A Wikithon focussed on the Reimagining Lincolnshire Project for Black History Month 2022.
Thursday October 20th, 2022, Online
Members of Reimagining Lincolnshire and any interested parties are invited to attend this Wikithon, in honour of Black History Month 2022. Participants will learn Wikipedia basics and make their first edits, in collaboration with the University of Lincoln library. In addition, this event will allow you to see how a Wikithon is run, how it could work for your organisation and how you can best support the growth of open knowledge.
In any project to expand and diversify Lincolnshire history, significant attention needs to be paid to exploring the past of one of the longest-established minority groups in Britain: the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples. These two blogposts for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2022 indicate ways in which we can connect to their past in Lincolnshire, through readily available source materials. The focus of the blogposts will be the Gypsy/Roma peoples; they are part of a broader category termed Travellers, which also includes itinerant groups such as showfolk and boaters, who also deserve more attention. This research takes its inspiration from influential social historians who have sought to rescue social minorities from the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’, to use E.P. Thompson’s memorable phrase.
Rev. George Hall (1863-1918), born in Lincoln and eventually rector of Ruckland, Louth, was known as the ’Gypsy’s Parson’. He spoke their language, had a deep knowledge of their history and advocated for their rights. Like Hall, another regular Lincolnshire contributor to the early issues of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in the early twentieth century was William Cragg of Threckingham House, near Folkingham. Unfortunately, the words and voices of the Gypsies themselves are heavily mediated in such accounts as these and others such as court reports; their own voices are conspicuously absent from the record.
Gypsy heritage and culture have always been predominantly oral; it is estimated that in Victorian England, the literacy rates of Gypsies were between 3 and 12 per cent. A notable exception is Gordon Silvester Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy. Boswell (1895-1977) had strong links with Lincolnshire. His son Gordon (1940-2016) founded the Gordon Boswell Romany Museum at Spalding, which has one of the finest collections of Gypsy vardos, or caravans, in the country.
The Gypsy Presence in the Census
A long-term Gypsy presence in Lincolnshire is suggested in place names. For example, census enumerators’ returns for the county record people living at Gipsy Bridge, Thornton le Fen; Gipsy Drove, Langriville, Boston; Gipsy Hall, Long Bennington; various Gipsy Lanes in Gedney, Quarrington, Swineshead and Wrangle; and at Gipsey Road, Algarkirk. It is highly likely that Gypsies would have been associated with these locations and have left their mark in this way.
Tracing individual Gypsies is more of a challenge. Until 1861, travelling people were not generally recorded in censuses. This is partly because of their own agency: in 1854, for instance, the Grantham Journal referred to ‘the curious trait of gipsey feeling’ that they should pass into another parish to escape enumeration. One group of 16 Gypsies who did provide details to a census enumerator in 1851 were probably persuaded to do so by their hosts, Rev. Henry and Jane Holdsworth. It seems that the Holdsworths had allowed them to pitch their tents in the grounds of Fishtoft Rectory.
Just as some Gypsies were keen not to make contact with officialdom, some enumerators were also reluctant to engage with Gypsies themselves. It is not clear what prevented more detail being collected from an anonymous group of Gypsies at Northgate, Louth, in 1861, who were recorded as comprising two adult males and two adult females, all supposedly aged 40 years, together with two boys and two girls, all, (coincidentally again) aged ten years. In the census, Gypsies could sometimes be recorded in caravans, tents, at the side of the road, or on the highway heading to a particular settlement. In 1861, for example, 20-year-old Gypsy Joshua Boswell was recorded living in a stable between Main Street and South Street, Owston, near Gainsborough. Most Gypsies in Lincolnshire, as elsewhere, tended to be enumerated in family groups, usually nuclear in character, though occasionally with brothers or sisters of the household head in residence. It seemed rare to have Gypsy households containing more than two generations.
As the Table below indicates, Gypsies pitched their caravans and tents in a wide variety of different locations within the county. Given that every decade the census tended to take place in Springtime, it might have been expected to find a number of recurring locations. This did not seem to be the case, however, apart from a couple of inns’ yards, the Duke of York in Boston (1881 and 1911), and the Red Lion, Wainfleet All Saints (1901 and 1911). It is likely that some publicans saw the arrival of the Gypsies as an opportunity to increase their trade. Successful attempts by local sedentary residents to deter Gypsies from returning repeatedly to the same specific location may have been the cause of the diversity of sites listed.
Table 1: Location of some Gypsy caravans and tents in censuses, 1861-1911*
Aisthorpe; West Street, Boston; East Common, Brumby; Gainsborough Road, Glentham; Brackenborough Road, Louth; Hibaldstow; Normanby; Westholme Lane, South Kelsey; Spridlington; Red Lion Yard, Wainsfleet All Saints; Carr Lane, Wrawby.
Duke of York Yard, Boston; Hope Street, Clee; Dembleby Pits, Folkingham; Gladstone Street, Gainsborough; Mill Lane, Market Rasen; Bourne Road, Morton; Northgate, Sleaford; Moulton, Spalding; Red Lion Yard, Wainsfleet All Saints.
*Travellers as per the broader meaning indicated above are excluded from this listing.
The occupations of Lincolnshire’s Gypsies listed in census records were in many ways what one might expect: horse dealing, hawking, chimney sweeping and, especially amongst women, peg making prevailed. The dependence of Gypsy families upon seasonal agricultural labour is inevitably understated, given the timing of enumeration. Some Gypsy women’s involvement in fortune telling was not evident in the census returns, but was regularly reported, alongside their convictions, in the local press.
To some degree, the travelling habits of Lincolnshire Gypsy families can also be discerned from census returns, especially for larger families, where the birthplaces of offspring provide an indicator of places visited. Most suggest that these circuits were not too extensive, with most Gypsy families appearing not to venture generally beyond a 30 or 40-mile radius of a given spot. In 1861, for instance, Clark Gray, a 23-year-old ‘gipsey horsedealer’, living at Hensam, Aubourn ‘on the highways’ was a head of a household with occupants born in Coleby, Sleaford, Horncastle, Navenby and Harmston. In 1901, Charles Mathieson, a 42-year-old Gypsy hawker, lived in a tent at Brumby with occupants born in Winteringham, Boston, Hook (Yorkshire), Boston, Lincoln, Gainsborough and Blythe, Nottinghamshire. It has been estimated that, on average, Gypsies would stop in a place for up to three or four weeks, after which the available wood, grazing and local trade would be exhausted. This suggested a round of about 12 stopping points a year.
