Tag Archives: Jamaica

Skeletons in the cupboard

 

This week I have been pondering the issue of skeletons in the family cupboard and our attitudes towards them.

I had been exploring the history of West Horsley Place in Surrey, recently in the news when it was inherited by Bamber Gascoigne but which belonged to my maternal grandfather’s family for over a century and a half until it was sold to Lord Crewe in 1921.

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West Horsley Place c.1840

In the process I came across my mother’s great uncle and his wife Daisy Oliphant who lived at West Horsley at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Curious about her, and thankful her name was relatively unusual, I tracked her back only to discover that her father, who was a journalist and foreign editor of the Morning Chronicle, appeared to have left his wife and first family to live with a young Scottish actress who in turn had left her husband. Now they would simply have divorced their first spouses and remarried, but divorce was expensive and socially frowned upon, and simply living as if married was cheaper and more convenient. The arrangement cannot have been too acrimonious since some of the first family turn up as witnesses to the weddings of the second.

In the records of Wills, and sometimes on death records, you may find a clue to such an arrangement where the person in question is shown with two surnames, for example in this case ‘Catherine Bland or Oliphant’. Her maiden name of MacNab was discovered because when she moved south to live with William Oliphant her mother came too and was present in a census record!

Sometimes the use of two surnames on a record may indicate that the person was illegitimate and the record is giving the surname both of the birth mother and the acknowledged father. But be careful about making such assumptions without further evidence. Particularly in more recent records the use of two surnames for a woman may simply indicate that a previous husband had died.

I enjoy uncovering these little histories in my family, but I am conscious that not everyone is pleased to find out that an ancestor was illegitimate, or left his wife, went bankrupt or worse still engaged in criminal activity. Therefore when I am asked to help find out about someone else’s family history it does occasionally present an ethical dilemma.

If someone contacts me because they are searching for a long lost living relative, and I happen to discover who that person is what should I do with that information? Does the other party want to discover they have an unknown sibling? In that particular case I was saved having to make the decision as the people in question found each other by another route.

Most people now seem to be relatively comfortable with the notion that an ancestor was illegitimate, or fell upon hard times and entered the workhouse, or was unfortunate enough to become mentally ill and was consigned to an asylum. Distance lends a certain objectivity and we no longer regard birth out of wedlock or mental illness as the stigmas they once were.

Even in the nineteenth century illegitimacy was sometimes glossed over. I recently had a conversation on the Facebook group Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society about the family of the distinguished geologist Sir Henry De La Beche whose father and uncle had changed the family name from Beach in 1790 in what may well have been a spurious attempt to claim Norman inheritance.

Halse Hall Great House

Halse Hall Great House today

Thomas Beach from Wiltshire married Helen Hynes in Jamaica in 1755 and hence acquired the Halse Hall plantations via her mother Jennet Guthrie’s first marriage to Francis Sadler.  Thomas and Helen had at least four children – Thomas, Jannet, John Hynes and Rose Sadler of whom only Thomas and John survived to change their surname.

Unless Sir Henry’s father Thomas De La Beche was married twice (which is of course possible) it appears that Sir Henry was probably illegitimate and his parents married only about a year after his birth. Thomas De La Beche had a minor career in the army until he inherited the Jamaican plantations and he died in Jamaica in the summer of 1801. His widow then took five year-old Henry back to England, surviving shipwreck on the way.

When Henry grew up he married Letitia Smith and they had one daughter, Elizabeth, named presumably after his mother. The marriage was not a success and while Henry was on a geological trip abroad his wife had an affair with Henry Wyndham, son of the Earl of Egremont, and they separated, the separation being made legal in 1828.

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Sir Henry De La Beche (The National Museum of Wales / Amgueddfa Cymru)

It must have been evident to most people that Sir Henry’s daughter Rosalie who was born in 1834 was not his wife’s child. However when Rosalie died young, not long after her father, the press notice referred to her as his youngest daughter. She had lived in his household for a number of years and was on perfectly friendly terms with her married half-sister Elizabeth. Her probate record refers to her as Rosalie Torre Gay or De La Beche so it is reasonable to suppose that her mother’s surname was Gay, but I have not found a baptism record, and her birth occurred before civil registration.

