Untold lives blog

182 posts categorized "Health"

13 April 2021

Treating patients with mineral water at Bath Hospital

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Bath Hospital published the names, ages and places of residence for patients who had undergone mineral water treatments, and listed their maladies.  The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette carried lists from the 1820s to the 1840s of discharged patients who were cured or ‘much better’.  A book published in 1787  described the case histories of 52 named patients suffering from a variety of ‘paralytic disorders’.

Bath Hospital plan by John Pine published in 1737John Pine, 'The plan and elevation of a new General Hospital intended to be erected at Bath for the Reception of one hundred and fifty poor strangers Anno Dom: 1737' Maps K.Top.37.26.m Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bath Hospital was a charitable institution incorporated in 1739, established principally to extend the benefits of the mineral waters to poorer people.  The apothecary kept an accurate register of each patient’s name, age, place of residence, disease, date of admission, length of stay, date of discharge, and state of health on discharge.  Treatment was usually limited to a maximum period of six months, although extensions and readmissions were sometimes granted.  The majority of patients came from south-west England but there were some from further afield – for example London, Wales, Oxford, Shropshire, Kent, Hampshire, and Hertfordshire.

Description of the work of Bath Hospital from the title page of Bath Hospital Annual Statement 1858
From the title page of Bath Hospital Annual Statement 1858 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The Hospital also aimed to publish its ‘experimental observations’ so that other physicians could gain knowledge of the use of medicinal waters.  Success in treating paralytic complaints encouraged the Hospital to compile a book of cases selected from its medical records, detailing the treatments given.  From January 1776 to December 1785, 1102 patients with paralysis were admitted.  Of these, 237 were cured; 454 were discharged much better; 142 better; 233 no better; and 36 had died.  It was noted that the waters were not very effective in treating ‘shaking palsies’.

The cases of paralysis were broken down into different categories –
• Following childbirth
• Caused by cold
• Caused by colic
• Caused by lead and copper
• Resulting from distorted vertebrae
• Caused by an accident
• Following a convulsive spasm
• After a fever
• After rheumatism
• No assignable cause

William Toop of Frome suffered from paralysis after going into cold water to gather watercress.  David House, a cooper from Bristol, developed palsy after spending several hours bottling wine in a cold, damp cellar.  Both men were cured in a month.

John Evans from Salisbury was reported to have lost the use of his hands and arms from colic after drinking stale small beer in hot weather.  Evans spent thirteen months in Bath Hospital and was eventually discharged much better, but not cured.

Industrial injuries from contact with noxious substances were recognised and treated.  Several patients affected by working in brass foundries were cured.  Samuel Smith, servant to Mr Wedgwood in Greek Street, Soho, suffered from ‘dropt hands’ paralysis resulting from lead or copper in paint.  William Hinton from Gloucester was employed in pointing pins and the dust was said to have caused weakness in his hands and wrists.  James Lewis Markes of Stratford- le-Bow Middlesex was a house painter whose hands were paralysed by white lead poisoning.  After 50 weeks at Bath, he was able to dress himself, cut his food, write, and use scissors, but he could no longer undertake hard labour.

The Narrative also reports cases of paralysis caused by accidental poisoning, falls, being struck by lightning, hard drinking, fever, strokes, and sciatica.  Digitised versions of the book are available, so why not dip into the world of eighteenth century health and medicine?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Narrative of the Efficacy of the Bath Waters, in various kinds of paralytic disorders admitted into the Bath Hospital (Bath, 1787) 
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette British Newspaper Archive – also accessible via Findmypast

 

25 March 2021

Eliza Armstrong’s husband

Since 2012 we have been sharing stories which try to piece together the later life of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.  This post focuses on Eliza’s husband Henry George West.

Henry George West’s birth was registered in Shoreditch in the first quarter of 1857.  He was the son of Henry West and his wife Elizabeth née Wetenhall.  His parents had three children born in East London and then moved their family to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where five more were born.  Henry senior was a boot and shoe maker, then a traveller in the boot trade, and finally the manager of a shoe warehouse.  Elizabeth was a dressmaker.

In January 1879 Henry George West, 22, married Sarah Turnbull, 19, at St Peter's Church Newcastle and his profession in given as barman.  However the 1881 census describes him as a plumber and gasfitter. 

