Charity and Luxury – Lady Cornelia of Canford

Lady Cornelia

Lady Cornelia

On 25th May 1868 a marriage ceremony was held in St. James’ Piccadilly in the presence of dukes, earls, marquises, viscounts and other members of Britain’s social élite. The 20-year old bride, Lady Cornelia Henrietta Maria Spencer-Churchill, wore a dress of white satin, covered with Brussels point lace and trimmed with silver, white tulips and orange blossoms and a Brussels lace veil. Her necklace, earrings, brooch and hair ornaments were set with diamonds. The eight bridesmaids were dressed in white tulle with blue satin and blue wreath head-dresses. After the ceremony, performed by the Bishop of Oxford, a party of 200 went to the St. James’ Square residence of the bride’s father, the Duke of Marlborough, for the wedding breakfast. Then the happy couple left for the Duke’s country seat Blenheim Palace where they were to spend their honeymoon.

Some of the more old-fashioned aristocratic guests may well have disapproved of the alliance because the groom Sir Ivor Bertie Guest was directly connected with trade. His mother Lady Charlotte Schreiber was the daughter of the Earl of Lindsey but his father Sir John Josiah Guest had been a successful ironmaster. What is more, the Guest family still owned and ran the vast ironworks at Dowlais near Merthyr Tyfill, at one time the largest in the world. It was a sign of the family’s wealth and rising position in society that Sir Ivor could aspire to marry a duke’s daughter.

Ivor Bertie Guest, Lord Wimborne

Ivor Bertie, Lord Wimborne

In 1846, Sir John Josiah and Lady Charlotte had bought the Canford manor estate near Poole for £335,000, remodelling the house at considerable expense as a fitting family home. When Sir John Josiah died in 1852, Ivor, the eldest son, was only seventeen and it was the formidable Lady Charlotte who took over the direction of the ironworks, the management of the estate and the care of her ten children, the youngest being only five years old. In 1855, at the age of 42, she caused a minor scandal by marrying her son’s tutor, Charles Schreiber, who was fourteen years her junior. After Ivor’s coming of age, celebrated with a lavish party at Canford, he took over the management of the business and the estates but his life style was still more that of a wealthy gentleman than of an ironmaster. Besides the properties in Wales and Dorset, he also owned the 65,000 acre Achnashellach Lodge estate in Ross-shire described as the finest deer forest in Scotland. The year before his marriage he bought No. 22 Arlington Street, St. James’s, London, the former home of two prime ministers and several dukes and earls. This he renamed Wimborne House and renovated with the addition of a splendid ball room with elaborate gilded mouldings.

The iron works at Dowlais

The iron works at Dowlais

Visiting their estates after the wedding, the couple were given a reception which today would only be accorded to royalty. In Wales they travelled to Troedyrhiw station by special train from where their carriage was pulled the five miles to Dowlais by the ironworkers, past thousands of cheering onlookers with flags, banners and welcome messages in English and Welsh. It would be interesting to know what Lady Cornelia thought of Dowlais House, large and comfortable but unnervingly close to the ironworks with its eighteen blast furnaces producing around 1,600 tons of iron a week.

Canford Manor

Canford Manor

Ivor’s new bride was beautiful, petite, charming and spirited, with decided ideas of her own. The newly married couple enjoyed a luxurious life style, dividing their time between the social scene in London, Dorset, Scotland, Wales and the continent. The first of their nine children was born in 1869 and they acquired a villa at Branksome Dene, ideal for family summers. At Canford Manor they entertained leading members of society, politicians, aristocrats and royalty in a round of house parties, shooting parties, political fetes and horticultural shows. The house was equipped with every convenience and luxury including a billiard room and a real tennis court.

Cottages, Wimborne Road

Cottages, Wimborne Road

There was also a philanthropic side to their lives. Like many Victorians, Lady Cornelia believed in charitable social improvement and continued projects started by her mother-in-law besides initiating many of her own. Lady Charlotte had decided to improve the living conditions of Canford tenants by building a number of cottages in a rustic gothic design to the very latest standards. Around 111 of these ‘Lady Wimborne cottages’ were eventually built, mainly during Lady Cornelia’s regime, and many of them can still be seen today all over the former estate.