It is unlikely, I hope, that any modern descendant of the De La Beche family will be offended by these discoveries, however in the context of the joint histories of Jamaica and Great Britain a difficult issue can arise. Some people are absolutely delighted to discover they have mixed ancestry but I know of at least one case of someone who when presented with irrefutable evidence of black Jamaican inheritance absolutely denied its truth.

It became clear to me as I gradually became acquainted with the history of 18th-century Jamaica and the way in which the mixed race descendants of the Plantocracy were often absorbed into mainstream British society, that sometimes these origins were consciously obscured and sometimes they were simply forgotten.

For myself I think that family skeletons should be brought out of the closet and re-clothed in the stories of their lives. It is a way of honouring those who went before and reclaiming them from the dust of history.

 

 

A Family Saga and A Theatrical Disaster

The falling of the New Brunswick Theatre, 28 February 1828

An imagined vision of the Brunswick Theatre collapse – hand coloured print

 

I have written before about the descendants of Scudamore Winde, the close friend of Robert Cooper Lee after whom he named his youngest son.

Scudamore Winde made his fortune as a merchant in Jamaica, but elected to remain there until his death rather than returning to England. He made generous provision for his illegitimate children – Robert whose mother was a slave and Penelope, John and Thomas the children of Sarah Cox, who was probably a free Negro. John died young and Thomas elected to work as a merchant in Kingston like his father. Robert became a merchant in London and Penelope in due course married David Steel, bringing with her a handsome dowry.

David Steel began life as a barrister, but his father (also David) ran an important printing business publishing nautical charts, and when he died in 1799 his son took over the business. David Steel bibliogDavid Steel senior had an interest in the theatre, and indeed probably a rather close interest in the wardrobe mistress Ann James, who with her four children was left well provided for at his death! In the last decade of the 18th century David Steel senior bought the Royalty Theatre, situated in Well Street running parallel to Wellclose Square in the East End of London.

The Royalty had been built for the actor manager John Palmer who ran into difficulties over the licensing of the premises, because at the time only a limited handful of ‘patent’ theatres were permitted to perform plays. The remainder were licensed on an annual basis to put on musical entertainment, ballet, and the increasingly popular melodramas. In this they were the predecessors of the music halls. Some also, such as Philip Astley’s Amphitheatre, had performances which prefigured modern circus.

When David Steel senior died he left his shares in the theatre equally to his daughter Elizabeth and his son David. Royalty Theatre

David senior also had a sister called Hannah who in 1784 married Thomas Maurice. They had a son David Samson Maurice. After Hannah died in 1788 Thomas Maurice left England for America where he set up as a merchant in Albany, New York and appears never to have returned to England. His son was apprenticed to a printer under the guardianship of David Steel senior, and it seems likely that Elizabeth Steel, who never married, stood in place of a mother to David Samson Maurice.

In January 1803 David Steel junior died at his house in Union Row, Little Tower Hill, which was also the premises for the printing business. In his Will he left his wife Penelope the option of either selling the business or, if she preferred, continuing to run it in her own right, and this she chose to do, keeping the business afloat for the sake of her for surviving children. Three and a half years later she married William Mason, and with him had a son called William Scudamore Mason who died as an infant, by which time Penelope was about forty.

Nothing seems to be known about William Mason who must have died before 1818, when Penelope married for the third time to Stanley Goddard who was about twenty years younger than she was. Her marriage to Mason may have had something to do with the family row that caused her eldest son David Lee Steel to leave home, since from 1810 onwards he no longer lived at Union Row in his mother’s house. He died in May 1818 at the relatively young age of thirty.

