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 him and his immediate predecessors living beyond their means had burdened the family estates with large debts which these estates were unable to service. In 1658 the Major and Nicholas Boys, the Major’s son and heir, 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 King’s Bench at Southwark eventually imprisoned them as undischarged debtors for many years.  After the deaths of Nicholas Boys in 1687 and the octogenarian Major John Boys in March of 1688, James Boys, one of the Major’s younger sons, tried without success to retrieve these lost Boys family estates in 1689.
However, the Holt Street estate had not been acquired by Denzil, Lord Holles of Ifield, but had 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 sugar 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.

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. Fulke had four brothers: Thomas and Francis, who were resident in Jamaica; John, a merchant in London; and William, an apothecary who was one of the parties in Rose v Royal College of Physicians (1701–03).

At the time Fulke arrived on Jamaica in the late 1660’s the population consisted of about 4,500 Europeans and 1,500 African slaves. On his arrival on the island   Fulke practiced as a physician but soon expanded his horizons and began to acquire land. This was readily available as the  Jamaican economy  at the time of his arrival was transitioning from an economy based mainly on piracy to one based on the production of sugar. By 1670 the recently arrived Fulke already owned 380 acres of land in Saint Catherine Parish

Fulke was soon on the way to becoming a very wealthy man from his medical practice and acquisition of plantations. The eventual ownership of several sugar plantations led Fulke to become one of the principal buyers of the West African slaves transported to Jamaica by the Royal African Company, whose records show his having 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 a large family which included four daughters, three of whom were called Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary.

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

Over the years Fulke continued to prosper and around the time he purchased the Holt Street estate in Nonington in 1684, some eight years after he had initially rented it, he was referred to in Jamaican administrative records as “a surgeon bred, and a very discreet and virtuous man. His plantations render him over 4ooo£ per annum and his practice about 600£.”

In addition to his sugar plantation enterprise Fulke continued to practice as physician to well to do island residents. In early 1688 he attended Sir Henry Morgan, the infamous Welsh former pirate and privateer, in company with another physician called Hans Sloane, later Sir Hans Sloane, who was at that time in Jamaica as personal physician of Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle, who had recently been appointed as governor of the island.
The legendary Captain Henry Morgan 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 now respectable and well connected reformed pirate owned several plantations in Jamaica and had served as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica after having been knighted in 1674.
Sir Henry was by then in his mid-fifties and receiving treated for a swollen belly along with other ailments attributed by his physicians to excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. Hans 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 joint 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.

On 7th June of 1692 Jamaica was hit by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami which killed hundreds of people and almost completely destroyed the thriving and prosperous town and major seaport of Port Royal. At the time the earthquake struck Port Royal was the unofficial capital of Jamaica and was known as the “storehouse and treasury of the West Indies”, and also as “one of the wickedest places on Earth” as it was the home port of many of the privateers and pirates then plying their trade in the Caribbean. As a home port for privateers and pirates Port Royal was infamous for its vice and debauchery, and many people believed that the earthquake’s devastation of Port Royal was a divine retribution intended to punish the inhabitants of the town for their active encouragement of sin and vice.
After the earthquake the Jamaican colonial administration moved to Spanish Town and, although it was partially rebuilt, the pirate haven of Port Royal went into a gradual decline after the town was further devastated by fire in 1702 and by a hurricane in 1722. By the later part of the 1700’s Port Royal was virtually abandoned and of little importance.
Fulke Rose returned to London to plead with the British government for aid in helping to rebuilt Port Royal and he remained in England until his death in March of 1694. During this final sojourn Fulke most likely visited and stayed at the Holt Street estate. Fulke was buried at St Peter’s Church at Cornhill in London on 29th March, 1694.
His will of 1693 recorded ownership of property in Jamaica including the Mickleton, Knollis, and Sixteen Mile Walk estates in St Thomas in the Vale; the Angells; land at Maggatty called Warrens and Hipperslys; land and houses in the town of St Jago de Laviega (Spanish Town); land “over the river at the Red Hills” in Saint Catherine Parish, and land in the north of Jamaica in Saint Mary and Saint George parishes. His English property included a farm in Oxney near Deal and “Nonnington Farm near Canterbury”, which was how the Holt Street estate was referred to in the will. The Holt Street estate was bequeathed to his daughter Mary and it was later sold.

In 1695, only a year or so after Fulke’s passing, Elizabeth Rose married Hans Sloane, the Irish physician, naturalist, and collector who had been Fulke’s colleague when Fulke had been physician to Sir Henry Morgan in Jamaica. Elizabeth had been well provided for in Fulke’s will, receiving a one third share of the annual income from her late husband’s estate. On her remarriage Elizabeth’s recently inherited wealth became available to her new husband and allowed him to fulfill his love of travel and collecting. The couple had three daughters and one son, although only two of the children survived to adulthood.

Sir Hans Sloane, as he later became, acquired in his lifetime a collection of over 71,000 books, manuscripts, drawings, coins and medals, and plant specimens which he bequeathed to the British nation. This bequest laid the foundations of the British Museum, the British Library, and the Natural History Museum in London. Sir Han’s purchase of the manor of Chelsea near London in 1712 also provided the grounds for the Chelsea Physic Garden.

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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