Database updates - January 2020

At the beginning of 2019 we froze the public database for reasons we explained at the time in an updates notice. In the meantime we continued the work of adding new data and amending and editing existing records across the whole range of the database, not least to incorporate the contributions from many individuals who have sent us material. During 2019 we have added biographical data contributed by members of the public to over 600 individuals. We now have over 2,500 biographical entries largely based on public contributions. As always, those contributors’ work has been vital to the whole LBS project of public and educational work.

We are now making the updated version of the database available. Among the changes which have been incorporated in 2019 are the following:

  • We have added over 900 new individuals to the database.
  • We have added or amended data for about 3,400 individuals.
  • We have added details from large numbers of wills.
  • We have added details of over 100 estates.
  • Thanks to the generosity of Prof. Trevor Burnard we have also been able to add details of over 10,000 inventories taken in Jamaica between 1674 and 1787. Further details can be found here.

This is not the place to document every change but it is worth highlighting a few examples:

Occasionally we are able to identify individuals who had direct connections to more recent prominent figures in British history. Thus, there is lineage from James Croft, formerly Woodcock and his wife Elizabeth, through to Sir Anthony Eden (Earl of Avon) (1897-1977), Conservative politician and Prime Minister 1955-57. It should be noted too that the lineage included Edward Grey (1782-1837), Bishop of Hereford (1832-37), and his fourth son, Sir William Grey (1818-1878), administrator in India and colonial Governor in Bengal. William Grey was Anthony Eden’s maternal grandfather. These networks of connection between slave-ownership, the church, politics and the wider empire are often found among Caribbean slave-holders.

We now know that Henry Raeburn, the celebrated Scottish portrait-painter whose subjects included a number of Scottish slave-owners and their families, was named as a trustee in the will of Alexander Edgar of Wedderly and Stockbridge. Raeburn’s responsibilities were at least intended to include overseeing and making disposal of property including the proceeds of the sale of enslaved people in Jamaica. Such examples deepen our understanding of the entanglements of cultural formation and slave-holding as well as the life of a particular individual.

The networks of connection between British elites, slave-holding and cultural institutions are also seen in the case of Sir Thomas William Holburne (1793-1874). The nephew of Catherine Cussans (née Holburne) he was a beneficiary under her will when she died in 1834. He was also a beneficiary under the will of Jemima Cussans (died 1828) (who was also a niece of Catherine Cussans). Holburne’s collection of fine and decorative arts form the cornerstone of the Holburne Museum, Bath. Catherine Cussans was the half-sister of the 1st Earl of Harewood, one of a number of threads linking slave-ownership in the Caribbean.

The Foundling Hospital in London, established by Thomas Coram in 1739 to care for babies at risk of abandonment, and which continues now as the Coram children’s charity, was left two estates in St Ann, Jamaica, and the enslaved people on them by William Williams at his death in 1762. The estates and the enslaved on them were to be sold for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital.

Another hospital which benefitted from profits derived from slavery was the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Slave-ownership has left its mark on many physical legacies in Britain. One example we uncovered in 2019 was the facilitating of the financing (or re-financing) of building at Bolesworth Castle, Tattenhall, Cheshire by a mortgage of £20,000 to George Walmsley from the Hon. Abraham Hodgson (1765-1837), a wealthy planter in Jamaica and owner of large numbers of the enslaved. The current Bolesworth Castle website makes no mention of the role of Walmsley or Hodgson in its history or indeed to the wider connections between Hodgson and, among others, the Liverpool slave-owners, merchants and politicians, Charles Horsfall (1776-1846) and his son Thomas Berry Horsfall (1805-1878).