Apr 302013

Go to any clothes shop and ask to try anything on in the fitting room and you will be immediately made aware that the store has to regard you as a potential thief. Bitter experience will have taught the shop owner that people have a habit of leaving the shop wearing more items of clothing than they brought in…

Shop-lifting is not of course a new phenomenum and I am reminded of this by this splendid mezzotint dating from 1787, appearing on the Lewis Walpole Library site. It is entitled ‘Shop Lifter Detected’ and shows a fashionably dressed young lady discovered in the act of trying to leave with lengths of ribbon and lace stuffed up under her skirt. Another woman looks on in horror, while two passers-by are explaining what has happened to the constable.

I especially like the rather-too-eager young man with his hand on the lady’s knee, thoroughly enjoying the search for stolen goods….

Theft was not the only concern to an 18th Century businessman: forgeries were another. Imagine the fun and games when banknotes first became prevalent in the  final decade of the century, and printers decided to try their hand at a little forgery. This was before the days of elaborate copy-proof watermarks, or holograms or metal strips – and within a very short time shop-keepers were coming into contact with fake bank notes.

In 1799 my ancestor solemnly jotted down in one of his notebooks:

“Counterfeit Bank Notes, chiefly of £5.-   Known by the coarseness of the paper. The Watermark clumsily executed with the figures 35 in the corner which appears to be done with something that cuts a part of the 3 in two.”

Ah well, the shopkeeper’s lot has never been easy!

Apr 282013


I love clocks – especially longcase clocks. They have such character, such solemnity and grandeur. And occasionally I come across a picture of one that is so exquisite I just want to share it with others. That’s the case with one on the delicious site of P.A. Oxley . But a word of warning: don’t go there unless you are happy to wander for ages through a positive cornucopia of delights!


It is described as being “an impressive 18th Century Chinoiserie decorated Longcase Clock by Estwick” and is rare because it has a moon-phase feature to the arch. Clocks showing the phases of the moon were not often made in London, which is where the maker Thomas Estwick operated from in around 1747. I have been unable to find out much about the man, other than that he was probably born in 1701. There are records of various other Estwick clock sales on the web, and it appears that he even made a musical clock with no fewer than thirteen bells. The ones I have seen are all incredibly ornately decorated.

This beautiful clock has a “full brass dial with separate silvered brass chapter ring, engraved matted centre, blued steel hands, date aperture, the makers name engraved on an unusual basket shaped cartouche and enclosed by four brass spandrels.”

It has an eight day mechanism housed in a “hugely impressive Chinoiserie decorated case with a green/brown ground and featuring a total of seven horses throughout the main trunk and base. Also featuring birds, lions, trees, buildings, flowers and a horse drawn carriage to the base and standing on a solid double plinth.”

I won’t go into the technical details of the mechanism – I just think it is a real “WOW!” item and I will let the pictures do the talking. They are all courtesy of P.A. Oxley, and I am most grateful to Chris for allowing me to use them. Just think of the impact a clock like this would have in a Georgian home. I can see myself walking across the hall and hearing its steady rhythmic movement, or waiting for the hour to be marked with its delicate chime. Definitely one for the bucket list!

P.S.  A word of caution – this baby has a height of 8’9″ so you will need nice high ceilings! It brings to mind The Aged Mother, who died last year, and who had cut a hole in the ceiling to accommodate the finials on her longcase. The clock still wouldn’t fit so she cut a hole through the floorboards and lowered the case twelve inches  into the void! Visitors were greeted with the weird sight of two thirds of a clock, the rest being out of view…. the problem was that her next house had concrete floors and ceilings. That got her!e5



Apr 262013

I am delighted to have a guest blog today from the irrepressible Elizabeth Hopkinson, author of  a just-released novel Silver Hands which contains lots of detailed background information about trade with the Far East in the 17th and 18th Centuries. She has kindly agreed to  do this post on the activities of the East India Company:

Chinese wallpaper, courtsey of the V&A

High-class people in the 18th century were obsessed with East Asia. Go to any stately home of the period and you will find any amount of Chinese wallpaper and lacquered cabinets. European well-to-do’s sought to imitate their oriental cousins. They rode in sedan chairs (a sort of European version of the palanquin). They communicated with fans. Even the oh-so-English custom of taking tea, which derives from the period, is a poor imitation of the Chinese tea ceremony.Why the fascination? Because European fleets were making the journey to and from the Far East in order to furnish people with luxuries, and bringing back tales of exotic lands with them.

