Martha found that another abscess had formed making her really ill.  She improved as the weather grew warmer however and arrived in Kingston on February 7th where she discarded her flannel underwear!

Post emancipation Jamaica made a vivid impression on Martha who wrote about a very wealthy girl ‘coal black’ who was going to marry a recently arrived Scot – ‘my Virginia born eyes cannot get used to this equality of the races’. Her reaction to the local language was also unfavourable ‘The lingo of the negroes and children here is perfectly heathenish and unintelligible’. Although the Evans were kind to Martha, initially it was not the most cheerful house for an invalid as her cousin Sophy was also unwell.

The book combines Martha’s diary entries with the letters she wrote home and paints a vivid picture of life in Jamaica. As the island air improved her health Martha toured the island, rode out with her cousin Sophy and spent difficult hours dodging the unwanted attentions of her very bad tempered cousin St George.

Martha was constantly homesick for Virginia and worried that she might never see her family again. She returned there in July 1789, taking her cousin Sophy with her. Lucy Trice went to Jamaica later that year to be bridesmaid when Sophy married William Panton Forbes at Spring Garden.

Martha was never well after her return and died in July 1880, however her lively personality and gift for description have ensured that she will be remembered for her memoir of nineteenth century Jamaica with her vivid descriptions of people and places.

 

Martha Jefferson Trice, Jasper Burns ed., A Lady in Jamaica 1879, Pietas Publications, Waynesboro, Virginia, 2013. 73 pp. illustrated with contemporary photographs.   ISBN 9781494308124.

The Allen Family of Glasgow & Inchmartine

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Arms granted to John Allen in 1779 and matriculated to Henry Howard Allen in 1878
(Crown Copyright) Courtesy of Jonathan Allan

It has been some time since I last uploaded a family tree, and last week I added an extended and updated version of the Allen family of Glasgow, whose details can also be found along with the associated Scott, Dehany, Gregory and Welch families.

I revisited the Allens following a query I received, and it occurred to me that they provide a good model of what happens to a particular kind of middle class merchant and professional family during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Looking at them may provide clues if you are researching a similar family of your own.

John Allen, who was the business partner and close friend of Robert Cooper Lee, came from a Glasgow merchant family and probably went to Jamaica about 1750 or thereabouts, like so many young men in search of fortune. Lucky enough to survive the unhealthy conditions there, he returned to Britain with his wife Favell Dehany in the 1770s, and two sons were born to them in London. John Allen was godfather to Robert Cooper Lee’s son Matthew Allen Lee while in Jamaica, and Robert Cooper Lee and his wife Priscilla named their last child Favell after John Allen’s wife. John Allen’s first son was named John Lee Allen.

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There is a delightful portrait of this boy with his younger brother James, painted in the 1790s by Henry Raeburn and now housed in the Kembell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (source: Wikimedia Commons).

John Allen suffered badly from asthma and in January 1795 Margaret Grant, a mutual friend, wrote to the Lee family:

With the deepest concern I take up my pen to inform you, that our dear friend Mr Allen is no more.  They returned from a short excursion they had made to Glasgow on Saturday last; that night he was seized with a severe attack of the Astmah which though alleviated by medical aid did not yield to it and joined to some internal malady, which the force of medicine, or human skill could not reach, at ¼ past eleven yesterday morning proved fatal.

His disconsolate Widow and her dear Boys are with me, she wonderfully calm and collected under her severe loss, the more so as so unexpected, at least by her.  May the Almighty support and protect her and her Boys.  [A Parcel of Ribbons, p.318]

The family were left very well off, for John Allen had bought the Inchmartine and Errol estates in Perthshire on his return from Jamaica. Sadly the house that John Allen knew was destroyed by fire in 1874 and the current Errol Park dates from 1875-7. John Lee Allen worked to improve the estate.

