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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper 7th Earl of Shaftesbury
28 April 1801 – 1 October 1885

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Anthony Ashley-Cooper

Anthony Ashley-Cooper 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Ashley, as he was styled until his father’s death in 1851, was educated at Manor House school in Chiswick (1812–1813), Harrow School (1813–1816) and Christ Church, Oxford, where he gained first class honours in classics in 1822, took his MA in 1832 and was appointed DCL in 1841.

Ashley’s early family life was loveless, a circumstance common among the British upper classes, and resembled in that respect the fictional childhood of Esther Summerson vividly narrated in the early chapters of Charles Dickens’s novel Bleak House. G.F.A Best in his biography Shaftesbury writes that: “Ashley grew up without any experience of parental love. He saw little of his parents, and when duty or necessity compelled them to take notice of him they were formal and frightening.”

This difficult childhood was softened by the affection he received from his housekeeper Maria Millis, and his sisters. Millis provided for Ashley a model of Christian love that would form the basis for much of his later social activism and philanthropic work, as Best explains: “What did touch him was the reality, and the homely practicality, of the love which her Christianity made her feel towards the unhappy child. She told him bible stories, she taught him a prayer.” Despite this powerful reprieve, school became another source of misery for the young Ashley, whose education at Manor House from 1808 to 1813 introduced a “more disgusting range of horrors”. Shaftesbury himself shuddered to recall those years, “The place was bad, wicked, filthy; and the treatment was starvation and cruelty.”

Ashley was elected as the Tory Member of Parliament for Woodstock (a pocket borough controlled by the Duke of Marlborough) in June 1826 and was a strong supporter of the Duke of Wellington. After George Canning replaced Lord Liverpool as Prime Minister, he offered Ashley a place in the new government, despite Ashley having been in the Commons for only five months. Ashley politely declined, writing in his diary that he believed that serving under Canning would be a betrayal of his allegiance to the Duke of Wellington and that he was not qualified for office. Before he had completed one year in the Commons, he had been appointed to three parliamentary committees and he received his fourth such appointment in June 1827, when he was appointed to the Select Committee On Pauper Lunatics in the County of Middlesex and on Lunatic Asylums.

In Lord Shaftesbury’s lifetime 1827, when Ashley was appointed to the Select Committee On Pauper Lunatics in the County of Middlesex and on Lunatic Asylums, the majority of lunatics in London were kept in madhouses owned by Dr Warburton. The Committee examined many witnesses concerning one of his madhouses in Bethnal Green, called the White House. Ashley visited this on the Committee’s behalf. The patients were chained up, slept naked on straw, and went to toilet in their beds. They were left chained from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning when they were cleared of the accumulated excrement. They were then washed down in freezing cold water and one towel was allotted to 160 people, with no soap. It was overcrowded and the meat provided was “that nasty thick hard muscle a dog could not eat”. The White House had been described as “a mere place for dying” rather than curing the insane and when the Committee asked Dr MacMichael whether he believed that “in the lunatic asylums in the neighbourhood of London any curative process is going on with regard to pauper patients”, he replied: “None at all”.

The Committee recommended that “legislative measures of a remedial character should be introduced at the earliest period at the next session”, and the establishment of a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Home Secretary possessing extensive powers of licensing, inspection and control. When in February 1828 Robert Gordon, Liberal MP for Cricklade, introduced a bill to put these recommendations into law, Ashley seconded this and delivered his maiden speech in support of the Bill. He wrote in his diary: “So, by God’s blessing, my first effort has been for the advance of human happiness. May I improve hourly! Fright almost deprived me of recollection but again thank Heaven, I did not sit down quite a presumptuous idiot”. Ashley was also involved in framing the County Lunatic Asylums (England) Act 1828 and the Madhouses Act 1828. Through these Acts fifteen commissioners were appointed for the London area and given extensive powers of licensing and inspection, one of the commissioners being Ashley.

In July 1845 Ashley sponsored two Lunacy Acts, ‘For the Regulation of lunatic Asylums’ and ‘For the better Care and Treatment of Lunatics in England and Wales’. They originated in the Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy which he had commended to Parliament the year before. These Acts consolidated and amended previous lunacy laws, providing better record keeping and more strict certification regulations to ensure patients against unwarranted detention. They also ordered, instead of merely permitting, the construction of country lunatic asylums with and establishing an ongoing Lunacy Commission with Ashley as its chairman. In support of these measures, Ashley gave a speech in which he claimed that although since 1828 there had been an improvement, more still needed to be done. He cited the case of a Welsh lunatic girl, Mary Jones, who had for more than a decade been locked in a tiny loft with one boarded-up window with little air and no light. The room was extremely filthy and was filled with an intolerable smell. She could only squat in a bent position in the room and this had caused her to become deformed.

In early 1858 a Select Committee was appointed over concerns that sane persons were detained in lunatic asylums. Lord Shaftesbury (as Ashley had become upon his father’s death in 1851) was the chief witness and opposed the suggestion that the certification of insanity be made more difficult and that early treatment of insanity was essential if there was to be any prospect of a cure. He claimed that only one or two people in his time dealing with lunacy had been detained in an asylum without sufficient grounds and that commissioners should be granted more not fewer powers. The Committee’s Report endorsed all of Shaftesbury’s recommendations except for one: that a magistrate’s signature on a certificate of lunacy be made compulsory. This was not put into law chiefly due to Shaftesbury’s opposition to it. The Report also agreed with Shaftesbury that unwarranted detentions were “extremely rare”.

In July 1877 Shaftesbury gave evidence before the Select Committee on the Lunacy Laws, which had been appointed in February over concerns that it was too easy for sane persons to be detained in asylums. Shaftesbury feared that because of his advanced age he would be taken over by forgetfulness whilst given evidence and was greatly stressed in the months leading up to his giving evidence: “Shall fifty years of toil, anxiety and prayer, crowned by marvellous and unlooked-for success, bring me in the end only sorrow and disgrace?” When “the hour of trial” arrived Shaftesbury defended the Lunacy Commission and claimed he was now the only person alive who could speak with personal knowledge of the state of care of lunatics before the Lunacy Commission was established in 1828. It had been “a state of things such as would pass all belief”. In the Committee’s Report, the members of the Committee agreed with Shaftesbury’s evidence on all points.