The School House, Broadstone

The School House, Broadstone

From 1874, Sir Ivor tried unsuccessfully for election as a Conservative in Glamorgan, Poole and then Bristol, eventually leaving the Conservative group and entering the House of Lords as a Liberal. In 1880, he was created a baron by Disraeli. Given her husband’s political preoccupations, it was probably Lady Cornelia who was most active in local schemes. Following the Education Act of 1870, which required the provision of primary education for all, the Guests sponsored the building of schools at Hampreston, Hamworthy and Broadstone in the same distinctive gothic style as the cottages. They also gave generously towards the founding of churches in Parkstone and Broadstone and played a big part in the development of the estate by offering land for sale at low prices. Speculation was discouraged by the estate retaining first refusal on any houses offered for sale.

Poole Park, West Lodge

Poole Park, West Lodge

Another important development for Poole was Lord and Lady Wimborne’s donation of 26 acres of land on the shores of Parkstone Bay for the creation of Poole Park. As the Prince of Wales was to visit Canford in January 1890, Lord Wimborne suggested that his royal guest would be willing to formerly open the park. In the event, the visit was slightly marred by absence of the Princess of Wales and her daughters who were suffering from severe colds. Lord Wimborne was also afflicted and had to take to his bed. At Canford, every luxury was laid on and a congenial house party provided for the prince. Unfortunately, the actual opening did not go according to plan because a storm of wind and rain wrecked the decorations in the park. The ceremony was successfully performed in the station booking office before the prince set off on his journey home!

The mayor that year was the outspoken solicitor, Philip Budge who once said of Lady Cornelia that ‘she had an irresistible means of getting her own way which should cause any man that did not agree with her to fly to the uttermost ends of the earth’. She also was a great public speaker, said to never speak at less than 150 words a minute; in fact she was a pocket whirlwind hard to deflect when she was pursuing one of her charitable projects.

Sir Peter Thompson House

Sir Peter Thompson House

The same year as the opening of the park, Lady Cornelia persuaded her husband to buy the old mansion house of Sir Peter Thompson in Market Street, Poole. Here she set up a 30 bed hospital to replace the small surgery she had started in West Street. Cornelia Hospital as it became known, served the community for many years before it was transferred to a purpose-built premises in Longfleet Road on land donated by Lord Wimborne. It was also Lord and Lady Wimborne who laid out the golf courses at Broadstone and Parkstone, in the first instance for the use of their family and friends, but later opening them to others.

The death of Lord Wimborne in 1914, marked the end of a period of unprecedented philanthropy at Canford. Lady Cornelia stayed on at the manor until 1922 when she moved into Merley House and then the unprofitable parts of the estate were sold, including the manor house which became a school. Lady Cornelia died in 1927 in London at the age of 79. In her obituary she was described as ‘one of the most influencial of late Victorian hostesses’. ‘Her Ladyship was possessed of great force of character. Had she been of the opposite sex or had she been born 20 years later, she would probably have figured as prominently in politics as her brother, Lord Randolph Churchill, or her nephew, Mr. Winston Churchill.’ Locally she is remembered for a great number of charitable projects which had a lasting impact on the town of Poole and as a representative of almost unimaginable wealth and privilege from an era now vanished.


Selected sources: Lady Wimborne Cottages by Pat Clark / A History of Poole by Cecil Cullingford / A Portfolio of Old Poole by John Hillier.

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Only Connect Quiz Answers

I hope you managed to solve the clues and they weren’t too obscure.


