Untold lives blog

159 posts categorized "Conflict"

02 March 2021

Astley’s Amphitheatre presents ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’

Tucked into an Indian diary of Charlotte, Lady Canning was an unexpected find - a playbill advertising the entertainments offered at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre during Christmas week 1857.  If you had sixpence to spare, you could find yourself in the Upper Gallery, while for a guinea you could be in the comfort of one of the boxes.  On offer was a ‘National Military Spectacle’ called ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’.  A series of scenes in three acts, it was described as being ‘…founded upon the present events in India’.  The play covered the outbreak of the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’, the relief of the siege of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and its violent aftermath, and finally the assault on Delhi and its capture by British troops.  These events played out from May to September 1857, Delhi being retaken by the British on 20 September.  The play opened in London on 25 November 1857, scarcely two months later.  Portraying current events, it served as both popular entertainment and dramatized news production.

Playbill for Storming and Capture of Delhi
Playbill for Astley’s Amphitheatre, December 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Situated on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, Astley’s opened in the 1770s.  It burned down and was rebuilt three times – in 1794, 1803 and again in 1841.  The space was enormous with a pit, gallery and viewing boxes, and a large circular arena in addition to a stage.  It was rather like a cross between a circus and a theatre. The  Illustrated London News in 1843 described the newly rebuilt Astley’s as an octagonal structure, richly decorated with columns, hangings, chandeliers, and a stage measuring 75 x 101 feet.  No expense had been spared on its rebuilding.  Circus proprietor William Cooke leased Astley’s from 1853 to 1860 and revived its popularity; the venue became famous for equestrian displays, including adaptations of Macbeth and Richard III performed on horseback.

Astley's Amphitheatre

Astley’s Amphitheatre from R. Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, 1808-1811) Images Online

‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’ was written by the dramatist Charles A. Somerset, about whom very little is known.  In the 1861 census he is 66, unmarried, and an ‘Author Dramatic’, originally from Bath.  He is one of several lodgers at 2 Pitt Street, Southwark.  This is almost certainly the same Charles Somerset living in Devonshire Street, Lambeth in 1841, who is described as a ‘Writer’.  He had been writing for the stage since the 1820s; a check of the British Library catalogue reveals a wide repertoire from historical drama (Bonaparte in Egypt), comic operetta (Good Night Monsieur Pantalon), farce (The electric telegraph, or, the fast man in a fix) to pantomime (King Blusterbubble, and the demon ogre).

The spectacle on show during the winter of 1857-58 had all the hallmarks of an Astley’s production.  There were live animals, including troupes of trained horses as well as real Indian buffalo, zebra and elephants.  According to the reviews, ‘The compiler of the drama…has not encumbered the action with a complex plot or sentimental story but given a rapid succession of stirring scenes…’.   These included daring chases on horseback, stage combat including firing musket rounds, and comic interludes such as British troopers donning women’s bonnets to confuse the enemy.  There was even a romantic sub-plot involving Miss Mathilda, a General’s daughter, and Frank Phos Fix, an artist and volunteer Hussar. 

In addition to individual items like the ‘Storming of Delhi’ playbill, the British Library holds a significant collection of approximately 234,000 playbills dating from the 1730s to the 1950s. Some have been digitised, and many are being made available via the Into the Spotlight project.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/2/2/2: Indian Journals of Charlotte Canning.  The Astley’s playbill has been housed in a fascicule at Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6.
Add MS 52969 K 'The storming and capture of Dehli', grand military spectacle in three acts. Licence sent 24 November 1857 for performance at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre 23 November 1857.  Cover signed William Cook, lessee and manager, and W. West, stage manager.  Songs included in MS. LCO Day Book Add. 53073 records the stipulation that all oaths be omitted as well as the names of General Wheeler and his daughter ff. 29. (Part of THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S PLAYS AND DAY-BOOKS; 1851-1899, 1824-1903. Add MS 52929-53708: [1851-1899]).
The play was reviewed in The Morning Advertiser on 26 November 1857.  It was also advertised as still being on at Astley’s in The Globe, 26 January 1858.
Charles A. Somerset’s plays can be found amongst the Pettingell manuscripts at the University of Kent, while Somerset’s letters to TP Cooke are held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.

 

12 February 2021

Chinese New Year in Canton 1731

James Naish was Chief of the English East India Company Council in Canton (Guangzhou), China.  He kept a diary of ‘Observations and Transactions’ which includes a description of Chinese New Year celebrations in January and February 1730/31.