Analysis of recurring Gypsy family names is also possible from examining the census. Amongst the most common surnames in Lincolnshire during the Victorian and Edwardian periods were Booth, Boswell, Brown, Elliott, Gray, Lee, Mathieson and Smith. It was observed in the GranthamJournal in 1882 that although now not ‘every Smith is a gipsy, it was doubtless more likely that every gipsy was a Smith.’ Whilst many Gypsies’ forenames were not much different to the trends of the time, there are a number that stand out in the Lincolnshire records. Female names included Angulenay, Coriliander, Keytumas, Miseta and Senfie. Amongst males, Phoenix was a forename used across several generations in both the Boswell and Gray families. Other notable male names included Eldred, Mazerian, Mordecai, Taiso, and Teoben.
It was important to Gypsies to baptise their children. One notable Lincolnshire baptism took place in 1855, which was reported in the Stamford Mercury. Some Gypsies had encamped at Hagworthingham and presented a new-born infant to the rector for baptism. The clergyman’s wife and daughter, with the parish clerk, became sponsors or godparents, and the older godmother presented the baby girl with two dresses. Before 1834 during the period of the old Poor Law, proof of settlement through baptism could enable access to minimal support in times of distress.
Andrew Walker is a historian of Lincolnshire. He worked at the University of Lincoln from 1992 to 2010, latterly as Head of the School of Humanities and Performing Arts. Between 2010 and 2020, Andrew was Vice Principal of Rose Bruford College. He is an active volunteer researcher for Reimagining Lincolnshire.
 The modern spelling of ‘Gypsy’ is used throughout the text, although variants are retained in quotations. Other variants such as ‘gipsy’, ‘gipsey’ and ‘gypsey’ are often found within primary sources.
 Naming terminology is explored in the Travellers’ Times short video, https://www.travellerstimes.org.uk/heritage/roads-past-short-history-Britains-Gypsies-Roma-and-Travellers# [accessed 18 June 2022]. Roma people who originated in northern India were often called ‘Egyptians’ when they arrived in western Europe; in time this was shortened to ‘Gypsy’. Because the term ‘Gypsy’ is most common in the historical reports that these blogposts cover, that is the term used here – although more generally, our project respects and follows the Travellers’ Times usage.
 Historical works on Gypsies and Travellers include the following: David Cressy, Gypsies. An English History (Oxford, 2018); Jeremy Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’: Gypsies in local history’, The Local Historian 46, 1, January 2016, 27-46; David Mayle, Gypsy-Travellers in Nineteenth Century Society (Cambridge, 1988); Becky Taylor and John Hinks, ‘What field? Where? Bringing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history into view’, Cultural and Social History, 18, 5, December 2021, 629-50; E.P. Thompson’s phrase can be found in his book, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), 12.
 George Hall, The Gypsy’s Parson: His Experiences and Adventures (London, 1915). There is free access to this work at www.gutenberg.org/files/46015/46015-h/46015-h.htm [accessed 18 June 2022]. Reimagining Lincolnshire researchers visited St Olave’s, Ruckland, in the summer of 2021; George Hall was well remembered there in an exhibition devoted to his life and work.
 See correspondence from William Cragg in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1908 and 1909. William Cragg (1860-1950) was a Lincolnshire farmer and landowner, who had a longstanding interest in the county’s past. He was Treasurer of the Lincolnshire Archaeological Society for 30 years.
 Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’, 36. Details of baptisms, marriages and burials relating to Lincolnshire Gypsies can be accessed via ‘The Lincolnshire Travellers Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates and Parish Register Collection’ section on the Romany and Traveller Family History Society website. See www.rtfhs.org.uk [accessed 15 June 2022].
 The 1939 Register, conducted on 29 September, just after the start of the Second World War, provides some information about Gypsies’ seasonal farm work. At Luddington on the Isle of Axholme, for instance, 57 occupants are recorded in Gypsy caravans. Most of the adults listed were engaged in casual agricultural work.
 For instance, Mary Ann Sherriff was gaoled for deception following a fortune-telling episode in Skellingthorpe; and ‘a gipsey fortune teller’ known as the ‘Gipsy Queen’ was gaoled for a similar offence in Skegness. See respectively Lincolnshire Chronicle, 25 March 1864 and Spalding Guardian, 8 October 1881.
The previous post focused on traces of Gypsy history in census reports. This post focuses on what kinds of evidence of Gypsies’ lives can be gleaned from the pages of local newspapers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though the reporting has to be treated with significant caution. As before, Gypsy voices themselves are almost entirely absent; others always assumed the right to speak for them, thus frequently perpetuating stereotypes rather than understanding. Also discussed are the emergence of cultural tropes associated with imagined ‘pure’ Gypsy life, and some of the unexpected places in which to find Gypsy history.
Gypsies and Courts in the Local Press
Much of the coverage of Gypsies was connected with their court appearances and was generally hostile. The law, then as now, was largely designed to deter Gypsies from pursuing their ways of life. For instance, swingeing fines were applied to Gypsies for camping on common land, in order to deter repeated visits. At Kirton, near Boston, it was reported in 1840 that Thomas Smith had pitched a tent near the highway, contrary to the provisions of the Highway Act and, since the parishioners had long been annoyed about Gypsies camping there, were keen to use this
legislation to prevent them pitching tents, making fires or encamping on their highways. Smith was convicted and fined 1s. and 17s. costs. Six Gypsies were fined £87.9s. for unlawfully camping with seven vans on the highway in the hamlet of Kelstern near Louth in 1874: even the Lincoln Gazette was moved to comment that this was ‘a pretty expense for one night’s camp’.
In some cases, it was not entirely clear why Gypsies were being punished. In 1846, for example, the Lincolnshire Chronicle reported tersely with no further details, that at the Sessions House in Boston, two Gypsies, John Horring and Newcomb Boswell, were convicted ‘as rogues and vagabonds and committed to prison to hard labour for a month.’
It is possible from such court reports to gain additional information about Gypsy communities. For example, encampments generally seemed to consist of 50 or fewer people, with no more than seven vans and 20 horses. In many reports of legal cases, witnesses refer to groups not exceeding two or three Gypsy caravans in convoy.
Reinforcing the discriminatory language employed in newspaper reports of Gypsies’ activities in the county, the tone regularly adopted can be gauged from some of the following examples of the reporting style used, which had much in common with racist tropes describing other minority groups. In one report, Gypsies were defined as ‘a nomadic and dangerous people’; in another, they were described as ‘smoking their black pipes and using language not fit for ears polite’. Elsewhere, Gypsies were accused of talking ‘so fast and in such a confused and ignorant manner that it was difficult to make out…’ The Louth Standard noted of a group of Gypsy men outside court, that magistrates ‘would have known how difficult and impossible it was to identify one from another …’ In 1889, following an outbreak of typhoid near Heckington allegedly associated with a recent visit of Gypsies, the Lincolnshire Free Press declared that ‘These nomads have very little regard for the public’ and they ‘disseminate disease and devastate families.’ In dealing with the outcome of a mass Gypsy fight at Haxey on the Isle of Axholme in which Riley Smith was seriously assaulted, Mr Justice Cave observed at the Lincoln Assizes in November 1883 that this was ‘an extraordinary case and certainly showed what very strange people there were living up and down in out of the way parts of Lincolnshire.’