Penelope’s second son Scudamore Winde Steel began what would be a distinguished career in the Indian army in 1805. Her two daughters Penelope Sarah and Ann remained at home. In 1820 Stanley Goddard was declared bankrupt and the printing business which had been variously known as D.Steel, P.Steel, P.Mason, Steel & Co., Steel & Goddard and Steel, Goddard & Co, and had moved from Union Row to Cornhill not long after Penelope’s marriage to William Mason was sold to J. W. Norie & Co, which already had an established business in Leadenhall.

Penelope must have retained some money in her own right, or else the sale of the business the house and the furniture cleared Stanley Goddard’s debts and left them still with some money, for when she died in 1840 Penelope was living at 14 Euston Place, a pleasant address on the south side of what is now Euston Road opposite Euston Square. The elegant terminus for the London and Birmingham Railway was opened just three years before her death.

A particular feature of that first Euston station was its beautiful iron roof. Euston_Station_showing_wrought_iron_roof_of_1837 resized 250Iron roofs had been in use since the late 18th century, and the 19th century railway stations created many of the most beautiful ones.

However it was a wrought iron roof which brought tragedy to Penelope’s daughter Ann.

Ann Steel married her cousin David Samson Maurice in 1824. In 1826 the Royalty Theatre burnt down. It was sadly common for theatres to be destroyed by fire. In this instance it was not due to the spectacular special effect of the eruption of Mount Etna at that evening’s performance, but to gas lights at the side of the stage which had not been properly turned off after the performance and which set light to some scenery. The man whose responsibility it was to tend the furnace that created the gas spotted the fire late in the evening and was able to rouse the family who lived on site and get them out. But by the time he had gone next door to wake the landlord of the Black Horse the flames were already bursting out of the stage door into the street. It was only the collapse of the roof, which helped to dampen the flames, that prevented the fire spreading to the adjacent sugar refinery in Dock Street and the many houses of ill repute serving sailors from the docks.

Following a payout on the fire insurance Elizabeth Steel made the theatre site over to David Samson Maurice and gave him the £6,000 insurance money with which he decided to rebuild the theatre. Together with an ambitious partner Richard Carruthers, who combined wholesale haberdashery with selling a patent fluid for lubricating carriage axles, he sold shares in the new Brunswick Theatre to raise the necessary capital of about £20,000.

Building work began on 3 August 1827, and the walls went up with astonishing speed, tied together with temporary wooden beam that were removed when the iron roof went on. The architect was Stedman Whitwell, and he produced a splendid design combining classical Greek with Egyptian styles sculpted in cement on the brick frontage. Brunswick Theatre resized 250Natural light was let into the theatre through a series of tall narrow openings in the front wall filled with a glazed iron lattice. Particular attention was paid to fireproofing the building, with stone staircases, gas lighting rather than candles, water piped through the walls (presumably to provide an early form of fire fighting) and a wrought iron roof. Whitwell seems not to have known much about the actual workings of the theatre (unlike David Maurice who was said to enjoy amateur theatricals) and arrangements were made for him to visit Drury Lane Theatre to see how the flies were constructed and the theatre machinery installed.

Whitwell claimed afterwards that his brief extended only to completing the shell of the building which was roofed over in haste in order to meet the licensing deadline in October, with the intention of being open for the first performance at the end of December. It proved impossible to meet this deadline and a new date was scheduled for the end of January. On the 26 January David and Ann Maurice’s elder son was buried at St Botolph Aldgate aged just twenty-one months.

The theatre finally opened on Monday 25 February to a full house of about 3000, with a second performance on the Tuesday. Work fitting out the interior was still continuing on the Wednesday in expectation of the next performance on Thursday. On the Monday there had been a problem when the scenery flats would not slide in the grooves of the flies which had dropped on one side. All the weight of the flies, the theatre machinery and the painters and carpenters workshops, amounting some estimated to 100 tons, was hung from the wrought iron roof, as was common practice in theatres with timber roofs. Whitwell was there on the Monday when instructions were given to crank up the flies by throwing a chain over a tie beam, and a similar process was gone through on the Tuesday after the flies had dropped on the other side. It was assumed that the scenery had swollen slightly due to the damp – after all the building had been given no time at all to dry out and it was winter.