  1. Red squirrels / Blue Lagoon / Yellow buses / Greenslades ( the connection is, of course, colours)
  2. These are all the names of past or present harbour vessels; the Herbert Ballam and the Kingston Lacy are or were Harbour Commissioners’ tugboats, the Maid of Poole is a pleasure boat and Bramble Bush Bay is the name of the Sandbanks chain ferry.
  3. These were different themes for the day at Baden-Powell’s first scout camp on Brownsea Island in 1907.
  4. Hosiery (sorry – a bit obscure!) / ball / bull / castle. These represent lanes off Poole Quay: Hosiers Lane, Ball Lane, Bull Lane and Castle Street.



  1. Answer: ‘1837 Swing’. These are the dates in reverse chronological order of the four Poole/Hamworthy bridges with their method of opening.
  2. Answer: ‘Late Medieval Poole’ (or something similar). These are the different locations of the principal port in Poole Harbour at different times in history.
  3. Answer: ‘Poole Quay’. These are the places visited during the Beating of the Sea Bounds ceremony.
  4. Answer: Any picture of a local stretch of water. The clues represent the elements: the Globe (ie. earth), air and fire.

Connecting wallWall2

  1. Coat of armsFirst row: local worthies who have had schools named after them.
  2. Second row: symbols from the Poole coat of arms.
  3. Third row: bodies of water from local place names eg. Westbourne, Longfleet, Lake (Hamworthy), Creekmoor.
  4. Fourth row: Islands in Poole Harbour.

Missing vowels

  1. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpton House / Canford School / Clouds Hill / Mansion House
  2. Custom House raiders / Isaac Gulliver / Tichborne claimant / Harry Paye
  3. Amity Cinema / Poole Stadium / Tower Park / Branksome Solarium
  4. Longespee charter / Swash Channel wreck / Log boat / Poole Pottery collection.

All the best


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Only Connect Poole & Dorset Christmas Quiz

If you are a fan of the fiendish TV quiz, you might like to have a go at this local version over Christmas. I hope it is not as difficult to solve as it was to compile! Drop me an e-mail with your answers.

Connections – Can you decipher these local clues and identify the link between them?

  1. Rare island dwellers / Tropical-sounding sailing club site / Sunny road transport / Fish merchant or pleasure boat operator.
  2. Kingston Lacy / Bramble Bush Bay / Maid of Poole / Herbert Ballam
  3. Woodcraft / Chivalry / Life-saving / Patriotism

Sequences – Three clues: what should come next and why?

  1. 2012 Lift / 1927 Lift / 1885 Swing / ?
  2. Iron Age Green Island / Roman Hamworthy / Early medieval Wareham / ?
  3. Broomhill, Hamworthy / Redcliff Atwell, Arne / North Haven Point / ?

Connecting wall – Can you sort these words into 4 groups? What connects the words in each group?


Missing vowels – replace the missing vowels to identify the words or phrases.

  1. Local houses or former houses: PT NHS / CNF RDS CHL / CLD SHLL /         MN SNHS
  2. Beyond the law: CST MHSR DRS / SCGL LVR / TC HBR NCL MNT / HR RYPY
  3. Places of entertainment, past and present:       MTYC NM / PLST DM /          TW RPRK / BRN KSMS LRM
  4. Historic artefacts: LN GSPC HRTR / SWS HCH NNLW RCK / LGBT /         PLPT TRYCL LCTN

Good luck!


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Wreck and Mayhem on the Dorset Coast

Map Weymouth 2Some time before noon on Saturday 11th December 1641, a Dutch vessel called the Golden Grape was driven ashore in foul weather and cast away on Chesil Beach near the village of Wyke. Seven crew members were drowned. The inhabitants of the coast where the ship was wrecked had a long history of wresting their living from ships and the sea, sometimes within the law, often outside it. Merchants, privateers, out-and-out pirates, not to mention smugglers, flourished there for centuries, often with the connivance of the highest in the land.

The Golden Grape was carrying a rich cargo on her voyage from Cadiz to Le Havre, including raisins, wine, oil, wool and silk. She also carried a quantity of silver plate and gold and silver coinage whose origins and intended destination were mysterious. These goods now lay at the mercy of the wind and sea and of the local population. As the surviving crew struggled ashore, wet, cold and shaken, what reception could they expect for themselves and their stricken ship?