On occasion, when Gypsy families chose a more sedentary lifestyle, newspapers reported on such developments very positively. In 1857, the Stamford Mercury included a report of a group of Gypsy families deciding to settle down in homes in Nettleham, where men and women took up agricultural work locally. This article was reprinted in numerous papers across the country, including the Illustrated London News. As the report declared: ‘At last, even gipsies are melting into civilisation, the green and gorse-covered roadside spots where they used to camp in security being enclosed… At first the villagers did not take to their new neighbours very willingly but by degrees distaste died away.’
Romantic and Exotic Representations of Gypsies
Whilst in most news reports, especially accounts of court proceedings, Gypsies were represented extremely negatively, the same newspapers carried stories that cast them in a very different light. Stuart Baker wrote a lengthy piece, ‘Lincolnshire Reminiscence’, for the Grantham Journal in 1922. It was based on a meeting between Baker and a long-term acquaintance, ‘Jasper, a Romany’. The Gypsies’ distinctive culture was described almost nostalgically, with references to Jasper’s ‘rickety caravan’ and ‘round-roofed tent’. The Gypsies’ fondness for the pied wagtail, their lucky bird, was also mentioned. A liberal sprinkling of Romany terms adorned the article – including ‘chals’ (children), ‘gorgio’ (non-Gypsy), ‘lavengro’ (collector of Gypsy words), and, perhaps inevitably, ‘hotchi witchu’ (hedgehog). The article went to describe in detail how Gypsies cooked hedgehogs, baking them in clay, which, when broken, brought with it the prickles and the skin. As Baker observed, ‘The flesh is beautifully white, fine and tender and resembles that of chicken.’
Another country-based columnist, this time in the Sleaford Gazette, made much of the Gypsies’ use of hedgehogs. In an article entitled ‘November weather’, Rev. A.R. Tucker recounted his meeting with a Gypsy who told him that hedgehog oil – obtained after lightly baking the creature and straining the resulting liquids into a jar – was good for deafness and for applying to the head, which was ‘the reason why gipsies have such wonderful hair’.
This type of somewhat nostalgic reporting, seeking to highlight supposedly ‘pure’ Gypsy culture and language, echoes early articles published in the journal of the Gypsy Lore Society and the mid-nineteenth-century work of George Borrow. His close affinity with Gypsy people prompted his writing of works such as Lavengro, published in 1851, and Romany Rye, which first appeared in 1857. By the 1870s, there seemed to be a belief that Gypsies in England were ‘fast dying out’, the result of mixed marriages and other social and economic factors, such as the rise of high (improved and intensive) farming and the increasing value of the land which ‘interfered with them sorely’. The increasing presence of the rural police, it was suggested, ‘is likely to sweep them out of the country’. It was against this background of a perceived endangering of the culture of the ‘pure’ Gypsy that the Gypsy Lore Society was established to record and celebrate Gypsy culture.
In this perspective, Gypsies were evoked as romantic, ‘pure’, even exotic, but certainly unthreatening, in marked contrast to the court reports. The ‘pure Gypsy’ was a recurring cultural motif through the second half of the nineteenth century, and was evidently extant in Lincolnshire. In addition to the examples cited above, its appeal seemed especially prevalent amongst women. Gypsy-inspired clothing appeared to be in demand at certain times. The Grantham Journal noted in August 1855 that the ‘new gipsy hat is so fashionable among the ladies’. In the 1890s, no fund-raising bazaar was complete without a stall or a tent in which middle-class women could dress as Romantic-inspired, often mainland European, Gypsies. In the Gypsy tent at a grand bazaar at Woodhall Spa in 1893, six ‘ladies officiated, attired in the picturesque dress of the Spanish gipsy’. In aid of Grantham’s St Peter Hill Congregational Church, an ‘Eiffel Tower’ Bazaar was held, with a model of the newly-constructed Parisian building at its centre, and a band played, with a ‘gipsy chorus’, alongside the staging of a ‘gipsy wedding beneath the greenwood tree’.
Real Gypsy weddings were reported in the Lincolnshire press fairly regularly, though often the marriages occurred beyond the county borders. In one account, a Gypsy wedding at Billingborough was described as a ‘spirited affair’, which ‘passed off with eclat.’ In another more detailed report of 1864, the Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser described the coming together of two Gypsy families, the Browns and Grays, at Ulceby, which it described as ‘the metropolis of the two tribes, which are offshoots of the Boswell tribe’. The bride wore a muslin dress, a loose light-coloured robe and a pair of farmyard half boots; the groom wore corduroy fustian. One of the party was dressed in an infantry coat of brilliant scarlet with white facings.
The size of some of these events was made clear in an account in the Stamford Mercury of a wedding of a 21- and 22-year-old at Fletton Church, just outside Peterborough, near the recent Bridge Fair. This attracted between 200 and 300 people. The bride’s dowry was reported as being the very substantial sum of £500, together with a furnished caravan. Such large weddings tended to occur where substantial Gypsy gatherings were already taking place, for instance coinciding with horse fairs or race meetings. A slightly more low-key event was reported at Bourne, where a Gypsy wedding took place in 1853 between two parties who were ‘advanced in years’. This was ‘kept in the usual manner with fiddling, dancing etc.’.
Gypsies in Unexpected Places: Towns and War
The evocation of bucolic roaming in the picturesque countryside did not capture the complexity of the lives of Lincolnshire’s Gypsies. Nor did the popular image associate them with towns and cities, yet they did engage with urban life.
George Hall recounts an early childhood memory of Lincoln, in the shadow of the Cathedral:
Not far from my father’s doorstep, as you looked towards the common, lay a narrow court lined with poor tenements, and terminating in a bare yard bounded by a squat wall … somewhere in the fifties of the last century [ie in the 1850s] several families of dark-featured “travellers” had pitched upon the court for their Gypsyry, a proceeding at which our quiet lane first shrugged its shoulders, then focussed an interested gaze upon the intruders and their ways, and finally lapsed into an indulgent toleration of them. Thus from day to day throughout my early years, there might have been seen emerging from the recesses of Gypsy Court swarthy men in twos and threes accompanied by the poacher’s useful lurcher… 
Gypsy horse dealers played a prominent part in the county’s horse fairs, especially at the annual events at Lincoln in April and at Horncastle in August. In April 1864, for instance, the Stamford Mercury observed that at Lincoln, in advance of the fair, there were pitched tents and ‘many
caravans belonging to the wandering Bohemians’. In August 1885, the Lincolnshire Chronicle reported that at Horncastle horse fair ‘the gipsy fraternity was largely represented’. In most years, the Gypsies’ presence at fair time was evidenced through later court appearances, often for drunkenness, fighting and cruelty to horses. Many other residents and visitors engaged in such activities, but care was taken in the newspaper reports to highlight which defendants were Gypsies.
