077: Black Britain, 1859

The Morning Post (London) 10 Feb 1859 reported a coloured man named John Pieza withdrew his police court claim that his girlfriend’s brother had stolen his watch. They lived with the defendant’s mother in Walworth, south London. Three men accused of trying to strangle John Davids a coloured man from Ceylon [Sri Lanka] in a Liverpool pub said they put a rope round his neck “for a lark” but were found guilty and fined with costs (alternative: 2 months in prison) according to the Birmingham Daily Post 24 Feb 1859.

Mr Grey whose tobacconist shop was in Fishergate, Preston (Lancs) was found not guilty of failing to pay for a window blind (Preston Guardian 26 Feb). Another black in court – as a witness – was Robert Paisley of the Bogota which had arrived in Liverpool from Rio: the ship’s chief and second engineers were accused of causing the death of another sailor on that ship. The case was referred to a higher court (Morning Chronicle, London 17 Mar). Thomas Pinder, the black cook on the emigrant ship Manhattan was beaten by two male emigrants on 6 April – two Irish police officers arrested them. Pinder had concussion and severe contusions, and the Merseyside hospital thought he might die (Glasgow Herald 7 April; Liverpool Mercury 16 April). A brawl on 3 July in McGuire Street, Liverpool between coloured men led to Henry Hayes and William Jackson appearing in court but who had stabbed Jackson was unclear and the jury found Hayes not guilty (Liverpool Mercury 17 Aug). That same edition reported 20 year old coloured man Henry Thompson had stolen eight pence from a washerwoman. He had previous convictions.

On 12 May the Methodist chapel, Pepper Street, Chester heard fugitive slave James Watkins address 1,000 people, a lecture to be repeated in Chester the following week (Chester Observer 14 May). His Narrative of the Life of James Watkins, Formerly a Slave in Maryland, United States was published in Manchester in 1859. British newspapers often reported on fugitive slaves in Britain and the US, and how they were recaptured often violently.

On 13 June the Old Bailey heard that John Fitzgerald (charged with burglary and theft) had admitted the day before that he had robbed a black man. On the current charge he was sentenced to four years. On 4 July at the Old Bailey John Bardoe was tried for stabbing, cutting and wounding a police officer in London’s docklands. Apparently the property of an Italian sea captain, he was taken ill at the house of an Italian woman who said that the police came and found Bardoe had locked himself in his room before escaping on to the roof. Faced with several policemen Bardoe cut one officer 12 times. Through an interpreter “Miss M. B. Servano, a native of Yorubah (sic), and educated in England” he said he had been sold in Lagos, had met two countrymen in London and took a job believing he would be paid, but received only food. He used the knife in self-defence. He was found not guilty.

Sarah Amelia Rose Mungo, a “young woman of colour” was said to have attacked a woman with a poker. They both lived in Wentworth Street, Whitechapel. Reynold’s News of 14 August also noted there had been mention of obtaining a “vast amount of sympathy … by stating herself to be a fugitive slave”. On 14 October a meeting at Spafields Chapel, London, heard Revd Samuel May of Syracuse, NY, update the audience on anti-slavery activities in America. Listening were free-born Sarah Remond (see below) and fugitive slaves Ellen and William Craft who had been in England for almost a decade (see page 059 of this site). Despite the knowledge of most of the audience, when Ellen Craft handed her son Charles (born England, 1852) to May who then declared that in the USA he would be worth $200 there was a “(Sensation)” according to the Report. He was a “true-born Englishman” whose god-mother was Lady Byron and god-father judge Stephen Lushington. William Craft then addressed the meeting. His account of their escape from Georgia was published in London in 1860.

Black sailors on ships that traded with the USA were at risk of being enslaved, so when the crew of the US-owned Conqueror found it was bound for Mobile, Alabama not New York a sailor named Silver jumped ship; and on 23 September Thomas Williams and William Johnson did the same, jumping into the Mersey half a mile offshore with a fierce tide running. Due to watchmen and a policeman they were rescued from the water (Liverpool Mercury 26 Sept). One had already been a slave in America.

Police and villagers searched Hanging Lea Wood near Sheffield looking for a stolen lamb, and found the partly eaten carcass, potatoes and the remains of a fire. An un-named African who had left his employment as a servant and was living rough was responsible and the matter was known to the police as the Anti-Slavery Society had alerted them, requesting to be informed (Nottinghamshire Guardian 27 Oct).

Late October’s severe storms led to over 100 ships being lost at sea, including the Royal Charter carrying 450 people from Melbourne and the Australian goldfields. The handful that were not killed on the Anglesey (North Wales) coast included some who escaped along the rope taken ashore by a “coloured” seaman who later won a gold medal and £5. Names Joseph Rogerson and Joseph Rogers in several accounts, more often merely a “coloured” man, he seems to have been a Maltese named Guzzi Rugier.

The Liverpool-registered Lady Franklin bound for Rio was hit by another ship near Cadiz (Spain) on 29 November, the single survivor of 18 on board being a “coloured” sailor. The crew’s names were published in the Liverpool Mercury on 15 December. The names Zeddo, Bryan and Symonette might be relevant. In mid-December the seven crew of the Hannah Jane from Liverpool to Spain with a cargo of gas pipes were rescued by the Lytham (Lancs) lifeboat and one “coloured sailor” needed medical attention (Blackburn Standard, 28 Dec).

London’s Daily News (6 Dec) reported that Frederick Douglass was in Halifax where he remarked that his freedom had been purchased by Britons and that he was pleased as a runaway slave he had such people to run amongst. Other papers noted this. On 22 December he attended a meeting of the Leeds Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society along with “Miss Remond, a free-born coloured lady” who also adressed the gathering (Leeds Mercury 24 Dec). Sarah Remond reached England at the beginning of 1859, lecturing in Liverpool and touring widely (Dublin, March 1859) into 1866. She studied in London then in Florence (Italy) where she became a doctor in 1871.  Married to an Italian, she died there in 1894. Douglass was scheduled to speak in Bradford in early 1860.

Based in Liverpool (his address was 123 Field Street, Everton on 21 Jan 1859) was William P. Powell. A free black from New York, he had brought his family to be raised in a free society: Britain. He worked as a clerk in a city business (Warrington Guardian 12 Feb 1859) and aided fugitive slaves – one son qualified as a doctor (see page 081).

Anti-Slavery activists and others in Britain also discussed the October attack on the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia led by John Brown.

See R. J. M. Blackett Building an Antislavery Wall Louisiana UP, 1983 for Powell and Remond.


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