In 1884 the husband of Mrs Georgina Weldon tried to have her detained in a lunatic asylum because she believed that her pug dog had a soul and that the spirit of her dead mother had entered into her pet rabbit. She commenced legal action against Shaftesbury and other lunacy commissioners although they failed. In May Shaftesbury spoke in the Lords against a motion declaring the lunacy laws unsatisfactory but the motion passed Parliament. The Lord Chancellor Selborne supported a Lunacy Law Amendment Bill and Shaftesbury wanted to resign from the Lunacy Commission as he believed he was honour bound not to oppose a Bill supported by the Lord Chancellor. However Selborne implored him not to resign so Shaftesbury refrained. However, when the Bill was introduced and it contained the provision which made it compulsory for a certificate of lunacy to be signed by a magistrate or a judge, he resigned. The government fell, however, and the Bill was withdrawn and Shaftesbury resumed his chairmanship of the Lunacy Commission.

Shaftesbury’s work in improving the care of the insane remains one of his most important, though less well known, of his achievements. He wrote: “Beyond the circle of my own Commissioners and the lunatics that I visit, not a soul, in great or small life, not even my associates in my works of philanthropy, has any notion of the years of toil and care that, under God, I have bestowed on this melancholy and awful question”.

In March 1833 Ashley introduced the Ten Hours Act 1833 into the Commons, which provided that children working in the cotton and woollen industries must be aged nine or above; no person under the age of eighteen was to work more than ten hours a day or eight hours on a Saturday; and no one under twenty-five was to work nights. However the Whig government, by a majority of 145, amended this to substitute “thirteen” in place of “eighteen” and the Act as it passed ensured that no child under thirteen worked more than nine hours, insisted they should go to school, and appointed inspectors to enforce the law.

In June 1836 another Ten Hours act was introduced into the Commons and although Ashley considered this Bill ill-timed, he supported it. In July one member of the Lancashire committees set up to support the Bill wrote that: “If there was one man in England more devoted to the interests of the factory people than another, it was Lord Ashley. They might always rely on him as a ready, steadfast and willing friend”. In July 1837 he accused the government of ignoring the breaches of the 1833 Act and moved the resolution that the House regretted the regulation of the working hours of children had. been found to be unsatisfactory. It was lost by fifteen votes.

The text of A Narrative of the Experience and Sufferings of William Dodd a Factory Cripple was sent to Lord Astley and with his support was published in 1840. Astley employed William Dodd at 45 shillings a week and he wrote “The Factory System: Illustrated” to describe the conditions of working children in textile manufacture. This was published in 1842. These books were attacked by John Bright in parliament who said that he had evidence that the books described Dodd’s mistreatment but were in fact driven by Dodd’s ingratitude as a disgruntled employee. Ashley sacked Dodd who emigrated to America.

In 1842 Ashley wrote twice to the Prime Minister, Robert Peel, to urge the government to support a new Factory Act. Peel wrote in reply that he would not support one and Ashley wrote to the Short Time Committees of Chesire, Lancashire and Yorkshire who desired a Ten Hours Act:
Though painfully disappointed, I am not disheartened, nor am I at a loss either what course to take, or what advice to give. I shall persevere unto my last hour, and so must you; we must exhaust every legitimate means that the Constitution afford, in petitions to Parliament, in public meetings, and in friendly conferences with your employers; but you must infringe no law, and offend no proprieties; we must all work together as sensible men, who will one day give an account of their motives and actions; if this course is approved, no consideration shall detach me from your cause; if not, you must elect another advocate. I know that, in resolving on this step, I exclude myself altogether from the tenure of office; I rejoice in the sacrifice, happy to devote the remainder of my days, be they many or be they few, as God in His wisdom shall determine, to an effort, however laborious, to ameliorate your moral and social condition.

In March 1844 Ashley moved an amendment to a Factory Bill limiting the working hours of adolescents to ten hours after Sir James Graham had introduced a Bill aiming to limit their working hours to twelve hours. Ashley’s amendment was passed by eight votes, the first time the Commons had approved of the Ten Hour principle. However, in a later vote his amendment was defeated by seven votes and the Bill was withdrawn. Later that month Graham introduced another Bill which again would limit the employment of adolescents to twelve hours. Ashley supported this Bill except that he wanted ten hours not twelve as the limit. In May he moved an amendment to limit the hours worked to ten hours but this was lost by 138 votes.

In 1846, whilst he was out of Parliament, Ashley strongly supported John Fielden’s Ten Hours Bill, which was lost by ten votes. In January 1847 Fielden reintroduced his Bill and it finally passed through Parliament to become the Ten Hours Act.

Ashley introduced the Mines and Collieries Act 1842 in Parliament to outlaw the employment of women and children underground in coal mines. He made a speech in support of the Act and the Prince Consort wrote to him afterwards, sending him the “best wishes for your total success”. At the end of his speech, his opponent on the Ten Hours issue, Cobden, walked over to Ashley and said: “You know how opposed I have been to your views; but I don’t think I have ever been put into such a frame of mind in the whole course of my life as I have been by your speech”.

Ashley was a strong supporter of prohibiting the employment of boys as chimney sweeps. Many climbing boys were illegitimate who had been sold by their parents. They suffered from scorched and lacerated skin, their eyes and throats filled with soot, with the danger of suffocation and their occupational disease—cancer of the scrotum. In 1840 a Bill was introduced into the Commons outlawing the employment of boys as chimney sweeps, and strongly supported by Ashley. Despite being enforced in London, elsewhere the Act did not stop the employment of child chimney sweeps and this led to the foundation of the Climbing-Boys’ Society with Ashley as its chairman. In 1851, 1853 and 1855 Shaftesbury introduced Bills into Parliament to deal with the ongoing use of boy chimney sweeps but these were all defeated. He succeeded in passing the Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act 1864 but like its predecessors it remained ineffectual. Shaftesbury finally persuaded Parliament to pass the Chimney Sweepers Act 1875 which ensured the annual licensing of chimney sweeps and the enforcement of the law by the police. This finally eradicated the employment of boys as chimney sweeps.

After Shaftesbury discovered that a boy chimney sweep was living behind his house in Brock Street, London, he rescued the child and sent him to “the Union School at Norwood Hill, where, under God’s blessing and special merciful grace, he will be trained in the knowledge and love and faith of our common Saviour”.