The big trading powers in the water at the time were the East India Companies: the English and the Dutch (known as the VOC, or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie). The two countries had already fought each other over the right to control the spice trade in the 17th century, and England had lost. The Netherlands controlled the main part of the spice trade from their base in Batavia (Jakarta). They were also the only Europeans allowed to trade directly with Japan after the Sakoku (closed country) Edict of 1635. They were restricted to the man-made island of Deshima, in Nagasaki harbour, and all other European traders had to go through them. (That’s why if you see any genuine Japanese lacquer-ware from before 1868 – as opposed to the inferior Chinese sort – in an English stately home, you can be sure it was very, very expensive!) England, however, had its company factories in India (where it exerted ever-increasing power), China, and a changing array of places in between.

To get there, the journey began in London. East India Dock didn’t open until 1806, so the ships loaded and unloaded in the City of London (between Tower Bridge and London Bridge). East India Company ships were big: between 500 and 1,400 tonnes, with a crew of 90, and with 30-48 guns. They looked like warships and were run like warships, with uniforms and strict discipline; and they travelled in fleets to protect each other. This was because there was a huge threat of piracy. Ships carried gold and silver bullion, along with all manner of expensive goods and a well-stocked medicine chest – a tempting target to any pirate. Still, they did take passengers, including brides being sent to ex-patriots in India, who must have been in for a pretty terrible journey. One army wife slept in a hammock above a cannon and bilge water, and humbler women could be berthed with the horses! The more well-to-do passenger could bring a variety of things with which to make themselves more comfortable: tables, chairs, writing desks, sofas, coffee-making equipment, soap, sweets, perfume, soda water and musical instruments. However, this wouldn’t help them much in the worst of conditions, and the most common causes of death among passengers were illness, suicide and falling overboard.

The prevailing winds bellied out away from the West Coast of Africa, coming into the haven of the Cape of Good Hope after about 6 months. (Since both the Dutch and English stopped to replenish there, this explains the origins of modern South Africa). They would then have to avoid being attacked by pirates from the island of Madagascar, and get to the Company factory in Madras. A typical “Madras landing” was a far from pleasant experience, involving pitching through turbulent waves in small boats. Once ashore, the white walls of the city awaited, along with Fort St George, St Mary’s church (est. 1680), and presumably the new (and Englishwoman-starved) husbands of any bride who had made it through the journey so far.


From there, the journey continued through the Straits of Malacca, where more pirates were waiting in the South China Sea. And if the ship made it through that, it would eventually reach China. The main company factory in China was originally Canton (est. 1699), followed later by Shanghai. (The nature of Canton as a trading port helps to explain why Cantonese is spoken so widely by Chinese people outside China, and why Shanghaiese and Cantonese are the biggest dialects after Mandarin in China itself). Canton in the 18th century had factories (trading stations) from Holland, England, Sweden, France, Denmark and the Holy Roman Empire. These stood in a row on the waterfront, each flying its own flag. (The English one apparently had gardens too, which were the envy of the others). Along the back of the factories ran “Hog Lane”: a haunt of thieves, prostitutes, and a drink made from alcohol, tobacco juice, sugar and arsenic! Factories housed around 12 officers, along with 8 clerks, 2 tea inspectors, 2 surgeons and a chaplain. They only opened during the season that the winds allowed the ships to visit: the rest of the year, the men went to live in Macao.


China wasn’t much more keen than Japan on allowing other nations within its borders, so all internal trade was handled by the Chinese, with external trade only taking place in the trading stations, and only with the licenced guild of Co-Hong merchants. The main commodity England wanted from China was tea, along with porcelain, ginger, lacquer-ware, ivory carving, wallpaper and raw silk. In return, the English could offer wool from home and cotton from India. (There was also a time from 1720-50 when silver was worth more than gold in China, so traders did a direct swap of bullion!) If there was room in the hold, a captain of the East India Company was allowed to conduct his own private trade as well as the Company’s, and so come home a richer man.

Finally, with the hold full of tea and other goodies, all the captain and crew had to think about was reversing the entire journey and getting back to London. How truly Gulliver said to the Houynhmns, “that this whole Globe of Earth must be at least three Times gone round, before one of our better Female Yahoos could get her Breakfast, or a Cup to put it in.”