View of  Canton (Guangzhou) circa 1760-1770View of  Canton (Guangzhou) c.1760-1770 Maps K.Top.116.22.2 tab. BL flickr

Naish’s diary reads –

27th January This being the first day of the new Moon & of the new Year, great ceremony is observed by the Mandarins & all other persons in their visits and congratulations thereupon.

30th January The Foyen or Vice Roy of the Province haveing signified his approbation of all sorts of diversions, costly Pageants are daily carried about the streets, in which the State & Power of Mandarins in high stations are represented, Country & Low life well describ’d, & the seasons curiously discover’d.  At night the streets are finely illuminated, & a vast variety of fire works continually seen in the Air from all parts of the City.

17th February The Foyen hath Affixed a chop in several places which putts an end to the long continued festival, & likewise directs all persons to return to their professions & employments, the Mandarins of Justice may punish such Offenders as have been guilty of any crimes since new years day, from which time to this no sort of punishment could have been inflicted upon any criminal whatever.

Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary
Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary IOR/G/12/32 p.1 27 January-17 February 1730/31 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Naish was a very experienced China trade merchant.  He was supercargo on East India Company voyages to Canton in 1716, 1722, 1725 and 1730, and had also worked for the Ostend Company.  In 1730-1731 he spent a whole year at Canton instead of returning to England between trading seasons, the only English East India Company supercargo ever to do this.   Naish wrote reports on the tea industry during his extended stay.

When China merchant George Arbuthnot arrived back in England in the summer of 1731, he accused Naish of fraud.  Arbuthnot claimed that Naish had understated the amount of money received for goods sold in China and inflated the cost of commodities purchased there.  Naish was also said to have imported a large quantity of gold bullion from China without paying duty. The East India Company decided that Naish had broken his covenant and considered sending a ship to seize his unlicensed goods and bring him to England under arrest.  Naish’s wife Hester was desperate to prevent this.  She had been given a letter of attorney by her husband in 1729 authorising her to conduct his business, so she agreed to deposit £20,000 with the Company to allow Naish to return as a free man.

The Company began proceedings in the Court of Exchequer.  Naish protested his innocence and lodged counter-claims against the Company in the courts.

The legal process dragged on for years.  When Naish made his will in 1736, he left everything to Hester because the size of his estate was uncertain, dependent upon the outcome of several pending law suits.  He said the family had long experience of Hester’s skilful management of his affairs whilst he was abroad and he trusted her to divide the estate as he would wish.  Although Naish did not die until January 1757, this will was the one submitted for probate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/12/32 Observations and Transactions by James Naish at Canton in China (1926, 1929)
The Political State of Great Britain, Volume 44 July-September 1732
The Athenaeum January-June 1892,p.793
Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Courts of King's Bench ..., Volume 2 Naish v East India Company

19 January 2021

Richard Walpole and the East India Company at sea

Writer Horace Walpole had a cousin Richard who served as an East India Company maritime officer from 1744-1757.  Richard Walpole had at least two encounters with hostile French shipping whilst serving as a Company officer, exemplifying the dangers faced by merchant ships even when as heavily armed as East Indiamen.

During Walpole’s first voyage as 6th mate and purser in the Augusta, his ship captured the French vessel Baronette on 21 October 1747.

Whilst commanding the Houghton in March 1757, Walpole was involved in an action near the Cape of Good Hope.  His journal of the voyage records how on the afternoon of 9 March the East Indiamen Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin were approached by two unidentified ships.  Walpole immediately began to clear his ship in readiness for battle.  The three East Indiamen steered away but were followed.  Walpole had everyone on board prepared for action all night.

At daybreak the Suffolk raised its flags and made the signal for line of battle.  Here is a splendid drawing of that line of battle from the journal of the Suffolk.

Drawing showing the three East India ships in the line of battleLine of battle for the three East Indiamen from the journal of the Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At 8 am the unknown ships hoisted French colours.   The larger of the two shot at the English ships and the Suffolk returned fire.   After a short exchange, the ‘warm engagement’ ceased as the ships found themselves positioned outside the bearings of each other’s guns.  The French made to sail westward but were pursued by the East Indiamen.  They then tacked and came in close to the English ships and ‘a very smart fire’ was maintained by both sides.  At noon the French sailed away, probably bound for Mauritius.  Walpole recorded: ‘Every Body behaved during the whole Engagement with great Courage & Resolution; several of the Shot from the large Ship reached us, & four of them have lodged…(thank God) no Body hurt’.

