Albert West: Gandhi’s Lincolnshire connection (Part 1)

Heather Hughes

 

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]

Albert West as young man
Albert West as a young man. Courtesy Uma Mesthrie-Dhupelia

 

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

Indian fresh fruit and vegetable sellers in the town of Verulam
Indian market gardeners selling supplies in the Natal town of Verulam, early twentieth century.

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.

A young Mohandas Gandhi
Mohandas Gandhi at the time of his arrival in Durban. Durban Local History Museum.

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.

Grey Street Durban early 20th century
Grey Street in the early twentieth century. Durban Local History Museum

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]

Printing press shed Phoenix
The shed housing the printing press in the early days of Phoenix Settlement. Courtesy Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie.

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.

[i] Information about the West family from https://www.matthew-west.org.uk/west-family-history/4-the-wests-of-wrangle and https://www.matthew-west.org.uk/west-family-history/1-elsoms-of-lincolnshire/2-the-wests-of-wrangle (accessed 8 April 2022)

[ii] 1881 Census entry for Frederick and Betsy West family, at  https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=GBC/1881/0014777516&expand=true (accessed 5 March 2022)

[iii] Caitlin Green, The Streets of Louth: An A-Z History. Louth, The Lindes Press, 2012, pp. 7-13.

[iv] Albert West, Autobiography of an Octogenarian. The Lifestory of One in his Ninetieth Year. Typescript fragment, PDF format. Thanks to Dr R Gatenby, Museum Archivist, for access to this source.

[v] Albert West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’, at https://www.gandhiashramsevagram.org/gandhi-articles/in-the-early-days-with-gandhi.php (accessed 5 March 2022) This memoir was first published in The Illustrated Weekly of India in 1965.

[vi] See https://www.matthew-west.org.uk/west-family-history/4-the-wests-of-wrangle (accessed 8 April 2022)

[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.

[ix] West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

[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.

[xv] Gandhi, An Autobiography, pp. 160-163.

[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.

[xviii] For a link to his articles, see

https://ivu.org/index.php/history/2013-02-17-21-30-33/19-ivu/vegetarian-history/308-history-of-vegetarian-societies-in-africa (accessed 13 April 2022)

[xix] Albert West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

[xx] Isabel Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading. Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press, 2013.

[xxi] Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press, p. 59.

[xxii] West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

[xxiii] James Hunt, cited in Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press, p. 63.

[xxiv] Laljeeth Ramdhani, Natal: The Great Storm and the Floods of 1905. Durban, University of KwaZulu-Natal Gandhi Documentation Centre, 1984. Available at  https://disa.ukzn.ac.za/sites/default/files/DC%20Metadata%20Files/Gandhi-Luthuli%20Documentation%20Centre/DOC%2001-01-84%20RAM/DOC%2001-01-84%20RAM.pdf

[xxv] West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

Stained glass?

Heather Hughes

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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’.[4]  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.

Pocahontas receiving instruction (H. Hughes)

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.

Pocahontas, after van de Passe engraving (H. Hughes)

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.

East Lindsey History Matters Panel (H. Hughes)

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.

 

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Derek Buescher and Kent Ono, Civilised colonialism: Pocahontas as neocolonial rhetoric. Women’s Studies in Communication 19, 2, 1996, 127-153.

[4] Peter Hulme, cited in Heike Paul, The Myths that Made America. Bielefeld, Transcript, 2014, p. 94.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Richard Hill

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.

The Hon Richard Hill. From https://nljdigital.nlj.gov.jm/items/show/411#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=-61%2C-4%2C345%2C351

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.[1]

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’.[2]

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’.[3]

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.[4]

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:

Slave uprising on Roehampton Estate. http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/1435

‘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’.[5]

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.[6] He subsequently accepted the post of  Secretary to the Special Magistrates Department at Spanish Town – a sort of ‘deanship’ of all the stipendiary magistrates [7] 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.’[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

There is a way to go before this crusading emancipationist and naturalist occupies a proper place in a reimagined Lincolnshire.

Heather Hughes

[1] F.J. DuQuesnay, Richard Hill – Son of Jamaica at http://www.jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Samples2/fred09.htm  draws on family letters to shed light on his early life. [Accessed 1 December 2021].

[2] Elisabeth Griffith-Hughes, A Mighty Experiment: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom in Jamaica, 1834-1838. PhD Thesis, University of Georgia, 2003, p. 75.

[3] Frank Cundell, Richard Hill. The Journal of Negro History 5, 1, 1920, p.37

[4] Frank Cundell, Richard Hill, p.38.