In 1844 Ashley became president of the Ragged School Union that promoted ragged schools. These schools were for poor children and sprang up from volunteers. Ashley wrote that “If the Ragged School system were to fail I should not die in the course of nature, I should die of a broken heart”.

Shaftesbury was a leading figure within 19th-century evangelical Anglicanism. Shaftesbury was President of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) from 1851 until his death in 1885. He wrote, of the Bible Society, “Of all Societies this is nearest to my heart… Bible Society has always been a watchword in our house.” He was also president of the Evangelical Alliance for some time.

Shaftesbury was also a student of Edward Bickersteth and together they became prominent advocates of Christian Zionism in Britain. Shaftesbury was an early proponent of the Restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land, providing the first proposal by a major politician to resettle Jews in Palestine. The conquest of Greater Syria in 1831 by Muhammad Ali of Egypt changed the conditions under which European power politics operated in the Near East. As a consequence of that shift, Shaftesbury was able to help persuade Foreign Minister Palmerston to send a British consul to Jerusalem in 1838. A committed Christian and a loyal Englishman, Shaftesbury argued for a Jewish return because of what he saw as the political and economic advantages to England and because he believed that it was God’s will. In January 1839, Shaftesbury published an article in the Quarterly Review, which although initially commenting on the 1838 Letters on Egypt, Edom and the Holy Land (1838) by Lord Lindsay, provided the first proposal by a major politician to resettle Jews in Palestine:

The soil and climate of Palestine are singularly adapted to the growth of produce required for the exigencies of Great Britain; the finest cotton may be obtained in almost unlimited abundance; silk and madder are the staple of the country, and olive oil is now, as it ever was, the very fatness of the land. Capital and skill are alone required: the presence of a British officer, and the increased security of property which his presence will confer, may invite them from these islands to the cultivation of Palestine; and the Jews’, who will betake themselves to agriculture in no other land, having found, in the English consul, a mediator between their people and the Pacha, will probably return in yet greater numbers, and become once more the husbandmen of Judaea and Galilee.

The lead-up to the Crimean War (1854), like the military expansionism of Muhammad Ali two decades earlier, signalled an opening for realignments in the Near East. In July 1853, Shaftesbury wrote to Prime Minister Aberdeen that Greater Syria was “a country without a nation” in need of “a nation without a country… Is there such a thing? To be sure there is, the ancient and rightful lords of the soil, the Jews!” In his diary that year he wrote “these vast and fertile regions will soon be without a ruler, without a known and acknowledged power to claim dominion. The territory must be assigned to some one or other… There is a country without a nation; and God now in his wisdom and mercy, directs us to a nation without a country.” This is commonly cited as an early use of the phrase, “A land without a people for a people without a land” by which Shaftesbury was echoing another British proponent of the restoration of the Jews to Israel, (Dr Alexander Keith.)

Shaftesbury served as the first president of the Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade – a lobbying group opposed to the Anglo-Asian opium trade. The Society was formed by Quaker businessmen in 1874, and Shaftesbury was president from 1880 until his death. The Society’s efforts eventually led to the creation of the investigative Royal Commission on Opium.

The Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus, London, erected in 1893, was designed to commemorate his philanthropic works. The Memorial is crowned by Alfred Gilbert’s aluminium statue of Anteros as a nude, butterfly-winged archer. This is officially titled The Angel of Christian Charity, but has become popularly, if mistakenly, known as Eros. It appears on the masthead of the Evening Standard.

Lord Shaftesbury is honoured together with William Wilberforce on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on 30 July. Lord Shaftesbury was a member of the Canterbury Association, as were two of Wilberforce’s sons, Samuel and Robert. Lord Ashley joined on 27 March 1848.

Lord Shaftesbury, then Lord Ashley, married Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper (died 15 October 1872), daughter of Peter Cowper, 5th Earl Cowper and Emily Lamb, Countess Cowper; Emily is likely in fact to have been the natural daughter of Lord Palmerston (later her official stepfather), on 10 June 1830. This marriage, which proved a happy and fruitful one, produced ten children, as cited in “The Seventh Earl” by Grace Irwin. It also provided invaluable political connections for Ashley; his wife’s maternal uncle was Lord Melbourne and her stepfather (and supposed biological father) Lord Palmerston, both Prime Ministers.

The children, who mostly suffered various degrees of ill-health, were:

  1. Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 8th Earl of Shaftesbury (27 June 1831 – 13 April 1886), ancestor of all subsequent earls. He proved to be a disappointing heir apparent, constantly running up debts with his extravagant wife Harriet, born Lady Harriet Chichester.
  2. Hon. (Anthony) Francis Henry Ashley-Cooper, second son (b. 13 March 1833 – 13 May 1849
  3. Hon. (Anthony) Maurice William Ashley-Cooper, third son (22 July 1835 – 19 August 1855), died aged 20, after several years of illness.
  4. Rt. Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (24 July 1836 – 15 November 1907), married 1stly 28 July 1866 Sybella Charlotte Farquhar (ca. 1846 – 31 August 1886), daughter of Sir Walter Rockcliffe Farquhar, 3rd Bt. by his wife Lady Mary Octavia Somerset, a daughter of the Duke of Beaufort and had one son Wilfred William Ashley, and one daughter. His granddaughter was Hon. Edwina Ashley, later Lady Mountbatten (1901–1960), whose two daughters Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (b. 1924) and Lady Pamela Hicks (b. 1929) are still living as of 2013. Evelyn Ashley left several other descendants via his daughter and Edwina’s younger sister. Evelyn Ashley married 2ndly 30 June 1891 Lady Alice Elizabeth Cole (4 February 1853 – 25 August 1931), daughter of William Willoughby Cole, 3rd Earl of Enniskillen by his 1st wife Jane Casamajor, no issue. The Rt Hon Evelyn Melbourne Ashley died 15 November 1907.
  5. Lady Victoria Elizabeth Ashley, later Lady Templemore (23 September 1837 – 15 February 1927), married 8 January 1873 (aged 35) St George’s, Hanover Square, London Harry Chichester, 2nd Baron Templemore (4 June 1821 – 10 June 1906), son of Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron Templemore and Lady Augusta Paget, and had issue.
  6. Hon (Anthony) Lionel George Ashley-Cooper (b. 7 September 1838 – 1914). He md 12 December 1868 Frances Elizabeth Leigh “Fanny (d. 12 August 1875), daughter of Capel Hanbury Leigh; apparently had no issue.
  7. Lady Mary Charlotte Ashley-Cooper, second daughter (25 July 1842 – 3 September 1861.
  8. Lady Constance Emily Ashley-Cooper, third daughter, or “Conty” (29 November 1845 – 16 December 1872 or 1871 of lung disease)
  9. Lady Edith Florence Ashley-Cooper, fourth daughter (1 February 1847 – 25 November 1913)
  10. Hon. (Anthony) Cecil Ashley-Cooper, sixth son and tenth and youngest child (8 August 1849 – 23 September 1932); apparently died unmarried.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Bird Sumner
25 February 1780 – 6 September 1862

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John Bird Sumner

John Bird Sumner was a brother of Charles Richard Sumner, bishop of Winchester. Their father was Robert Sumner and their mother was Hannah Bird, a first cousin of William Wilberforce.