On Thursday 28 February David Maurice and his friend William Evans, a former editor of the Bristol Observer, left Anne Maurice to go and visit friends and went to the theatre where rehearsals were in progress. There were about 80 people in the theatre including dancers, actors, musicians, gas fitters, roofers, and carpenters. Some were in the dressing rooms and the Green Room under the stage, some on the stage, others were right up at the top of the building. Shortly after half past eleven an odd rumbling was heard, there was a sound as if something had been dropped in the carpenters’ workshop above the auditorium, but no one paid any attention. Then there was a sharp crack like a firecracker followed by two or three more and the entire roof collapsed down into the building pushing the front wall out into the street.

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David Maurice was killed but his partner Richard Carruthers survived. In all fifteen people died, although the last of those severely injured did not die at the London Hospital until the end of April. Two of the victims had been passers-by in the street but there were many miraculous escapes. A group of carpenters were persuaded by one of them not to try to flee but to remain on the staircase (which you can see in this print was tied into the south-east corner of the building) while the slates and beams cascaded around them – all of them survived. Many people were dug out of the wreckage and in many ways the hero of the day was the Reverend George Smith. An ex-Navy man who had fought at the Battle of Copenhagen he organised the initial rescue attempts, later in the afternoon assisted by Philip Hardwick who brought over a large number of men from St Catherine’s Dock to help. By the middle of Friday all the victims had been accounted for.

A fund was initiated for the support of the survivors, a number of families had lost their chief breadwinner, many workmen had lost all their tools and both actors and workmen were expecting to be paid on the Saturday. Destitution threatened them. The landlord of the Star Inn, which lost its front wall, was ruined because he was on a repairing lease.

George Smith wrote an immediate and very vivid account of the events (he was an enthusiastic evangelical and inveterate pamphleteer) and the inquest was a protracted affair lasting for many weeks. The ultimate verdict of the jury was that the roof had collapsed because of the weight of the flies and theatre machinery suspended from it. I suspect that the filling of a large lead cistern in the painters shop above the stage shortly before the accident may have been the final straw. There was of course a great deal of interest in the disaster not simply because so many had died, and so many more would have died had it happened a few hours later, but because of the innovative technology used in the wrought iron roof.

Poor Ann Maurice who had lost both her child and her husband in the space of a month found herself in serious financial difficulty. In September 1828 the newspapers reported that she had decided not to rebuild the theatre and the site was sold to George Smith and a group of trustees who created the very first purpose-built mariners asylum to provide shelter food and clothing for seamen and to protect them from the corrupt practices of crimping.

Ann was clearly made of the same tough stuff as her mother Penelope for she carried on the printing business on her own account. Eighteen months after the tragedy she remarried to Robert Edgar, the brother of a man who had worked for her first husband. Edgar, a wine merchant,  was declared bankrupt in 1834 and died six years later (both Ann and her mother seem to have had better business sense than their husbands) but Ann continued in business until the late 1850s when she retired, dying at Kilburn in 1868.

Ann’s son Richard Lee Steel died young and his widow took her family to America, where descendants still live today. Her daughter Eliza married the widower of her own cousin Mary Steel (Anglo-Indian daughter of Scudamore Winde Steel) – he died soon after and she brought up his two surviving children. Ann’s other son Robert Edgar worked as a writer for the Reuters Telegraph Agency as did his son. Their descendants still live in England, almost certainly quite unaware of their connections to a theatrical disaster and a black heritage in Jamaica.

