Posts Tagged ‘Slave ships’

Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Inquiring readers, this rather serious topic of British slave ownership plays a role in Jane Austen’s world and her novels. She addressed the issue in an indirect way in Mansfield Park and Emma, with the Bertram fortune resting on slave trade and Mrs. Elton’s merchant father situated in Bristol, one of three major slave-trading centers in Britain. I am sure that her two sailor brothers related vivid tales of their travels in their letters and when they returned home for a visit. Jane, who was well-read and participated in family conversations, was keenly aware of human trafficking and exploitation. Ironically, a few years after her death, Charles actively patrolled the seas against the slave trade. In this post, Tony Grant addresses the legacies of British slave ownership. The British, godbless’em, abolished slavery decades before the U.S. and in a more civilized and peaceful manner. (Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon, is a frequent contributor to Jane Austen’s World. Visit his other blogs at London Calling and The Novels of Virginia Woolf. He traces his ancestry to the slave trade. As for me, I was born a Dutch citizen. The shameful actions of the Dutch in transporting slaves from Africa and their role in the slave trade is well documented.)

Image @University of York

Catherine Hall, Image @University of York

(Researched at UCL (University College London) by Catherine Hall Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History and her project team.)

The above title is an umbrella title which has been given to two projects, one called, “Tracing the impact of slave ownership on modern Britain,” and the other, “Legacies of British Slave Ownership.” These will lead to a further project entitled, “Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave ownership 1763 -1833.”

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

In 1974, I was in my second year of teacher training. I was doing a three year teacher training course at Gypsy Hill teachers training college situated on Kingston Hill, about a mile from the centre of Kingston upon Thames. The college was eventually amalgamated with Kingston University. The new university education department did not retain it’s rather romantic sounding epithet, Gypsy Hill, unfortunately. My teaching practice during that second year was to spend six weeks teaching English at Henry Thornton’s Secondary School situated on the south side of Clapham Common. It was a tough place to go as a young teacher. Although Clapham is not quite classed as inner city the area was home to lot of disadvantaged families some of them ethnic minorities and many of them West Indian in origin. Henry Thornton would have been pleased about the ethnic mix in the school. My first English lesson, reading and discussing, Cider With Rosy,by Laurie Lee, was to be with a class of fifteen-year-olds. As soon as I walked into the classroom a large powerfully built West Indian lad, swaying back in his chair staring at me, trying to stare me out, nonchalantly raised his right fist and smashed it through the pain of glass in the window next to him overlooking the corridor. I think the blood must have drained rather quickly from my face and I asked another pupil to get the head of year who came rushing to my help immediately. Coming from Southampton, on the south coast, this was my first experience of Clapham.

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

However that experience has many connections with Britain’s past history in the slave trade and with what I am going to write about in this essay. Henry Thornton, was born in Clapham on the 10th March 1760. His father had been one of the early founders of the Evangelical movement in Britain. His father and his cousins were bankers. In fact his brother Samuel Thornton became The Governor of the Bank of England. Henry himself was a very successful banker. The bank – Down, Thornton and Free – became the most successful bank in London. Henry Thornton is credited with being the father of the modern central banking system. He was a great theorist and wrote books about banking.

Henry Thornton

Henry Thornton

Henry became the Member of Parliament for Southwark, which is situated just across London Bridge from The City. However, he was unlike other bankers of the time. Britain’s wealth was closely tied up with the slave trade, but Henry Thornton was an abolitionist. Henry Thornton was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, who incidentally met and worshiped together at Holy Trinity Church, which nowadays is directly opposite Henry Thornton’s school where I had my momentous teaching experience. He was foremost a campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade. His close friend and cousin was William Wilberforce. The two men lived together with their families at Battersea Rise on the opposite side of Clapham Common to the church and where the school that uses his name is situated. Henry was the financier behind the Clapham Sect in their many campaigns.

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

Catherine Hall and her project team are endeavouring to understand the extent and the limits of slavery’s role in shaping the history of Britain and its lasting legacy. They are focussing on various aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes, such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. How was slavery was involved in national and local politics? In Henry Thornton we see many of these aspects even if his actions and beliefs were contrary to the slave trade. He was a member of parliament who campaigned against slavery. He used his wealth to counteract slavery. I wonder if the West Indian lad who broke the window in my lesson realised that his destiny and the generations of his family before him were connected with the man whose name was on the school he was attending?