Interior of a music hall 1873 focusing on the audience‘London sketches - at a music hall’ from The Graphic 5 April 1873 p. 329. Copyright British Library Images Online

Sarah’s father William Turnbull was said to be a wine merchant on her marriage certificate.  William appears in local newspapers in 1885-1886 as landlord of the George Tavern in King Street, North Shields, and proprietor of the Gaiety Theatre in the same street.  The business manager for Turnbull’s Gaiety Theatre in 1886 was Mr H. G. West.

 

Advert for Turnbull's Gaiety Theatre Shields Daily News 1 October 1886Advert for Turnbull's Gaiety Theatre from Shields Daily News 1 October 1886 British Newspaper Archive

Tragedy struck the family in December 1886.  Sarah West, aged just 27, was found dead in bed by her servant Mary Cooper at home in Marine Terrace, North Shields.  The inquest found that Sarah had a weak heart.

By February 1887, the Gaiety Theatre had passed into the ownership of George Duncan, a Tyneside comedian.  In January 1888, Henry George West was landlord of the Lord Byron Inn in North Shields.  He was summoned for allowing drinking after hours.  The police could hear men’s voices and drinks being ordered.  PC King covered the back door whilst Sergeant Clarke knocked at the front.  Three men were let out the back but retreated indoors when they saw Clarke.  West claimed that the men were friends being privately entertained.  He had only been at the pub at short while and was planning to leave because it didn’t pay.  The bench fined West £1 plus costs.  The other men were each fined 2s 6d plus costs.

The report of the case in the Shields Daily Gazette stated that West’s sister Florence, who kept house for him, had given evidence in his defence.  Henry wrote to the newspaper pointing out that his sister Florence was not involved and the name given should have been Audrey West.

Henry did not have a sister Audrey.  In the 1891 census, he was again working as a plumber and living in Jarrow with the family of Albert Overton, a barman born in  Aylesham, Norfolk.  Audrey West from Aylesham is with him and the couple are listed as Albert’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Two and a half years later, Henry George West married Eliza Armstrong in Newcastle upon Tyne on 24 October 1893 and appears to have continued working as a plumber from that time.  Audrey (Audy) Overton, born in Norfolk, was living in Jarrow with her sister in 1901.

When West’s father Henry died in July 1890, the obituaries spoke of his long years of work as a temperance reformer in Newcastle.  I wonder what Henry thought of his son’s pub work?

Obituary for Henry West Newcastle Daily Chronicle 5 July 1890Obituary for Henry West Newcastle Daily Chronicle 5 July 1890 British Newspaper Archive

Henry George West died of heart disease on 17 February 1906 at home in Hebburn, leaving Eliza alone with five young children.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle
Eliza Armstrong’s children

British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast e.g. Shields Daily News 1886 for William Turnbull and the Gaiety Theatre; Shields Daily News 27 December 1886 for Sarah West’s death; Shields Daily Gazette 13 & 25 January 1888 for the court case involving Henry George West; Newcastle Daily Chronicle 5 July 1890 & Newcastle Chronicle 12 July 1890 for obituaries of Henry West.

 

18 March 2021

Travel Quarantine in the 1750s

In the early 1750s the British Government had to consider what to do about the resurgence of the plague along the trade routes of the Eastern Mediterranean.  The threat of importing plague back into the country after a relatively plague-free period was a real one and required action at the country’s points of entry.

Portrait of William Wildman Barrington, 2nd Viscount BarringtonWilliam Wildman Shute Barrington, 2nd Viscount Barrington, by Charles Knight Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery NPG D14330 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The 2nd Viscount Barrington, MP for Plymouth, sought to address the threat of the plague re-entering the country through a quarantine bill.  The drafts of his speech on this bill are present in the Barrington Papers.  Its outline may be familiar to many of us, as its purpose much like today’s hotel quarantine, was to isolate those who had come from high-risk areas, so that one could identify infections before they reached the population.

First page of Barrington’s speech on measures of quarantineFirst page of Barrington’s speech on measures of quarantine, Add MS 73688, f.40. 1751. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Barrington’s draft speech reflects on previous plagues and their huge consequences.  He says that to allow reinfection would put the UK at a disadvantage and that practical means must be employed to prevent that.  He mentions past quarantine bills and how they suffered from a lack of enforcement.  His speech also dismisses complaints about how much this might cost saying: 'Be it little or much it is necessary, and therefore the consideration of expense must not stop our proceedings'.