 

NOTE ON SOURCES:
I have to thank Yuri, a reader of this website, for alerting me to Penelope Winde’s third marriage and the history of her publishing house. It was while looking further at her family that I came across the story of the ill-fated Brunswick theatre.
Most of the images displayed here have been taken from a wonderful scrapbook about the disaster compiled about the beginning of the twentieth century and now in the possession of the East London Theatre Archive. There and in some other places the theatre is referred to as the Royal Brunswick.
This blog includes a full version of the story of the disaster written some years later by Charles Dickens, which drew upon the many press reports of the disaster and the lengthy inquest.
Other sources include:
A Bibliography of the Works Written and Published by David Steel by Mario Witt, Greenwich Maritime Monographs, 1991.
A Directory of Printers and Other Allied Trades London & Vicinity 1800-1840 by William B Todd, Printing Historical Society, 1972.
George Charles Smith of Penzance : from Nelson Sailor to Mission Pioneer by Roald Kverndal, William Carey Library 2012.

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!

 

 

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

Fortiter-Henry Howard Allen

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.

Jamaican Christmas & John Canoe

 

 

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Christmas in Jamaica before emancipation was one of the few periods in the year when slaves were able to enjoy themselves, free for a brief period from work. If they were lucky they received extra rations of food and possibly cloth or clothing for the coming year, as was the custom for servants in England.

There were John Canoe processions, (variously written as Johnny Canoe, Junkanoo and Koo Koo, possibly from the French l’inconnu – the unknown- or perhaps of West African derivation) which are the origins of the modern carnival. The two pictures shown here, painted by the artist Belisario and published in 1837, represent the actors who were competing for their costume and group of friends to be picked to lead the festivities. By this time the costumes were more elaborate, and less fearsome, than those described half a century earlier by Edward Long.

Long, whose History of Jamaica was published in 1774, wrote that

In the towns, during Christmas holidays, they have several tall robust fellows dressed up in grotesque habits, and a pair of ox-horns on their head, sprouting from the top of a horrid sort of vizor, or mask, which about the mouth is rendered very terrific with large boar tusks. The masquerader, carrying a wooden sword in his hand, is followed with a numerous crowd of drunken women, who refresh him frequently with a sup of aniseed water, whilst he dances at every door, bellowing out John Connu! with great vehemence…this dance is probably an honourable memorial of John Conny, a celebrated cabocero at Tres Puntas, in Axim, on the Guiney coast; who flourished about the year 1720.

 

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There were also more local celebrations. On Christmas Eve 1812 the Moravian missionary John Becker wrote, Scarcely was our worship closed, before the heathen negroes on the estate began to beat their drums, to dance, and to sing, in a most outrageous manner. The noise lasted all night, and prevented us from falling asleep.

The following day he wrote: After breakfast, I went down and begged the negroes to desist, but their answer was:’What, Massa, are we not to dance and make merry at Christmas. We always did so. ‘ I represented to them that this was not the way to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. and expressed my surprise, that having heard the word of God for so many years, they still continued their heathenish customs. But all I could say was in vain… (quoted in Braithwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, pp.227-8).

In England, since medieval times, masters had allowed their servants licence over the Christmas period to let off steam.There can be little doubt that the Christmas festivities for the slaves in Jamaica performed a similar function – the one time in the year when they were free to enjoy themselves as they chose, to sing and dance and eat, and for a brief period perhaps forget their situation.

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For those of you spending part of your Christmas holiday on family history research, you may like to know that the invaluable Jamaican Family Search website is now entirely free to use. Patricia Jackson, who set up the site fourteen years ago had always hoped to be able to make it free. Recently she wrote, “Those who have paid subscriptions in the past enabled me to purchase microfilms, microfiche, electronic images, or photocopies of documents and registers, not only from Jamaica but from archives or libraries in England and the United States. I spent thousands of hours transcribing information from them to put on the site, often working up to 50 hours a week (so much for a part-time job!).” If you have not already discovered her site I can warmly recommend it.

Also free and with many useful articles and website lists is Genealogy In Time Magazine. This site helps to fund itself by receiving small fees from Amazon if you click through from the links on their home page to purchase something on any one of the main Amazon sites. A recent article addresses the question of just how popular is genealogy and examines the statistics comparing internet traffic to the most popular sites and distinguishing between the occasional researcher and those of us who become obsessive!

