Wednesday, 14 December 2016

From Slavery to Sponges Part III: Admiral George William Preedy CB

 J.M.W. Turner was inspired to paint ‘The Slave Ship’ in 1840 after reading The History and Abolition of the Slave Trade by Thomas Clarkson. In 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong had ordered 133 slaves to be thrown overboard so that insurance payments could be collected. This event probably inspired Turner to create his landscape and to choose to coincide its exhibition with a meeting of the British Anti-Slavery Society.

My blogging is less frequent nowadays, but every so often researching Budleigh’s local history sends me back to the keyboard to record yet another curious and sometimes important discovery.

The latest find relates to my earlier investigation into the early life of the 19th century scientist Henry Carter FRS, and specifically into the question of his education. Who paid for it? And why? And how come his benefactor, Budleigh resident John Campbell was such a wealthy man?
The answer came from the discovery of the Campbell family’s plantations in the West Indies
as I wrote  here 

Of course John Campbell was not the only wealthy Devon resident whose past we look on today as tainted by a criminal disregard of human rights.  The county has had something of a bad press in recent years with regard to its involvement in the early slave trade. Plymouth City Council refused in 1994 to provide funds for celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir John Hawkins; the Elizabethan seafarer knighted by Queen Elizabeth I is of course notorious for his pioneering of African slaving expeditions. The coat of arms seen above, granted to him in 1565, even includes ‘a demi-Moor proper bound captive’.    

As recently as 2013, Lympstone resident Graham Martin, Chairman of the Exeter branch of Anti-Slavery International, wrote in a letter published by the Express & Echo newspaper to protest that Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, in its staging of the ‘West Country to World’s End exhibition’, had failed to mention the involvement of  Hawkins and his second cousin Sir Francis Drake in the Elizabethan slave trade.

School children whom he had seen visiting the exhibition with its ‘glossy image’ of such national heroes had gained ‘an incomplete picture’ of their careers.

I’m sure that Mr Martin wasn’t the only visitor to the exhibition who felt that its curator had turned a blind eye to what many consider as a stain on the reputation of the so-called civilised West to rank with crimes such as genocide.

I did think at the time that a display of RAMM’s slave chains, one of its lesser known artefacts, would have been a useful tool to educate visitors to the exhibition, including the children that Graham Martin had seen.

Image credit: Pymouss

So it’s heartening to know that many Devon people later became noted for their support for slavery’s abolition.  As Dr Todd Gray recently pointed out, following the tragic destruction of the Royal Clarence Hotel last October, this celebrated Exeter building became ‘the place to be’ in the 18th and 19th centuries: ‘it was where the anti-slavery people met in the 1700s and 1800s; this is where they planned abolition.’

Above: The marble statue of Lord Rolle by Edward Bowring Stephens, in the entrance hall of Bicton House

Some of course supported abolition knowing that they would be compensated: John Rolle who became Lord Rolle of Stevenstone and Bicton  and owned plantations in the West Indies as well as extensive estates in Devon, is said to have received £4,333 in exchange for freeing 377 slaves, the largest holding in the Bahamas. 


Above: Portrait of General Simcoe by George Theodore Berthon

General John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806)  on the other hand was an abolitionist who can’t be accused of such financial motivation.

The blue plaque outside his Budleigh Salterton summer residence on Fore Street Hill rightly notes that during his administration of Upper Canada between 1791 and 1796 he ‘put in motion arrangements for the abolition of slavery many years before British legislation was enacted’. 

Above: The gold medal struck to mark the successful laying of the 1858 transatlantic telegraph cable

To the history of abolitionists in Devon one should perhaps add the name of Admiral George William Preedy CB, the subject of a forthcoming Fairlynch Museum exhibition and a former Budleigh resident.  

Above: An illustration of the episode of the Agamemnon's meeting with a whale in mid-Atlantic

This distinguished naval officer, though not Devon-born, is celebrated mainly for his captaincy of HMS Agamemnon which was involved in the laying of the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858.     

What is not widely known is the role played by Preedy as a young midshipman during the Royal Navy’s campaign against the slave ships.

HMS Rattlesnake, painted in 1853 by Sir Oswald Walters Brierly, was in the same class as HMS Ranger on which Preedy served
Image credit: National Maritime museum, London

He entered the Navy on 12 November 1828 as a volunteer on board HMS Ranger, a 28-gun frigate. Under its captain, William Walpole, he sailed from Portsmouth on 3 January 1829, heading for Jamaica.

When Ranger was sold in 1832, Preedy followed Captain Walpole on HMS Pallas, again sailing for the West Indies on 20 January that year.

Preedy is recorded as being constantly engaged in the suppression of the slave trade until May 1834. On one occasion, it seems, he served on HMS Nimble, a five-gun schooner, which was employed on anti-slave trade patrols from 1826 until 1834 when the ship was wrecked.

The former slave ship HMS Black Joke (left) fires on the Spanish ship El Almirante before capturing her, January 1829 Painting by Nicholas Matthews Condy
Image credit: Royal Naval Museum
Contemporary accounts leave one in no doubt that this terrible trade was still thriving in spite of the fact that Britain had signed abolition treaties with Spain and Portugal in 1818.

Above: A plan of the slave ship Brookes, showing how 454 slaves were accommodated on board. This same ship had reportedly carried as many as 609 people. Image published by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Britain itself had already outlawed the Atlantic slave trade, making it illegal for our ships to transport slaves and the Royal Navy had established a West Africa Squadron to enforce the ban. The British government had consequently negotiated treaties with other countries to give the Royal Navy the right to intercept and search their ships for slaves.  