There is rather a surprising link and revelation about Henry Thornton in the research and data the UCL team has gathered. Kate Donnington, one of the PHD researchers on the team, has written a thesis about George Hibbert, one of the most influential characters and one of the major figures amongst West Indian merchants.

George Hibbett

George Hibbett

George Hibbert was a leading member of the pro slavery lobby and so one of the main adversaries of Henry Thornton over the slavery bill. However, Hibbert was a philanthropist and did many good works for charities. In 1824 he helped set up the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. Nowadays that has become the RNLI, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which saves the lives of many around our coasts to this day. He was also involved in creating The Royal Institute. The running and creation of the Royal institute for the arts and science also involved, Henry Thornton and his brother John. It seems that individuals could be absolutely opposed to each other over slavery but work together in other aspects of the nation’s life.

This project by UCL is of national and international importance, but it also has a very personal meaning. Another of the researchers in the project team, James Dawkins, is studying the slave owning presence of his own family, the Dawkins, through the data collected. This inspired me to look up my surname, Grant, to see who amongst the Grant clan from North East Scotland around the Spey Valley, was connected with slavery. I didn’t have any hopes for direct ancestors to myself being involved in slavery unless were crew on the slave ships; we were labourers in the fields and workers in the whisky distilleries. We owned no land as such and certainly had no wealth.

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

I discovered there were many Grants involved in the slave trade and plantation ownership though. There were various Alexander Grants, not all the same person I am sure. Alexander, must have been a popular name amongst the Grants. In fact my son, Samuel, has Alexander as his second name. There is an Alice Grant, one of my daughters is called Alice, a Betty, and various Anne Grants. It quickly becomes evident that many women, perhaps through inheritances, were investors in and owners of slaves. The list of Grants goes on.There are one hundred and eighty five Grants listed. I have an uncle, John Grant. There are many John Grants in the list and my father is Robert and yes there are many Roberts in the list. My own family’s Christian names are amongst the most prevalent Christian names associated with Grants in the survey. But my surname Grant is one Scottish surname amongst hundreds. If my families name is mirrored in the survey by all the other Scottish clan names there must be an inordinate number of Scottish families connected with the slave trade.

"The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber's treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty."Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

“The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber’s treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty.”
Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

I took one Grant to look at more specifically. Alexander Grant , the survey does not show when he was born but he was born at Abelour, Banffshire. He died on the 7th may 1854 He was a slave owner, planter and merchant on the island of Jamaica. He had Abelour House built for him in 1838. The house still exists today. His will left £300,000. His estates in Jamaica and Scotland were inherited by his niece, Margaret Gordon McPherson Grant.

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

An interesting character I discovered on the UCL website was Ann Katherine Storer (née Hill, 1785-1854) She was born in Jamaica, where she married Anthony Gilbert Storer. She inherited her husband’s estates after his death, which not only included his Jamaican estates but also Purley Park in Berkshire, England. Anthony Gilbert Storer died in June 1818 and Ann Katherine returned to Purley Park with her five surviving children. There were problems with large debts and disputes over recompense. A rather strange and disturbing story is related about Ann Katherine Storer. When she returned to England she brought some slaves with her to work at Purley House.

Slave ship

Slave ship

“In 1824, Ann Katherine Storer was accused of the maltreatment of Philip Thompson, a black servant who was bought as a slave in Jamaica and brought to England by the Storers. According to Philip Thompson’s testimony, “flogging was the usual punishment for any misdemeanour and he was often ill treated… One day in July 1824 Mrs Storer was already up when Philip rose at 6 am. Finding that he had not been up in time to clean the lobby she ordered him to be taken to the “whipping place”. After removing his coat, waistcoat and shirt, he then received about a dozen lashes from a hunting whip wielded by the butler so that the blood ran down his back… Mrs Storer was said to have been present and said [to Robert Stewart, the butler], “Well done, Robert, give him more”…

African slaves in Liverpool

African slaves in Liverpool

There is an element of sadism in this. She almost seems to take pleasure in the ill treatment of Philip. Ann was born and brought up on a slave plantation and was obviously used to dealing with slaves. This story made me wonder if this was a usual sort of treatment that was commonplace.

