069: Black Britain, March-May 1897

Western Mail 30 March 1897
Western Mail 30 March 1897

As well as reports of military actions in Benin and the future Zimbabwe, British newspapers had details on black people in Britain. The Glasgow Herald 12 January named two ‘negro’ sailors (William Young and Ceulus Canay) who had been in breach of the peace in Ardrossan, the Pall Mall Gazette of 2 March had a brief article about US poet Paul Dunbar (see page 050), and Reynold’s Newspaper of 21 March reported a divorce case where a witness was Annie Hyacinthe, employed by the couple in Grenada when he worked for the medical service, and now on her first trip away from the Caribbean.

The seamen’s lodging houses in Bute Town, Cardiff were like so many neighbourhoods that dealt with transients, famous for alleged crimes. The Derby Mercury 24 March reported an incident there which left ‘a coloured seaman’ with a severe cut in hospital, another named Nash who had been hit by a bullet, and a policeman who had been shot in the wrist.

Cardiff’s Western Mail (17 March) referred to ‘a desperate fracas in Tiger Bay’ – ‘negro badly wounded’. The court appearance on 29 March was reported (as above) ‘A Zulu before the Cardiff magistrates’. The alleged Zulu was named Wilson, and he and fellow-accused Alfred Baker were charged with conspiring to murder another African, James Nash. Wilson faced additional charges of shooting a policeman, and another African named Charles Roll. Witnesses named Lee and Scarpardi ran shops where Wilson tried to purchase a revolver and bullets (Lee sold them to him) and ‘two other coloured men also gave evidence’. The accused said nothing and the case went to the more senior court at Swansea.

The Western Mail had other tales about Bute Town, noting an illegal ‘negro’ bar owner Walter Bird ‘an old shebeener’ had been fined £50 or 3 months at the beginning of March and on 4 March that a 26 year old ‘mulatto’ named Peter Monteiro had been charged with wounding the woman in whose boarding house he had lived for five years (a witness Alexander Abrahams was ‘a man of colour’).

On 20 May Jennie and Alexander Crummell arrived in Liverpool to see Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations and take a holiday until October. Crummell, born free in New York in 1819, had studied for his degree at Queen’s College Cambridge in the 1850s (and with his first wife had three daughters born in Bath, Cambridge and Ipswich 1849-1852). The Crummells met Dunbar and other black Americans, and formed the Central British African Association, a British branch of the American Negro Academy of Washington DC. Crummell died in 1898 (see this site, page 050).

Not everything was as the Western Mail loved to report. The easy access to firearms seems typical of the late 19th century.

For Crummell see J. R. Oldfield’s biography of 1990.


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