The farm-buildings have been much improved, and draining has been carried to a considerable extent; embankments have been also constructed for protecting the low lands from the inundations of the Tay. The principal of these was completed by Mr. Allen in 1836, when about 100 acres were reclaimed from the river, now forming some of the richest land on his estate; the embankment is forty feet wide at the base, and two feet on the summit, and is eleven feet high; the lower portion of the bank, to the height of four feet, consists of a wall of dry stones, and the upper of earth and reeds intermixed with stones. A second embankment has been more recently constructed by Captain Allen, R.N., on a similar plan, to the east of Port-Allen, and of greater extent than the former to the west of the port; and in process of time, by continuing these embankments, a very large portion of most valuable land will be added to the farms contiguous to the river.  (source: http://perthshire.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/errol-perthshire-scotland.html)

Two of John Lee Allen’s sons went into the Royal Navy and the youngest appears to have migrated to Canada. The nineteenth century saw many families bidding farewell to members who sought fortune overseas, but now instead of the West Indies eyes turned either to India or to the new colonies in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

John Lee Allen’s brother James, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the 23rd Lancers, married the daughter of a Colonel in the East India Company. It was their son Henry Howard Allen who completed the matriculation of the family coat of Arms, and who by then was resident in England at least as much as in Scotland. His eldest brother James Vaughan Allen had died young, in Brussels of cholera, leaving a young widow Barbara Elrington Douglas who married twice more, but separated from her third husband possibly because she blamed him for the death of her epileptic son following an argument with his step father. She settled in Norway where she led a very interesting life farming, writing books and cohabiting with a translator called Oluf Endresen. However towards the end of the nineteenth century the money that paid her annuity from the Inchmartine estate was running out and sadly she ended her life in poverty.

The line from James Allen dies out by the end of the nineteenth century, with all his descendants either unmarried or childless, but the descendants of John Lee Allen were more numerous and by the late nineteenth century he had grandchildren and great grandchildren in Australia, where three of the children of Commander Henry Murray Edward Allen had settled.

The pattern of descent and settlement from John Allen and his Jamaican wife Favell Dehany shows many features common to similar families of the period. First successful colonists return home from Jamaica and invest their acquired wealth in their mother country, often with property in several places. Their sons have careers in the Army or Navy and marry well, into upper class or aristocratic families. Some of their children die young (but not nearly as many as in previous centuries) and some do not marry or are childless. A few carry on the family line, but seek to make their fortunes in the newly developing colonies and eventually settle there.

My mother’s family followed a similar pattern with sons in the Indian Army and Indian Army medical Corps during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, then others who tried for new lives in America and South Africa before settling in Australia and New Zealand. Such migration was often driven by the need to provide for the larger families resulting from reduced infant mortality, and from periods of agricultural depression in the UK.

So if you cannot find your family members where you expect them to be, look away from their geographical origins. If you are searching online widen your search terms to include other geographical areas. Look at records from India held by the British Library, check passenger lists for ships travelling between Britain and her expanding Empire, above all do not be surprised by the degree of geographical mobility of our ancestors.

The Allen family, who began as Glasgow merchants, had members who made a fortune in the West Indies; they settled in Canada, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, and have descendants still in the UK today.

A Year in Jamaica – Book Review

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For anyone with an interest in Jamaica and its history this enchanting memoir is a must read, and a great Christmas present.

Diana Lewes was the pen name of Elizabeth Anesta Sewell whose grandfather William Sewell went to Jamaica shortly after the abolition of slavery, and profiting from the general view that Abolition had ruined the plantations, bought up a number of estates including some that had belonged to the family of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. William’s partner married his daughter but died childless so that the legacy William had to leave at his death was a very valuable one. However, knowing that his son Henry was a spendthrift, William left his estate in trust to his five grandchildren, of whom ‘Diana’ was one.

In 1889 sixteen year old Diana, her older sister Beattie and their parents went out to Jamaica to live on Arcadia, while their brother Philip was sent to learn the business on the Oxford estate. The memoir, written over a period of years, has some fictionalised elements, partly perhaps to conceal the fact that Diana’s father embezzled part of his children’s inheritance. In the book this crime is committed by the attorney, which certainly fits with much of Jamaica’s history of dishonest estate management.

The year Diana spent in Jamaica was one not only of learning about a new country and its customs, but also one of growing up, of attending parties and of being forced by her father to promise never to marry. Her descriptions of a sugar estate in the late nineteenth century differ from the eighteenth mainly in the increased use of machinery and the relative freedom of the black workers. We are left in no doubt however about the different standing of various white neighbours, the black house servants, who wear white, and the other workers who still wear mainly the osnaburg of their slave ancestors.

