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Slave trade past of prominent Sussex families discovered online
The ancestors of Samantha Cameron, Lord Gage of Firle Place, Brighton Rock author Graham Greene and Lord Hailsham were slave-owners, a new online archive has revealed.
They were among the wealthy Sussex families, including viscounts, baronets, MPs and vicars, who received generous Government payouts after 1833 Act of Parliament that emancipated slaves following the abolition of slavery in 1808.
While it has already been revealed that an ancestor of David Cameron was a slave-owner, it’s not widely known that a Sussex vicar, the Rev William Jolliffe, of Upper Tilgate, near Crawley, and a distant ancestor of Samantha Cameron, was also a slave-owner.
Mrs Cameron declined to comment.
And Lord Gage, the 8th Viscount, of Firle Place, has spoken of his shock after learning that his ancestor John Gage owned 108 slaves on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
He said it was “a big surprise” to learn that Gage was handed £1,759 8s 11d by the Government in compensation for the 108 slaves who worked on Gage’s estate on Montserrat.
He said: “I do not approve of slavery. It was one of the worst things to happen in modern history, if you can call 200 years ago modern history.
“It was a big surprise to learn this and I’m certainly not proud of what we have learned on this. I am very shocked by slavery and to learn about this.”
The Government paid out £20 million – the equivalent of billions today – in 46,000 individual claims to those who owned slaves in British territories in the British West Indies, Mauritius and the Cape.
Each slave was valued according to his or her skills and the success of the plantation on which they worked.
Using the records of the Slave Compensation Commission, which was set up to manage the £20 million fund, the Legacies of British Slave-ownership has been compiled by University College London.
Dr Nick Draper, from UCL, was one of several academics who spent three years working on the records.
He said that up to 10% of Britons who died in the 18th century had benefited from slavery and that up to 15% of the British elite were involved.
“We have to keep the information in this database in context and we can debate what the information actually means.
"But the amount of money available to the compensation fund reflects how much influence the elite had on the government.
"But they were not so powerful they could not stop the Abolition of Slavery Bill going through.”
The British began their colonisation of the West Indies in 1609 when shipwrecked English colonists landed on Bermuda on their way to Virginia.
Once colonists settled on the then uninhabited Barbados, they established the first sugar colonies, using the African slaves brought in to work on them.
By 1832, Britain had colonised Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda.
In 1655, Britain seized Jamaica from Spain and its sugar and coffee plantations made it one of the most valuable possessions in the world for 150 years.
Samuel Johnson described Jamaica as “a place of great wealth and dreadful wickedness, a den of tyrants and a dungeon of slaves”.
Treated like cattle
It’s estimated that around 12 million Africans were transported to its colonies in the West Indies between the 16th and 18th centuries, a fifth of them dying en route.
In one infamous case, the captain of a ship called the Zong threw 132 slaves overboard because water supplies were running low.
The slaves, regarded as inferior human beings, were inspected like cattle before being bought.
They were branded and manacled and endured a two-month journey across the Atlantic, crammed into a space smaller than a coffin.
The irons would eat into their flesh and they suffered from disease and malnutrition.
In that state, they were sold on to plantation owners.
One of the few descriptions of the horrors suffered by slaves came from Olaudah Equiano, who later became involved in the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade.
He described his journey across the Atlantic to Barbados with 244 slaves as being imprisoned in a “world of bad spirits”.
Their free labour produced wealth for the British Empire, among them the ancestors of author George Orwell, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Arts Council chairman Peter Bazalgette.
The 3rd Viscount Egremont of Petworth House is mentioned in the archive as being “in dispute”, together with the Smith family, with members of a family called Allen over a property in Barbados.
It’s possible that the Smith family was linked to Romantic poet and novelist Charlotte Turner Smith, who was from a wealthy family and later lived in Woolbeding House, near Midhurst.
Forced by her father to wed at the age of 15, she had an unhappy marriage and it was her father-in-law who owned plantations in Barbados.
He and his wife had brought five slaves to England, people who were included as part of the family property in his will.
The 3rd Viscount was a patron of the author, who, while arguing against slavery in works such as The Old Manor House and Beachy Head, benefited from the income of the plantations.
Her family’s annual income of £2,000 depended on slave labour.
John “Mad Jack” Fuller, a High Sheriff of Sussex and MP for Sussex from 1801-1812, was a keen sup- porter of slavery – and it was no wonder.
The owner of the Rose Hill estate at Brightling also owned estates in Jamaica that had more than 250 slaves.
After his death in 1834, compensation of £3,895 7s 7d and £762 16s 10d was paid to his family.
Baron Seaford of Sussex was the grandson of George Ellis, the Chief Justice of Jamaica, and as owner-in-fee was awarded the compensation for more than 1,000 slaves on five plantations there.