Sumner was born in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. He was educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.

In 1802, Sumner became a master at Eton College, where he was nicknamed “Crumpety Sumner” by the boys, and was ordained the following year. He was elected a fellow of Eton in 1817 and in 1818 the school presented him to the living of Maple Durham, Oxfordshire. After being a prebendary of the Durham diocese for some years, he was consecrated to the episcopate as the Bishop of Chester in 1828. During his episcopacy many churches and schools were built in the diocese. In 1848 he was elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury (with an annual income of £15,000) and in this capacity he dealt impartially with the different church parties until his death.

Sumner’s numerous writings were much esteemed, especially by the Evangelical party to which he belonged. His best known writings are his Treatise on the Records of Creation and the Moral Attributes of the Creator (London, 1816) and The Evidence of Christianity derived from its Nature and Reception (London, 1821).

In the well-known Gorham Case, Sumner came into conflict with Bishop Henry Phillpotts of Exeter (1778–1869), who accused him of supporting heresy and refused to communicate with him. He supported the Divorce Bill in parliament but opposed the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill and the bill for removing Jewish disabilities.

Sumner was president of the Canterbury Association which founded Christchurch, New Zealand. In 1848 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Sumner died in 1862 in Addington and is buried in Addington churchyard. He had married Marianne Robertson on 31 March 1803 in Bath. She was the daughter of George Robertson, a captain in the Royal Navy, and Ann Lewis, daughter of Francis Lewis , a New York signer of the Declaration of Independence and Elizabeth Anessley.

Sumner and his wife had seven children;

  • Anne (1804 – 1833)
  • Eliza Maria (1808 – 1836)
  • Georgiana (1814 – 1881)
  • Caroline (1815 – 1841)
  • Maria (1817 – 1861)
  • John Henry Robertson (1821 – 1910)
  • Robert George Moncrief (1825 – 1885)

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Charles Grant (British East India Company)
16 April 1746 – 31 October 1823

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Charles Grant

Charles Grant (British East India Company) was born at Aldourie, Inverness-shire, Scotland on the same day his father, Alexander Grant, was killed fighting for the Jacobites, against the British Crown, at Culloden. However, Charles Grant himself was one of the growing number of Scots who prospered in the service of the British Empire. In 1767, Grant travelled to India to take up a military position. Over subsequent years, he rose in the ranks of the British East India Company. Initially, he became superintendent over its trade in Bengal. Then, in 1787, having first acquired a personal fortune through silk manufacturing in Malda, Lord Cornwallis the Governor-General appointed Grant as a member of the East India Company’s board of trade. Grant lived a profligate lifestyle as he climbed through the ranks, but after losing two children to smallpox he underwent a religious conversion. Viewing his life, including his efforts in India, from his new evangelical Christian perspective, moulded his career for the rest of his life.

Grant returned to Britain in 1790 and was elected to Parliament in 1802 for Inverness-shire. He served as an MP until failing health forced him to retire in 1818. However, his relationship with the East India Company did not end. In 1804, he joined the Company’s Court of Directors, and in 1805, he became its chairman. He died in Russell Square, London at age 77.

His eldest son, Charles, was born in India and later followed his father into politics, eventually becoming a British peer as Baron Glenelg. His other son, Robert, followed his father into the Indian service and became Governor of Bombay, as well as being a Christian hymn writer.

Grant opposed the Governor-General Richard Wellesley’s combative and expansionist policies in India, and later supported the unsuccessful parliamentary move to impeach Wellesley. Grant saw Indian society as not only heathen, but also as corrupt and uncivilised. He was appalled by such native customs as exposing the sick, burning lepers, and sati. He believed that Britain’s duty was not simply to expand its rule in India and exploit the subcontinent for its commercial interests, but to civilise and Christianise.

In 1792, Grant wrote the tract “Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain.” This famous essay pled for education and Christian mission to be tolerated in India alongside the East India Company’s traditional commercial activity. It argued that India could be advanced socially and morally by compelling the Company to permit Christian missionaries into India, a view diametrically opposed to the long-held position of the East India Company that Christian missionary work in India conflicted with its commercial interests and should be prohibited. In 1797, Grant presented his essay to the Company’s directors, and then later in 1813, along with the reformer William Wilberforce, successfully to the House of Commons. The Commons ordered its re-printing during the important debates on the renewal of the company’s charter.

He was largely responsible for the foundation of East India Company College, which was later erected at Haileybury.

As Chairman of the Company, Grant used his position to sponsor many chaplains to India, among them Claudius Buchanan and Henry Martyn.

Grant was part of an evangelical Anglican movement of close friends which included such luminaries as the abolitionist Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, John Venn, Henry Thornton, and John Shore, who lived in close proximity round Clapham Common south west of London. For some years from 1796, Grant himself lived in a large villa called Glenelg in proximity to Wilberforce and Thornton. This ‘Clapham sect’ welded evangelical theology with the cause of social reform. Both in India and in Britain’s Parliament, Grant campaigned for the furtherance of causes of education, social reform, and Christian mission. In 1791, he helped established the Sierra Leone Company, which gave refuge to freed slaves. Also in 1791, as an influential supporter of the abolition of slavery in all its forms, he was elected to the London Abolition Committee. He served as a vice-president of the British and Foreign Bible Society from its establishment in 1804, and also supported the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. As a director of one of the largest businesses of the day, Grant was a remarkably effective social reformer.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Perronet Thompson
1783–1869)

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Thomas Perronet Thompson

Thomas Perronet Thompson was born in Kingston upon Hull in 1783. He was son of Thomas Thompson, a banker of Hull and his wife, Philothea Perronet Briggs. The name Perronet was from his mother’s grandfather, Vincent Perronet, vicar of Shoreham and a friend of John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley. He was educated at Hull Grammar School. He graduated from Queens’ College, Cambridge in 1802. From 1803, Thompson served as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, switching to the British Army (as a lieutenant) in 1806. Thompson became Governor of Sierra Leone between August 1808 and June 1810, due in part to his acquaintance with William Wilberforce. He was recalled from the job after complaining about the system by which “freed” slaves were compulsorily “apprenticed” for fourteen years in Sierra Leone. He wrote that Wilberforce and the Sierra Leone Company had “by means of their agents become slave traders themselves”. He threatened to expose this situation, so he was sacked, with Wilberforce himself agreeing to the dismissal.

