272 : James Hutton Brew (1844-1915) of Ghana and London

In Victorian times there was a trickle of Africans who made their homes in Britain whilst retaining family and business links with their homeland. Those who had been at school or college in Britain (and Ireland) had sometimes spent longer away from Africa or the Caribbean than living there. Schooling was often followed by training for a profession such as law, engineering, or medicine. Music attracted women, and sometimes led to training in Germany or France. Some families sent their children on these paths generation after generation. This was a social and financial investment, seldom undertaken by families lacking financial strengths. Fading group photographs, aged year books, and reports and other documentation can be located, and they expand our knowledge of the individuals whose descendants may hold letters and documentation. Even so there are substantial gaps in our knowledge — the Trinidad-born John Alcindor’s studies at Edinburgh University 1893-1899 are well documented at the university and his grandchildren possess his medical certificate from 1899 but London street directories and professional registers then have a five-to-six year gap. The Jamaica-born James Jackson Brown studied at the London Hospital from 1906, having studied in Canada but the London files have just a note supporting their decision to recognise some of that Canadian training. We do not know where in Canada Brown studied.

The Brew family of Ghana (then called the Gold Coast) has been studied by Margaret Priestley and published in West African Trade and Coast Society: A Family Study (Oxford University Press, 1969) and used copies are available. The 18th century Brew was an Irishman whose family was Fanti: Fanti inheritance was through the female whereas Irish/British was through the male, which with differences in language and settlement made Brew and his descendants well placed to mediate between Europeans and Africans. Priestley remarks that James Hutton Brew was born in July 1844 and ‘received his education in England where he was sent at the age of eight. After returning to the coast, he took up the practice of law; in 1864, at the age of twenty, he was licensed as one of the first Gold Coast attorneys’. He became a representative of what was then termed ‘the educated African’. He established a number of newspapers in the 1880s and was a representative of educated African ambitions. He returned to England on legal and business matters in 1888 ‘and until his death twenty-seven years later, he lived in England’ (Priestley p 169).

He pestered the Colonial Office with letters and petitions, often concerned over ownership of land and also the rights and expectation of the Asante (Ashanti). His death registration states he was a ‘land company promoter’. Tracking down Brew’s life in turn-of-the-century England is the aim of this website page and we start with that registration.

Brew died at 14 Paulet Road in Camberwell – London SE5 in 1915. He was aged 71. That side of the road has post-war housing but the terraced houses on the odd-number side remain. They are three stories high, lacking any front garden of substance. A now derelict pub Paulet Arms closed in 2006 and remains empty. There is no entry for Brew in the English probate records, so there was no money or it was shared without legal actions. A search under ‘Paulet Road’ in the 1915 newspapers uncovered no obituary but the Daily News of 21 August 1915 published a letter from Francis T. Henshaw of 14 Paulet Road, suggesting that the names of victims of bombing raids should be published. The census of 1911 places Brew at that address along with fellow Ghanaian Albert Duke Essien. Like Brew, Essien was a bankrupt land speculator (the National Archives file BT 226/692 has the records from 1903). The 1911 census states he was in the timber trade. Brew was described as a ‘concessionnaire agent’ (sic). Both men were married but the census has no details. The house was run by John and Eliza Pearce assisted by a sixteen-year-old London servant girl. Two men were listed as ‘lodger’ (the Africans were ‘boarder’), one aged 71 and a farrier aged 38.

In May 1903 Brew had appeared before the London bankruptcy court, in a public examination in which the official receiver stated that he thought Brew’s valuations were speculative and his figures ‘excessive and unreliable’. He was reported as ‘late of Cleveland Gardens, Bayswater’ (St James’s Gazette, 7 May 1903, p 12). The bankruptcy was listed in the Edinburgh Gazette of 27 March 1903 (page 333) which gave his full names as James Frederick Hutton Brew ‘commonly known as Prince Brew of Dunquah’, and his old address as 26 Cleveland Gardens. The Times (10 April and 7 May 1903) reported the matter, indicating unsecured liabilities of £4,094 and those estimated assets – all in Africa – at £176,905. It was suggested that settlement could be at 7s 6d in the pound: that is, for every pound of the claim, 3/8ths would be paid.

An earlier court appearance, which was widely reported, was in April 1895 when a London businessman named Arthur Reis sued Brew for the repayment of a loan of £540, on property in the Gambia. The court decided that Reis should give Brew six months’ notice (Morning Post, 10 April 1895, p 6; Daily Telegraph, 10 April 1895, p 3 refers to Brew as ‘a gentleman of colour’).

The business speculations of Brew and Essien were far from secure. Brew’s name has not been noted in Britain-based political activities after the 1890s efforts regarding Asante, and the lives of his British-born wife Ellen and their Gold Coast-born children, including schooling, are not known.