In addition to Gypsies’ periodic harassment from residents as they travelled their regular circuits, they were also exposed to unwelcome officialdom in towns, as urban spaces became increasingly regulated by the end of the nineteenth century. In 1899, for instance, it was reported that in Lincoln, where there were ‘occasional encampments of gipsies on vacant ground on Monks Road’, the city’s Inspector of Nuisances was ‘to inspect the gipsies and their caravans’.
Thousands of men from the UK’s Gypsy communities served their country in the two world wars (contrary to the stereotype that they evaded conscription by fleeing to Ireland). Nineteen-year-old Gypsy John Cunningham of Scunthorpe won the Victoria Cross in 1916 for his bravery at the Battle of the Somme, for example; a stone was laid in his memory at the Remembrance Day service in 2016.
This brief account has sought to demonstrate that Gypsy people do inhabit the many documentary sources of Lincolnshire’s past, although not in their own words. However, if treated carefully, these sources can be read against the grain to understand both the ways in which Gypsies were perceived and treated and to some extent also their own agency and attitudes. The point is that there are considerable challenges in retrieving and understanding the past lives of the county’s Gypsy communities, but these are by no means insuperable.
Andrew Walker is a historian of Lincolnshire. He worked at the University of Lincoln from 1992 to 2010, latterly as Head of the School of Humanities and Performing Arts. Between 2010 and 2020, Andrew was Vice Principal of Rose Bruford College. He is an active volunteer researcher for Reimagining Lincolnshire.
Stamford Mercury, 29 May 1857. This report was widely reprinted in papers ranging from the Edinburgh Evening Courant, 4 June 1857 to the Dover Telegraph, 6 June 1857. See also the Illustrated London News, 6 June 1857.
Lincolnshire Chronicle, 14 August 1885. For more information on Horncastle Fair and Lincoln’s April Fair, see respectively B.J. Davey, Lawless and Immoral: Policing a Country Town, 1838-57 (Leicester, 1983) and Andrew Walker, ‘Fairs and markets: challenging encounters between the urban and rural in Lincolnshire, c.1840-1920’, in Shirley Brook et al., eds, Lincoln Connections: Aspects of City and County Since 1700. A Tribute to Dennis Mills (Lincoln, 2011), 107-23.
This is the story of how a vegetarian printer from Louth in Lincolnshire played a central role in Mahatma Gandhi’s early experiments with passive resistance against colonial oppression.
Albert Henry West was born in the market town of Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds in 1879, the fourth child of Frederick and Betsy West. Frederick’s family had long farmed the Lincolnshire fens, around the small settlement of Wrangle. Frederick was born in 1837 and learned land surveying from his father (Albert’s grandfather) John, but did not stay on the land. Instead, he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law as a net and rope maker. A relative recalled of Frederick that ‘he was of medium stature and weight, very nimble and very neat in all his work and conduct.’ [i]
By the time of the 1881 census, Frederick was an independent rope maker in Louth and the family was living at 53 Aswell Lane in the town.[ii] Caitlin Green tells us that Aswell Lane formed the upper section of what is now Aswell Street; in the 1880s, there were inns and factories along the Lane, suggesting a working-class neighbourhood.[iii]
The Louth Museum holds a fragment of Albert West’s autobiography, written when he was in his ninetieth year.[iv] He recorded in it that school was never to his liking and he had left as soon as he could. He worked for his father for a while, and then accepted a position as printer’s apprentice in the town. He also attended art classes and must often have visited his country relatives; he later recalled in a different memoir that ‘I loved to be on the farms when I was a lad, although I did not become a farm worker myself.’[v] His father’s letters to him many years later were filled with reminders of old country traditions.[vi]
On completion of his apprenticeship, West spent eighteen months in Leicester, where he had been offered a job. Thereafter he moved to London, where he secured work as a printer for a shipping company. This enabled him to try life on board an ocean liner, which is how he came to arrive in South Africa.[vii] The South African War (1899-1902) had brought the whole of South Africa into the British empire, leading to a huge influx of white settlers, most of whom were British.[viii] By now in his mid-20s, Albert West decided to try life in Johannesburg and with a business partner, set up a printing press. Although he found this brash new mining town distasteful, there were evidently some compensations, such as Ziegler’s vegetarian restaurant. It was there that he met Mohandas K. Gandhi, according to his memoir:
“Around a large table sat a mixed company of men comprising a stockbroker from the United States who operated on the Exchange in gold and diamond shares, an accountant from Natal, a machinery agent, a young Jewish member of the Theosophical Society, a working tailor from Russia, Gandhi the lawyer, and me a printer. Everybody in Johannesburg talked about the share market, but these men were food reformers interested in vegetarian diet, Kuhne baths, earth poultices, fasting, etc.” [ix]
Gandhi was born in India in 1869 and trained as a lawyer in London. He had arrived in the Colony of Natal in 1893 to assist a wealthy Durban merchant, Dada Abdulla, in a legal case. Since 1860, Britain had transported some 40,000 Indians to the colony under conditions of indenture – one of many
such instances of moving unfree labour around the world to assist in the establishment of white settler economies.[x] In Natal, they were put to work on sugar, tea
and tobacco plantations, the railways and coal mines.[xi] On completion of their indenture, many had become successful small-scale fruit and vegetable producers, supplying Natal’s urban markets. Their relations with the African majority, as well as with white settlers, were fraught and complex. They had been brought to Natal precisely because white colonists had been unable to undermine Africans’ subsistence production, yet Indians’ agricultural success caused widespread resentment among many Africans.[xii] So-called ‘passenger Indians’, like Dada Abdulla, who had travelled to Natal on their own account, similarly faced enormous hostility.
Gandhi had not intended to stay long in Natal, but widespread anti-Indian sentiment, as well as his own experiences of racism, convinced him otherwise.[xiii] In 1894, he helped to found the Natal Indian Congress, specifically to look after ‘passenger’ interests, although it also addressed the broader issue of rights for all Indians as British subjects in Natal.[xiv] Two years later, he fetched his wife Kasturba and their sons from India; their lives were threatened by a white mob on the dockside as they disembarked.[xv]
Undeterred, Gandhi set up a legal practice in Durban and over the next few years, in addition to his political work, he began to elaborate his philosophy of satyagraha, involving passive or nonviolent resistance to injustice. As a pacifist, he helped to organise a stretcher corps during the South African War.[xvi]At the end of the conflict, with the Transvaal now under British imperial control, he moved to Johannesburg.