Letter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in the Newcastle Courant newspaperLetter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757 British Newspaper Archive

The three ships reached the UK without further incident.  Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reported that the officers and sailors ‘behaved with all the Bravery and Intrepidity peculiar to our English seamen’.  He and his fellow captains asked the Company to honour a promise to reward mariners for their response to enemy attack.

Some of the crew of the Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin did not reach their homes at the end of this eventful voyage.  They were pressed by the Royal Navy and found themselves on board HMS Hussar.

The French did defeat Richard Walpole five years later.  The ship Walpole for which he was Principal Managing Owner was captured off Ceylon by two French men of war and a frigate on 20 September 1762 on its outward journey to Bengal, laden mainly with cloth.  Captain Parson Fenner and some of the crew ended up at the Cape of Good Hope, others at Mauritius.  The East India Company decided that the capture was not through any misconduct of Fenner or his officers, but entirely owing to the superior force of the enemy which they were ‘utterly unable to resist’.  Richard Walpole was given permission by the Company to build a new ship for Fenner on the bottom of the Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Court Minutes IOR/B/74 and IOR/B/79
Ship journals: Houghton IOR/L/MAR/B/438H; Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D
British Newspaper Archive (also accessible through Findmypast) e.g. Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757

 

14 January 2021

Bibee Zuhoorun: Women’s Voices in the Indian Indenture Trade

Bibee Zuhoorun was one of 1.3 million Indian labourers recruited in Caribbean and Indian Ocean sugar plantations after slave-labour was abolished in the British Empire.  She migrated to Mauritius in the 1830s and on her return to India, testified in an official inquiry committee set up to investigate transgressions in the Indian indenture trade.  As the earliest voice of female indentured labourers, Zuhoorun’s testimony offers a rare insight into early migration—painting a story of deception, ill-treatment and injustice.

Title page of Report of the Calcutta Committee of Inquiry 1839 containing Zuhoorun’s testimonyReport of the Calcutta Committee of Inquiry, 1839, containing Zuhoorun’s testimony 

In Calcutta, she was persuaded by a labour-recruiter to travel to Mauritius and work as a servant.  After her departure, however, she realised she had been deceived: ‘I got no clothes given to me, nor blankets, nor brass pots’.   Nor did she receive the quality of wages, or the six-month wage advance that the recruiter had promised.

In Mauritius, she spoke of the injustice meted out to fellow labourers—a story of overworked men subjected to ill-treatment and corporal punishment.  Labourers were often confined within plantations, and denied wages if they refused to work.  She felt stuck in a foreign land with no means of returning to her homeland, urging ‘every one would leave if there was a land journey; not one would advise any of their friends to go there’.

View looking towards a ground of labourers' huts on a sugar plantation in the Plaines Wilhelms district of Mauritius, with a small group of labourers posed in the foreground and a mountain rising against the skyline in the background.‘Indian huts on a sugar plantation, Plain William near Port Louis’ c. 1853. Photographer: Frederick Fiebig. British Library Photo 250(25) Images Online

Zuhoorun’s testimony attested to the gendered experience of indentured migrants.  While men tended to cultivate and process sugar, women often worked in the households of plantation-owners.  Zuhoorun testified to ‘making salt, climbing tamarind trees to pick them, sweeping the house, and cutting grass for cattle’.  She even learnt French to communicate with her French ‘master’.

Her testimony also highlighted instances of sexual harassment and the expectation of sexual favours—a common occurrence in plantations.  Zuhoorun complained that her plantation-owner Dr. Boileau asked her to be his mistress.  She refused, saying ‘I have degraded myself by going on board ship; I would not further degrade myself’'.  Her attempts to complain to the police were met with a three-month stint at a house of correction, and then a return to Boileau’s house, where she was beaten and harassed further.  Eventually, she decided to return to India before the end of her five-year contract, even if it meant not receiving any wages for her 2.5 years of service.

Zuhoorun’s bitterness towards the indenture system is evident in her testimony.  She urged: ‘I would not return to Mauritius on any account; it is a country of slaves; […] I would rather beg my bread here’.  Overseas migration had also damaged her social position.  She implored, ‘even my mother will not drink water from my hand or eat with me’; a sign of social ostracization tied to a taboo on crossing the Indian Ocean.