I mentioned above that the project team are focusing on aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. Money from slavery was used to build Abelour House in Scotland as one example and the estate still exist today. George Hibbet was a philanthropist as well as a slave owner and he did many charitable works including setting up the forerunner to the RNLI as well as the London Institution, which was for the diffusion of useful knowledge in the arts and sciences. He acted as both its president and vice president between 1805 and 1830. He was a member of a number of learned societies and clubs including the Freemasons, the Linnean society and the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Hibbet collected books, prints and art. He also inherited a house with its estate called Munden in Hertfordshire. I am taking George Hibbet as an example, but the point is that this sort of philanthropy and range of interests in the arts, literature, science, charities and so on is replicated throughout the four thousand individuals of wealth and property identified by this research.

Slavery and it’s proceeds were and are bound up with the whole of society, good and bad, and we must still be benefiting from it today. Eric Williams, the historian who wrote, “Capitalism and Slavery,” believes that the slave trade and slavery, “provided not only essential demand for manufactures and supply of raw materials but also vital capital for the early phases of industrialisation. This has been partially substantiated through the histories of particular family firms.”



In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in Britain and it’s Empire. In 1833 slavery was abolished by the British Parliament in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and The Cape. These people in the survey have been identified as the recipients of compensation for the loss of wealth when slavery came to an end. However it is important to note that what replaced it was not much better. The great sugar, tea. cotton and coffee plantations were still there. The slaves got their freedom but were then signed up to what was called an apprentice scheme. This meant that they signed up for work on the estate for a minimum number of years. Life did not materially or actually change for them. In many ways, it is interesting to think about what slavery is and means. Slavery is obviously the worst sort of work contract but we all have to work. We all have no choice once we have signed a contract. The conditions of work are very favourable on the whole for us but there are legal and social requirements we have to fulfill. The jobs we have can in no way be compared to the plight of a slave but there are degrees. Is working for someone else and being contracted to work a type of benign slavery?

The research Catherine Hall and her team are doing is fantastic but it has had its critics. There have been concerns both in the United Kingdom and in the Caribbean that the project team is white. One argument in defence is that white people as well as black people were all part of the slave trade. By putting the emphasis in the study on individual slave owners there is a fear that the case for reparations to be made by the state could be weakened. There is also a concern for banks and legal firms founded in the 17th century or before who have continued to this day and who have inherited the benefits derived from slavery in the past. The UCL group has said they are prepared to share their empirical data with these firms but also the contextualisation of that evidence.

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Professor Hall and her colleagues suggest that there are some key questions and problems that remain to be addressed:

  • “What proportion of Britain’s nineteenth-century wealth was linked to slavery?
  • How significant was this injection of capital into the burgeoning industrial economy of the 1830s?
  • Was investment in other parts of the empire seen as desirable?
  • How did this capital contribute to consumer spending – on houses, gardens, books or paintings?
  • Did philanthropic institutions significantly benefit?
  • We have also been exploring the political activities of the slave owners – to follow them in parliament, to see what positions they took on domestic and imperial matters, how active they were in local politics or what contributions they made to cultural institutions.
  • We have also investigated the ways in which their writings represented the slave trade and slavery.”

The UCL website: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

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There is an old 18th century white washed house in The High Street of Kingston upon Thames that backs on to the river. On the road side there is a large circular green plaque positioned on the outside wall of this house that reads:

“ Cesar Picton
A native of Senegal
West Coast of Africa.
Brought to England in 1761
as servant to Sir John Philips of Norbiton
Kingston upon Thames.
Later a coal merchant and gentleman.
Lived here 1788 – 1807.”

Cesar Picton's house, front. Image @Tony Grant

Cesar Picton was a slave in the ownership of Sir John Philips, and was made a freed man. It is interesting to note that 1807, the last year Cesar Picton lived in this house, before he moved to Thames Ditton, a few miles away,  the year the slave trade was abolished in Britain. It would be another twenty-six years before slavery itself would be abolished.