However you choose to spend the Christmas period, may I thank all of you who have been in touch or have bought my book, and wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

 

Snails and Serendipity

Snail Milk Water

 

So much of extending my historical knowledge has depended on serendipity.

This week I was in London for a meeting and hoping to be able to visit the Tate afterwards. However the meeting over-ran and, because it was closer to St Pancras where I catch my train, I went instead to the Georgians Revealed Exhibition at the British Library. It is full of fascinating images and objects demonstrating the way in which the Georgians shaped modern Britain. One of the highlights for me was the huge map of Georgian London making up the floor of the final room of the exhibition. I can spend hours looking at maps – and often do!

Afterwards I browsed through the books and souvenir objects for sale, which included among the usual mugs and posters a complete high head white wig for those wishing to dress the part! And among the books I came across a small volume that looked interesting, containing Georgian household cures and remedies.

And here I discovered a Jamaican connection, for the original book had come down through the Biscoe and Tyndale-Biscoe families to its present custodian Nicola Lillie. Some readers may remember the story I told not long after starting this website of the court case involving Joseph Biscoe and his runaway wife Susanna.

Joseph Biscoe’s aunt by marriage, Elizabeth Ambler (Mrs Elisha Biscoe) was the original owner of the ‘Physick Book’ in which she, her friends and later generations recorded their recipes for various potions for easing or curing everything from the bite of a mad dog to fits, bladder stones, gout, coughs and indigestion. Marilyn Yurdan worked with the author to provide the medical historical background, and although some recipes would be fairly easy to make now, it really is a case of ‘Don’t try this at home’ when you encounter Nurse Payne’s Receipt for a Sore Throat in the Small Pox containing rock alum and white dog turd! Given that as little as one ounce of alum can kill an adult (not to mention the dog turd), this is not one to copy.

Nor are we likely to want to make use of woodlice, earthworms and snails, all of which were favourite eighteenth century ingredients.

More benign is a recipe to make Lavender Water by simmering lavender flowers in cider; and a Tincture for Gout and Colick in Stomach was made using raisins, rhubarb, senna, coriander, fennel, cochineal, saffron and liquorish infused in brandy. My guess is that the rhubarb and senna would have made it effective for constipation if not for gout. Increased prosperity in the eighteenth century leading to a diet rich in red meat and other high protein items such as turtle, taken together with rich red wines, made gout the classic Georgian complaint.

Besides reproducing the recipes, the book explains what the various ingredients were – how many of us now would recognise Burgundy Pitch, mithridate or Balsam of Tolu? even if we could safely identify coltsfoot, ox-eye daisies or camomile. To take us through these forgotten ingredients each recipe has its own glossary and an explanation of its intended use or the problem it was intended to ease.

It is also a beautifully produced little book with a short, illustrated history of the Ambler Biscoe family and woodcut illustrations of the various herbs and other ingredients.

Although the eighteenth century family name was Biscoe, in the mid-nineteenth century it became Tyndale-Biscoe (after the Biscoe name had been lost for a time through a female line of descent) and some readers may know the lovely Historic Jamaica from the Air by David Buisseret, in which the photographs were taken by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe.

There is a large bequest of papers, maps, documents and photographs relating to Jamaica made by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe and his wife in the Jamaica Archives in Spanish Town – you can read the details of what was donated in Kenneth E. Ingram’s University of the West Indies publication Manuscript Sources for the West Indies. The collection also includes genealogical information on the Morrison, Duff and Dallas families of Jamaica and the Branch and deFreitas families of St Lucia.

In addition to their connection with Jamaica, the eighteenth century Biscoe family also owned plantations on St Kitts. There are records for the slave ownership of Stephana and William Biscoe (widow and son of Joseph Biscoe) in Jamaica on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website.

Not for the first time I have been impressed by just how intertwined was the history of Jamaica with the huge changes that went on throughout the eighteenth century.