Selwyn WilliamsDiscover the fate of the vessel and the background of piracy, smuggling and other lawless activities along the Dorset coast at a talk by Selwyn Williams, local historian, diver and author of The Treasure of the Golden Grape. The talk is at Poole Museum (5th floor) on Wednesday next, 18th November as part of the Museum Society programme, and visitors are welcome.

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The Skutt family of 17th Century Poole

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout a turbulent century, the Skutt family was at the heart of events in Poole. The family was a large one with the habit of using certain common Christian names, George, William, Thomas, Joseph and Benjamin, so it is sometimes difficult to tell which individual is being referred to in the records. To add to the problems, the parish registers are damaged, making it hard or impossible to find vital entries. This article therefore needs to be regarded as work in progress and far from definitive.

George, son of William Skutt, was baptised in Poole in 1582. There were other branches of the family living in the town. William and Morgan Skutt were listed among those required to attend to fight at Brownsea castle in the Poole census of 1574 while George Skutt and his wife and Mar (Morgan?) Skutt and his wife appeared in the main list of residents.

In 1608, George Skutt was admitted as a burgess of the town for a consideration of 20s and in 1614 he served as Sheriff. His name also appeared in the town accounts paying the quarterly tax imposed upon brewers. Brewing was an important trade in Poole, not only supplying the needs of the town and ships sailing from the port but also supporting a healthy export trade, particularly to the Channel Islands. Many of the leading citizens included brewing among their business interests.

Corn market 1Sometime before 1613, George married Jane Roberts, daughter of the merchant, M.P. and several times Mayor of Poole, Thomas Roberts. He also bought an old house known as the Priory in the corn market area of High Street. Over the next two decades, the couple raised at least twelve children, eleven of whom survived their father. In 1621/2, George served as Mayor for the first time, the beginning of a long connection with public affairs.

In the 1620s and 1630s, local shipping was under attack from pirates, including Barbary pirates from North Africa, operating in the Channel. The fleet sailing out to Newfoundland to fish for cod in the summer season was drastically reduced by their attacks. One expedient was to issue Letters of Marque and Commissions to Fight Pirates for many privately owned ships, among them the Desire owned by George Skutt and Thomas Roberts’ ship the Concord, which received their licences in 1626. The following year, the two ships were successful in capturing a pirate vessel and bringing her back into Poole.

Prospect town shipsIn 1628 a list of Poole ships and seamen showed George Skutt as the leading ship-owner of the town. Besides the Desire (80 tons), he also owned the Seaflower (60 tons), the Primrose (50 tons), the Susanna (20 tons) and was joint owner with his father-in-law of the Jeane (50 tons). The record did not show where the ships were employed but George’s largest vessels were certainly of a size to take part in Newfoundland trade in normal times. The fact that the times were far from normal was emphasised in a report from Poole that same year. The port had lost twenty ships worth £13,400 in the previous four years. Where once twenty ships had been employed in the Newfoundland fishery, there were now only three. In 1632, as George Skutt served again as Mayor, he was involved with Trinity House in efforts to ransom 22 Poole sailors taken captive by Barbary pirates and likely to be sold into slavery.

To fund ships to combat the pirate threat, the King levied a Ship Money tax on coastal towns. In 1634 and again in 1635, Poole was asked for £60, nearly equal to the town’s entire annual revenue. People paid up slowly and with resentment and the town’s complaints of poverty resulted in the sum being reduced to £30 in 1636 and £24 in 1637. The committee which had the hard task of raising the money included George Skutt, mayor for the third time, and his eldest son William who had been admitted as a burgess in 1632 and was to serve as Sheriff in 1639.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy 1642, relations between the King and Parliament had broken down and Charles left London with his family. In August, he raised his standard at Nottingham. Poole declared for Parliament and set about organising its defences under Governor, Col. John Bingham. In March 1643, William Skutt, now Captain of Volunteers for the town, ‘took and apprehended’ the Mayor of Poole, Henry Harbin and Johnson Melledge, inn-keeper and Collector of Customs, as delinquents. What they had done or why their loyalty was suspect, we do not know. They were sent up to London to be questioned and William was given indemnity for arresting them. Johnson Melledge lost his post and was probably detained in custody but Henry Harbin was apparently back in Poole by August when he was named as a member of the committee for raising money for the armed forces. As George Skutt was also a member of the committee, it’s likely that proceedings were rather strained.

