William Hardin Burnley

1780 - 1850

Claimant or beneficiary


Major Trinidadian slave-owner and representative of the Trinidadian planters in London. He has a recent entry in the ODNB as 'slave-owner and politician'.

  1. William Hardin Burnley's father, Hardin Burnley (1741-1823) was a London merchant of Hardin & Burnley [sic] of 12 America Square, leaving £120,000. William Hardin Burnley's sister Maria Burnley married the Radical MP, Joseph Hume (1777-1855) who had adopted a qualified anti-slavery stance and had espoused the cause of compensation. 

  2. Burnley became the largest slaveholder in Trinidad. Born New York 1780; educated in England before taking up residence in Trinidad 1802. 'In 1809 he teamed up with Mr George Smith, Chief Justice, to steal the people's properties. As Acting Depositor-General, he had access to many properties from which he made his fortune "with Smith's knowledge, if not connivance". When he was finished he was worth a half a million dollars.' In 1818, in response to request from Governor Woodford of Trinidad for the Council to suggest schemes to attract labourers to Trinidad, Burnley, a Council member said that "if Trinidad could increase its labouring population sufficiently, it could supply the rest of the West Indian islands with cattle, rice and corn….Upon serious reflection I am fully convinced that from Asia alone is to be derived the population we require." Thus Burnley one of the first advocates of bringing East Indians to Trinidad to deal with the labour shortage. Opposed in a secret meeting in 1823 to the ending of flogging of African female slaves and the overseers from carrying whips. In 1832 he went to London to fight against emancipation. In 1841 Burnley, as chair of the Agricultural and Immigration Society, held meetings in Trinidad to establish if "the great experiment of Negro emancipation succeeded." Argued that "although slavery has ceased, the angry feelings occasioned by the struggle to effect it, have not yet subsided." Sought to recruit new labourers from Africa, Asia and the southern United States.

  3. Joseph Hume Burnley, son of William Hardin Burnley, joined the Diplomatic Service and became, among other appointments, Charge d'affaires for Dresden. He is in the census of 1881 at 9 Prince of Wales Terrace, London, age 59, "Diplomatic Service Retired", born West Indies, with his wife Emily A. Burnley [nee Emily Adelaide Heath], 3 daughters and 7 servants. He died in 1904, effects £190,713 14s 2d. William Hardin Burnley's second son, William Frederick Burnley, was a partner with the Eccles family in two Glasgow-Trinidad merchant firms, which failed in 1848: he died in Edinburgh in 1903.

See Historical legacies for writings by Burnley.


Selwyn R. Cudjoe, ‘Burnley, William Hardin (1780–1850)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2016 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/109518, accessed 19 June 2017]. For a full account see Selwyn R. Cudjoe, The Slave Master of Trinidad. William Hardin Burnley and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World (Amherst & Boston, University of Massachusetts Press, 2018).

  1. William D. Rubinstein, Who were the rich? A biographical dictionary of British wealth-holders Volume One 1809-1839 (London, Social Affairs Unit, 2009) reference 1823/23. For Hume, see Nicholas Draper, The Price of Emancipation. Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 158. See http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/hume-joseph-1777-1855 [accessed 05/04/2013] for more on Joseph Hume.

  2. Selwyn Cudjoe, 'Revolution', Trinidad Express, 5 February 2011 available at Selwyn Cudjoe in Trinidad Express, [accessed 26/02/2012]. This was written as a riposte to Selwyn Ryan, 'The "Glorious Revolution" of August 1, 1838', Trinidad Express, 2 August 2010 (updated 5 February 2011)] (Selwyn Ryan in Trinidad Express) [accessed 26/02/2012].

  3. Email from Caroline Ainscough, 11/04/2013. 1881 census online. National Probate Calendar 1904.

We are grateful for the assistance of Caroline Ainscough in compiling this entry.

Further Information

William Frederick (d. 1903); Joseph Hume (1821-1904)

“Burnley, William Hardin late of Trinidad and one of HM Council there but then of NYC. Will 4 Dec. 1837. Leg: son William Frederick Burnley of Glasgow, Scotland, merchant; son Joseph Hume Burnley; William Eccles of Glasgow, merchant; William Brackenridge of London, solicitor; nephew Joseph Burnley Hume of London when he is 21; wife Charlotte Burnley; nephews and nieves, children of Joseph Hume and Maria his wife; Mary Augusta Farquhar of NYC, daughter of James Farquhar deceased. Will pr. 2 Jun. 1851 by son and surviving exec. William Frederick Burnley. (PROB 11/2133).”

Source: Peter Wilson Coldham, North American Wills Registered in London, 1611-1857 (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007) p. 15.


Associated Claims (15)

£1,246 2s 3d
Awardee (Mortgagee)
£9,260 1s 8d
Awardee (Owner-in-fee)
£2,088 5s 0d
Awardee (Mortgagee-in-possession)
£1,496 18s 9d
Awardee (Mortgagee)
£12,064 17s 6d
Awardee (Owner-in-fee)
£8,147 16s 8d
£3,746 15s 8d
£3,827 3s 9d
£260 13s 11d
£217 7s 8d
£2,629 16s 4d
Awardee (Mortgagee)
£4,268 3s 5d
Awardee (Mortgagee)
£1,569 4s 11d
Awardee (Mortgagee)
£3,048 17s 6d
£2,442 6s 9d

Associated Estates (16)

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
1834 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Joint owner
1828 [EA] - 1831 [LA] → Attorney
1828 [EA] - 1828 [LA] → Owner
1831 [EA] - 1831 [LA] → Joint owner
1828 [EA] - 1828 [LA] → Owner
1834 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Mortgage Holder
1822 [EA] - 1828 [LA] → Lessee
1831 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Joint owner
1828 [EA] - 1828 [LA] → Mortgage Holder
1828 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Joint owner
1828 [EA] - 1831 [LA] → Joint owner
1828 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Joint owner
1819 [EA] - 1822 [LA] → Joint owner
1825 [EA] - 1825 [LA] → Administrator
1828 [EA] - 1828 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession
1831 [EA] - 1831 [LA] → Joint owner

Legacies Summary

Historical (3)

Two Letters and an Address to His Excellency Sir R Woodford, Bart, and the Honourable the Board of... 1824 
notes →
Very scarce. Copies are in the National Library of Scotland, University of Glasgow Library and the New York Public...
Opinions on Slavery & Emancipation in 1823; referred to in a recent debate in the House of Commons, by Thomas Fowell Buxton, Esq With additional observations, applicable to the Right Hon E. G.... 1833 
notes →
A strident pro-slavery tract in which Burnley argued, among other things, that 'free labour' was not cheaper or more desirable than slavery and that emancipation would lead to the West Indies...
Observations on the Present Condition of the Island of Trinidad, and the actual state of the experiment of Negro... 1842 
notes →
Copy available from Google...

Relationships (5)

Father → Son
Father-in-law → Daughter-in-law
Business associates
Business associates

Addresses (1)

New York, New York, USA - United States of America