That is how Albert West and Gandhi came to meet. Several researchers have reminded us that vegetarianism was one practice within a wider progressive commitment to temperance, pacifism and often anti-colonialism.[xvii] Gandhi had long promoted vegetarianism and had had several articles published in The Vegetarian, published in London.[xviii] His and West’s common interests led to a firm friendship. They took frequent long walks together and joined mutual friends at out-of-town picnics, where spirituality and the meaning of life dominated conversation. As this description indicates, West had already been drawn to Gandhi’s politics:
“One evening I attended an Indian meeting addressed by him in the Indian Location, Johannesburg. Gandhi was the only speaker. The language was Hindi, which was understood by the large audience and listened to with rapt attention. The speaker stood erect and spoke quietly, without gesture or raising of the voice. As I looked upon that dark face in the dim light I felt that here was a leader of great power, but I could not foresee how great a national figure he was to become or how far and wide would be his influence throughout the world.”[xix]
An outbreak of pneumonic plague in Johannesburg in 1904 changed West’s life. Gandhi was closely involved in nursing the sick in the Indian Location, as was Viyavarik Madanjit, proprietor of Indian Opinion, the newspaper which Gandhi had recently founded in Durban. One of South Africa’s oldest anti-establishment newspapers, it has received the detailed attention it deserves in Isabel Hofmeyr’s fine study.[xx] Madanjit was just visiting Johannesburg but Gandhi considered his presence vital in dealing with the epidemic.
Gandhi therefore asked Albert West to take over the management of Indian Opinion. West readily agreed, made the necessary arrangements for his business in Johannesburg and set off for Durban – and a central role in shaping the profile of one of the best-known figures of the twentieth century. Gandhi came to rely on West as a close and trusted supporter. In turn, through Gandhi, West was drawn into an international British-Indian network of leading anticolonial politicians, writers and philosophers.
Indian Opinion was printed weekly in four languages (English, Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil) on a press in the Grey Street area of Durban, where most Indian businesses were located. West was to preside over a small staff of compositors, machinists and printers from India, Mauritius, St Helena and Natal – as a port city, Durban was widely connected to the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. He soon discovered that profits were non-existent and agreed to work for a modest salary. As with all the other costs of the paper, this was provided by Gandhi, who was also overall editor.
Shortly after West’s arrival in Durban in 1904, Gandhi paid a visit to assess the paper’s financial situation. Another close friend, Henry Polak (later an editor of Indian Opinion and attorney in Gandhi’s practice), gave him a copy of John Ruskin’s Unto This Last to read on the train. It consolidated Gandhi’s thinking that worldly goods were a distraction and that asceticism, abstinence and self-reliance should take their place.
Preparations were begun at once for the founding of his first ashram. Gandhi purchased twenty acres of land on a former farm called Phoenix, some 14 miles inland from Durban. Though very rural, this was an area that was already, in Hofmeyr’s evocative description, ‘a brave new world of evangelical experiment comprising proselytising Trappists, mid-Western protestants, Zulu internationalists, Bombay Muslim holy men and Punjabi Arya Samajists.’[xxi]
Madanjit and several Indian Opinion co-workers thought the entire notion foolhardy and left; others among Gandhi’s associates wanted nothing to do with it. So West and the few remainers oversaw the founding of this historic site, including the relocation of press equipment:
“Type and machinery being very heavy and the road rough, with three rivers to cross, over which there were no bridges, we engaged four large farm wagons, with spans of sixteen bullocks each, and by this means we managed to remove the whole of the plant and stock in a day. It took a good deal longer than that to get it all sorted out and put in place.” [xxii]
It was a matter of some pride to them all that there was no interruption in publication. The first edition of Indian Opinion to be produced at Phoenix rolled off the press on Christmas Eve, 1904.
The ashram regime was demanding. Each of the Phoenix settlers had a simple cottage and a plot of land on which to grow food; each was also granted a monthly allowance of £3. Everyone was expected to participate in production, both on the paper and on the land, as well as in the daily tasks of reproduction: cooking, cleaning and maintenance. All this was achieved without electricity and only the most basic of tools. Not only was this to be a model of ascetic, communal living – ‘midway between a village and a joint family’, as one writer put it [xxiii] – but it was also preparation for satyagraha and likely periods in gaol. Simplicity, service, reflection, prayer: these became hallmarks of the communal outlook. Gandhi’s family moved to a wood and iron cottage at Phoenix, while he continued to oscillate between his legal work in Johannesburg and the new settlement. This caused him much anxiety but without the former, the latter would have been unthinkable.
Residents were soon drawn into community and political action beyond their farm. In 1905, for example, Natal was struck by devastating floods;[xxiv] according to West’s account,
“A relief fund was at once started and a large sum raised. A committee was appointed to administer the funds and this sat weekly in the office of the Protector of Indian Immigrants. I was asked to join this committee and in the absence of Gandhi, I was glad to be able to assist in granting compensation to the poor Indians who had suffered so heavily in the death toll and so badly by the destruction of their market gardens.”[xxv]
Here then, on the south-eastern African coastal strip, a bold experiment in self-help and resistance against imperial injustice developed. Albert West, one of Gandhi’s earliest disciples, was central to its foundation and growth. Yet it was also an enclave located in, and focused almost entirely on, a South Asian world in South Africa. Apart from a few individual sympathisers who crossed boundaries (and as we shall see, West’s family were among them), there was simply no basis, and too much ‘othering’, to make common cause with Africans at that time.
[Part 2 to follow]
*Thanks to Dr Victoria Araj for very helpful feedback and Prof. Uma Mesthrie-Dhupelia for support and permission to use family images.
[vii] Albert West, Autobiography of an Octogenarian.
[viii] This war, by far Britain’s most expensive and extensive imperial war of expansion, is more popularly known as the Anglo-Boer War, although this name excludes the countless black and brown people in the region who were caught up in it – from scouts and suppliers on both sides to those incarcerated in British concentration camps. See Peter Warwick, The South African War: Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. London, Longman, 1980.
[x] Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Inside Indenture: A South African Story, 1860-1914. Durban. Madiba Publishers, 2007.
[xi] Uma Mesthrie-Dhupelia, From Cane Fields to Freedom: A Chronicle of Indian South African Life. Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2000.
[xii] Heather Hughes, ‘We will be elbowed out the country’: African responses to Indian indentured immigration to Natal, 1860-1910. Labour History Review 72, 2, 2007, pp. 155-168.
[xiii] The best-known example, which was to be transformative for Gandhi, was being thrown out of the first class carriage at the Pietermaritzburg train station in 1893. M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, pp. 93-4. In 1997, Nelson Mandela and Gopal Krishna Gandhi, Gandhi’s grandson and at the time India’s High Commissioner to South Africa, re-enacted the journey. Dhupelia-Mesthrie, From Cane Fields to Freedom.
[xiv] Surendra Bhana, Gandhi’s Legacy The Natal Indian Congress 1894-1994. Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press, 1997.
[xvi] Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire. Redwood City, Stanford University Press, 2013. This work explores Gandhi’s complex relationship not only with British authority but also with the African majority in South Africa.