Barrington also notes that other major ports abroad had already established a mandatory quarantine: 'No British merchant who hath the least degree not only of public spirit, but even of shame, can object to doing that for the safety of his own country at home, which for the security of other states, he submits to, without grumbling, abroad'.

A view of the city of Malta, on the side of the Lazaretto or pest-house, where ships perform quarantineA view of the city of Malta, on the side of the Lazaretto or pest-house, where ships perform quarantine, by Joseph Goupy, around 1740-1760. Cartographic Items Maps K.Top.84.102.g BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The ports of Venice, Genoa, Marseille and the City of Malta already had long established marine quarantine systems that British sailors would have had to adhere to, so a British version was considered long overdue.

Barrington describes the quarantine procedure that he envisions establishing with the bill.  First, every ship coming from the Levant, or countries infected with plague would make a signal to the shore when coming into port.  Then an officer of quarantine would visit the ship and see that it has no communication with others or the shore until the ship is brought into a quarantine lazaret (or lazaretto).  A lazaret was a quarantine station for maritime travellers, sometimes these were a ship permanently at anchor, a small island or a building.  Here the incoming ship would be quarantined for a set time period to allow for the identification of any cases of disease.  If the ship and crew managed to complete their quarantine without cases, the ship would then be given a certificate of health and be allowed to proceed.

Barrington mentioned locations in the Thames or Medway. The bill for Enlarging and Regulating the Trade into the Levant Seas passed and came into enforcement in 1754.  It is likely the subsequent quarantining took place on the Medway near Lower Halstow.  Antiquarian Edward Hasted noted in 1798 that two large hospital ships were stationed there as lazarettos.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Manuscripts.

Further Reading:
The Barrington Papers, Add MS 73546-73769 : 1701-1882

 

10 March 2021

Hannah Danby – JMW Turner’s housekeeper

John Danby, a successful organist and glee composer, lived in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and was a near neighbour of the Turner family, who lived in Maiden Lane.  He suffered with poor health, probably rheumatoid arthritis, and died, aged 41, in 1798.  After Danby’s death, his wife, Sarah, began a relationship with Turner and lived with him for short periods of time at various addresses. This was never a permanent arrangement and they never married.

In 1809, JMW Turner began to employ Danby’s 23-year-old niece, Hannah, to look after his London house and gallery in Queen Anne Street, off Harley Street.  Born in about 1786, Hannah was the daughter of one of John Danby’s brothers but it is not clear which one and Turner does not name him.  There are records of William, Christopher, Richard, Thomas and Charles.  Charles, who was a bass singer and actor was living at 24 Tottenham Street in 1794 and in 1801 he lodged with Turner in a house he was renting at 75 Norton Street but there is no record of Hannah living with him.

Turner's house 47 Queen Anne StreetTurner’s house and gallery at 47 Queen Anne Street West, photographed in the 1880s courtesy of The Tate 

Hannah remained as Turner’s housekeeper until his death in 1851 and then stayed on as custodian of his gallery until her own death in 1853.  She took her job very seriously and was very protective of Turner’s privacy.  As well as her domestic duties, she sometimes helped Turner in his studio, telling the son of Turner’s great friend, Henry Trimmer, that she would often set Turner’s palette.

The sexual relationship between Hannah and Turner, as portrayed in the film Mr Turner, is speculative but quite possible from what we do know of Turner’s private life.  He was certainly very fond of her, referring to her as 'My Damsel' in a letter to a friend.  He also gave her the self-portrait that he had painted in his teens. 


JMW Turner - self portrait as a youth

JMW. Turner by JMW. Turner - watercolour, circa 1790 NPG 1314 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Some people have even suggested that it was Hannah and not Sarah Danby who was the mother of Turner’s two daughters but there is no real evidence for this, and, in his will, Turner refers to them as the 'natural daughters of Sarah Danby'.

Hannah suffered from a skin complaint that worsened with age.  One unsympathetic visitor described her as 'a most frightful-looking creature - a short woman, with a very large head, wearing a dirty white gown, and with a ragged dirty thing tied round her head and throat, making her already large head twice its natural size.  She looked like those ogres one sees in the pantomimes'.  When she died, the cause of death was given as 'eczema exedens'.