The road outside Cesar Picton's house. Image @Tony Grant

Cesar Picton

But Cesar Picton was a freed man long before this  event and already a prosperous merchant. His freedom had to do with Sir John Philips and what he and his family believed. Jane Austen would have passed through Kingston at the time Cesar Picton was a gentleman and merchant there. I wonder if she saw him in the streets? Jane’s family must have had close connections with slavery. Her brother Henry was a banker. Most of the wealth of Britain at the time came from slavery. Her brother Charles was a Royal Naval captain and was stationed on the North American station, often calling into Bermuda. His ship must have been used to protect the slaving ships that the fictional SirThomas Bertram, in Mansfield Park, relied on for his wealth in the plantations.

Slave ship, Bristol

Apart from this oblique reference in Mansfield Park, Jane never mentions slavery or her views about it. During her lifetime the slave trade was abolished but not slavery itself. But change was happening, and by the time Cassandra died slavery was seen as a repugnant thing and was abolished. Was it one of the reasons Jane’s letters were culled by Cassandra in later life? Did she try to hide Jane’s – perhaps – unpopular views in the tide of anti slavery? We will never know.

The year 1761, when Cesar Picton was brought to Britain by Captain Parr of the British Army especially for Sir John Phillips,  is an interesting one. Senegal had been British up to 1677, when the French took it over. France and Britain had been at war in the late18th and early 19th centuries. Goree, the island just off Senegal that was used for trading slaves, changed hands briefly during these wars back and forth between the British and French. It could well have been during one of these brief spells in charge by the British that Cesar Picton was bought as a promising servant for a wealthy man back in England.

There must have always been an element in British religious and moral sensibilities that saw these African slaves as equal human beings and at a high government level. In 1788 Britain set up a settlement for freed slaves further along the coast from Senegal to accommodate slaves from the plantations of Virginia and Carolina. They had helped the British fight The War of Independence against the Americans, and a place for them to live had to be found after the British retreated from America. Nova Scotia was their first settlement, but the climate was too cold.

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1803

Sierra Leone on the West African coast was set up for them, and Freetown, the capital, was established. But slavery was a vital element in the Empire for trade and financial wealth. It couldn’t be given up that easily, no matter how much it pricked certain people’s consciences, and the majority of people in England were kept ignorant of what went on in the slave plantations.

Sir John Philipps

Sir John Philipps (1666 – 1773), the gentleman who obtained Cesar Picton, was a member of an illustrious family whose main seat was Picton Castle, near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. In the 18th century, the Philips family was the most powerful family in the political, social, and economic arenas  in Pembrokeshire. Sir John Philips, who owned large areas of land in Wales, was a philanthropist who supported the building of schools. He built twentythree of them in Pembrokeshire alone. He also built schools in Camarthenshire.

Fort Nassau, Senegal, 1760

It was to Picton Castle in Wales that Cesar Picton was first brought from Senegal. He then took the name of the castle as his surname.

Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, 1865

Sir John Philipps attended Westminster public school in 1679 when he was 13 years of age. He went on to Trinity College, Cambridge between 1662 to 1664, and was admitted to Lincolns Inn in 1683. He did not complete his degree at Cambridge, and he was not called to the bar either. Sir John appears to have wasted his time and seemed to have enjoyed a frivolous life style when he was young. However by 1695 he became the Member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire. He remained a Member of Parliament until 1702. He then later returned to parliament for Haverfordwest and remained there until 1772. On the 18th January, 1697, Sir John’s father died, and he became the 4th baronet. In the same year he married Mary, the daughter and heiress of Anthony Smith, a rich East India merchant. Sir John had influential friends and great wealth. His sister Elizabeth’s daughter married Horace Walpole in 1700.

The Oxford Holy Club

From 1695 to 1737, Sir John was a leading figure in many religious and philanthropic movements. Most important of all, in relation to Cesar Picton, Sir John was a member of The Holy Club. The Holy Club had many religious reformers amongst its numbers, A.H. Francke, A.W. Boehme, J.F. Osterwald, John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. These were Evangelists, Methodists and Quakers. It was from amongst these religious colleagues that the anti slavery movement found it’s strength and became an unstoppable force. Sir John was part of a group therefore that constructed the legislation to abolish the save trade and eventually abolish slavery. In his treatment of Cesar Picton we can see these beliefs in early action. It might have been that Sir John Picton actively sought a slave from Senegal with the express purpose of freeing him once back in England and supporting him to become a wealthy esteemed member of society. Maybe Cesar Picton was his proof that slaves were his equal. This is what happened to Cesar Picton.