36In the summer of 1643, members of the Poole garrison were besieging the Royalist stronghold of Corfe Castle under the command of Sir Walter Erle when news came of the advance of Royalist forces and the fall of a series of Parliamentary towns in Dorset. The siege was lifted in confusion and the troops withdrawn to Poole. The town’s Recorder and M.P. William Constantine wrote to the Poole authorities asking them to surrender to avoid the devastation of a siege. However the Poole men rejected the notion. In a letter to Portsmouth signed by John Bingham, Robert Butler (the Governor of Wareham), George Skutt and William Skutt, the garrison was described as ‘valiente and full resolved to fighte’. The letter concluded by asking God to ‘give us hartes never to feare them that are runninge headlong into hell’. Later that year, William Constantine was disabled as Poole’s M.P. and recorder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the event Poole avoided a siege and survived a plot to betray the town. The garrison also scored some military successes against the Royalists but in the next couple of years Poole, along with other communities, suffered shortages of food and other necessities. In June 1644, Parliament supplied £500 ‘for the Service of Poole, now in great Distress’. That summer, the local Standing Committees across the country were given greatly expanded powers. They could, for instance, assess wealth and raise money, assemble forces and appoint officers, imprison anyone disturbing the peace or considered to be a malignant or delinquent, dismiss ill-affected ministers and school-masters and sequester their estates and distrain goods in lieu of payments due. The members of the Poole committee, John Bingham, George Skutt, Aron Durell, Haviland Hiley, William Skutt and John Mellmoth had thus acquired immense power and influence in the community.

Among many important families and individuals, the Skutt family’s position in local affairs was prominent. In the autumn, George Skutt began his fourth term as Mayor of Poole. Meanwhile William continued in his military role as well as serving on the Committee. In September, for instance, eight guns were sent from the Isle of Wight to be delivered to Captain Skutt and Captain Harding for the use of the Poole garrison and the Brownsea blockhouse. (Henry Harding, captain of Brownsea Castle, was probably the husband of Jane Skutt and William’s brother-in-law.)

Windmill colIn the late summer of 1645, as George’s year of mayoralty was coming to an end, the town was terrified by the appearance of the dreaded symptoms of plague among the population. The authorities had to respond urgently to the situation. The sick were first isolated in the windmill at Baiter and then four pest houses were built to contain the increasing numbers. In September as Aron Durell took over as Mayor, the town was in crisis with normal life on hold. To secure food for the town, Poole’s leading men made contact with other local towns to beg for money or supplies. George Skutt and Henry Harbin managed to obtain £50 6s 7d from Southampton while other sums came from Shaftesbury, Dorchester, Christchurch and Blandford by the efforts of Haviland Hiley, John Mellmoth and others. At around 63 years of age, George Skutt was possibly too old to ride around the countryside at war as others did. ‘Major George Skutt’, however, did perhaps travel to obtain the £23 he secured from Portsmouth and the 10 bushels of meal for the town’s use. The major was almost certainly George’s second son, George junior, but I have not discovered how he acquired his military title.

In December the outbreak was showing signs of abating. In London, Parliament had detained William Constantine for questioning and now appointed George Skutt to be M.P. for Poole in his place. How much time he spent in Parliament, given his local duties, is not clear. The Skutts were now even more prominent than before. In 1646-7, William served as Mayor of Poole while George junior was admitted as a burgess in 1647 and appointed Sheriff in the same year. In March 1647, according to the Journal of the House of Commons, William Skutt was approved as Governor of Poole and Brownsea Castle.