Lavender Water & Snail Syrup: Miss Ambler’s Household Book of Georgian Cures and Remedies, Nicola Lille & Marilyn Yurdan with illustrations by Laura Lillie, The History Press, Stroud, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7524-8995-7

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

Sugar loaves and coal scuttles

 

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Coal boats loading at North Shields c.1795 – J M W Turner  (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

It’s that time of year when preserving garden produce for the winter is on my mind. It’s been a fantastic year for fruit in the UK and there is a glut of apples and pears, we’ve had a huge crop of blackberries and the wild rowan trees are covered in berries.

Checking the cupboard for sugar to make crab apple and blackberry jelly I found some left from last year that had hardened in the packet and that made me think of the labour involved in preparing sugar for use in the eighteenth century. Once the cane was cut and the juice boiled and crystalised most was packed into barrels for transport to Europe and further processing there. Only a small amount was ‘clayed’, further refined into white sugar loaves, in Jamaica. This was to protect the interests of the sugar bakers in Britain.

Either way the sugar bought by the eighteenth century housewife came in hard loaves from which the sugar had to be rasped or broken off and then pounded to the consistency required. Imagine taking a bag of modern sugar crystals and pounding it down to produce your own icing sugar and you will get an idea of the sheer physical labour involved and the time it took.

Then remember that to cook using your sugar you would have to light and tend your kitchen fire. By the eighteenth century London was dependent on imported coal as the medieval forests that once covered the country had been cut down for domestic fuel and for early industry. You would have ordered your coal using the old measure of a ‘chaldron of coals’, an amount which could vary from about 2000 pounds weight upwards. A London chaldron was defined as “36 bushels heaped up, each bushel to contain a Winchester bushel and one quart, and to be 1912 inches in diameter” (source:Wikipedia). The weight of this was about 3136 pounds so it was no wonder that a limit was put on the amount that could be drawn in one wagon – incidentally to protect the road from excessive wear rather than the horses from exhaustion!

When the coal was delivered to your house you would have to inspect it to make sure the merchant was not cheating you by including poor quality coal, wet coal or a load full of small dust called ‘slack’. It would be shovelled by hand from the wagon into your cellar or shed and from there you or your servants would have to scoop it up into the coal scuttles for use in kitchen and living rooms. Little wonder that only the well to do had fires in their bedrooms in even the coldest of weather.

Everything that happened in the eighteenth century household involved physical labour on the part of the householder or the servants. Preparing meals meant walking to market for the ingredients, scrubbing and preparing the vegetables, plucking the poultry, rendering your own fat from pork or beef to produce dripping, beating the eggs and ingredients for cakes (my grandmother beat fat and sugar for an eggless sponge by hand – that is using her own hand not a beater, the beating took up to half an hour but she made a superbly light sponge!). Even so simple an act as writing a letter might still involve mixing your own ink, and would require you to cut your own quills – paper you could at least buy ready made.

Leaving aside the digital revolution, think of any task you now undertake and then take yourself back to a time when there was no electricity, and virtually no machinery to assist. You could buy the cloth and thread for your clothes, but you or someone else would have to make the pattern, cut the cloth and sew them by hand. When they got dirty they would have to be washed by hand using soap you made yourself, although in London the air was now so filled with soot that those who could afford it sent their linen out of town to washer women in the outlying villages. If the weather was cold the water might freeze in the pump and in any case it would all have to be carried by hand to where it was needed.

In eighteenth century Jamaica the source of cheap labour that made all this possible was of course enslaved, while London and the growing cities such as Manchester and Birmingham were sucking in labour from the surrounding countryside. The nineteenth century would see a huge change with a move from human to machine power and a gradual increase in the cost of labour, with a corresponding decrease in the relative cost of machine power. We are much closer to this nineteenth century world than we are to that of the eighteenth.

So next time you put sugar in your coffee, boil a kettle, load the washing machine, cut the lawn or drive to the supermarket to load up with ready prepared goods, just pause for a moment and imagine having to do all these tasks the eighteenth century way.

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.