Main sources: The East India Company: Trade and Conquest from 1600 by Antony Wild (1999) and 1688: A Global History by John E Wills (2001)


I am most grateful to Elizabeth for her post: she is on Twitter as @hidden_grove and her new book is available on Amazon and Kindle. Silver Hands is a novel set in 1706-7, and reflects a huge amount of research into the English and Dutch East India Companies, international trade routes, and life at sea (including sea surgery). It also contains fascinating details about Japan’s secret feudal society  in that period. You can find details at Top Hat Books and her website is here.

Apr 232013

Writing in his notebook about extreme weather conditions, Richard Hall notes:


The Terrible, launched in Harwich in 1762, was the fourth of that name (if you include vessels captured from the Spanish and the French, and then re-named). It doesn’t seem to have had a particularly impressive life. It was classified as a ‘third rate ship of the line’ and had taken part in the First Battle of Ushant in 1778. Later she went on to feature in the Battle of the Chesapeake but was badly damaged in the encounter and was scuttled by fire (1782). A sad end for a crew which had already suffered the indignity of losing their shirts in a lightning storm!

Apr 192013

Three delightful trade cards from the Wellcome Institute to remind us of trades which we might otherwise have forgotten about. First up, this beautiful card promoting the wares of  William Woodward and his not-quite-so-beautiful business of emptying privies, drains and cess pools. Not content with carting barrels full of effluent through your house at night he could also sweep your chimneys and cart away your rubbish. A useful sort of contact to have….

Secondly, a lovely one about ‘buggs’ by the splendidly named Benjamin Tiffin “Bug Destroyer to His Majesty”

Handy knowing how to destroy’ buggs in  the walls’ with some neatly patterned wall-paper! And really, he comes across as a ‘Mr Rentokil’ of the 1750’s –  so much to fumigate each type of bed, and then a yearly contract to keep the bedroom bug-free. I would happily have paid the man a guinea to dis-infest my ‘raised  tester’ if I knew that the person carrying out the service had previously done the same in the Royal Bed-chamber!

Finally, if you are looking for lodging, bathing, sweating or cupping at the local hammams (hot baths), Gentlemen would be pleased to see that they could avail themselves of the service from this fine Cupper by the name of John Rigg. Being able to go in by the back door from Charles Street might have been a good idea – public baths, whether described as  a hammam or a bagnio, were often a pseudonym for a brothel. Ladies were admitted but only for sweating, bathing and cupping  “with great care and attendance”. Ominously, there is likewise a good cold bath – presumably to put paid to anyone wanting to behave other than with ‘the utmost Decorum’                                            

My ancestor Richard Hall records visiting  a colleague of Mr Rigg, in 1768. The experience cost him three shillings and sixpence….

But as we are on the topic of cupping, to end with a delightful cartoon from Rowlandson called ‘The Doctor is so Severely Bruised that Cupping is Judged Necessary.’  It shows the poor doctor lying starkers on the bed and suffering the indignity of hot cups being placed on his buttocks and shoulders. A number of female servants look on with differing degrees of interest. There never was, nor is, any dignity in being poorly…


Apr 172013

JaiI have long been fascinated by the question of how deaf people were treated by society in the 18th Century – just what would life hold for you if you were born deaf, or completely lost the use of hearing through illness? What education was there for you, if any, if you came from a poor family and could not benefit from a local school because there were no facilities for teaching you? So I was delighted when I stumbled across the blog page of Jaipreet Virdi entitled “From the Hands of Quacks”  (here) because it gives everything you ever wanted to know in terms of the history of deaf teaching, and much, much, more besides. Jai has the perspective of being deaf herself, having lost her hearing as a result of meningitis when she was four years old. She is doing a PhD at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto – her research broadly focuses on early nineteenth century developments in English medicine and biology.

JT portraitShe has kindly agreed to help me write this as a blog about education for deaf people, in particular about the work of a remarkable English clergyman called the Reverend John Townsend (1757-1826), who is pictured above. He is known for his establishment of the Asylum for the Support and Education of Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor, or more informally, the ‘Bermondsey Asylum.’ Later (in 1792) he was co-founder of the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (now the Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate). The institution provided education, training, and shelter to poor parish deaf children and heavily relied on subscriptions and donations to manage its affairs. It transformed the way deaf people were taught in Britain.


The man had an indefatigable appetite for work – barely had he finished setting up one institution that he would form a committee to raise funds to purchase premises so that some other institute could be established. Thus he was also was instrumental in setting up the London Missionary Society in 1794, and the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1802. In 1807 he also helped initiate the London Female Penitentiary, which housed and rehabilitated repentant prostitutes.