Col. John Rede

Col. John Rede

In November 1647, Lt. Col. John Rede was apparently appointed to the Governor’s position by commission from General Fairfax. Perhaps he did not take up his post immediately or he and William Skutt worked together over the next few months. Certainly in August 1648, Parliament was in correspondence with William Skutt who had reported on the condition of the garrison and the urgent need for supplies. The authorities replied to him as Governor of Poole and also wrote to the Dorset Committee: ‘we therefore recommend these garrisons [including Poole] to your especial care and desire their speedy supply lest they should be seized by the enemy’. In October 1648, however, Sir Walter Erle was asked to deliver supplies to Lt. Col. John Rede, Governor of Poole and Brownsea Castle and this seems to mark the transition to the new governorship.

This was far from the end of the story of the Skutts of Poole. In fact a battle for the leadership of Poole was about to take place. During the second half of the century, as we shall see, the family story expanded to include London, Barbados, Jamaica, the coasts of Africa and contacts with kings. . . .

For the next part of the story, see


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Too Radical for Poole?

Col. John Rede

Col. John Rede

Debates about politics and society are nothing new. A talk at Poole Museum on Saturday 26th September at 2.30 pm by writer, broadcaster and activist, John Rees, will take the audience back over 350 years to a time when England was without a king and the country abounded in new political ideas. The Governor of Poole was Col. John Rede, a charismatic soldier whose radical beliefs and revolutionary associates had begun to raise alarm in the heart of the Poole establishment. When they petitioned Parliament for his removal, the stage was set for a dramatic confrontation between Rede and George Skutt, the man who planned to take over as Governor.


John Rees

John Rees

The illustrated talk will explore the background and discuss the outcome of this little known episode in Poole and national history. John Rede, the Levellers & the Battle for Poole 1647-1651 is run jointly by the Levellers’ Association and Poole Museum Society. Numbers are limited so booking is essential. Tickets cost £4 each; click, print and complete the booking form below to apply.

Rede Booking form 2

Haydn Wheeler organiser of the talk with Jeremy Corbin and the poster!

Haydn Wheeler, organiser of the talk with Jeremy Corbyn and the poster!




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churnTwo outbreaks of deadly disease in Poole, 300 years apart: they were viewed in radically different ways by those who lived through them and yet there were similarities in the way the authorities struggled to cope in frightening circumstances. Find out more at

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Poole – A Ceramic Celebration

With its plentiful supplies of clay, the Poole area has been involved in pottery making since pre-historic times and the town has many examples of ceramic decoration, from Victorian chimneys, finials and paths to 1920s tiled welcome signs and modern commemorative plaques. Find an introduction to the subject at:

Welcome 4

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Lady Mary Bankes and the fall of Corfe Castle

36The romantic ruin of Corfe Castle has, of course only been a ruin since 1646 when it was deliberately destroyed by Parliamentary forces. This is the well-known story of the siege and fall of Corfe, but with a slightly alternative version of the ‘Brave Dame Mary’ tale. Find out more at

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Poole, South Carolina and the Slave Trade

Nos. 16 and 18 today

Nos. 16 and 18 today

In taxation records of the mid 18th century, one of the most valuable properties on High Street was a house and malthouse owned by Mr Courtin, probably at No. 16 or 18. The family were associated with the property from at least 1751, first in the name of Mr. Courtin and then from 1758, Mrs Courtin. In 1768, the tax list reads ‘Occupiers of Capt. Courtin’s House and Malthouse (R. Allen)’, when the premises was home to Richard Allen, ironmonger. When I was originally studying the records, I could not find anything out about the Courtin family but I have since come across a Captain Thomas Courtin who worked for the Jolliffe family of merchants.