Newspaper article about Turner's house at 47 Queen Anne Street

Article entitled ‘Turner’s Den’ from Cassell's Old and New London  – reprinted in Sheffield Daily Telegraph 8 August 1876 British Newspaper Archive

Towards the end of his life, Turner spent most of his time in Chelsea, with Sophia Booth, and rarely visited Queen Anne Street.  Hannah became increasingly worried about him and eventually found a piece of paper with the Chelsea address in one of Turner’s coats.  On 16 December 1851, Hannah and her friend, Maria Tanner, walked down to Chelsea to search for Turner.  When they arrived at the address, they were told by the neighbours that, indeed, a man fitting Turner’s description lived there and that he was close to death.  Hannah did not feel up to going inside and, instead, went for help to Turner’s cousin, Henry Harpur, who was also his solicitor.  Turner died two days later, on 19 December.

Hannah was seen to be in great distress at Turner’s funeral and many of his friends showed her kindness in the following months, Ruskin’s father, John James, taking her gifts of food, including new-laid eggs.  In his will, Turner left her £100 per annum, with an additional £50 per annum for looking after the gallery.

Hannah only survived Turner by two years, dying at Queen Anne Street, aged 67, in December 1853.  She was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard but her grave was probably one of those destroyed by the coming of the railway.  In her own will, she left Turner’s self-portrait as a youth to John Ruskin.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

 

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham will reopen as soon as the current lockdown rules permit.  Check the website for details.

Further reading:
Selby Whittingham, ‘JMW Turner, marriage and morals’, The British Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Spring 2015), pp. 119-125
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Time s of J.M.W. Turner  (London, 2016) 

Sarah Danby – JMW Turner’s lover

04 March 2021

The Garden of Aden: The Experimental Vegetable Garden at Aden

Ill-health plagued the East India Company Army in the 19th century.  Army rations consisted of bread and meat, supplemented by other items which the soldiers bought for themselves.  Despite the work of Dr James Lind on scurvy a century before, malnutrition was common in the army.  At Aden, this diet was even more unsuitable owing  to a lack of fresh water, which was needed to render the salt meat provided palatable.

Army review on Woolwich Common 1841 showing soldiers, horses and cannons
Army review on Woolwich Common by the Queen, 1841 in The Records of the Woolwich District Volume II by William Vincent, (Woolwich: J. R. Jackson, [1888-90])

It was in these conditions that the Executive Engineer at Aden, Lieutenant John Adee Curtis, created an experimental vegetable garden in 1841.  Curtis’s aim for his garden was to supply the hospital and the troops stationed at Aden.  He calculated that, when it was fully productive, it would even be able to supply a small surplus which could be distributed to the prisoners who would tend the garden, helping to prevent scurvy in jails.  This would also cut down on labour costs, although Curtis claimed that ‘the garden has been almost entirely watered by the wastage which occurs in drawing water for the public works from the well situated at one angle of the enclosure’, reducing the work involved.

Water tanks at AdenWater tanks at Aden, mid 1870s. Photographer unknown, British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, T.11308/3 

The troops did not derive any benefit from its produce in the first year, as most of the vegetables were cut down and buried in the soil to rot, improving it for the following year.  However, between October 1841 and January 1842 the roads were closed and the hospitals lacked supplies.  During that time, the garden supplied them with 1943½ lbs of vegetables. 
In his letter asking for an extension of the scheme and the garden, which was 100 square feet, Curtis is enthusiastic about the future.  He does not mention what types of vegetables were grown, but he is confident that ‘with good seeds all Indian vegetables may be produced in Aden throughout the year’, and that in a few years, the soil may be improved enough to grow European vegetables.  Not all of his seeds germinated, but he attributes this to faulty seed, as he claims that all the plants which germinated produced vegetables.

The British also moved away from a reliance on salt and tinned meat at Aden, and negotiated for fresh meat.  This not just provided a healthier diet for those stationed at Aden, but also improved relations between the East India Company and the local citizens.

No more is heard of the experimental vegetable garden after 1842, but the military board’s continued funding of the garden in 1842 and the creation of another similar garden at Karachi a year or so later suggests that the project was continued for at least a short time.

Toy British soldiers dressed in red uniforms standing in a line
Toy British soldiers from Funny Books for Boys and Girls. Struwelpeter. Good-for-nothing Boys and Girls. Troublesome Children. King Nutcracker and Poor Reinhold (London: David Bogue, [1856]). Images Online

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further Reading:
The experimental vegetable garden at Aden appears in IOR/F/4/1930/82915 and IOR/F/4/1998/88694.