Caterham-school-front-entranceIn 1811 he started a Congregational School in Lewisham, to provide a boarding education for the sons of Congregational Ministers. It still exists, as Caterham School.

So, what of the man himself? John Townsend was born on 24 March 1757 in the impoverished parish of Whitechapel, whose narrow lanes, slums, and industries housed some of the city’s most destitute congregations. He was the son of Benjamin Townsend, who was a pewterer of Whitechapel. Father was a Calvinistic Methodist who was a follower of George Whitefield. John became an ordained minister in 1781  at Kingston, and then in 1784 moved to the Independent church in Jamaica Row, Bermondsey.

Jai sets the background to his pioneering efforts to help the deaf community: “Prior to 1750, when opportunities for deaf-mutes to be literate were becoming widespread, the situation of the deaf was a calamity: unable to acquire speech, the deaf were forced into a state of isolation and removed from the two-way communication prevalent in hearing society. Some even believed that the deaf were literally incapable of absorbing divine worlds, as they were metaphorically deaf to the Word of God. As Oliver Sacks describes the experiences, deaf-mutes were “confined to a few rudimentary signs and gestures; cut off, except in large cities, even from the community of their own kind; deprived of literacy and education, all knowledge of the world; forced to do the most menial work; living alone, often close to destitution; treated by the law and society as little better than imbeciles—the lot of the deaf was manifestly dreadful.”

While the poor deaf and dumb may have suffered uncomprehending brutality, this was scarcely the case of deaf children born to the wealthy and aristocratic who had the privilege of private instructors to teach variations of artificial speech, finger-spelling, signs, or lip-reading, skills that would enable them to enrich their social status through communication.”

Traditionally the Church had put forward the view that a child’s deafness was a result of God punishing the sins of the parents. Consequently deaf people were excluded from taking part in religious worship and they were given the status of imbeciles – incapable of education. Because of this prejudiced view, for many years ‘deaf and dumb’ people were considered incapable of making a will or of inheriting property from their families.

Holder-DeafIn the seventeenth century books started to appear on the topic of deafness, and various different types of sign language were introduced. The first formal schools for the deaf started to appear in Northern Europe in the eighteenth century.

In France, the Abbé de L’Épée (1712-1789) had opened a school for deaf children from all backgrounds. At first he taught speech with hand gestures and by writing, later developing a less time-consuming system of signs. Essentially, he developed Signed French which became known as the ‘silent education’ of deaf children.

In Germany, L’Épée ‘s methods were heavily criticized. The so-called German method put forward by  Samuel Heinicke (1729-90) was based on the insistence that speech was the only thing that separated human beings from animals. Sign language was discouraged, and everything was based upon oral learning. In Britain, there was a less dogmatic, more shared, approach. Five years after L’Épée had opened his school, the first deaf school was opened in Britain by Thomas Braidwood. The school was in Edinburgh and in 1760 initially accepted one deaf pupil. Braidwood’s success in teaching speech to this boy led to numbers increasing to twenty pupils by 1780. His approach, due to the use of natural gesture, was known as ‘combined’ – sign language was used as a gateway by which students could learn speech in order to communicate. His results were impressive and his reputation spread.

Silver ear trumpet from 1803

Silver ear trumpet from 1803

The Braidwood family in many ways represented deaf education for the last half of the 18th Century. The school in Edinburgh was eventually closed and Braidwood opened a new school in London in 1783. This became known as Old Kent Road Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, with Braidwood’s nephew, Watson becoming the new Head.

Jai continues: “Townsend became acquainted with the plight of the deaf child when one of his parishioners, a Mrs. Creasey, sent her son to the Thomas Braidwood’s academy for the deaf in Edinburgh. The boy’s ability and accuracy in mastering speech impressed Townsend, who then agreed with Mrs. Creasey on the necessity for a charitable institution that would counteract the privatization and expense characteristic of the Braidwood institutions.”

Sending her child to the academy in Edinburgh had cost Mrs Creasey £1500 over a ten year period – a vast sum, totally out of reach for anyone but the wealthy. What was remarkable, in an age of religious faction and bitter rivalry, was the way Townsend managed to draw together both the established church and the dissenters to unite in a single enterprise: the establishment of a deaf school for the “impotent poor”. On Thursday 30th August 1792 at 6.30 p.m. a meeting was held in the St Pauls Head Tavern in Bermondsey “ for the purpose of establishing in Bermondsey an Asylum for the Support and Education of the Deaf and Dumb children of the Poor.”

