062: Black Britain, 1870

The Times, 13 April 1870
The Times, 13 April 1870

British newspapers were reporting on the election of blacks in the U.S.A., and in the summer of 1870 of the war between France and Prussia, and items relating to people of colour in Britain.

The Manchester Times (8 January 1870) reported from Bolton that “a half-bred negro, named Alfred Frederick Jones” had been sentenced to six months for assaulting the woman he had lived with, as well as the alleged killing on 31 December 1869 of Sarah Codrington  by her husband (see page 061: Black Britain, 1869). In February the Derby Mercury (9 February 1870) reported that “John Warner, a negro” had been fined five shillings with 3s 6d costs (£-.42p) for being drunk in Bag Lane, Derby. If he failed to pay he would be sent to prison for seven days.

Late that month the Hull Packet (25 February) reported that “a negro” James McDonald had been accused by two different detectives of begging in two streets in Hull. His defence that he was selling tracts was dismissed and he went to jail for 14 days. Of course people of colour were victims of crime, as can be seen in the Pall Mall Gazette (17 March 1870) which reported two labourers had assaulted Benjamin Miller, a compositor “a coloured man” in the Caledonian Road, north London. The pair were very drunk. They were sent to prison for six weeks, with hard labour.

The flamboyant Henry Allen alias Jacobs had been charged with 167 accounts of swindling, which led to so many victims coming forward that over 300 cases were against him – in March the Thames police court heard the prosecutor state that this was too many to be heard, and so he concentrated on a handful. One scheme used by this “coloured man” was to say he had just arrived from America and needed a small sum to pay customs dues and freight charges, which would release his goods which, when sold, would produce more than enough to settle the loan. A “good-looking young creole”, he even managed to become engaged to a daughter of one of his victims. She “threatened to inflict summary vengeance on her faithless lover”. This was reported in the Liverpool Mercury 26 March 1870 and elsewhere. The Morning Post added he had served with the British army in Canada, had been in Britain for some time, had been imprisoned for three years, and twice for three months “as a rogue and vagabond”. Over three hundred cases suggests he had persuaded that number of people to trust him. See The Times (above) for his sentence of five years.

The Cheshire Observer of 2 April indicated that Bishop Samuel Crowther “the native African prelate” had preached at two Liverpool churches on Sunday 20 March, on behalf of the Church Missionary Society. John Barton, whose address was given as 5 Court, Dalton Street, in an advert by the Liverpool Protective Burial Society in the Liverpool Mercury (14 April), had been their representative, collecting the weekly funeral insurance payments, but had been dismissed. The “coloured man” should not be given any more instalments.

Over the border in North Wales, the Wrexham Advertiser (4 June) reported a dilemma for the police, who were unsure who to charge after they visited a lodging house in that coal-mining town and became convinced it was a brothel. An upstairs room had five beds, occupied by four couples and a single male. John Moses “a coloured man”, his wife May, and his daughter Esther “‘the Darkey'” Moses were there.

In Leeds a group of circus workers including the 21 year old “coloured man” John Edward Forster, got into a dispute in and then outside a pub. In self-defence he cut Thomas Little so that charge was dismissed, but as he also had attacked Little with an iron bar, wounding him, the latter charge was agreed and he was sent to prison for 14 days. There were four “blacks” – Bradford Observer 25 June and Leeds Mercury 27 June 1870.

Sailors seldom received a good press, but the survival of six men for 51 days on a reef near Brazil was widely reported after they reached Liverpool in late June. The Liverpool-registered Mercurius was inward bound from San Francisco (round the Horn – the Panama Canal was still a dream) and just six crew survived. The “coloured man” was in the worst condition. The Bradford Observer (30 June) and other papers named the six: Coleman, M’Call, Baptiste, Lance, Gray and – surely an African – Joachim King Dilombo or Dilombe.

