Life story retold by Liz Tait
TO THE MEMORY OF
ROBERT FRANCIS JAMESON ESQ
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
ON THE 7TH SEPTEMBER 1851
IN THE 66TH YEAR OF HIS AGE
HE WAS CALLED TO THE BAR IN 1815
WAS APPOINTED IN 1819, ONE OF HIS
MAJESTY’S COMMISSIONERS OF ARB…..
…ITRATION FOR THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE
TRADE AT THE HAVANNAHS AND SUBSE…….
…QUENTLY FILLED THE OFFICE OF FIRST
COMMISIONER FOR THE ARBITRATION
OF SPANISH CLAIMS IN LONDON ????
THE TREATY OF 1822
At the back right hand side of the cemetery, under a tall tree which is growing next to the rarely opened Wokingham road gate, lays the flat headstone of Robert Francis Jameson’s grave. The headstone is easily overlooked because it is often covered with fallen leaves. From the epitaph we read that through his work in the early 19th century Jameson had a role in the abolition of slavery.
Researching the life of Robert Francis Jameson has given me a much greater insight into the complexities of the iniquitous trade in slaves. The forced removal of people from African countries, the buying and selling of humans, the dreadful conditions encountered during shipment and the forced resettlement in the Americas and Caribbean islands. Also I had not appreciated how long it actually took to bring about the abolition of the slave trade.
The enslavement of people is almost as long as human history and sadly we know that in various forms it still continues today. However, when Robert Francis Jameson was born in 1785 social norms were already being challenged. Concerns over equality, humanity and the rights of man were giving way to individuals championing the cause of abolishing the antiquated and barbaric practice of slavery but, the abolition of slavery was a contentious issue. The Empires of Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands had colonised land in the Americas and outlying islands. Their economies depended upon the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations in these countries. Indigenous peoples were insufficient in number to carry out the work required and so the bringing of slaves from Africa and resettling where they were needed was seen as the answer. The buying and selling of slaves and their labour brought about not only the economic prosperity of individual landowners but also Empires across the globe.
Robert Francis Jameson had not yet been born when in Britain one of the first steps towards an anti-slavery movement began in 1772 when a slave belonging to a Scots man named Charles Stewart was freed on June 22 1772 by Lord Mansfield. In 1789 when William Wilberforce gave a powerful speech in Parliament against the abhorrent practice of slavery and a strong anti-slavery movement was growing in Britain Robert Jameson was just four years old. But, it was not until 1807 when Jameson was twenty-two years old that the British Parliament finally passed a bill outlawing the slave trade but not slavery and only in 1833, when Jameson was 48 years did Parliament pass a further act to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire. In spite of these acts of law the hateful practice continued for several decades and it was not until 1865 that America accomplished the same objective6 by which time Jameson had already been dead thirteen years!
Jameson’s baptismal record shows that he was the son of William and Margaret Jameson and baptised on 10 September 1788 at St. Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, Southwark, Surrey1. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge2 which he entered in the Michaelmas term of 1804. The Alumni record states that he was aged 18 on entry to university and that he was his father’s youngest son. In 1807 after university Jameson was admitted to the Inner Temple of the Inns of Court. There he qualified as a barrister and as such was then able to use the title Esquire. This is a courtesy title for someone who is qualified in law as a barrister, and his headstone refers to him as Robert Francis Jameson Esq.
On 10 December 18173 Robert Jameson was married to Isabella Blackden in Hughenden, Buckingham and the couple went on to have at two children. They named their son Francis James Jameson and their daughter was named Frances which must have been rather confusing. Francis is recorded as 12 years old and Frances as 16 years in the 1841 census. At that time Robert and Isabella are recorded as having independent means and the family are living in Tunbridge Wells in Kent4. Poll Books and Electoral Rolls indicate during the 1830s the family had also lived in Brighton and Hove. However by 1844 Jameson had moved to Reading where Jameson lived out the last years of his life. His home was 9 Albion Place the imposing white Georgian Houses on London Road facing the original university buildings
After qualifying as a barrister Jameson, who had presumably expressed his support for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, came to the notice of those in high places and was appointed one of two King’s commissioners to Cuba which was a Spanish colony. Jameson and J.T. Kilbee made up the British contingent of The Mixed Commission Court established in Havana. Under the Act of 1807 a small fleet of British Naval ships had been tasked with the job of intercepting any ships which were suspected of carrying slaves. The court was tasked with investigating shipments, imposing fines and freeing such slaves as were found. The task was not as simple or straightforward as it sounded and with hundreds of ships sailing under the flags of various countries ships captains continued to ply a clandestine slaving trade for many decades.
Jameson was sent to Cuba in 1819 and did not return for almost five years so it is to be hoped that Jameson’s young wife Isabella travelled with him to this posting. Whilst stationed in Havana Jameson was responsible for writing an intelligence report for the British Government about the situation in Cuba with regard to the problems that were being encountered in identifying slaving ships. His report highlighted the number of ships entering the port of Havana each year and the physical geography of the island7 both of which contributed to the difficulties the commissioners were encountering.
In addition Jameson also wrote a book entitled ‘Letters from the Havana, During the Year 1820: Containing an Account of the Present State of the Island of Cuba, and Observations on the Slave Trade’. A summary of the book states: ‘Jameson provides a comprehensive description of Cuban society and a detailed account of the city of Havana, illustrating the stark differences between the classes in Havana society. At this time, Cuba was the world’s leading producer of sugar cane, and totally dependent on slave labour and the slave trade. Jameson discusses the impact of slavery on the Cuban economy and the advantages and disadvantages of emancipation. He also discusses Cuba’s constitutional history and contemporary economy, exploring the effects of Ferdinand VII’s opening of Havana to foreign trade. Written in the form of letters to an anonymous recipient, this volume provides a valuable and fascinating picture of contemporary Cuban society’5. His book was published in 1821.
The headstone of Jameson’s grave in Reading Old Cemetery indicates that he later went on to fill the office of first commissioner for the Adjustment of Spanish claims in London under the Treaty of 1822. This task involved the paying of compensation, not as one might think to those individuals who had been bought and sold as slaves, but in this case to their Spanish owners. The compensation was offered by the British Government as an incentive to the Spanish to cease the holding of slaves. The Spanish view was that it was economically expedient for the British to ensure that their competitor’s labour force was reduced.
- Ancestry UK Select Births and Christenings 1538 -1975
- Ancestry UK Cambridge University Alumni 1261 – 1900
- Ancestry UK Somerset, England, Marriage Registers, Bonds and Allegations 1751 – 1914
- Ancestry UK 1841 and 1851 census records.
- Letters from the Havana, During the Year 1820 : Containing an Account of the Present State of the Island of Cuba, and Observations on the Slave Trade Publisher: Cambridge University Press
- The Anti-Slavery Movement Began In England in 1772 https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1994/vp941204/11300483.htm
- Slavery in Cuba pages 95-97
Buried in Section 32, Row A, Number 14