The main area of activity for Poole merchants was the Newfoundland salt cod trade, which brought them into contact with many branches of international trade. The prime quality salt cod was sold mainly in southern Europe but the cheapest grade was sold to plantation owners in the West Indies and the American colonies to feed their slaves. For salt, the merchants traded with the Cape Verde Islands, 350 miles off the coast of West Africa which were also a centre for trading slaves. A network of trade routes was established between Poole, the Cape Verdes, the Mediterranean and the colonies of Newfoundland, Barbados and South Carolina.

William Barfoot's house

William Barfoot’s house

A few Poole merchants undoubtedly carried slaves on these voyages. In 1722, the Barfoot brothers made a voyage to Barbados where they took on board 90 gallons of rum and 24 slaves for transport to Charleston. This re-export of slaves was a low risk way of getting a toe-hold in the trade and establishing useful contacts. However it seems to have been several decades before the Barfoots re-entered the trade. In the 1750s they sent three ships over two years to Bence Island in what is now Sierra Leone where Scottish merchant Richard Oswald ran a slave trading post. The Barfoot ships brought building materials for the trading post and then took on slaves for their voyage to Charleston. In the mid 18th century Charleston was a busy port trading in produce from local plantations such as rice, indigo, cotton and tobacco, all crops worked by slaves who were consequently in great demand. By 1770 the city was fourth largest port in the colonies after Boston, New York and Philadelphia, with a population of 11,000, over half of them slaves.

William Barfoot’s success in these and other ventures allowed him to acquire the most magnificent house in the High Street (only half of which is visible today because of later building). The Jolliffes were another Poole merchant family who traded with the American colonies. In 1721 at the age of 23, William Jolliffe had sailed his own ship Jolliffe’s Adventure to Carolina and in following years the family continued to trade regularly with the colony. Their rising prosperity enabled them to build a fine mansion around 1730 in West Street.

Between 1751 and 1760, Jolliffe ships made nine slave voyages from Bence Island to Charleston. In 1759, for instance, a Jolliffe ship sailing for Africa was reported to contain chests of arrangoes (normally beads of cornelian, in this case said to be glass imitations). In 1760 the Molly owned by William Jolliffe was preparing to sail to Africa carrying 30 barrels of gunpowder, 50 niccannees (lengths of cotton) and 3 bandanoes (lengths of silk or cotton handkerchiefs). These were all goods regularly traded for slaves.

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Another player in this story, Henry Laurens, was a rich Charleston merchant and slave trader with contacts on both sides of the Atlantic, Richard Oswald being one of his many business associates. In his correspondence he noted the comings and goings of ships, including Poole ships, into the port. In 1748, for instance he mentioned the arrival of the snow, Jenny (master, William Reed) and the Nancy (master, Thomas Courtin), both from Poole. In June 1755, the brigantine John and Betsey left Charleston bound for Poole. Many of these vessels would be bringing salt cod from Newfoundland and taking on cargos of rice, indigo or other local produce, but a few brought slaves. In August 1755, Laurens noted: ‘here is now one of the Gambia vessels arriv’d, the Elizabeth of Poole, Capt Hunt who brings only 112 or 15 slaves. She went for 170 but could not purchase the whole’. The Elizabeth had prospects of selling her cargo at a good profit as according to Laurens ‘the Indigo Planters whose crops are good just now [are] at their wits end for more Slaves.’ Other references show that the vessel was quite a regular visitor to Charleston carrying slaves.

In the course of business, Henry Laurens became acquainted with Thomas Courtin, now master of the Woolf, belonging to William Jolliffe. In 1763, Laurens commissioned Courtin to oversee the building of a ship for him in Poole since he could not find any shipwrights to undertake the task in Charleston ‘or import workers from England for a single vessel’. The ship, to be called the Flora, was to be ‘of about 700 barrels burthen and as well built as possible, having an eye to profit’. The Flora was launched in 1764 and began her pattern of trading voyages with Courtin as master. Unfortunately, Laurens and Courtin eventually disagreed about money matters and he was replaced by Captain Kelly in 1768. Thomas Courtin died suddenly in Charleston in 1770 as master of the brigantine Polly, just arrived from Newfoundland.