A notable exception, it seems, was the United States, which refused such permission. The 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves had technically abolished the intercontinental slave trade in the United States but the ban was not widely enforced and many of the slave ships which escaped the blockade were destined for the southern United States.

On 13 July 1832, off the Isle of Pines, the second largest island of Cuba,  Nimble detained the Portuguese slave ship Hebe with its master, Domingo Jozéd Almeida. The 401 slaves on board, were landed at Nassau and the case was taken to Sierra Leone where the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission, on 25 Oct 1832, sentenced the vessel to be condemned and the surviving slaves to be emancipated.

On 10 November 1833 Nimble captured the Spanish slave ship Joaquina, carrying 348 Africans, after a battle near the Isle of Pines.   The Spanish captain and two captive Africans were killed in the battle, another African died later of his wounds, and Joaquina sank. 

The account of the episode was graphically described by Nimble’s Commander, Lieutenant Charles Bolton, in a letter written a week later and dated16 November:
‘I beg to acquaint you, that I arrived this day, at this port, in his Britannic Majesty's schooner, Nimble, with the Spanish slave-schooner, Joaquina, captured on the morning of the 10th inst. off the Isle of Pines. At daylight on the 10th inst. a sail was discovered about 9 or 10 miles to leeward, standing in for land. All sail was immediately made in chase, and having greatly the superiority of sailing, I soon made her out to be a large schooner, which we were closing very fast. When within three or four miles the stranger, perceiving there was no chance of escaping by sailing, wore round, shortened sail, and hove-to to receive us ; being then seven or eight miles from the south-west point of the Isle of Pines. I soon afterwards took in studding-sails and square sail, and prepared for action, still bearing down upon him; he then hoisted Spanish colours and fired a blank gun, when I hoisted our colours, and as soon as we were within musket-shot (to ascertain positively what he was) I ordered two muskets to be fired over him, which he returned by a well-directed shot from a long 12-pounder.

I immediately opened fire upon him, closing as quickly as possible. The wind now becoming very light, he continued receiving and returning our fire until within half pistol-shot, when, having received two 8-pound shot between wind and water, several through his upper works and sails, his mainmast cut nearly through, and rigging much damaged, the captain desperately wounded (since dead), he struck his colours, and cried for quarter. His defence was most obstinate and desperate, continued nearly an hour, and he fought worthy of a better cause.’

I am sure that Graham Martin will approve of our forthcoming tribute to a local hero. The exhibition opens on Friday 14 April 2017 and is called ‘Admiral Preedy and the Victorian Internet’.

A talk under the same title is being given by Fairlynch Museum Chairman Trevor Waddington on Sunday 9 April, in County Hall, Topsham Road, Exeter.  The talk is part of the Devon-Newfoundland Heritage Forum being organised by the Devonshire Association and the Devon Family History Society (DFHS) from 3-16 April 2017. 
For those interested, there is a fascinating study of the history of black people in Devon at 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Remaining Thoughts


Yes, Budleigh welcomes everyone!

Well, the nation finally voted for Brexit; for, in the words of a Hungarian academic who had once taught at the University of Exeter, ‘the comforting Englishness and timeless values of Budleigh Salterton’.

Stephen Pogány's article, Budleigh Salterton: Brexit And The Quest For A Mythic England, can be read at

Professor Stephen Pogány, pictured above, remembered the fine summer weekends that he had spent with his late wife on the pebbly beach of what he described as our ‘wonderfully retro’ town with its splendidly evocative name.  

The article that he published on the world wide web back in June, a few days after the Referendum result, was of course seized on by at least one local journalist, keen to show that Budleigh had made its voice heard in this most unexpected upheaval of the British political establishment.

Not all Budleigh residents voted to leave Europe of course. And those who did are far from rejecting the common heritage that we share with our neighbours from across the Channel.  From the historical perspective, a museum like Fairlynch is well-placed to show the foreign influences that have shaped our Englishness. 

An  aerial view of the salt marshes near the Mont Saint-Michel in Northern France 

Whether it was the monks from Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy who helped to create the salt industry which gave the town its name, or the fervour which led the young Walter Ralegh to spend part of his youth in France fighting for the Huguenots, or the religious persecution which gave 17th century East Budleigh a refugee Frenchman as its vicar, our links with Europe are obvious.  

Fairlynch Museum has its own version of Sir John Everitt Millais' 'Boyhood of Raleigh', created in 2015 by the Budleigh Salterton Venture Art Group

The grave of East Budleigh's French vicar, the Huguenot refugee Daniel Caunières, is at Filleigh, near Barnstaple. My bloggerel in his honour, sung to the tune of 'La Marseillaise' is at 

It was another refugee, the Austrian-born molecular biologist Max Perutz and friend of Budleigh archaeologist George Carter, whose work drew visitors to the museum with his 1939 study of the Budleigh cliffs’ curious radioactive pebbles.

This painting by Peter Goodhall, on display at Fairlynch Museum, depicts an episode in the life of Devon smuggler Jack Rattenbury, a regular visitor to France

In some cases, foreign links have yet to be explored at Fairlynch.  

A memorial tablet at East Budleigh's All Saints Church, pictured below, is a tribute to its 'smuggling vicar'. His home at Vicar's Mead was reputedly used for storage of contraband

Proper research has yet to be carried out into the cross-Channel smuggling trade associated with local figures like Jack Rattenbury and the Rev. Ambrose Stapleton.

Examples of England’s cultural exchange with Europe are everywhere. The recent Punch and Judy shows, billed on Fairlynch posters as ‘Great British Entertainment’, have their roots in the 16th century Italian theatrical tradition known as ‘commedia dell’arte’, with Mr Punch derived from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella.  

Yes, our museum celebrates East Devon’s Lower Otter Valley. But localism does not mean a comforting isolationism.