In 1812, Thompson returned to his military duties, and, after serving in the south of France, was in 1815 attached as Arabic interpreter to an expedition against the Wahabees of the Persian Gulf, with whom he negotiated a treaty (dated January 1820) in which the slave trade was for the first time declared piracy. Whilst in the Army, Thompson was promoted to Major in 1825, Lieutenant Colonel in 1829 and in later years was made a Major General. While serving in the Army in India, his second son, Charles, was born at Bombay.

As a radical reformer, Thompson wrote the True Theory of Rent and A Catechism on the Corn Laws. He also joint-owned the Westminster Review for a time. He wrote several articles in the journal supporting universal suffrage. Thompson represented Kingston upon Hull in the House of Commons from 1835 to 1837 and was elected to represent Bradford in 1847.

Thompson was also involved in music, writing books on Harmony and Just Intonation e.g. for the guitar titled Instructions to my daughter for playing on the enharmonic guitar, and building an organ with over 40 notes to the octave, to “realise the visions of Guido and Mersenne.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir James Stephen
3 January 1789 – 14 September 1859

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James Stephen

Sir James Stephen was born at Lambeth, the third son of James Stephen and brother to George Stephen (1794–1879). An attack of smallpox during James’ infancy caused a permanent weakness of eyesight. He was under various schoolmasters, including John Prior Estlin and the Rev. Henry Jowett of Little Dunham, Norfolk. In 1806 he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he learnt as little as if he had passed the time “at the Clarendon Hotel in Bond Street.” He took the LL.B. degree in 1812, having been called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn on 11 November 1811. His father, who was just leaving the bar, transferred some practice to his son, who also began to make a digest of colonial laws. Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst, who was in sympathy with the “Clapham Sect,” allowed him to inspect official records for the digest, and in 1813 appointed him counsel to the Colonial Office. His duty was to report upon all acts of the colonial legislatures. The work increased, but he was also allowed to practise privately, and in a few years was making £3,000 a year, and in a fair way to the honours of the profession.

On 22 December 1814 Stephen married Jane Catherine, daughter of John Venn, rector of Clapham, one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society. In 1822 Stephen had a severe illness caused by overwork. As he was now a father, he decided in 1825 to accept the offer of the post of permanent counsel to the colonial office and to the board of trade, abandoning his private practice.

In 1834 Stephen was appointed assistant under-secretary of state for the colonies, and in 1836 under-secretary, giving up his position in the board of trade. The duties became onerous. He had a high reputation for his knowledge of constitutional law, and as an administrator. He gained influence with his superiors, and his colleague, Sir Henry Taylor, said that for many years he “literally ruled the colonial empire.” The impression of his influence gained him the nicknames of “King Stephen” and “Mr. Over-secretary Stephen;” and he was made the scapegoat for real and supposed errors of the Colonial Office.

Stephen had accepted his position partly with a hope of influence policy on slavery question. When abolition became inevitable, he was called on to draw up the Slavery Abolition Act passed in 1833. Between the noons of Saturday and Monday he dictated an elaborate bill of sixty-six sections. He also was writing for the Edinburgh Review, and suffered a breakdown.

In later years Stephen was involved in the establishment of government in Canada; and his views are said to have been more liberal than those of the government. Esteemed by his official superiors, he used formality to keep others at a distance. The health of his youngest son induced him in 1840 to take a house at Brighton for his family, to which he could make only weekly visits. From 1842 to 1846 he lived at Windsor, in order to send his sons to Eton. In 1846 he was summoned to Dresden by the illness of his eldest son, who died before his parents could reach him. In 1847 he resigned his post. He was made a K.C.B. and a privy councillor.

Stephen had meanwhile become known as a writer by a series of articles in the Edinburgh Review, the first of which (on William Wilberforce) appeared in April 1838. They were written in the intervals of his official work, generally in the early morning. He carefully disavowed any pretence to profound research. The articles had, however, shown considerable historical knowledge as well as literary power. He had partly recovered strength, and was anxious for employment.

In June 1849 Stephen was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, a chair vacant by the death of William Smyth. He delivered a course of lectures on the history of France during the summers of 1850 and 1851, which were published in 1852, and praised by De Tocqueville. Another severe illness in the summer of 1850 had forced him to spend a winter abroad. From 1855 to 1857 he held a professorship at the East India Company College, Haileybury, which had been sentenced to extinction. He continued to lecture at Cambridge, but the history school then had little prestige.

Stephen passed the last years of his life mainly in London. In 1859 his health showed serious symptoms, and he was ordered to Bad Homburg, Prussia. Becoming worse, he started homewards, but died at Koblenz, Prussia on 14 September 1859. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Sir James Stephen’s widow died in 1875. They had five children:

  • Herbert Venn Stephen (1822–1846)
  • Frances Wilberforce Stephen (1824–1825)
  • Sir James Fitzjames Stephen
  • Sir Leslie Stephen
  • Caroline Emelia Stephen (1834-1909)

Stephen spent his best years and highest powers in work of which it is impossible that any estimate should be formed. He was a most conscientious and energetic official, but the credit or discredit of the policy which he carried out belongs to those whom he advised. In domestic life he impressed all who knew him by his loftiness of principle. He was a man of the strongest family affections. He sacrificed his own comforts for the benefit of his children, and set before them a constant example of absolute devotion to duty. He began life as a strong evangelical, and never avowedly changed; but his experience of the world, his sympathy with other forms of belief, and his interest in the great churchmen of the Middle Ages led to his holding the inherited doctrine in a latitudinarian sense. He was accused of heresy, when appointed professor at Cambridge, for an Epilogue to his Essays, in which he suggested doubts as to the eternity of hell-fire. The Essays are the work by which he is best known, and show a literary faculty to which he could never give full play. The autobiography of Sir Henry Taylor gives an interesting account of his personal character. Taylor, James Spedding, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, and Nassau Senior were his most intimate friends; but he led a recluse and rather ascetic life, and seldom went into society, A bust by Marochetti is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

  • Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, 1849
  • Lectures on the History of France, 1852

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Henry Brougham 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux
19 September 1778 – 7 May 1868

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Henry Brougham

Henry Brougham 1st Baron Brougham and Vauxwas born and grew up in Edinburgh, the eldest son of Henry Brougham, of Brougham Hall in Westmorland, and Eleanora, daughter of Reverend James Syme. The Broughams had been an influential Cumberland family for centuries. Brougham was educated at the Royal High School and the University of Edinburgh, where he chiefly studied natural science and mathematics, but also law. He published several scientific papers through the Royal Society, notably on light and colours and on prisms, and at the age of only 25 was elected a Fellow. However, Brougham chose law as his profession, and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1800. He practised little in Scotland, and instead entered Lincoln’s Inn in 1803. Five years later he was called to the Bar. Not a wealthy man, Brougham turned to journalism as a means of supporting himself financially through these years. He was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review and quickly became known as its foremost contributor, with articles on everything from science, politics, colonial policy, literature, poetry, surgery, mathematics and the fine arts.

In the early 19th century, Brougham, a follower of Newton, launched anonymous attacks in the Edinburgh Review against Thomas Young’s research that proved light was a wave phenomenon that exhibited interference and diffraction. Another example of Lord Brougham’s scientific incompetence is his attack against Sir William Herschel (1738–1822).

The success of the Edinburgh Review made Brougham a man of mark from his first arrival in London. He quickly became a fixture in London society and gained the friendship of Lord Grey and other leading Whig politicians. In 1806 the Foreign Secretary, Charles James Fox, appointed him secretary to a diplomatic mission to Portugal, led by James St Clair-Erskine, 2nd Earl of Rosslyn and John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent. The aim of the mission was to counteract the anticipated French invasion of Portugal. During these years he became a close supporter of the movement for the abolition of slavery, a cause to which he was to be passionately devoted for the rest of his life. Despite being a well-known and popular figure, Brougham had to wait before being offered a parliamentary seat to contest. However, in 1810 he was elected for Camelford, a rotten borough controlled by the Duke of Bedford. He quickly gained a reputation in the House of Commons, where he was one of the most frequent speakers, and was regarded by some as a potential future leader of the Whig Party. However, Brougham’s career was to take a downturn in 1812, when, standing as one of two Whig candidates for Liverpool, he was heavily defeated. He was to remain out of Parliament until 1816, when he was returned for Winchelsea. He quickly resumed his position as one of the most forceful members of the House of Commons, and worked especially in advocating a programme for the education of the poor and legal reform.

In 1812 Brougham had become one of the chief advisers to Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George, Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent and future George IV. This was to prove a key development in his life. In April 1820 Caroline, then living abroad, appointed Brougham her Attorney-General. Earlier that year George IV had succeeded to the throne on the death of his long incapacitated father George III. Caroline was brought back to Britain in June for appearances only, but the king immediately began divorce proceedings against her. The Pains and Penalties Bill, aimed at dissolving the marriage and stripping Caroline of her Royal title on the grounds of adultery, was brought before the House of Lords by the Tory government. However, Brougham led a legal team (which also included Thomas Denman) that eloquently defended the Princess. The bill passed, but by the narrow margin of only nine votes. Lord Liverpool, aware of the unpopularity over the bill and afraid that it might be overturned in the House of Commons then withdrew the bill. The British public had mainly been on the Princess’s side, and the outcome of the trial made Brougham one of the most famous men in the country. His legal practice on the Northern Circuit rose fivefold, although he had to wait until 1827 before being made a King’s Counsel.

In 1826, Brougham, along with Wellington, was one of the clients and lovers named in the notorious Memoirs of Harriette Wilson. Before publication, Wilson and publisher John Joseph Stockdale wrote to all those named in the book offering them the opportunity to be excluded from the work in exchange for a cash payment. Brougham paid and secured his anonymity.

Brougham remained member of Parliament for Winchelsea until February 1830 when he was returned for Knaresborough. However, he represented Knaresborough only until August the same year, when he became one of four representatives for Yorkshire. His support for abolitionism brought him enthusiastic support. The Reverend Benjamin Godwin of Bradford devised and funded posters that appealed to Yorkshire voters who had supported William Wilberforce to repeat their choice (and Godwin’s) with the new candidate, Henry Brougham.

In November the Tory government led by the Duke of Wellington fell, and the Whigs came to power under Lord Grey. It was considered impossible to leave the popular Brougham out of the government, although his independent political standing was thought to be a possible impediment to the new administration. Grey initially offered him the post of Attorney General, which Brougham refused. He was then offered the Lord Chancellorship, which he accepted, and on 22 November he was raised to the peerage as Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the County of Westmorland. He was to remain in this post for exactly four years.

The highlights of Brougham’s tenure was the passing of the 1832 Reform Act, of which he was a staunch supporter, and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, the cause to which he had been devoted to for so many years. However, he was increasingly considered a dangerous and unreliable colleague due to his perceived arrogance and selfishness, as well as his tendency to interfere with every department of state. This placed him into conflict with the rest of the government.

In 1834 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham and Vaux, was asked, “Do you consider that a compulsory education would be justified, either on principles of public utility or expediency?” to which he replied

I am decidedly of opinion that it is justifiable on neither; but, above all, I should regard anything of the kind as utterly destructive of the end it has in view. Suppose the people of England were taught to bear it, and to be forced to educate their children by means of penalties, education would be made absolutely hateful in their eyes, and would speedily cease to be endured. They who have argued in favour of such a scheme from the example of a military government like that of Prussia have betrayed, in my opinion, great ignorance of the nature of Englishmen. (Report of the Parliamentary Committee on the State of Education. 1834)

He nonetheless kept his post when the government was reconstructed in July 1834 under Lord Melbourne. The Melbourne administration was dismissed by the king in November the same year, and the Tories came to power under Sir Robert Peel. This government lasted only until April 1835, when Lord Melbourne was again summoned to form a government. However, Brougham was now so ill-regarded within his own party that he was not offered to resume the post of Lord Chancellor, which instead was put into commission. Melbourne told him frankly that his conduct had been one of the principal causes of the fall of the government, and when Brougham protested said brutally ” God damn you but you won’t get the Great Seal”. An even greater blow to him was when the post was eventually conferred on Charles Pepys, 1st Baron Cottenham, in January 1836.