Jai continues “With the assistance of Henry Cox Mason, rector of Bermondsey, and of the philanthropist and banker Henry Thornton, Townsend established the Asylum. Admission to the school was through a public selection process voted by the Committee of Governors of the Asylum, usually reserved for a candidate between six to twelve years of age of “sound mind,” on the basis of their biographical sketch. Where six children were originally admitted in its founding year, at each yearly half-election, the governors of the Asylum accepted a few more; yet the number of children waiting to be admitted increased yearly, and by 1804, Townsend sought new dwellings for the growing institution. With the patronage from the Duke of Gloucester, the Asylum moved to Old Kent Road in London in 1807, and construction for the new institution completed in 1810. Braidwood’s dynasty in deaf education persisted as his nephew, Joseph Watson, served as the superintendent of the Asylum. Watson also published Instructions for the Deaf and Dumb (1809), which outlined the Asylum’s methods of education. Informally renamed the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, the institution eventually became an important national charity and its model of patronage and governing committee did much to transform the operating systems of charitable institutions in Britain.”

Townsend died in February 1826. Details of his life appear in the book ‘Memoirs of the Reverend John Townsend’, which was organized and published by his niece, Susan Warner, five years after his death.

jaipreetI am really grateful to Jai for her input on this post. Hopefully I will be able to persuade her to do another one, perhaps on Thomas Braidwood, in due course! Meanwhile, here is another picture of her, because let’s face it, she’s better looking than any of the other photographs I use!


Post script: I am embarrassed to see that I failed to give credit to myk briggs for the picture of the silver ear trumpet, shown above. He has a site at http://www.eartrumpets.co.uk/ dedicated to ear trumpets (yes, he has a collection of dozens and dozens, of all shapes and sizes, and of all ages!). Thanks myk!


Apr 152013

My ancestor Richard Hall was a hosier – he made silk stockings, so I was intrigued to see what the excellent Lewis Walpole Library  site had on the topic of stockings. Here are three which caught my eye:

This first one, from 1799 is by G Woodward and is entitled ‘A leg of lamb.’  It shows a servant in startled alarm at the sight of the ankles (nay, even the knee, Shock! Horror!) of the Mistress of the house. So perturbed is he that the tea cup and saucer go flying.

This next one is also by Woodward, from August 1797 and is entitled ‘An Enquiry concerning the Clock Tax’. It shows a hosier approaching William Pitt to enquire whether the recently-introduced  clock tax also applied to… the decorative features known as clocks embroidered above the ankle on the stocking. The hosier asks “Please your Honor – I am a Delegate from the worthy and reputable Society of Hosiers, to know whether your Honor means to extend the new Tax to Clocks upon Stockings”

The third one is in dubious taste and is by Charles Hunt. I have included it because it just goes to show how what we regard as acceptable has changed. Not only does the shopkeeper speak with a mocking accent, but he comes up with  a feeble racist joke. This was however the non-P.C. world in which my ancestor lived, so I make no apology for including it. I particularly like the sight of stockings festooned in the window – there is a fair bet that this would haver been echoed in the corner windows of Richard’s shop premises at Number One London Bridge.

 She asks “Have you any Flesh coloured Silk Stockings young Man?” and gets the response “Oui Madame! here is von pair of de first qualite!” –  holding up a pair of black stockings.

No, not particularly funny or subtle, but interesting as a way of seeing how attitudes to racial humour have changed!

Apr 132013

Thumbing through the latest Hamptons Antiques catalogue my eyes lit up on seeing this lovely sewing compendium, thought to date from 1815 and which the site describes as “a Brighton Pavilion Sewing Compendium, of architectural design, inspired by Nash’s Brighton Pavilion. The dome encloses a purple Pin Cushion with little sign of wear, whilst the base encloses a Thimble, Tape, Waxer, Pin Cushion, and Needle case. Pieces like this were unique to the south east of England and architectural designs were particularly prized as well as very desirable.”





The same page has a Tunbridge Ware Sewing box with simulated rosewood and print of Brighton Royal Pavilion, also circa 1815. It really is a delight, and shows the Brighton Patent Coach passing in front of the Pavilion.




Apr 082013

It has dawned on me that I have featured caricatures poking fun at most of the professions, with the exception of the Church. It is high time that this was remedied!

