Wednesday, 7 October 2015

From slavery to sponges: imagining conversations in Victorian Budleigh Part 1


The latest arrival on Fairlynch Museum's new noticeboard is a poster advertising the free workshop on Saturday 14 November at the Exeter Community Centre on ‘Legacies of British slave-ownership.’ It's organised by the History Department at University College London. Details can be found at 

The poster was circulated to Devon museums including Fairlynch. No doubt organisers of the workshop feel that there are many in the county who have strong views about the issue of slavery and the extent to which Devonians were involved in it.

I touched on the issue in an earlier post following my visit to the exhibition ‘West Country to World’s End - The South West in the Tudor Age’ at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery. Click here to read it 

Devon historian Dr Todd Gray devoted a whole book to the subject in his 2007 publication Devon and the Slave Trade and there are interesting contributions to be read online such as Community Researcher Di Cooper’s study of Exeter’s involvement at  

Also available online is research carried out by Gillian Allen into slave-owning families in Ottery St Mary, published in the superb Heritage - Journal of the Ottery St Mary History Society at    Her conclusion, which must surely have ruffled a few feathers, is that “even the apparently innocuous town of Ottery St Mary shares some of the responsibility for the exploitation of Africans with its legacy of racial division and bitterness.”

So anybody intending to participate in the November workshop will find plenty of material freely available to prepare them in advance for the event.

I thought I might investigate Saltertonians involved in the slave trade. 

The subject has previously been dealt with by local researcher Roger Lendon in some articles published on Ovapedia: the Walcott family with connections to 19th century Barbados and William Wylly (1757-1828) who owned plantations in the Bahamas are two former residents of the Budleigh area whose names are prominent in recent writings about slavery. 

Some time ago former Fairlynch Museum volunteer Sheila Jelley pointed out that the town’s most famous scientist  – Budleigh-born Henry Carter (1813-95) - may have owed his education to wealth derived from a Jamaican plantation.

John Campbell, a Budleigh Salterton resident who died in 1841, aged 75, was a very rich man. He is listed in the 1830 National Commercial Directory for Devon published by Pigot and Co., in the 'Nobility Gentlemanry And Clergy' section.

Eric Delderfield writes of John Campbell's house in The Raleigh Country, quoting from a 19th century guide book to Budleigh Salterton which mentions Cliff Terrace; “to the westward, in a beautifully secluded vale, are the extensive grounds and seat of John Campbell, esq.” 

I’ve yet to identify the exact location.

Some of John Campbell’s wealth had been inherited from his brother Dugald, owner of the Salt Spring estate in the parish of Hanover, Jamaica, following Dugald’s death in 1817. 

Dugald’s will, made on 21 November 1813 while he was living at Thomas’s Hotel in Berkeley Square, and proved on 7 January 1818, had left his estate in trust to his brothers John and Duncan, Robert Scarlett and a London mortgagee James Boyick. Interestingly, among others mentioned in the will were two ‘negroes’, James and William, who were to be manumitted (released from slavery) and were to receive £10 per annum.

Below are photos of the Great House at Salt Spring 

© 2013. Jamaican Family Search

View from the balcony of Salt Spring Great House, looking over cane fields towards Cambleton, Orange Bay, and Salem

When researching material for my booklet The Scientist in The Cottage I’d been frustrated by the lack of information about the schooling which young Henry Carter had received. He had studied medicine at Exeter, in Paris, and later at University College Hospital in London before setting off abroad.   Yet I’d been unable to discover how his education had been funded.

The answer lies probably in John Campbell’s Will, dated 4 August 1841. At the time of Campbell’s death on 9 March in that year the 28-year-old  Carter  had just been appointed Surgeon in the Army of the East India Company. He would remain in the sub-continent for the next 21 years.  

It’s clear that the future Fellow of the Royal Society and internationally celebrated expert on marine sponges was one of the beneficiaries of Campbell’s will, which states that the sum of three hundred pounds was given to “my young friend and protégé Henry John Carter.”  

Another young beneficiary of John Campbell’s will was a William Holland Johnson described as “now at sea on a voyage to the East Indies” and who would by the terms of the will receive £1,200 “if and when he shall attain the age of twenty one years.”

How did Carter meet his benefactor, and what influence did Campbell have on the younger man, I wondered. Did he encourage Carter to try his fortune abroad. Perhaps that was why Carter embarked on nautical explorations such as the two-year voyage through the Arabian Sea on the survey-ship Palinurus, and into the desert regions which the young geologist describes in publications of the time? 

Continued at

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