[5] Richard Hill, Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History; Being Three Lectures Delivered in Aid of the Mission Schools of the Colony. Kingston, Ford and Gall, 1859, p. 93. Available at Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History: Being Three Lectures, Delivered in … – Richard Hill – Google Books [accessed 1 December 2021]

[6] Griffith-Hughes, A Mighty Experiment, p.75

[7] Monica Schuler, Coloured civil servants in post-emancipation Jamaica: two case studies. Caribbbean Quarterly 30, 3/4,  1984, p.95

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

Francis Barber’s Lincolnshire connections

Francis Barber, born c. 1742, is best known as one of the servants in Samuel Johnson’s London household. He has appeared in the many biographies of Johnson and has himself been the subject of at least two.  Aleyn Lyell Reade’s was published in 1912.[1]  It claimed to be an exhaustive collection of all references to Barber in letters, memoirs, and biographies of Johnson; its emphasis was on Johnson’s beneficence rather than Barber’s personhood. The most recent is by Michael Bundock.[2]  On the whole, people are more important than places in Bundock’s account, but that makes it easy to miss Barber’s connections to Lincolnshire.

Barber was born into slavery in Jamaica, probably on the sugar-producing Orange River estate on the northern shores of Jamaica, in the parish of St Mary. It was owned at the time by Colonel Richard Bathurst, a prominent member of the plantocracy. Barber’s earliest-known name was Quashey, one that frequently appears in slave name studies.[3] It is testimony to the tenacity of enslaved communities’ cultural memories, for it references a day of birth, Sunday, originating in the Akan speech area of West Africa.[4]

By 1750, Bathurst was in severe financial difficulties. He put his Jamaican estates up for sale and returned to Britain; for reasons that remain obscure, he brought Quashey, now seven or eight years old, with him. They stayed briefly with Bathurst’s physician son, also called Richard, in London.[5]

Not long after arrival, Quashey was baptised and given the name Francis Barber, symbolically severing him from his African and slave background. The choice of the new Christian name is not clear and no record has (yet) been found of his baptism. As Bundock notes, “either the relevant entry [in a London parish register] has not survived or the baptism took place elsewhere”.[6]  There is at least a possibility that the ‘elsewhere’ was Lincoln. Bathurst senior’s home was in The Close, Lincoln, he made his will in Lincoln in 1754 and his burial occurred in St Mary Magdalene, Castle Hill, in the following year. The executor of his estate, Peter Lely, also lived in The Close.

He may well have brought Barber with him to the city, for he seems already to have selected a small school in Yorkshire for him to attend. Bundock asks the question, “why should Barber have been sent some 250 miles to go to school?” (p. 37) but this assumes a starting point in London. The choice makes more sense if Lincoln is taken as his point of departure. In any event he was not at school long; by early 1752, he had joined Samuel Johnson’s household.

Evidence suggests he was not entirely happy there. Col Bathurst’s will had decreed that “I give to Francis Barber a negroe whom I brought from Jamaica aforesaid into England his freedom and twelve pounds in money”. [7]  Barber used his inheritance to take up a position as apothecary’s apprentice, and then to join the navy. It was Johnson who got him discharged some years later and he rejoined the household as Johnson’s personal servant. Ingledew describes his responsibilities:

‘A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s’ by D. George Thompson, published by Owen Bailey, after James William Edmund Doyle. Stipple and line engraving, published 1 October 1851. NPG D14518 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Barber is thought to be the figure standing at the back on the right; Johnson is seated second from left.

“He performed all the routine duties of a valet, overseeing Johnson’s clothing, buying his provisions, reminding him of appointments, answering the door to callers and announcing their arrival to his master, or protecting him from unwelcome visitors, nursing him in sickness even to the extent of bloodletting, reading to him when his sight was too bad to let him do so himself, waiting at table, making coffee, fetching parcels from the post office, and booking coach seats for Johnson’s annual summer pilgrimages to such places as Oxford, Lichfield, Ashbourne or Lincolnshire, on which he accompanied and looked after his master. A number of tasks which Johnson thought might have been demeaning for Francis he would not let him do, such as buckling his shoes, or buying food for his cat, Hodge.” [8]

Bennet Langton. Carl Fredrik von Breda (1759–1818), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the Lincolnshire visits occurred in 1764, to Johnson’s close friend Bennet Langton at Langton Hall, near Spilsby. From this occasion is derived an insight into Barber’s physical attractiveness: Johnson is reputed to have told a group of friends some years later that

“When I was in Lincolnshire so many years ago, he attended me thither; and when we returned home together, I found that a female haymaker had followed him to London for love.” [9]

Johnson left £2000, the bulk of his estate, to Barber. While this was a very generous settlement, the amount was not given to Barber outright; rather, it was tied up in trusts, which included an annuity of £70 to be paid out of a lump sum of £750 administered by Bennet Langton. In a sense, this arrangement bound Francis Barber forever to Lincolnshire, although it is not known if he ever visited again. He and his family moved to Lichfield, where he died in 1801.