Indian and Chinese Indentured Labourers in British GuianaIndian and Chinese Indentured Labourers in British Guiana. Image from Edward Jenkins, The Coolie, His Rights and Wrongs (1871) from Wikimedia commons

Zuhoorun’s story is not just one of tragedy, injustice and violence, but also strength and resilience.  She not only resisted Boileau’s advances and ended her contract early, but even complained to his wife, sacrificing her livelihood at the same time.  Although relegated to the footnotes of history, her testimony remains the earliest account of a female indentured migrant, characterised by its strength, detail and passionate criticism of the indenture system.

Purba Hossain
University of Leeds

Further reading:

Read the testimonies of Zuhoorun and other indentured migrants in Letter from Secretary to Government of India to Committee on Exportation of Hill Coolies: Report of Committee and Evidence. Parliamentary Papers (House of Commons) 1841, Vol. 16, No. 45

Discover the life stories of indentured labourers -
‘Becoming Coolies’ - Life Stories and From the Archive
The Indentured Archipelago 

Marina Carter, Voices from Indenture: Experiences of Indian Migrants in the British Empire (London; New York: Leicester University Press, 1996).
Marina Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius, 1834-1874 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Gaiutra Bahadur, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

 

29 December 2020

Suffrage scrapbooks: forgotten histories of political activism

When you picture a scrapbook, you likely conjure up an image of a homemade album dedicated to the family or a hobby.  It’s less likely you’ll think of scrapbooks as records of political campaigns, such as women’s suffrage.  Yet here at the British Library, 37 bulging hardback scrapbooks tell us a personal history of suffrage activism through the eyes of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936).

Women's Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen's Social and Political Union membership card from the opening volume of Sennett’s first scrapbook. , British Library C.121.g.1.


Actress turned businesswoman; Sennett was a dynamic, strident suffrage campaigner.  She served time in prison on Black Friday in 1910 and again in 1911 after smashing the Daily Mail’s office windows.  She also set up the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage.

Article 'Why I want the vote' published in The Vote 26 February 1910An article 'Why I want the vote' written by Maud Arncliffe Sennett in 1910 for The Vote, journal of the Women’s Freedom League.

Through all this campaigning, she scrapbooked prolifically.  She kept the key from her husband’s stay at Bloomsbury Street hotel before he picked her up from prison.  More conventionally, she carefully lifted articles from a plethora of publications, encircling them with annotations.

In one instance, next to an article on Herbert Asquith published in 1910, she criticised his ‘cruel looking mouth and sinister eyes’ and wrote how she would like to ‘shoot Asquith right at the place where his heart ought to be’.  Sennett’s scrapbook facilitated her critical engagement with press coverage on women’s rights.

Sennett also used her scrapbooks to record the support networks underpinning her activism.  One way she did this was through preserving congratulatory letters praising her public speaking.  In her first scrapbook, she included a letter from suffrage activist Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who described Sennett as the ‘one of the greatest platform successes she had ever known’.

Before this letter however, Sennett pasted in another one.  It was from her servant Bessie.  Working for her mistress since at least 1906, census records identify Bessie as Eliza Punchard, who lived with her husband and three sons in Beckenham.

After hearing Sennett’s speech, Bessie wrote, 'Do you know you made a simply splendid speech, I was so proud of you’.  She continued, writing how she would happily go to prison of her accord if it would help the cause; she would ‘make the sacrifice in my own right not to feel that you will be worrying over me if I should go’.

Lifting the cover of Sennett’s fourth scrapbook powerfully articulates Sennett’s appreciation of her servant’s support.  In a beautiful, flowing font, Sennett dedicates her scrapbook to Bessie, ‘the only one true and trusted friend I have found…the star to which I have hitched by wagon of loneliness’.  Bessie’s support meant a great deal to Sennett, so much so that she immortalised it in the front of her scrapbook.

Sennett’s scrapbooks offer an intensely personal history of the suffrage activism, blurring the lines between the personal and the political. She chronicles the exceptional and mundane, turning to an assortment of materials to offer her history of the suffrage campaign.

Over a century later we are given a tantalising glimpse into the material, emotional histories of suffrage activism, as well as forgotten women such as Bessie, who played a vital part in women’s political campaigning.


Cherish Watton
PhD student studying a history of scrapbooking in Britain from 1914-1980 at Churchill College, Cambridge.  She founded and runs the website Women’s Land Army 
@CherishWatton


Further Reading:
Read more about Arncliffe-Sennett’s scrapbooks.
Read more about suffrage scrapbooks in the American context in Ellen Gruber’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2012, chapter 5.

