COLLECTIONS & RESEARCH

Dorset Slave Owners

Drawing of slaves in Jamaica

Drawing of slaves in Jamaica from Notes on the present condition of the Negroes (1825), the book published by De la Beche after his long visit to Jamaica.

Many people invested in the sugar plantations of the West Indies, a source of great wealth for England, and of much misery for the slaves who worked the plantations.

Henry de la Beche, the early geologist, inherited a plantation in Jamaica, and it is interesting to see how a clever and honest man dealt with the fact that his whole family’s prosperity depended upon slave labour.

De la Beche visited his plantation in 1823, staying a whole year, and he tried to improve the conditions for his workers. He thought that some of the Abolitionists were not reporting matters truthfully because they were exaggerating the sufferings of the slaves, but he also thought that the owners and managers in the West Indies were ‘Tom Noddies’ i.e. stupid. He wrote ‘from the intolerance of both parties, I stand a very good chance of losing my property’.

Part of a long list of slaves belonging to a Dorset land-owner who had estates in the West Indies in 1815.

Part of a long list of slaves belonging to a Dorset land-owner who had estates in the West Indies in 1815. One hundred and fifteen people are listed over four pages, with their approximate age, occupation, condition (health) and value in pounds. Some have ‘Supposed Dirt Eater’ in the comment column: we are not sure what this means. The last column gives their ethnicity.

A happy engraving of Jamaican slaves dressed for a celebration, probably 1830s.

A happy engraving of Jamaican slaves dressed for a celebration, probably 1830s.

Share