[xvii] Elsa Richardson, Cranks, clerks and suffragettes: the vegetarian restaurant in British culture and fiction 1880-1914. Literature and Medicine 3, 1, 2021, pp. 133-153; Haejoo Kim, Vegetarian evolution in nineteenth century Britain. Journal of Victorian Culture 26, 4, 2021, pp. 519-533.
To wrap up Women’s History Month, I would like to discuss a woman with a close-to-home connection. Grantham is my home town, with many recognised heritage sites and connections to well-known individuals. But has anyone heard of Edith Smith? She was the first woman police constable to gain the full powers of arrest in the UK, for her work in Grantham.
It’s worth pausing to consider the implications for women who came into contact with the law at a time when there were no female officers. Through the Victorian and Edwardian periods, women were cleared from court rooms during sexual assault cases, there was an extremely low conviction rate for sexual offenders and women convicted of crimes were treated extremely harshly. Organisations such as the British Women’s Temperance Association began to agitate for an improvement, including the need for women police ‘matrons’ to protect women accused and convicted of crimes.
As with so many other aspects of women’s struggle for social equality, the First World War proved important: in return for their participation in the war effort, they won concessions. One of these was the foundation in 1914 of the Women’s Police Service in London – to fill the roles of men who were away at the front. This gave Edith Smith the opportunity to take on a full-time policing role. Born in Birkenhead in 1876, she married in 1897 but a decade later was already widowed with four children to support. She moved to London and trained as a nurse and midwife. She joined the WPS and was posted to Grantham, the first county town to form a branch of the WPS.
In 1915, Smith’s post became an official, paid one, at £1.40 per week. For the remainder of the war, she served in Grantham. A substantial part of her job involved visiting families of girls considered to be at risk of prostitution and ensuring compliance with a wartime curfew imposed on women. Both duties were related to the fact that there were significant numbers of army recruits being trained near the town. How to regulate relations between them and Grantham women became a huge issue locally. In 1917 Smith was granted powers of arrest – the first woman Police Constable to gain this power. One researcher has remarked, ‘whether female police officers were there to protect women from men, or vice versa, is a moot point’. However, what is beyond doubt is that Grantham was the site of a key contest over rights of association between army men and civilian women, and women like Smith were mobilised to regulate these rights.
After the war, Smith returned to Halton, near Liverpool, and nursing. Her life could not have been easy and she took her own life in 1923. She was buried in an unmarked grave. In more recent years, as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War, she has found renewed recognition. Merseyside police erected a proper headstone on her grave in 2018, and there are plaques dedicated to her memory on the Lincolnshire Police Headquarters at Nettleham, at Halton and in Grantham. There is also a street called Edith Smith way in Grantham, and the Grantham Museum mounted an exhibition on her life and career in 2018.
“Milliners were located around the city but concentrated on Silver Street, where there were up to 5listed at any one time between 1857 and 1919, in either the Lincoln or Lincolnshire trade directories
Millinery businesses were the target for two different groups of women, Etta Lemon in Croydon and Emily Watson in Manchester. In 1889 Etta joined a branch of the Fur, Fin and Feather Club, appalled at the fashion of trimming hats with feathers and other avian decoration. This club joined with Emily Watson’s Society for the Protection of Birds and eventually became the RSPB. They decided to try and change public opinion, highlight this cruel trade and persuade women to solely use the available alternatives, fake flowers, lace and velvet, which were used when feathers were temporarily not in fashion.”
We mark International Women’s Day 2022 with an account of the representations of Matoaka, better known as Pocahontas, in St Helen’s Church in Willoughby, Lincolnshire. Her story is intimately bound up in United States foundational myths, which explains why there have been so many portrayals (and fabrications) of her in art, literature and film.
The connection to Willoughby is through John Smith, who was born there and baptised in St Helen’s in early January 1580. In his mid-teens, he went to sea and in that age of exploration, soldiering, piracy and adventure, fought as a mercenary in various dynastic struggles in Europe as well as against the Ottoman empire in the eastern Mediterranean. He became involved in the Virginia Company in London. Despite being accused of mutiny on the voyage (he was always a controversial character), he was a leading figure in founding the first permanent European settlement in North America, at Jamestown, in 1607.
The settlement was not a happy one; apart from serious internal difficulties, relations with surrounding Native American polities were poor. By Smith’s own account, he was captured by members of the Powhatan polity and threatened with execution. Chief Powhatan’s young daughter, Matoaka, intervened to save his life. Thus arose the myth that the new country was founded on love and intercultural harmony.
As many scholars have pointed out, ‘the story of Pocahontas and John Smith tells of an “original” encounter of which no even passably “immediate” account exists’. Nevertheless, it has been endlessly embroidered to suit the needs of white Americans, in part by denying the violence and dispossession of colonial expansion. (By the same token, some Native Americans have regarded her as a traitor figure.)
Matoaka herself was captured in hostilities between the Powhatan and colonists in 1613 and converted to Christianity, taking the name Rebecca. She married colonist John Rolfe the following year; in 1615, she gave birth to a son and in 1616 the family travelled to London. She was feted in polite society as an example of ‘what a savage could become’; as they were preparing to return to Virginia, she became ill and died at Gravesend in Kent in 1617. She was only 20 or 21.
Her portrayal in St Helen’s thus arises from a claimed and very brief childhood association with John Smith, who had left Virginia in 1609, never to return. There are in fact three different portrayals, all from her young adult life. Two are in stained glass and another appears in an interpretive panel.
One stained glass scene depicts her receiving Christian instruction, presumably before her conversion, from Alexander Whitaker, ‘the Apostle of Virginia’. The image is, by any measure, deeply problematic, partly because it is a relatively recent addition in the church (1985). She is the only dark-skinned figure in the window, and she is semi-naked. Tattoos are visible on her arms. She is bare-breasted and seems to be demurely trying to hide her nakedness in the presence of the heavily-clad apostle, but only half succeeds. Her gaze is directed at the tall figure looking down on her, yet her facial expression is hard to interpret: is she interested, or is she ungrateful? Yet the gazes to which she, in her vulnerability, are subjected in turn are more powerful than her own, and they are all white (and in the artwork, male): that of the apostle, of the benefactor who paid for the glazing, Philip Barbour of Louisville, Kentucky; and those of the congregations and visitors, not all make of course, who have looked on the window since it was installed. It is hard to escape the demeaning othering.
This is in sharp contrast to her portrayal in another window on the south side of the nave. Here she is profusely clothed in fine garments, as she would have worn during her London visit. It is based on the only likeness made during her lifetime, an engraving by Simon van de Passe. This image was meant to show how very well integrated into settler society she had become. So integrated, in fact, that she is not obviously a person of colour; we know that from the elaborate surrounding scroll that bears the name ‘Pocahontas’. This time, her gaze is directed outwards to us, the viewers: she holds her own and relates as ‘one of us’. She looks far older than her 21 years.