 

16 February 2021

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a pioneering writer’s life

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Britain’s greatest woman poet, changed the course of literary history not only as a pioneering, modernising writer, world famous in her day, but as an influential political campaigner.  Born in 1806 in Coxhoe Hall, County Durham, she died in 1861 at Casa Guidi, her home in Florence.  In between, she lived a life of precocious achievement, writing poems from the age of six and verse drama in French at eight, and publishing her first book, The Battle of Marathon, at fourteen.  She did this despite living with a disabling, chronic respiratory illness so severe that – like Marcel Proust in his last years – she couldn’t leave her room for years at a time.

Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett BrowningPortrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning from The poetical works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London,1889-90) British Library flickr

There were other obstacles, too.  Barrett Browning wrote under her own name, at a time when most women published anonymously – Jane Austen as ‘A lady’ – or under male pseudonyms: the Brontë sisters as the Bell brothers, Mary Ann Evans as George Eliot.

As a result, contemporary critical reception was sometimes baldly misogynist: on the other hand, in 1850 she was the first woman to be nominated for Poet Laureate, 159 years before a woman Laureate was finally appointed.  A further challenge to any idea of becoming a writer, at a time with few Black literary role models, may have been that her Jamaican descent made her believe she had black heritage.  She was acutely aware of the appalling violence endured by those enslaved.  EBB, as she styled herself, passionately condemned that violence in her abolitionist poem ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim Point’.

Indeed as her literary fame developed, she deployed it repeatedly to change social attitudes.  She was at the forefront of the shift from Romanticism into an ethical, distinctively Victorian school of writing. In the verse novel Aurora Leigh (1856), the first ever woman’s Bildingsroman, she returned to rape in the form of forced prostitution.  She published in aid of Ragged Schools and against child labour (‘The Cry of the Children’).  Most influentially of all, in two books of political poetry, Casa Guidi Windows (1851) and Poems before Congress (1860), she argued for Italian independence, and Italians viewed her as a heroine of the struggle.

Other key works of Barrett Browning’s maturity included her breakthrough collection The Seraphim (1838), Poems (1844) and Poems (1850) – which included ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’, among them one of the most famous poems in English, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’.  More to the point than its biographical occasion is the way this lyric shows off the poet’s gift for narrative, and a new informal, conversational style, which are the secrets of its popularity.  Her clandestine marriage at forty to the younger, and less-established poet Robert Browning, with whom she moved to Italy, was a love-match which is too often allowed to eclipse her work.  We gain a much more accurate sense of her legacy from noting the writers she influenced, including Emily Dickinson, John RuskinOscar Wilde, Rudyard KiplingVirginia Woolf.

Professor Fiona Sampson
Author of the first biography of Barrett Browning for more than 30 years, Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Profile, W.W. Norton, 2021) 

 

24 December 2020

A Christmas pantomime

Most Christmas pantomimes have been cancelled this year because of the pandemic.  However you don’t have to miss out completely.  On the British Library website there is a digital version of the script of Babes in the Wood first performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 26 December 1897.  You can read through alone to amuse yourself, or share out parts amongst your loved ones.  There are roles to suit everyone – the Babes Reggie and Chrissie, Prince Paragon, Baron Banbury Cross, the Spirit of Indigestion, a Bucolic Chorus, giants, gnomes, and jockeys to name but a few!
 

Front cover of Babes in the Wood performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1897-1898 showing Dan Leno as Reggie and Herbert Campbell as Chrissie.Front cover of Babes in the Wood performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1897-1898 showing Dan Leno as Reggie and Herbert Campbell as Chrissie.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The leading roles were filled by performers well known to music hall and theatre audiences in the 1890s.  Reggie and Chrissie were played by Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell, and Ada Blanche appeared as Prince Paragon.

The pantomime was ‘written and invented’ by Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins, with music provided by James M. Glover.  Arthur Sturgess had been working as a stenographer in London when he sent James Glover a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan that he had written.  Sturgess was introduced by Glover to Sir Augustus Harris, the manager of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and his career as a writer was launched.
 

Arthur Pelham Collins started work as a seedsman but joined the staff at Drury Lane at the age of eighteen as an apprentice to Henry Emden, the scenic artist.  Harris was impressed with Collins and made him stage manager.  Collins was associated with Drury Lane for over 40 years, becoming its successful managing director.