 

22 December 2020

Soldier’s life saved by Princess Mary's Christmas gift

In February 1915 Private Michael Brabston of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was fighting at Givenchy.  In his breast pocket was the metal cigarette box he had received from Princess Mary's Gift Fund at Christmas.  A German bullet was on target to hit Brabston’s heart but it struck the box and he survived.

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Box 1914 now in Imperial War MuseumPrincess Mary's Gift Fund box containing a packet of tobacco and carton of cigarettes, 1914. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum
© IWM EPH 9380 

A few days later, Brabston was wounded above his left eye and he was sent to Edenbridge Hospital in Kent for treatment.  The matron forwarded the box and the bullet to Princess Mary.  A reply was received from Windsor Castle that the Princess was delighted that one of her boxes had saved a soldier’s life.  The box had been shown to the King and Queen who hoped that Private Brabston would soon recover from his wounds.

Brabston was awarded the Military Medal for his service in France.  On 17 August 1916, he was discharged from the British Army  as being no longer physically fit for war service.  He received a pension of 24 shillings per week.

Returning to his home in Clonmel Ireland, Brabston worked as a labourer before enlisting in the Irish National Army on 26 June 1922.  In May 1923, the Army was rounding-up Irish nationalists.  Sergeant Brabston was with a party of soldiers outside a dance hall at Goatenbridge when a young man approached him, hands in his pockets and whistling.  The two men exchanged greetings.  When the young man casually walked back the way he had come, Brabston became suspicious and followed him.  The man suddenly whipped out a revolver, shot Brabston in the chest at short range, and escaped into the woods.  Brabston died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

Michael Brabston’s mother Mary was awarded a gratuity of £100, paid in 20 monthly instalments of £5.  In 1927 an application for further payment was made on her behalf.  She had relied on her son to help support the family as he used to give her all his British Army pension plus money from his wages.  The claim stated that Mary was getting old, her nerves had been shattered by the sudden death of her son, she lacked nourishing food, she suffered from rheumatism, and she was incapable of earning a living.  The authorities ruled that nothing more could be paid as she had not been totally dependent upon Michael.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leicester Daily Post 28 June 1915; Dublin Evening Telegraph 8 & 9 May 1923
World War I medal card for Michael Brabston available from The National Archives UK
Documents relating to Michael Brabston’s service in the Irish Army are available from Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives 

 

04 December 2020

The curious case of Jean Robbio

At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, a mysterious French agent was picked up by the British at Bushire, Persia, dressed in disguise and carrying a map and secret letters.

On 29 July 1810, Stephen Babington, in charge of the British Residency at Bushire, wrote to the Government of India’s Envoy to Persia, John Malcolm, reporting the arrival of a Frenchman ‘in an Arab dress’ at Bushire.  The man was confirmed to be a courier for the Governor-General of Isle de France (Mauritius), General Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen.

Rough sketch of Bushire and its vicinity  c 1800

Rough sketch of Bushire and its vicinity, c 1800 (IOR/X/3111, f 1r

Babington had acted swiftly, arresting the courier.  He was pleased to report that his men ‘effected his seizure so completely that every article about him has been secured, and at the same time the most favorable impressions have been left upon his mind, of the mild and kind treatment, which Englishmen always shew to their Enemies’.

The courier was revealed to be one Jean Robbio.  Genoese by birth, Robbio had worked for the military and diplomatic mission of General Claude-Matthieu de Gardane to Tehran of 1807-1809.  In the context of the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, Gardane’s mission had been of great concern to the British, and Babington had acted in this atmosphere of heightened tension and suspicion.  Prior to his arrest, Robbio had been stranded in Muscat for two years.  Following his capture, Robbio made ‘no secret of his hostile intentions towards the English’, and Babington had him imprisoned at the Residency.  It appears that Robbio was however a model prisoner, and Babington subsequently allowed him to go out on parole in Bushire.

Robbio had a number of papers in his possession, including a map of navigation routes around Zanzibar, an intelligence report detailing the political situation in Baghdad, and a letter detailing Robbio’s audience with the Sultan of Muscat.

Map of the routes of navigation at the port of Zanzibar, part of Jean Robbio’s captured papersA map of the routes of navigation at the port of Zanzibar, part of Jean Robbio’s captured papers (IOR/L/PS/9/68/67, f. 1) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another mysterious letter seized from Robbio was from an unknown correspondent in Muscat, possibly Robbio himself, to an unknown recipient in India.  The letter makes a plea for help, offering a reward and the services of an experienced French navigator based in Muscat in return.