Brougham was never to hold office again. However, for more than thirty years after his fall he continued to take an active part in the judicial business of the House of Lords, and in its debates, having now turned fiercely against his former political associates, but continuing his efforts on behalf of reform of various kinds. He also devoted much of his time to writing. He had continued to contribute to the Edinburgh Review, the best of his writings being subsequently published as Historical Sketches of Statesmen Who Flourished in the Time of George III.

In 1834, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In 1837, Brougham presented a bill for public education, arguing that “it cannot be doubted that some legislative effort must at length be made to remove from this country the opprobrium of having done less for the education of the people than any of the more civilized nations on earth”.

In 1838, after news came up of British colonies where emancipation of the slaves was obstructed or where the ex-slaves were being badly treated and discriminated against, Lord Brougham stated in the House of Lords:
“The slave … is as fit for his freedom as any English peasant, ay, or any Lord whom I now address. I demand his rights; I demand his liberty without stint… . I demand that your brother be no longer trampled upon as your slave!”

Brougham also edited, in collaboration with Sir Charles Bell, William Paley’s Natural Theology and published a work on political philosophy and in 1838 he published an edition of his speeches in four volumes. The last of his works was his posthumous Autobiography. In 1857 he was one of the founders of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science and was its president at a number of congresses.

In 1860 Brougham was given by Queen Victoria a second peerage as Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the County of Westmorland and of Highhead Castle in the County of Cumberland, with remainder to his youngest brother William Brougham (died 1886). The patent stated that the second peerage was in honour of the great services he had rendered, especially in promoting the abolition of slavery.

Brougham had married Mary Spalding (d. 1865), daughter of Thomas Eden and widow of John Spalding, MP, in 1821. They had two daughters, both of whom predeceased their parents, the latter one dying in 1839. Lord Brougham and Vaux died in May 1868 in Cannes, France, aged 89, and was buried in the Cimetière du Grand Jas. The cemetery is up to the present dominated by Brougham’s statue, and he is honoured for his major role in building the city of Cannes. His hatchment is in Ninekirks, which was then the parish church of Brougham.

The Barony of 1830 became extinct on his death, while he was succeeded in the Barony of 1860 according to the special remainder by his younger brother William Brougham.

Brougham wrote a prodigious number of treatises on science, philosophy, and history. Besides the writings mentioned in this article, he was the author of Dialogues on Instinct; with Analytical View of the Researches on Fossil Osteology, Lives of Statesmen, Philosophers, and Men of Science of the Time of George III, Natural Theology, etc. His last work was an autobiography written in his 84th year and published in 1871. However, his writings were not of lasting value; he is now especially notable for his services to political and especially legal reform, and to the diffusion of useful literature, which are his lasting monuments.

He was the designer of the brougham, a four-wheeled, horse-drawn style of carriage that bears his name.

Through Lord Brougham the renowned French seaside resort of Cannes became very popular. He had accidentally found the place in 1835, when it was little more than a fishing village on a picturesque coast, and bought there a tract of land and built on it. His choice and his example made it the sanitarium of Europe. The beach front promenade at Nice became known as the Promenade des Anglais (literally, “The Promenade of the English”).

A statue of him, inscribed “Lord Brougham”, stands at the Cannes waterfront, across from the Palais des festivals et des congrès.

Brougham holds the House of Commons record for non-stop speaking at six hours.

He was present at the trial of the World’s first steam powered ship on 14 October 1788 at Dalswinton Loch near Auldgirth, Dumfries and Galloway. William Symington of Wanlockhead built the two-cylindered engine for Patrick Miller of Dalswinton.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Granville Sharp
10 November 1735 – 6 July 1813

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Granville Sharp

Granville Sharpwas the son of Thomas Sharp (1693–1759), Archdeacon of Northumberland, prolific theological writer and biographer of his father, John Sharp, Archbishop of York. Sharp was born in Durham in 1735. He had eight older brothers and five younger sisters. Five of his brothers survived their infancy and by the time Sharp had reached his midteens the family funds set aside for their education had been all but depleted, so Sharp was educated at Durham School but mainly at home.

He was apprenticed to a London linen-draper at the age of fifteen. Sharp loved to argue and debate, and his keen intellect found little outlet in the mundane work in which he was involved. However, one of his fellow-apprentices was Socinian (a Unitarian sect that denied the divinity of Christ), and in order better to argue, Sharp taught himself Greek. Another fellow apprentice was Jewish, and so Sharp learned Hebrew in order to be able to discuss theological matters with his colleague. Sharp also conducted genealogical research for one of his masters, Henry Willoughby, who had a claim to the barony of Willoughby de Parham, and it was through Sharp’s work that Willoughby was able to take his place in the House of Lords.

Sharp’s apprenticeship ended in 1757, and both his parents died a year later. That same year he accepted a position as Clerk in the Ordnance Office at the Tower of London. This civil service position allowed him plenty of free time to pursue his scholarly and intellectual pursuits.

Sharp had a keen musical interest. Four of his siblings – William, later to become surgeon to George III, James, Elizabeth and Judith – had also come to London, and they met every day. They all played musical instruments as a family orchestra, giving concerts at William’s house in Mincing Lane and later in the family sailing barge, Apollo, which was moored at the Bishop of London’s steps in Fulham, near William’s country home, Fulham House. The fortnightly water-borne concerts took place from 1775–1783, the year his brother James died. Sharp had an excellent bass voice, described by George III as “the best in Britain”, and he played the clarinet, oboe, flageolet, kettle drums, harp and a double-flute which he had made himself. He often signed his name in notes to friends as G#.

Sharp died at Fulham House on 6 July 1813, and a memorial of him was erected in Westminster Abbey. He lived in Fulham, London, and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Fulham. The vicar would not allow a funeral sermon to be preached in the church because Sharp had been involved with the British and Foreign Bible Society, which was Nonconformist.

Sharp is best known for his untiring efforts for the abolition of slavery, although he was involved in many other causes, fired by a dislike of any social or legal injustice.