She describes the house on the Oxford estate.  “Like many of the old fashioned Jamaican houses, it was built a storey above ground. Underneath were storerooms and servants’ sleeping quarters. Above these, approached only by two flights of steps, was the main part of the building and, crwning all, was a wide sloping hurricane roof.” At Oxford Diana learned that it was important to know the working cattle by name to ensure that none was worked two days running, “no steer, fed as these are, can stand being worked every day”. Diana learned to recognise all her brother’s cattle and on one occasion spotted one that had been out the previous day. The other drivers shouted with laughter that their colleague had been caught out by a young white girl.

On another occasion Diana was asked to count the canes in the cane bundles, as some workers would try to cheat by having too few in each bundle. She picked a bundle made up by Alexandra, a black woman who Diana comes to realise is the attorney’s mistress, and her intuition is proved right when the bundle is short. The ambiguities and nuances of post slavery, colonial Jamaica are very clearly brought out in descriptions of entertainments, riding parties and an encounter with a family of poor whites who have been evicted from their property.

There are moments of high drama too when they are riding back from a neighbouring property and are charged by a herd of cattle, or when the cattle are being counted and two huge bulls start to fight while Diana is trapped and only rescued by the black overseer. There is the night Diana spends alone with a large bag containing the estate money wondering if she will be attacked and murdered for it.

There are descriptions of lavish meals, melon, turtle, turtles eggs, yam, sweet potatoes, cho-chos, peahen, fried plantain, avocado pears and coconut pudding, but an underlying sense of the struggle Diana’s mother faces to maintain a style of life she had known as a young bride a quarter of a century earlier. When a careless servant spills water on the highly polished mahogany floor, she is equally careless about mopping it up, and there is the strong sense of a colonial way of life slipping away.

There are wonderful descriptions of the Jamaican landscape and vivid character sketches of the people who lived there. It is no wonder that when Diana’s nephew discovered the manuscripts of her memoirs after her death that he wanted to be able to publish them.

They richly deserve to find a wider audience and to stand alongside Lady Nugent’s earlier descriptions of Jamaica which convey the impressions of a sympathetic outsider and help the reader to understand how Jamaica has evolved.

 

A Year in Jamaica: Memoirs of a Girl in Arcadia in 1889, Diana Lewes, Eland Publishing Ltd, London, 2013. ISBN 978 1 906011 83 3 cover price £16.99

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.

 

The 4th of July – not the end of the story

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Signing the Preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris, November 30, 1782.*

 

 

Following the 4th of July celebrations of America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, I thought it interesting to quote from a letter which demonstrates that this was, to slightly mis-quote Churchill, not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Six years later, on the 6th of December 1782 Robert Cooper Lee wrote to his second son Richard who had been sent first to Brussels, and then to Hanover, to learn how to be a merchant.

Robert Cooper Lee to Richard Lee

Bedford Square, 6th December 1782

My dear Richard,

One of the most important Events in the Annals of Great Britain has taken place.  The Independency of the United States of America.  On the 30th of November Provisionary Articles were signed at Paris by his Majesty’s Commissioners and the Commissioners of America, to constitute a Treaty of Peace, when the Peace shall be agreed upon between Great Britain and France.  This previous Step, the signing of Articles with America being an Acknowledgement of her Independence, has removed the principal Obstacle to a general Accommodation.  The Parliament met yesterday, and was opened by one of the longest Speeches from the Throne that has been made for many Years; it contains great Variety of Matter and expressly declares the Dismemberment of the Empire by the Seperation of America.  The Address in the House of Commons was moved by Mr Yorke and seconded by Mr Banks.  There was no Amendment moved.  Mr Fox Lord North and Mr Pitt spoke, but there being no Opposition to the Address it is called a Conversation, and not a Debate.  All Parties seemed agreed on the Necessity of assenting under the present Circumstances, to American Independence.  And equally agreed with respect to France and Spain to accept of nothing short of honourable Terms of Peace.  How that can be reconciled to the Idea of giving up Gibraltar I cannot see, yet that is confidentially talked of, and that the Spaniards are to give us the Island of Porto Rico in the West Indies in Exchange.  Our captured Islands to be restored to us, and St Lucia to the French.  In the East Indies the French demand to be put in the same Situation they were in prior to the last War, but that cannot be agreed to on our part.  The prevailing Opinion here is that a general Peace will take place.  Our political Barometer the Stocks have risen five or six per cent.  I would send you Woodfull’s Paper with the King’s Speech and the Debates on it, but I conclude you will easily get a Sight of them.

