Richard Watt I, of Jamaica and Oak Hill

1724 - 1796


Biography

Uncle of Richard Watt II (1751-1803) and Richard Walker (q.v.), and great-uncle of Richard Watt III (d. 1855, q.v.), Richard Watt Walker and John Walker (each of whom q.v.). Returned from Jamaica in 1782, purchased Oak Hill House and an estate at Bishop Burton in the early 1780s and Speke Hall in 1795, and reportedly left his nephews £500,000.

  1. Born at Shevington, near Wigan, in 1724. Tales exist of his humble origins but these have not been verified. Arrived in Jamaica before 1751, probably in the mid to late 1740s. Partnered with Alexander Allardyce in a large-scale slave-factorage. Laterly, and probably earlier, attorney of John Ellis on Montpelier estate and to Samuel Riley on Riley's estate. Also attorney to the Milner family on Wheelerfield. Acquired George's Plain in Westmoreland from the heirs of Robert Atkins in 1769. In Liverpool c. 1769-1772 but then returned to Jamaica; his Liverpool trading house continued to import goods from Jamaica, in partnership with Richard Savage, later with his nephew Richard Watt and Thomas Rawson (1742-1818) followed by a partnership with his nephew Richard Walker. His finances suffered in the downturn of the late 1770s, in particular from the bankruptcy of the Liverpool merchant John Dobson. Returned to Britain in 1782 and purchased Oak Hill House at Old Swan near Liverpool in 1782 or 1783 and also a large estate at Bishop Burton in North Yorkshire. Richard lived at Oak Hill House and his nephew Richard junior based himself at Bishop Burton. George's Plain was managed by Leonard Parkinson in Richard's absence. He purchased Speke Hall in November 1795, a year before his death, for £73,500, but continued to live at Oak Hill House.

  2. In an undated, admonishing letter to an overseer Richard Watt counselled against the excessive punishment of enslaved people: "... a general and steady civil good natured behaviour is what every person ought to practice and particularly overseers who have people under them - to those that are most under us we ought to be the most civil..." His recommendations on the treatment of enslaved people appear to be at least as concerned with financial expediency as with moral obligation. According to a memorandum of 1788 written by fellow merchant Edgar Corrie, by this point Watt was in favour of the abolition of the slave trade. His views on the treatment of enslaved people and on the slave trade contrast with his involvement in slave factoring and slave trading, arguably the most brutal aspects of the slave economy. He invested in two slaving voyages with Richard Savage (1714-1793) in 1760 and 1767 and financed another slave trading voyage from Iles de Los to Grenada and Jamaica in 1775. He purchased a slaving ship in 1793 and arranged for the trafficking of 549 Africans to Jamaica (539 survived the journey); the ship was captured by the French on her second voyage to Africa.

  3. Will of Richard Watt [late of the Island of Jamaica but now] of West Derby Lancashire proved 02/05/1797. Under the will he left the Bishop Burton estate to his nephew Richard Watt for life and then to his godson [and great nephew] Richard Watt the son of his nephew Richard Watt. He left George's Plain estate in Westmoreland and Speke Hall near Liverpool in trust to his nephews Richard Watt and Richard Walker and his kinsman Thomas Watt for the benefit of his godson [and great-nephew] Richard Watt.

Sources

For a detailed account of Richard Watt's life and finances see Anthony Tibbles, ‘“My interest be your guide”: Richard Watt (1724–1796), Merchant of Liverpool and Kingston, Jamaica’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 166 (2017), 25–44.

  1. Anthony Tibbles, ‘“My interest be your guide”'.

  2. Ibid., quote from page 30.

  3. PROB 11/1291/17.

We are grateful to Anthony Tibbles for his assistance with compiling this entry.


Further Information

Absentee?
Transatlantic
Spouse
died unmarried
Occupation
Merchant, slave factor, attorney and plantation owner

Associated Estates (5)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1793 [EA] - 1795 [LA] → Not known
1767 [EA] - 1768 [LA] → Administrator
1769 [EA] - 1771 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession
1782 [EA] - 1796 [EY] → Owner
1798 [EA] - 1808 [LA] → Previous owner

Legacies Summary

Cultural (3)

Trustee
Blue Coat Hospital...... 
Governor and Trustee
Liverpool Infirmary and Dispensary...... 
notes →
Officer and trustee of the Liverpool Infirmary and life governor of the...
Founder member and trustee
Old Swan Charity School...... 

Physical (1)

Country house
Speke Hall [Purchased] 
description →
Tudor house, bought by Richard Watt I in 1795, owned and restored by Watt family members until 1921, and then held by trustees until 1942. Now National...

Relationships (4)

Business partners
Uncle → Nephew
Great-uncle → Great-nephew
Notes →
Richard Watt III (1786-1855) was also the major heir of Richard Watt I of Jamaica and Speke Hall....
Great-uncle → Great-nephew

Addresses (3)

Shevington, Wigan, Lancashire, North-west England, England
Oak Hill House, Old Swan, Liverpool, Lancashire, Merseyside, North-west England, England
Speke Hall, Liverpool, Lancashire, Merseyside, North-west England, England