Sharp’s brother William held a regular surgery for the local poor at his surgery at Mincing Lane, and one day in 1765 when Sharp was visiting, he met Jonathan Strong. Strong was a young black slave from Barbados who had been so badly beaten by his master, David Lisle, a lawyer, that he had been cast out into the street as useless. Sharp and his brother tended to his injuries and had him admitted to Barts Hospital, where his injuries were so bad they necessitated a four-month stay. The Sharps paid for his treatment and, when he was fit enough, found him employment with a Quaker apothecary friend of theirs. In 1767, Lisle saw Strong in the street and had him kidnapped and sold to a planter called James Kerr for £30. Strong was able to get word to Sharp, and in a court attended by the Lord Mayor and the Coroner of London, Lisle and Kerr were denied possession of Strong. They instituted a court action against Sharp claiming £200 damages for taking their property, and Lisle challenged Sharp to a duel—Sharp told Lisle that he could expect satisfaction from the law.

Sharp consulted lawyers and found that as the law stood it favoured the master’s rights to his slaves as property: that a slave remained in law the chattel of his master even on English soil. Sharp said “he could not believe the law of England was really so injurious to natural rights.” He spent the next two years in study of English law, especially where it applied to the liberty of the individual.

Lisle disappeared from the records early, but Kerr persisted with his suit through eight legal terms before it was dismissed, and Kerr was ordered to pay substantial damages for wasting the court’s time. Jonathan Strong was free, even if the law had not been changed, but he only lived for five years as a free man, dying at 25.

The Strong case made a name for Sharp as the “protector of the Negro” and he was approached by two more slaves, although in both cases (Hylas v Newton and R v Stapylton) the results were unsatisfactory, and it became plain that the judiciary – and Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench (the leading judge of the day) in particular – was trying very hard not to decide the issue. By this time, Great Britain was by far the largest trafficker in slaves, transporting more Africans across the Atlantic than all other nations put together, and the slave trade and slave labour were important to the British economy.

In 1769 Sharp published A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery …, the first tract in England attacking slavery.

On 13 January 1772, Sharp was visited and asked for help by James Somersett, a slave from Virginia in America, who had come to England with his master Charles Stewart in 1769 and had run away in October 1771. After evading slave hunters employed by Stewart for 56 days, Somersett had been caught and put in the slave ship Ann and Mary, to be taken to Jamaica and sold. Three Londoners had applied to Lord Mansfield for a writ of habeas corpus, which had been granted, with Somersett having to appear at a hearing on 24 January 1772. Members of the public responded to Somersett’s plight by sending money to pay for his lawyers (who in the event all gave their services pro bono publico), while Stewart’s costs were met by the West Indian planters and merchants.

Calling on his now-formidable knowledge of the law regarding individual liberty, Sharp briefed Somersett’s lawyers. Mansfield’s prevarications stretched Somersett’s Case over six hearings from January to May, and he finally delivered his judgment on 22 June 1772. It was a clear victory for Somersett, Sharp and the lawyers who acted for Somersett: Mansfield acknowledged that English law did not allow slavery, and only a new Act of Parliament (“positive law”) could bring it into legality. However, the verdict in the case is often misunderstood to mean the end of slavery in England. It was no such thing: it only dealt with the question of the forcible sending of someone overseas into bondage; a slave becomes free the moment he sets foot on English territory. It was one of the most significant achievements in the campaign to abolish slavery throughout the world, more for its effect than for its actual legal weight.

In 1781 the crew of the over-capacity slaver ship Zong massacred an estimated 132 slaves by tossing them overboard; an additional ten slaves threw themselves overboard in defiance or despair and over sixty people had perished through neglect, injuries, disease and overcrowding.

The Zong’s crew had mis-navigated her course and underestimated water supplies; according to the maritime law notion of general average, cargo purposely jettisoned at sea to save the remainder was eligible for insurance compensation. It was reasoned that as the slaves were cargo, the ship’s owners would be entitled to the £30 a head compensation for their loss if thrown overboard: were the slaves to die on land or at sea of so-called “natural” causes, no compensation would be forthcoming.

The ship’s owners, a syndicate merchants based in Liverpool, filed their insurance claim; the insurers disputed it. In this first case the court found for the owners. The insurers appealed.

Sharp was visited on 19 March 1783 by Olaudah Equiano, a famous freed slave and later to be the author of a successful autobiography, who told him of the horrific events aboard the Zong. Sharp immediately became involved in the court case, facing his old adversary over slave trade matters, the Solicitor General for England and Wales, Mr. John Lee. Lee notoriously declared that “the case was the same as if asses had been thrown overboard”, and that a master could drown slaves without “a surmise of impropriety”.

The judge ruled that the Zong’s owners could not claim insurance on the slaves: the lack of sufficient water demonstrated that the cargo had been badly managed. However, no officers or crew were charged or prosecuted for the deliberate killing of the slaves, and Sharp’s attempts to mount a prosecution for murder never got off the ground.

Sharp was not completely alone at the beginning of the struggle: the Quakers, especially in America, were committed abolitionists. Sharp had a long and fruitful correspondence with Anthony Benezet, a Quaker abolitionist in Pennsylvania. However, the Quakers were a marginal group in England, and were debarred from standing for Parliament, and they had no doubt as to who should be the chairman of the new society they were founding, The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. On 22 May 1787, at the inaugural meeting of the Committee – nine Quakers and three Anglicans (who strengthened the committee’s likelihood of influencing Parliament) – Sharp’s position was unanimously agreed. In the 20 years of the society’s existence, during which Sharp was ever-present at Committee meetings, such was Sharp’s modesty that he would never take the chair, always contriving to arrive just after the meeting had started to avoid any chance of having to take the meeting. While the committee felt it sensible to concentrate on the slave trade, Sharp felt strongly that the target should be slavery itself. On this he was out-voted, but he worked tirelessly for the Society nevertheless.

When Sharp heard that the Act of Abolition had at last been passed by both Houses of Parliament and given Royal Assent on 25 March 1807, he fell to his knees and offered a prayer of thanksgiving. He was now 71, and had outlived almost all of the allies and opponents of his early campaigns. He was regarded as the grand old man of the abolition struggle, and although a driving force in its early days, his place had later been taken by others such as Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Sharp however did not see the final abolition as he died on 6 July 1813

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