A Frigate the Resource from Jamaica arrived a few days ago; she left Jamaica the 14th of October, and brings to Government Intelligence that the French and Spaniards were preparing to make another attempt on that Island. Don Solana with the Spanish Ships was about proceeding to the Cape, where the land Forces intended for the last Expedition had continued; they expected to meet the Reinforcement of Ships and Troops from France that sailed in September, when Lord Howe sailed, and to make a force of 25,000 Men and 25 Ships of the Line.  Admiral Piggott from America would be soon after them, and Admiral Hughes with the Ships detached from Lord Howe’s Fleet shortly afterwards.  I therefore trust Jamaica will escape this Danger.  Have you seen Sir Edward Hughes’s Accounts in the Gazette of our Engagements with the French Fleets in the East Indies?

These ‘Provisionary Articles’ were finally ratified by the US Congress on the 14th of January 1784.

For a family whose income depended on the free movement of trade, any war caused difficulties at best and disaster at worst, Robert Cooper Lee’s comment about the improved price of ‘Stocks’ shows that the reaction to the prospect of peace was very favourable. And as can be seen from the second paragraph of the letter the threat to Jamaica had been very real. For an island only just recovering from the disastrous hurricane of 1780, and the several more that followed in that decade, the arrival of peace was more than welcome.

You can read all the Lee family letters in the book A Parcel of Ribbons.

Picture source: U.S. Diplomacy Center (State Department) exhibition via Wikipedia, a 1902 print from an earlier painting, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin standing on the left.

The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society

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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.

Belisario – a great Jamaican artist

Belisario

 

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

A Missing Miniature – Robert Cooper Lee

Robert Cooper Lee Miniature resized 350

I had always wondered if somewhere there existed an image of Robert Cooper Lee. When he returned to England in 1771 he joined the upper echelons of society, people who often commissioned portraits of themselves either to grace the walls of their homes or to present to friends or family. Indeed we know that he had commissioned Francis Cotes to paint a portrait of his daughter Frances in 1769 when she was at school in England and the family were in Jamaica. Given the high rates of child mortality this might have been their last view of their daughter. Happily she survived as did her portrait, which is in the Milwaukee Art Museum and now graces the cover of  A Parcel of Ribbons.

This black and white image of Robert Cooper Lee is a copy taken from a Christies’ Sale catalogue in 1979 when this miniature was sold. The person who found it is currently trying to establish whether a better image exists, and even whether the purchaser can be discovered so that the original can be photographed in colour in its original gold frame.

Judging by the costume it was painted some time in the 1780s. Robert Cooper Lee died in 1794 aged fifty-nine. You might notice that he is not smiling. There is a whole history of picture making that relates to the smile – it is only in recent times, with the benefits of modern dentistry, that people smile for their pictures. Before then they did not wish to expose their bad teeth to view! Given that Robert Cooper Lee had spent two decades in the sugar producing colony of Jamaica, had probably chewed on raw cane and certainly used sugar in both food and drink, the chances are that by his fifties his teeth were not good.

Another interesting aspect of the portrait is comparing it with his daughter Frances. It is impossible to know about colouring, since he wears a wig and we cannot judge the colour of his eyes, but the angle of the face is similar to that in his daughter’s lovely portrait and I don’t think it is fanciful to say that she looked very like her father.

It has been a good week for my Parcel of Ribbons as I’m delighted to say it received a very good review in the June issue of Family Tree Magazine, which called it ‘family history gold dust’ ! There was also a lovely write-up on the Good Reads website.

If you know of the current whereabouts of the Robert Cooper Lee miniature do please get in touch!