The Jolliffe house, West Street

The Jolliffe house, West Street

In 1774, Laurens was in Europe to arrange for his children’s education. After visiting Hampshire with his eldest son John, he ‘carried out a long concerted plan into execution and went to Poole’. One of his purposes was to enquire about the freight of Swanage stone for facing a wharf, there being no stone within many miles of Charleston. Laurens father and son ‘were well received by Several Merchants there and in less than 24 hours accomplished all that I could wish’. During his time in Poole, Laurens visited Peter Jolliffe junior, perhaps in his West Street house and met Mrs. Jolliffe and other members of the family as mentioned in a letter from London conveying his ‘respectful Compliments’ to his host.

In spite of the keenness of the Poole merchants to do business, Henry Laurens was not destined to get his Swanage stone. The previous year, hotheads in Boston had demonstrated the American colonies’ increasing disaffection from the mother country and its taxation by throwing a shipment of tea into the harbour. Thirteen colonies, including South Carolina, formed a Continental Congress and seized control from the colonial governments. Now Laurens was obliged to write to Poole that ‘our American friends have resolved against Importing Goods from this Country.’

Lester, b

Benjamin Lester

In February 1775, Poole gained some notoriety when it petitioned Parliament in support of a Bill to restrict the trade of the American colonists to Britain and the British West Indies. Merchant Benjamin Lester was one of those who supported this and a further petition in March in favour of banning New England from the Newfoundland fishery. This provoked a furious response from South Carolina which was printed in the English newspapers. It was a far cry from the days of amicable trading between Poole and the colony.

1775 CharlestownOpinion in Poole was also strongly divided. In September, ‘the Mayor, Burgesses and Principal Inhabitants’ agreed to an address in favour of the Government and its coercive measures, again supported by Benjamin Lester and his brother, Isaac. The following month there was a meeting in favour of peace with the colonists, chaired by Peter Jolliffe junior. The meeting decided that the previous petition had been improperly obtained. Another petition was produced in support of peaceful measures, signed by 144 inhabitants and presented to the King by Poole’s opposition M.P., Joshua Mauger. A vigorous and often acrimonious debate continued in the pages of the press.

In the colonies the war had already begun and was to continue for seven years. In 1780, after a six week siege, Charleston was taken by the British with the surrender of about 5,000 troops. Britain had secured the most important town and port of the south but the war as a whole proved disastrous for the home country. At war with France, Spain and the Netherlands as well as the colonists, Britain found herself fighting on many fronts across the world. In 1782, Parliament voted to end the war and grant the colonists their independence. One of the negotiators on the American side was Henry Laurens and on the British side was his old business associate, Richard Oswald.

In August 1783, Laurens was briefly in Poole again: ‘On the 2d. at 9 am. we were within six Leagues of Poole in Dorsetshire. The Wind being very favorable, I quitted the Ship, went on board a small Hoy bound to Poole & urged Capt. Barney to proceed on his Voyage, leaving my excellent Post Carriage to take its fate on the Ship’s Deck in preference to the risque of delaying him a single hour.’ Laurens was on his way to an important meeting with Charles James Fox in London. The Treaty of Paris was signed with the new United States the following month. Henry’s son, John had been killed in the fighting in 1782. John had always believed that Americans could not justify fighting for their freedom while continuing to own slaves and after the war, his father freed all of his 260 slaves.

1788 Nov Slave tradeIn Poole as elsewhere, opinions on slavery changed towards the end of the 18th century. In 1788 a committee was formed to urge the abolition of the trade under the chairmanship of the Rector, the Rev. William Davis and with the support of many of the town’s leading Quakers.

In his 1788 history of Poole, Joseph Moore summed up the town’s involvement: ‘About 30 years ago, some attempts were made by adventurers from this port, to establish a trade to the coast of Africa, and several voyages were undertaken, and the returns made in slaves, which were carried to the West Indies and Carolina, but the hand of Providence interposed, and put an end to a traffick so repugnant to the dictates of humanity, and to the principles of true religion.’

Jenny Oliver





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