The portrayal in the interpretive panel is an image of the famous statue that stands in historic Jamestown. Cast in bronze to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Virginia colony (but only completed in 1922), we see a young woman with open arms, modestly clothed in a westernised imagining of Native American fringed garments, with neat shoes on her feet. The statue’s hands, we are told, have become shiny from all those who have held them to have their photos taken. A reproduction of this friendly, welcoming figure stands in the graveyard in Gravesend where she is buried.
Taken together, these images, as well as the context of their creation, underline the continuing complexities of Matoaka/Pocahontas, not only in US national myth but in the backstory of other key figures in the making of that myth. Their siting in a Lincolnshire parish church should also mean that they are acknowledged as difficult and contested heritage, which could open the way to meaningful dialogue about how we make our places of worship more inclusive.
 Monika Siebert, Pocahontas looks back and then looks elsewhere: the entangled gaze in contemporary indigenous art.. ab-Original: Journal of Indigenous Studies and First Nations and First Peoples’ Cultures 2, 2 (2018), pp. 207-226.
 For an overview, see Robert Appelbaum and John Wood Sweet (eds), Envisioning an English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
 Derek Buescher and Kent Ono, Civilised colonialism: Pocahontas as neocolonial rhetoric. Women’s Studies in Communication 19, 2, 1996, 127-153.
 Peter Hulme, cited in Heike Paul, The Myths that Made America. Bielefeld, Transcript, 2014, p. 94.
BY JUDY HARRIS (Reimagining Lincolnshire researcher) with PAL CARTER[i] (folk singer)
‘Beneath the veneer of Lincolnshire’s agricultural calmness there are many vibrant communities full of vigour and interest. The life and history of Lincolnshire is varied and full of interesting and exciting tales which we want to preserve by encouraging people to write songs about them’.http://lincolnshiresong.co.uk/index.shtml
October 1st was Lincolnshire Day and Reimagining Lincolnshire Research Fellow Rob Waddington treated us to a blog tribute to the region’s talent and contributions to pop music over the last sixty years.
We continue that theme in this blog by drawing attention to a recent ‘voices’ from Lincolnshire event showcasing some more creative local singers and songwriters.
Aiming to stimulate and celebrate county-wide song writing, the ‘Write a Lincolnshire Song’ contest has been a popular annual event since 1992. Until last year it was supported by BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Traditionally, the finals night has been broadcast as a three-hour long radio show. This year was the first time the contest was supported by grassroots action and crowd funding. The finals took place in front of a live and good-sized audience at the Louth Riverhead Theatre on the evening of 28th October 2021.
All ten entries were written and performed especially for the contest. Each celebrated local history and heritage told or retold to old and new audiences. Whether yellowbellies[ii] or not, all the performers expressed a love of Lincolnshire!
The full recording is available on the ‘Write a Lincolnshire Song’ website, please click here:
What follows is a summary of the songs in order of performance followed by a short review by Pal Carter.
There were four awards: gold, silver, bronze and ‘outstanding performance’.
The Bluestone Hills, written and performed by Caroline Cakebread and Pete Conner, accompanied by Jon Newby, Richard Hodgetts and Richard Nunn.
‘This gently flowing song is descriptive of Lincolnshire beaches and countryside. Caroline has a lovely clear voice, supported by guitar, keyboard, double bass and flugelhorn.’
This is my Home, written by and accompanied on guitar by David Godfrey.
‘This song features highlights of life in a small Lincolnshire town called Wragby by a relative newcomer (he has only lived there for 15 years!). Delivered in a confident and accomplished style, amusing in places.’
Our Patch of England, written by Andy Lenton, performed by Andy Tymens on guitar and Steve Scarfe on keyboard.
‘Unfortunately, Andy Lenton was away and could not perform. This is a protest song, railing against the proposed nuclear waste dump at Theddlethorpe. The harmonies in the chorus complement the very topical lyrics.’
One Hour 2020, written and performed by Penny Sykes, accompanying herself on concertina.
‘Imagery of the fens and marshes around Holbeach feature in this song, along with references to birds and local flooding, hard to avoid these days. Another singer with a lovely clear voice’.
Toadman, written and sung by Amanda Lowe with banjo accompaniment.
‘This song is rooted Lincolnshire legend. Toadman is another name for a horse whisperer with devilish powers. The storyline is strong and the singer’s stage presence very communicative’. Silver prize winner.
The Knight of Castle Hills, written by Lynn Haynes and performed by her and Paul Bellamy on guitar.
‘Castle Hills is a medieval site north of Gainsborough and this is a ghost tale about a medieval knight. The lyrics are poetic, the guitar finely played and the singing strong and clear. Lynn Haynes also plays the tin whistle towards the end which is a nice touch’.
The Winceby Stone, written and performed by Jan and Paul Ramsey, with guitar and harmonica accompaniment.
‘This is a legendary tale of a stone in a field, rumoured to hide buried treasure and what happened when people tried to dig it up. The introduction and choruses are sung a capella’. Bronze prize winner.
Skipping with Annie, written by Angela King and performed by her and Paul Dickinson on guitar.
‘This song explores the connections between plants and people. There are lovely poignant chords and magical lyrics, giving the song a whimsical feel’.
The Usher Imp, written by Julie Wigley and performed by Stonesthrow (Steve and Julie Wigley and Tony Fowkes).
‘This song is about the Lincoln Imp and the jewellery made in its image by James Usher in the 1800s.[iii] Sung unaccompanied, delivered with a variety of “actions” this was a worthy winner’. Gold Prize Winner and Performance Prize.
The Luttrell Psalter, written by Kim Biggs and performed by her and Phil Biggs.
‘In the 14th century a landowner named Luttrell commissioned an illustrated psalter to depict the lives of tenant farmers in Lincolnshire. This song, accompanied by Kim on accordion and Phil on guitar, has some amusing lyrics. The book can be found in the British Museum.’
The variety of sources for these songs – people, legends, history, pagan stories, the rituals of rural life – set against landscapes of brooding marches and fens with big skies, deep ditches, sea frets and foggy mornings all within reach of the gentle rolling chalk hills and the wide shallow valleys of the Wolds with their babbling streams, old woodlands, market towns, small villages with ancient churches – make for a rich and evocative set of performances.
There was a balance between male and female performers, soloists, duos, trios, and even a quintet!
[i] Pal’s folk ‘career’ started in 1965 in the infamous Log Cabin above The Greyhound pub in Louth. The resident band was The Meggies (nickname for Cleethorpes). They had a singer called Sue Clark. After Sue left, Pal sang a few times; ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’ being the first song she sang in public. Leaving school in 1966, Pal moved to London and did very little singing over the next 38 years. In 1994, she met Tom Paley (American folk singer and musician) who invited her to the Cecil Sharp Folk Club (‘the spiritual home of English traditional music’, The Times, January 20190, where he played every week – https://www.efdss.org/cecil-sharp-house. So she went, sang The Waggoner’s Lad, and still sings at Sharps. These days she also writes CD reviews for Folk London magazine and sometimes does the emceeing at Sharps.