The vast sums ranged from £6,490 to £1,362. Sir Godfrey Vassall Webster, the 5th Baronet of Battle Abbey, Battle, and a Tory MP for Sussex, was involved in three plantations in Jamaica for which around £5,000 was paid, to the 6th baronet.
Thomas Wace, a “gentleman” of Hill House, Wadhurst, was compensated for nine slaves on estates in Barbados, while Bognor resident Henry Laird, whose brother was physician and geologist James Laird, was awarded £2,174 19s 11d for 116 slaves on an estate in Jamaica.
David Lyon, a High Sheriff of Sussex in 1851-2 who lived at Goring Hall, received compensation for three estates in Jamaica, and was involved in the compensation of another 10.
Between them, they worked more than 2,500 slaves, receiving payouts between £5, 622 and £1,855.
Perhaps one of the most poignant cases was that of Charles Lushington, of Marine Parade, Brighton, who benefited from his wife’s family’s estate in Jamaica.
Seven Plantations had 322 slaves, worth a total of £5,849 6s 10d.
But his brother was Stephen Lushington, a Whig politician and judge, and a campaigner for the abolition of slavery.
To view the Legacies of British Slave-ownership archive, visit www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs
HOW THEY ARE RELATED
William John Jolliffe was a brilliant entrepreneur whose company was responsible for the construction of Waterloo Bridge, Dartmoor Prison and the new London Bridge. He gave it all up for the church and became a vicar, living at Tilgate House in Upper Tilgate, near Crawley.
But before he embraced the church, he became a beneficiary of slave-ownership through complicated legal transactions in which “all claims due” to the failed merchant firm of Inglis Ellice and Co, which held mortgages on properties were transferred to him. In connection with this, the Ballenbouche Estate in St Lucia received £4,174 5s 8d for164 slaves, but it is unlikely he personally received the money.
Rev Jolliffe's son was the 1st Baronet Hylton, who served as Home Secretary and Treasurer in the governments of the Earl of Derby, married the daughter of the 4th Baronet Sheffield, Mrs Cameron's great-great-great grandfather.
African slaves were brought to St Lucia in the 1700s and the Ballenbouche (or Balenbouche) Estate, a sugar plantation, was established by Europeans, possibly in the 1740s. Today, Ballenbouche has “a traditional plantation house surrounded by an enchanting tropical garden, a river, a water wheel and the ruins of a sugar mill”.
Lord Gage of Firle:
Among the ancestors of the present Lord Gage of Firle is a distinguished military commander who served alongside George Washington and played a role in starting the American War of Independence, eventually becoming a Governor of Massachusetts.
General the Hon Thomas Gage, who probably owned estates in Montserrat and elsewhere in the West Indies and also in the American colonies, was the father of John Gage (1767-1846), who was awarded £1,759 8s 11d for 108 slaves on Gage's Estate in Montserrat.
The estate, also called John Gage's Estate, was listed as having 150 “enslaved persons” and it is not known why Gage was not compensated for all of them.
Little is known about John Gage's Estate, which was probably a sugar estate.
African slaves had been brought the island by Irish settlers to work in their sugar cane fields and as the number of slaves rose to outnumber their Irish masters by three to one, the slaves rebelled on St Patrick's Day 1768.
Servants grabbed weapons from Government House while field slaves stormed the building with rocks, farm tools, clubs and homemade swords.
But word of the planned uprising got out ahead of time and the rebellion was brutally crushed. Nine slaves were hanged.
Slavery was abolished on Montserrat in 1834, probably as a result of the 1833 abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
Lord Hailsham, Quintin McGarel Hogg, whose country home was Carters Corner Place in Herstmonceux, served as a Tory politician in the governments Margaret Thatcher and Ted Heath, and his son is former Cabinet minister Douglas Hogg.
The Hogg dynasty dates back to a merchant called Charles McGarel, who made his fortune from the slaves he owned.
Early on in his career, he became a partner in a firm on the new sugar frontier of Demarara on the coast of South America, and between 1835 and 1837 was compensated £129,464 (about £101m today) for the 2,489 slaves he owned.
The author of Brighton Rock, who is believed to have lived at Embassy Court in Brighton for a while, was descended from the founder of brewer Greene King.
Benjamin Greene inherited Nicola Town plantation on St Kitts from the widow of a neighbour.
Estates in the West Indies, and built up a portfolio of 18 estates, which by the mid-1830s was producing one-third of the island's sugar exports.
Through his newspaper, the Bury and Suffolk Herald, Greene opposed the Slavery Abolition Bill and by 1836 he owned a sugar-importing business.
Greene received compensation for 231 slaves on three estates in St Kitts and Montserrat, three amounts of £2,672 3s 4d, £1,262 15s 1d and £98 17s 3d.
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