[1] Aleyn Lyell Reade, Johnsonian Gleanings Part II: Francis Barber The Doctor’s Negro Servant. Arden Press, 1912.

[2] Michael Bundock, The Fortunes of Francis Barber. Yale University Press, 2021.

[3] Handler, J and Jacoby, J. Slave names and naming in Barbados, 1650-1830. William and Mary Quarterly 53, 4, 1996, pp. 685-728; Burnard, T. Slave-naming patterns: onomastics and the taxonomy of race in eighteenth-century Jamaica. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31, 3, 2001, pp. 325-346.

[4] Vincent Carretta, Francis Barber. Browse In Freedman/Freedwoman, 1775–1800: The American Revolution and Early Republic | Oxford African American Studies Center (oxfordaasc.com) accessed 11 October 2021.

[5] Reade, Francis Barber, p. 4.

[6] Bundock, The Fortunes of Francis Barber, p. 36.

[7] The will is reproduced in full in Reade, p. 3.

[8] Ingledew, J. Samuel Johnson’s Jamaica connections. Caribbean Quarterly 30, 2 1984, p. 7.

[9] Cited in Philip Butcher, Francis Barber, Dr Samuel Johnson’s Negro Servant. Negro History Bulletin 11, 2, 1947, p. 38.

Unheard Voices from Reimagining Lincolnshire

Our project recently participated in Heritage Open Days, a celebration of cultural heritage that takes place across many regions of the world in September.  Lincolnshire’s theme this year was ‘Voices of Lincolnshire – Stories Unheard’. For our contribution, several members of Reimagining Lincolnshire presented an online discussion about some of their favourite figures from our region’s past, remarkable yet neglected. They are all emblematic of the ways in which our region’s people have, for millennia, meshed into comings and goings, arriving and leaving, across land and sea.

We started with two seventeenth-century women who were central to the struggle for religious freedom, Mary Brewster and Anne Marbury Hutchinson.  Mary Brewster was one of the group that came to be known as the Mayflower Pilgrims; for this talk, Dr Anna Scott focused on the back story of her life in Lincolnshire before their departure across the Atlantic. Anna and Neil Baker have created an illustrated children’s story book on this theme, which  is available for purchase.

Edwin Austen Abbey’s impression on Anne Hutchinson on trial. Courtesy Anne Hutchinson on Trial – Anne Hutchinson – Wikipedia

Researcher Judy Harris traced Anne Marbury Hutchinson’s life from her birth in Alford in 1591 to her death in  New Amsterdam in 1643. She was an outspoken theologian and women’s leader.  Her beliefs were considered seditious and she was banished to Rhode Island: ‘cast out by the very men who had been cast out of England’, said Harris. A household name in New England, she is almost entirely forgotten in her native Alford.

Heather Hughes then considered the four servants who accompanied Joseph Banks’s party on their scientific expedition aboard Captain Cook’s Endeavour (1768-1771).  We often pass over ‘servants’ as doing menial work at the behest of others; they rarely if ever receive credit. Yet recent research has revealed that Peter Briscoe, James Roberts, Thomas Richmond and George Dorlton all made lasting and significant contributions to science. The two Black servants, Richmond and Dorlton, perished on the voyage; Roberts and Briscoe survived and continued their interaction with international science and scientists.

Attention then turned to the Black funambulist (or tightrope walker), Carlos Trower. Dr Andrew Walker explained that Trower was one of several Black entertainers who regularly performed in Lincolnshire through the nineteenth century. Known as the ‘African Blondin’ after the renowned Charles Blondin, who crossed the Niagara Falls on a highwire, Trower performed some of his amazing feats over the River Witham, to the delight of huge crowds.

Pupils enjoy a knitting session at the Murray Hill Institute. Canner 1/4/1, Special Collections UoL. Courtesy Rosemary Saunders.

Lincoln-born Walter Canner was the subject of Claire Arrand’s contribution.  He studied at St Paul’s Missionary College near Skegness – itself deserving of a far higher profile for its international connections. From 1921 to 1938, he worked in northern China at the Murray Hill Institute for Blind Children, where he developed many facilities to enrich the lives of its pupils. The University of Lincoln holds a collection of his papers.

 

The presentation finished up with a truly international story of one Lincolnshire family. Dr Victoria Araj, who is the project’s full time postdoctoral researcher, gave a fascinating insight into her grandmother’s family, the Snelsons of Grimsby.

Their journeys connected the family to Lagos, Cairo, London, Beirut, Bethlehem, Rabat, and Melbourne, a tale of empire, diaspora, war, opportunity and fortune.

Audrey Snelson Malouf and husband David Malouf at home in Lagos, 1960s. Courtesy Audrey Malouf.

If you’re interested in more of these stories, you can watch our presentation here.

Heather Hughes