[ii] No-one really knows where this term comes from. It is definitely different from yellow-belly (meaning cowardly). At its simplest yellowbelly is someone born and bred in Lincolnshire. According to Wikipedia – ‘A yellowbelly is a person from Lincolnshire, England. The origin of this nickname is disputed, and many explanations have been offered. These include: The uniforms of the Lincolnshire Regiment were green with yellow facings. The fastenings of the uniform tunic, which were known as frogs, were also yellow.’ Other explanations link to term to the medication used for a malaria-like illness that turned fen residents’ skin yellow. Or perhaps it refers to labourers who harvested cereal crops?
[iii] The Usher family jewellery firm is still in business in Lincoln. The son of the founder James Ward Usher was appointed Sheriff of Lincoln in 1916 and bequeathed funds to build the Usher Art Gallery. The gallery opened in 1917 and contains Usher family collections of clocks, watches, porcelain, and miniatures.
To mark International Abolition of Slavery Day on 2 December, this post features a prominent abolitionist with strong links to Lincolnshire, Richard Hill – someone who deserves to be far better known in this region.
Richard Hill was born in Jamaica on 1 May 1795. His father, also Richard, came from a well-established family in the Horncastle area and emigrated to Jamaica in 1779, with his brothers George Edward, Charles and Robert.
Richard senior settled in Montego Bay, became a successful merchant and married a woman of colour. They had three children, Richard, Ann and Jane. In the pernicious race classifications of the time (how much ‘black’ blood was there?), Richard and Ann were registered as ‘quadroon’, while Jane was registered as ‘mestee’.
When he was still very young, Richard junior was sent to live with relatives in England and attended the Elizabethan Grammar School in Horncastle. On his father’s death in 1818, he returned to Jamaica as the head of the household and to sort out inheritance matters. His father had already made him ‘pledge himself to devote his energies to the cause of freedom, and never to rest until those civil disabilities, under which the Negroes were labouring, had been entirely removed; and, further, until slavery itself had received its death-blow’.
In pursuit of this end, Hill travelled widely in the Caribbean, the United States and Canada, and returned to England in 1827 to secure the assistance of the Anti-Slavery Society and its leading figures including Wilberforce, Buxton, Clarkson, Babington, Lushington and Zachary Macaulay. He delivered a petition to the House of Commons and remained in England for some time, writing and lecturing.
It is of note that his sister Jane accompanied him to London; she remained in the UK until the early 1830s. Like her brother, she was active in the anti-slavery movement although frustratingly little is known of her role. According to Ryan Hanley’s Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing c.1770- 1830, they seem to have been on good terms with Thomas Pringle, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, who was well connected to a network of black women in London. It is likely that the Anti-Slavery Society supported both siblings financially.
The Society sent Hill to San Domingo in 1830 to investigate social and political conditions there. His visit lasted nearly two years. Back in Jamaica, he was witness to the formal ending of slavery, for which he gave credit to the struggles of both enslaved and free black people:
‘The year 1830 saw the fires of rebellion lighted on the very mountains where the Maroon negroes had sounded the signal of insurrection thirty-five years before. The neighbouring valleys that had remained tranquil under the shock, were now the scene of general havoc and disorder. “Physical strength is with the governed.” That strength was felt, and roused into action … The struggle brought to a rapid close the question of colonial slavery. Two years after these events, in the month of July, 1834, I visited these very scenes in the quality of a magistrate specially commissioned to prepare both masters and slaves for the general emancipation’.
Abolition was to be followed by a so-called apprenticeship phase, during which plantation workforces were to transition from slavery to wage labour. Hill was intimately involved in this process, having been appointed a magistrate to adjudicate cases between formerly enslaved apprentices and their employers. Although highly regarded by British officials, Hill found himself criticised for his perceived leniency towards apprentices; this led to him to resign his position. He subsequently accepted the post of Secretary to the Special Magistrates Department at Spanish Town – a sort of ‘deanship’ of all the stipendiary magistrates  and a position he held until 1871.
James Thome and J. H. Kimball, the authors of an anti-slavery study of 1837, wrote of him,
‘We spent nearly a day with Richard Hill, Esq., the secretary of the special magistrates’ departments … He is a colored gentleman, and in every respect the noblest man, white or black, whom we met in the West Indies. He is highly intelligent and of fine moral feelings. His manners are free and unassuming, and his language in conversation fluent and well chosen…. He is at the head of the special magistrates (of whom there are sixty in this island) and all the correspondence between them and the governor is carried on through him. The station he holds is a very important one, and the business connected with it is of a character and extent that, were he not a man of superior abilities, he could not sustain. He is highly respected by the government in the island and at home, and possesses the esteem of his fellow citizens of all colors. He associates with persons of the highest rank, dining and attending parties at the government house with all the aristocracy of Jamaica.’
He held many leading civic and political roles through his long career. These included Agent General of Immigration, and serving on the Privy Council, Board of Education and the Royal Society of Arts and Agriculture.
The last-mentioned is a hint of his greatest love: nature and the natural history of Jamaica, on which he published many scientific papers. He corresponded with Charles Darwin and the curators at the Smithsonian and advised the famous naturalist Philip Henry Gosse on his Jamaican research. His contribution to natural history is slowly being recognised – for example, Sessions’ recent study argues that Hill influenced Gosse to treat nature and emancipation as intimately linked.
Hill also wrote extensively, and eloquently, on Jamaican history: A Week at Port Royal (1858), Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History (1859), Eight Chapters in the History of Jamaica, 1508-1680 (1868), and The Picaroons of One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago 1869). He died in 1872.
In very recent times, there have been attempts to remember Richard Hill in Lincolnshire. The Horncastle History and Heritage Society ran an event with students from the grammar school, which knew nothing of him until said event. The Society also discovered that Hill had corresponded with Horncastle historian, printer and auctioneer George Weir; letters between them are held in the National Library of Jamaica.
There is a way to go before this crusading emancipationist and naturalist occupies a proper place in a reimagined Lincolnshire.
 Monica Schuler, Coloured civil servants in post-emancipation Jamaica: two case studies. Caribbbean Quarterly 30, 3/4, 1984, p.95
 Jas A. Thome and J. Horace Kimball, Emancipation in the West Indies. A Six Months’ Tour in Antigua, Barbadoes and Jamaica in the Year 1837. New York, The American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838, p. 425-6.
 Emily Sessions, Anti-picturesque landscapes, entangled fauna, and interracial collaboration in post-emancipation Jamaica in the work of Philip Henry Gosse and Richard Hill. Terrae Incognitae, 53, 1, 2021, 26-47.
 Email Ian Marshman to Heather Hughes 22 July 2021. Many thanks to Ian Marshman, Chair of the Horncastle History and Heritage Society, for this information.
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