Holt Street Farm in Nonington: the Slave Trade, Caribbean Pirates, and the founding of the British Museum.

It is now difficult to believe that the pleasant hamlet of Holt Street, more especially the present Holt Street Farm, had connections to the Atlantic Slave Trade between West Africa and the Caribbean. This was one of the darkest periods in British history which, whilst bringing incredible riches to a few European plantation owners, brought unimaginable misery to thousands of male and female convicts sentenced to transportation by English and Irish courts and millions of forcibly enslaved Africans who laboured and died on these wealth creating Caribbean plantations.

The connection is as follows.

By the 1660’s the fortunes of Major John Boys of Fredville were in terminal decline. Years of living beyond his means had burdened him with large debts which he was unable to repay. In 1658 he and his son Nicholas, heir to the Major, had mortgaged “the manor of Elmington (Elvington) and the appurtenances of Nonington, Eythorne and Wymblingswold (Womenswold) and the avowedson of the Church at Eythorne” to Thomas Turner, the Major’s brother-in-law, for £1,550.00. This mortgage was renewed in 1668.

The Major’s financial problems persisted and in July of 1673 “the mansion house called Fredville, wherein the said John Boys then lived and lands ect. unto the said manor belonging and situated in the several parishes of Nonington, Barfrestone and Knowlton together with a farmhouse called Frogham farm and several closes thereunto belonging containing two hundred acres, which farm was already mortgaged to one William Gilbourne” were conveyed to Denzil, Lord Holles of Ifield, as security for an advance of £ 3,000.

It would appear that the Major and Nicholas Boys did not repay the money as the Kings Bench at Southwark imprisoned them both for many years.  Nicholas Boys died in 1687 and the octogenarian Major John Boys in March 1688 and was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Nonington.  James Boys, one of the Major’s younger sons, tried without success in 1689 to retrieve the estates. However, the Holt Street estate was not acquired by Denzil, Lord Holles of Ifield, but remained in the possession of Christopher Boys, another of the Major’s sons who in 1676 let the estate to Fulke Rose, a physician and Jamaica merchant and plantation owner.

Fulke Rose was born at Mickleton in Gloucestershire on the 10th April, 1644, to the Reverend Thomas Rose and his wife Frances, and had several brothers. In later years brothers Thomas and Francis were resident in Jamaica, John was a London merchant, and William was an apothecary.

1671 The Island of Jamaica by John Ogilby

Fulke qualified as a physician and moved to the Caribbean island of Jamaica which had come under English control in 1660. At this time the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 Europeans and 1,500 African slaves. On his arrival in Jamaica in the late 1660’s  Fulke practised as a physician but soon expanded his horizons and began to acquire land which was readily available as the  Jamaican economy  at the time of his arrival was in transition from one being based mainly on piracy to one based on the production of sugar. Records show that he was in Jamaica by 1670 and by then already owned 380 acres of land in Saint Catherine Parish. 

Within a short time Fulke was on the way to becoming a very wealthy man from his medical practise and from his plantations. As the owner of several sugar plantations Fulke was one of the principal buyers of West African slaves transported to Jamaica by the Royal African Company from whom he purchased 131 slaves.

The prospering Fulke married Elizabeth Langley, daughter of Alderman John Langley of Cornhill in London, at Port Royal in Jamaica on 11th July, 1678, and  the couple had four daughters, three of whom were called Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary.

Like other prominent colonists and landowners in Jamaica Fulke took an active part in Jamaican politics and administration.  He was returned as member for Saint Thomas in the Vale Parish for the House of Assembly of Jamaica in 1677 and was also a member of the Legislative Council of Jamaica as well as serving in the militia.

Fulke continued to prosper and around the time he purchased the Holt Street estate in Nonington he was referred to in State Papers of 1684 as “a surgeon bred, and a very discreet and virtuous man. His plantations render him over 4ooo£ per annum and his practice about 600£.”

Henry Morgan as imagined in Alexandre Exquemelin’s “Piratas de la America” of 1681

Fulke continued to practise as a physician and in early 1688, in company with another physician called Hans Sloane, he attended Sir Henry Morgan, the infamous Welsh former pirate and privateer who had made a considerable fortune raiding  Spanish cities on the Caribbean coast of Central and northern South America as well as capturing Spanish and other shipping on the Caribbean. The wealthy and well connected reformed pirate owned plantations in Jamaica and had served as Lieutenant Governor of the colony after having been knighted in 1674.

Now in his mid-fifties, Sir Henry was receiving treated for a swollen belly along with other ailments attributed by his physicians to excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. Sloane recorded that Sir Henry was prescribed “Electuary of Cassia, Oil of Juniper, and Cremor. Tart.” but that not being completely satisfactory they, gave him all manner of Diuretics, and easie Purgers we could find in Jamaica, Linseed and Juniper-Berries infus’d in Rhenish-Wine, Milleped. ppd. in Powder, Juniper-water, advis’d him to eat Juniper-Berries, us’d Oil of Scorpion, with Ung. Dialth. outwardly, by which means he recovered again”. However, the two physicians efforts were in vain as Sir Henry failed to heed their advice and reverted to his old dissolute ways which led to his death on 25th August,1688.

Fulke Rose returned to London in 1692 shortly after Jamaica was hit by an earthquake which killed hundreds of people and almost completely destroyed the capital town of Port Royal. He remained in England until his death in March of 1694 and may possibly have visited and stayed at the Holt Street estate. Fulke was buried at St Peter’s Church, Cornhill, on 29 March 1694. In his will the Holt Street estate, therein referred to as “Nonnington Farm near Canterbury”, was left to his daughter Mary.

Elizabeth Rose, Fulk’s widow, remarried in 1695. Her second husband was Hans Sloane, an Irish physician, naturalist and collector who had been Fulke’s physician colleague when treating Sir Henry Morgan in Jamaica. Elizabeth received a one third share of the annual income from her late husband’s estate which accordingly became available to her new husband and allowed him to fulfil his love of travel and collecting. Sir Hans Sloane, as he later became, collected in his lifetime over 71,000 objects: books, manuscripts, drawings, coins and medals, and plant specimens which he bequeathed to the British nation so laying the foundations of the British Museum, the British Library, and the Natural History Museum in London. His purchase of the manor of Chelsea near London in 1712 also provided the grounds for the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)

Sir Hans Sloane died on 11th January,1753, at his Chelsea manor house and was buried in the south-east corner of the churchyard at Chelsea Old Church with the following memorial:

“To the memory of SIR HANS SLOANE BART President of the Royal Society, and of the College of Physicians; who in the year of our Lord 1753, the 92d of his age, without the least pain of body and with a conscious serenity of mind, ended a virtuous and beneficent life. This monument was erected by his two daughters ELIZA CADOGAN and SARAH STANLEY”.

It can therefore be said that in its own minuscule way the Holt Street estate contributed financially to the founding of those world-renowned establishments, namely the British Museum, the British Library, the Natural History Museum and the Chelsea Physic Garden.

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