Sir Augustus Harris died in 1896 and Babes in the Wood was the first pantomime produced at Drury Lane by Collins.  It ran for 135 performances, ending in April 1898.  Sporting Life said the show was an ‘all-round triumph’.  Other reports were more critical.  Sussex Agricultural Express published a review describing Babes in the Wood as a hotch-potch music hall kind of pantomime, with the story subordinated to comic songs and ballets.  St James’s Gazette said that cuts were needed since the evening performance had run beyond midnight, and commented that it was more of a musical comedy than a pantomime, with some content going over the heads of children in the audience.
 

Advert for evening dresses for young ladies from H C Russell of London, with two girls showing off their fineryAdvert for evening dresses for young ladies from H. C. Russell of London  included in Babes in the Wood.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

So now it’s over to you to decide what you think of Babes in the Wood.  There is an added bonus in the form of many interesting advertisements appearing throughout the text.  You will be offered evening dresses for young ladies with ‘Slips and Knickers in Nun’s Veiling to Match’; self-adjusting trusses; artistic wigs; Albene for baking; whisky; a comic annual; jewellery; pianos; musical boxes; the celebrated C.B. Corsets; and Dr J. Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne for treating coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, and many other ailments.

Seasonal Greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Penny Illustrated Paper 25 December 1897; Sporting Life 28 December 1897; St James’s Gazette 28 December 1897; Sussex Agricultural Express 31 December 1897; The Stage 31 August and 7 September 1922; The Scotsman 15 January 1932.

 

15 December 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 4 Women’s Lives

When members of the black Nova Scotian community expressed interest in going to Sierra Leone, it was not just men that applied - applicants also included single women.  Unmarried women who applied for land in Sierra Leone were given ten acres of their own.  The following certificates were issued just before the journey to Sierra Leone and show the allocation of land given to women on receipt of their satisfactory character references.

Promise of land to Margaret Halstead

Promise of land to Grace Pool

Promise of land to Mary

Promise of land to Hannah TighePromises of land in Sierra Leone to single women including Grace Pool, Add MS 41262 A, f.47, f.48, f.53, f.58. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Freetown a high proportion of householders were women.  Their independent status was recognised to the point that they could vote for their local representatives.  They were also instrumental in establishing trades in the new settlement: three of the six first shops to open in Freetown were run by women.

The following manuscript shows the allocations of eggs to women on Christmas Day 1792. It gives us many of the names of the women within the settlement.

Allocations of eggs to women  25 December 1792Allocations of eggs to women, 25 December 1792, Add MS 41263, f.218. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dinah Weeks, named on this list, is recorded as having being enslaved to a man called Robert Bruce in New York before the American Revolution.  He apparently granted her freedom and in 1783 she left New York for Nova Scotia on the ship L’Abondance.  On the same ship was Harry Washington, who had been one of George Washington’s slaves, but who had escaped to fight with the British.

The final name on this list is that of Elizabeth Black.  She was a mixed-race women who had been born in Madagascar and described as living in indentured servitude in America to a Mrs Courtland.  When she was finally released she travelled to Nova Scotia and came to live with the black community in Birchtown, before moving to Sierra Leone with many others.

The diary and notes of Dr Taylor offer more insights into some of the women who travelled to Freetown.  The Sierra Leone Company doctor kept notes on the patients he treated. These appear to run from shortly before departing to Sierra Leone in December 1791 and the early months of the settlement in the spring of 1792.

Entry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notesEntry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.37.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Listed in this manuscript volume is the case of Sarah Wilkinson, who is described as having a fever after catching a cold after suffering a miscarriage.  She received treatment from Taylor, but died shortly afterwards.  Dr Taylor notes that, by 11 April 1792, 41 women had died, mainly from fevers.  He also notes that fourteen babies had been born since embarking.

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mima Henry was also listed as having a fever.  We find that she lived in Birchtown, Nova Scotia before moving to Sierra Leone.  We know that Mima survived her fever because she is listed above in the allocations of eggs document that is dated later in 1792.

These documents may appear insignificant, but they give us the names, ages, backgrounds and land allocations of a number of black women who not only survived slavery, but strived to contribute to a free black society of their own, where they would play a foundational part in the beginnings of Freetown.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Clarkson Papers, Add MS 41262-41267. British Library.
Black Loyalist: Our Freedom, Our People: Documents
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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