Mysterious letter from Muscat making a plea for help A mysterious letter from Muscat making a plea for help (IOR/L/PS/9/68/66, f. 1r) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The episode came to an abrupt end when HM Envoy Extraordinary to Persia, Sir Harford Jones, intervened.  He wrote to Babington on 9 September admonishing him for unilaterally arresting Robbio.  He warned ‘that no public functionary in a foreign State possesses any right or authority to seize or possess himself of the person or papers of an Enemy entering or being in that State, without the permission and sanction of the Sovereign’. 

Jones wrote again on 14 September indicating that the Persian Government were ‘very little pleased’ with his handling of the affair, ordering Babington to release Robbio at once.  To add insult to injury, Babington was told to pay for Robbio to stay at the Residency if he so pleased.  In a final admonishment, Jones declared that ‘there is not any Paper found on this Gentleman which I have seen that it is at the present moment of any great Importance to us to be acquainted with’.

John Casey
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further reading:
The story of Jean Robbio and the documents captured by Babington can be found in the India Office Records, shelfmarks IOR/L/PS/9/68/60-67
Iradj Amini, Napoleon and Persia: Franco-Persian relations under the First Empire, (Richmond: Curzon, 1999)

 

24 November 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 3 Cato Perkins and Nathaniel Snowball

The previous blog post in this series explored the written legacy of Thomas Peters.  This post explores letters from two other figures who travelled to Sierra Leone in late 1791.  These letters are addressed to John Clarkson after he had returned to England in December 1792.

Cato Perkins

Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson  26 October 1793Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson, 26 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.97  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cato Perkins was born into slavery around 1739.  He was given the name Perkins after his enslaver, John Perkins of Charleston, South Carolina.  At the age of 39, he ran away from the plantation and joined the British forces at the Siege of Charleston.  In 1783, he left the USA on the ship Briton for Nova Scotia.  By 1792, he had joined others in the relocation to Sierra Leone where he became a vocal member of the settlers’ community.

In 1793 Perkins wrote that the management of the settlement was unacceptable.  Perkins was nominated to travel alongside Isaac Anderson to London to deliver a petition of grievances to the Sierra Leone Company and to ask that Clarkson be reinstalled as governor, but Clarkson had been dismissed from the Company.  Perkins stayed at 13 Finch Lane and from there would continue to lobby the Company.  He expresses his disappointment at not meeting Clarkson given how ‘all the people have been much put upon since you came away’.

The letter below introduces the petition and declares that the settlers ‘want nothing but what you promised us’.  Clarkson would reply that despite his insistence the Company meet with Perkins that they had refused to.  Perkins returned to Sierra Leone where he continued to protest against conditions in Freetown.

Letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson  30 October 1793A letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson, 30 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.101 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Nathaniel Snowball
Nathaniel Snowball was 39 years old when he was evacuated from New York to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.  He was a slave in Virginia before escaping to the British lines in the Revolutionary War.  His wife Violet, son Nathaniel and his 3-month-old daughter Mary, all travelled to Nova Scotia.  He travelled with his family to resettle in Sierra Leone.  There he became particularly dissatisfied with the lack of good farmland and the management by the Sierra Leone Company.  His objections eventually led him to lead a group of settlers out of Freetown into a new location at Pirate's Bay.  The letter below explains his intentions to take ‘departure as the Ezerlities did’ to escape the ‘boundage of this tyranious crew’.  He explains that he negotiated the new land from King Jimmy, a local tribal leader.

Letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay  24 May 1796A letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay, 24 May 1796. Add MS 41263, f.129  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan  29 July 1796The signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan 29 July 1796, Add MS 41263, f.131.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Clarkson Papers contain many more letters from members of the Freetown settlement.  These were written by members of the community who enjoyed positions of importance, such as preachers and elected representatives.  Up to thirty people seem to have been responsible for authoring the surviving letters.  Among the authors are Boston King, Moses Murray, Isaac Anderson and James Liaster, but absent are the voices of the women of the settlement.  The next post in this series will explore what we know of the women who travelled to Sierra Leone in 1792.

Signatories of a letter to John Clarkson  all members of the Freetown settlement  including Luke Jordon  Moses Wilkinson (preacher)  American Tolbert  Rubin SimmonsSignatories of a letter to John Clarkson, all members of the Freetown settlement, including Luke Jordon, Moses Wilkinson (preacher), American Tolbert, Rubin Simmons and many more. Add MS 41263, f.115.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Jessica Gregory,
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

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