Just walking down the street could be dangerous, as an unnamed coloured man experienced in West Street, Southampton, that month. Two men and a woman asked him to buy them beer, and he refused so they attacked him. A police officer seeing that one was “fighting with a coloured man” entered the battle and told the white man to leave – and was attacked by all three whites. The two males were sent to prison for one month each and the woman for 21 days. We might assume their first victim was a sailor. (Hampshire Advertiser 29 June 1870)

Life on board was tough: the Nova Scotia (Canada) brig Sarah Harris was in the port of Greenock when two crewmen got into a dispute with one sailor kicking the cook, a coloured man named Harris Ruggley.  A second black crewman restrained him, but when he was released he plunged a knife into Ruggley whose “loss of a great deal of blood” was also noted in the Glasgow Herald (20 July 1870).

Just weeks later a Russian-Finnish barque at Greenock with a black cook named Robert Brown saw a dispute when the mate instructed Brown to do some work and he refused. Brown hit the mate with an axe. The ship sailed without the “darkey” who was put in a police cell where he made such a fuss he was put in irons – but then damaged the window and cell fittings. The Glasgow Herald (8 August) indicated that Brown was to appear before the Sheriff’s court. Further south at Fleetwood the barque Magdalla also had a dispute between the mate and a black cook. Thomas Edney Ornet slashed the mate several times, and he was in a “precarious condition” when the Preston Guardian went to press on 8 October 1870.

Yet another dispute  between a black crew member and the mate was in the Belfast Newsletter (17 November 1870) for the American ship Missouri outward bound for New Orleans from Glasgow was found to be leaking and pulled into an Irish harbour. A coloured crew member, having unfurled the sails, reached the deck where the mate hit him – so he drew a knife and stabbed the mate. He was held in custody for 8 days, no doubt subject to the views of the nearest U.S. consul. And when the Martha Jane reached Waterford in the south east of Ireland the captain reported that his black cook, named Jones, had stabbed another crewman and then jumped overboard, 700 miles from land. Jones had not been found. This was published in several newspapers including the Birmingham Daily Post on 23 December 1870.

Back in August the Stockton police court dismissed a charge of assault against George Henry Basher, “a man of colour” (Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough, 9 August 1870).

As the British census was held in 1871 it might be possible to find out more about some of these individuals. One man, listed then as an inmate of Brixton prison, London, as Robert D Anray, born 1839 in the “West Indies” (see blacksheepancestors website) is a very rare example of a person of Caribbean birth in a major British prison in 1871. His crime was forgery, and was reported in the Illustrated Police News on 1 October 1870. That weekly was always anxious to stress ethnicities as well as sexual scandals and violence, but, like the Old Bailey trial transcripts and some newspapers, that an alleged criminal was black was not always noted. The Bristol Mercury said “Robert D’Anray” was “said to be an American” when it reported his trial at the Mansion House, London. The London Morning Post of that same day (19 September 1870) had his name as Robert D’Auray and that he had been sent to the Old Bailey for trial. Other names appeared and so did the suggestion that he was French. His Old Bailey trial – a complex matter of indentifications of forged bank documents – was on 21 November 1870 and he was sent to prison for ten years. That he was referred to as having “light hair” and nowhere was there any indication he was of African or Asian descent we conclude that the “West Indies” of the census of Brixton prison in 1871 was a geographical term. But nowhere does it appear in the several newspaper reports.

This quick search of some British newspapers of 1870 has revealed the black presence in the cotton mill town of Bolton, a compositor in north London, a rogue and swindler in London and elsewhere, a Bishop, three dubious people in Liverpool and Wrexham, four circus workers in the wool town of Leeds, and sailors, a nameless male assaulted in Southampton,  another fellow in Stockton and another in Derby – and (read page 061 of this site) there is the attempted suicide of Birkenhead horse bus driver Henry Codrington, upset by the death of his wife on 31 December 1869, his trial and acquittal, and his period in custody, who attempted suicide in September 1870 and was thought to be likely to be sent to a lunatic asylum (Standard, London, 21 September 1870).

All part of the make up of Britain in 1870.


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