First up, a gentle poke at hypocrisy with this etching by G M Woodward dated 1799 entitled ‘A Divine in  his Glory!!’ It appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

It shows a singularly corpulent parson with a courtesan balanced on each knee, and the verse underneath reads: ‘The business of his church he did by proxy and loved all doxies but the ortho-doxy.’

Continuing the overweight, hedonist, theme here we have a Rowlandson caricature from the same year, titled ‘Vicar.’ The fat vicar wearing a night-cap has fallen asleep with his feet resting on a somnolent dog; his companion helps himself to two generous glasses of port from a full decanter and utters the question “What is life without the enjoyment of a friend”.

The 18 year old Richard Newton did a lovely Clerical Calendar in 1795 showing  clergy in various degrees of ridicule:

 Space doesn’t really allow close-ups of all the letters but use the ever-helpful Lewis Walpole Library’s Zoomify feature here and you can see each individual caricature.

I have always been a fan of Newton so I was pleased to see that parsons were a regular target for the young man whose life ended at the tragically early age of twenty-three. Here is a splendid one, again via Lewis Walpole Library, entitled ‘Which way shall I turn me?’  from 1794 showing the plight of the parson torn between the pleasures of the flesh and  …. the pleasures of the flesh!

Another caricature by Newton from the same source, dated 1795, under the title of ‘Fast Day’ shows four clerics drooling over the turkey which they are about to consume ravenously. One says “Here’s our old friend” to which his colleague replies “You mean the Church, I suppose”

Finally two Newton cartoons from the British Museum site. The first is entitled ‘A Priestridden Village’ and shows a plethora of parsons supported by the parish – literally.

And to end with, one  entitled ‘Parsons Drowning Care.’   Irreverence for  Reverends – I love it!

Apr 052013

Ignatius Sancho, by Thomas Gainsborough

Today’s post is about a slave turned shopkeeper called Ignatius Sancho. Born in the same year as my ancestor Richard Hall (1729) it is interesting to see how different their lives were, and yet how close their lives came to converging. The story goes that Ignatius was born on a slave ship crossing to the West Indies from Guinea, in West Africa. There is no proof of this, but what is known is that as a young child he was brought to England and became a houseboy in Greenwich in the employment of three unmarried sisters. They added “Sancho” to his name, kept him uneducated as a way of keeping control over him, and treated him harshly. Domestic servants had few rights – he was a household drudge, but one who was expected to be smart in appearance and act as an adornment to the household at all times.

Eventually he grew tired of the arrangement and ran away from the sisters. He persuaded the Duke of Montagu to employ him as his butler, which gave him the opportunity to learn how to read and write. The Duke encouraged him in his studies, and helped him become a popular figure in London Society. He was a novelty – a charming, well-versed African who wrote eloquently and vividly to his acquaintances about his life and times. He counted the actor and theatre manager David Garrick among his friends. He accompanied the Duke on one of his visits to Bath where he had his portrait painted by Thomas Gainsborough – a hurried portrait which was apparently completed in 90 minutes from start to finish!

When the Duke died he bequeathed money to Sancho in his will, enabling him to open grocery shop premises at 19 Charles Street in Westminster. Ironically, for a man with such a fundamental horror of slavery, he was trading in all the goods which benefited from plantation workers’ misery – sugar, tobacco rum etc. He married and had six children and appears to have become one of a very rare and unusual group – an African who was a property owner and as such was entitled to vote in elections (a right which he exercised on more than one occasion). He was a staunch monarchist and he loved playing and composing music. He wrote a Theory of Music (no copies survive) and composed a number of songs, dances etc which were later published in four volumes. He was a prodigious letter writer and was the first Black African to have a letter to the Press published, the first to have an obituary published when he died, and the first to have his collection of letters published.

The collection was a best seller when it came out in 1782, two years after his death which occurred on 14th December 1780. He was a remarkable man, who lived a remarkable life and who spoke persuasively and effectively against the inhumanity of the Slave Trade. For that reason he was featured in a UK series of postage stamps commemorating the abolition of slavery.









His portrait on the stamp, clearly based on the Gainsborough portrait, appears against a background detail taken from his trade card. The original is shown courtesy of the British Museum:








More can be found on the intriguing website of Brycchan Carey  as this contains extracts from many of his letters including fascinating first-hand descriptions of the Gordon Riots.

And to end with: the commemorative plaque put up on the site of his grocer’s shop.