Cesar Picton's coal wharf site. Image @Tony Grant

Cesar Picton was six years old when he was brought to England by Captain Parr , an British Army officer who had been serving in Senegal.. He was given to Sir John Philips along with a parakeet. Cesar was born a Muslim but soon after arriving in Sir John’s household at Picton Castle he was baptised and given the name of Cesar on the 6th December 1761. He was dressed as a servant wearing a velvet turban, which cost 10 shillings and sixpence. It was fashionable for black servants to be richly dressed. There were very few black servants in England. Only very rich merchants and the wealthy aristocracy would have them. They were not treated the same as slaves which were used in their tens of thousands on the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of the West Indies and the mainland coast of America. Normally a black servant would have been the personal servant of the male head of the household but Cesar became the favourite of Lady Philips. He mixed with the family on equal terms. Sir John’s philanthropic and religious beliefs were applied to the treatment of Cesar.

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole, the younger son of the first British Prime Minister Robert Walpole. who married Elizabeth the sister of Sir John, wrote in a letter to a friend in 1788,

“I was in Kingston with the sisters of Lady Milford; they have a favourite black, who has been with them a great many years and is remarkably sensible.”

Sir John died in 1764 and his son became Lord Milford. Milford is the area in Wales where Picton Castle is situated. Lady Milford made a new will in which she left Cesar £100. Her son sold Norbiton Place near Kingston. With the money he was given, Cesar was able to rent a coach house and stables next to the Thames in Kingston. This building today is called Picton House.

Kingston Upon Thames, 18th century

After paying a corporation tax of £10 to trade, Picton set himself up as a coal merchant. By 1795 he had made enough money to buy Picton House, a wharf for his coal barges, and a malt house for brewing beer. In 1801, one of the Philips daughters died and left him a further £100. He was wealthy by now on his own terms. In 1807,when he was 52, he let his properties in Kingston and lived in Tolworth neaby to Kingston for a while.

Picton House, Thames Ditton

In February 1816 he bought a house in Thames Ditton, down river from Kingston, for the then massive sum of £4000. He lived there for the next twenty years until his death. When he died the list of the contents of his house included a horse and chaise, two watches, with gold chains, seals, brooches, gold rings, a tortoiseshell tea chest, silver spoons and tongs. There were also paintings of his friends hanging in his house including a portrait of himself.

While Picton was living in Thames Ditton, the other two Philips daughters died in Hampton Court. Joyce left him £100 and Katherine left him £50 and a legacy of £30 per year for life. Cesar himself died in 1836 aged 81. He did not marry and had no heirs,  and was buried in All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames on the 16th June, 1836. He had become very fat in his old age and his body had to be taken to the church on a four-wheeled trolley.

Cesar Picton Gravestone. Image @Find a Grave

Unlike some of the other freed slaves in England at the time, Cesar did not make his thoughts known about slavery and the slave trade. He was happy to lead a comfortable life. Olaudah Equiano wrote a book about his experiences and actively took part in the campaigning of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. Others, like Briton Hammon and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, made oral accounts that were transcribed. Letters were written by Ignatius Sancho to help bolster the anti slavery cause.

Jane Austen wrote in Mansfield Park,

These opinions had been hardly canvassed a year, before another event arose of such importance in the family, as might fairly claim some place in the thoughts and conversation of the ladies. Sir Thomas had found it expedient to go to Antigua himself, for the better arrangement of his affairs, and he took his eldest son with him in the hope of detaching him from some bad connections at home. They left England with the probability of being nearly a twelve month absent.”

Slaves digging the cane holes, Antiqua, 1823

Sir Thomas Bertram’s affairs in Antigua could only have referred to his sugar plantations, the source of all his wealth and the financial source of Mansfield Park itself.

Slave cutting sugar cane, 1799

Jane’s own brothers, Frank and Charles would have been amongst the captains with their warships used to protect the likes of Sir Thomas Bertram’s trading ventures, which must have included slaves for his plantations in Antigua. Henry, Jane’s favorite brother, would have invested the proceeds of this trade through his bank. It is very possible that Jane caught sight of the famous Cesar Picton, wealthy merchant and freed man, walking in the streets of Kingston upon Thames. I wonder what her opinion was?

Kingston Upon Thames, Thomas Hornor, 1813

Post written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

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