The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

More thoughts on the Taylor slave money and Patrick’s time at Albany

Originally Posted 24 May 2014:

The Caribbean Connection

Contradiction

There is an obvious contradiction between the gaining of Patrick Taylor’s father’s wealth in the business of trading slaves and the pursuit of freedom for Polly Graham, his mixed-race wife and lover owned by his cousin Simon.

John Taylor was driven first and foremost by the pursuit of wealth. The extents he went to in order to achieve that are evident in his forays into America at the height of the War of Independence, then by going to Jamaica, changing his name and within a year -recognising the gaining Abolitionist movements in both America and Britain- striking into the slave trade while the iron was steaming hot.

The West Indian success was the opposite in timing to his experiences in America during the war, but he still had to make the decision to get involved. Which he did, and quickly.

In March 1783, John arrived in Kingston, Jamaica, and within a year his company, McBean, Ballantine and Taylor, was in business. The firm began trading in plantation supplies, dry goods, and various other commodities. However, on the back of fears over abolition the demand for labour was booming and Taylor’s company couldn’t resist joining in, quickly becoming known for their efficiency in unloading and selling slaves. John’s Glaswegian network (through the McCall’s) helped him build a base of merchant contacts that facilitated his success and, as the letters in The Tailyour Collection show, he soon acted as advisor to other young Scottish traders who wanted to try their luck in the Caribbean market.

Harbour Street, Kingston. Published Feb. 1, 1824 by Hurst Robinson & Co., 90 Cheapside, & E. Lloyd, Harley Street. VIEW OF HARBOUR STREET, KINGSTON (looking eastward).
Harbour Street, Kingston. Published Feb. 1, 1824 by Hurst Robinson & Co., 90 Cheapside, & E. Lloyd, Harley Street. VIEW OF HARBOUR STREET, KINGSTON (looking eastward).

So John Taylor (formerly Tailyour), now aged thirty, after eight years of trying and failing, was finally in business and profiting on a large scale. The satisfaction of that, no doubt, was what led him to be unapologetic in his support of the slave trade and to vehemently shout-down the abolitionists. At the same time he was said to suffer from periodic illnesses and apparently it was during one of these when he was first cared for by  Mary (Polly) Graham.

The reality of life in the Carribbean at that time for a single young British man of growing means didn’t offer much by way of like female company and, well, it’s not hard to imagine what took place in the port-side residences and grandiose bedrooms of the plantation mansions. What, with all those young obedient slave women to cater for you instead.

Polly Graham belonged to Simon Taylor. She was one of his domestic slaves. A read of Simon Taylor and the Golden Grove Child, a piece on the Sproule Genealogy blogsite kept by Kate (Sproule) Tammemagi in Ireland, gives an insight into how modern day families react when they discover not only were their ancestors involved in the slave trade but that they have mixed raced relatives they never knew about. Read the opening pages and squirm a little at Simon Taylor’s attitudes toward women and children.

For a more academic account of the nature of life amongst the colonial elite in the West Indies, Daniel Livesay’s essay, Extended Families: Mixed-Race Children and Scottish Experience, 1770-1820 discusses the prevalence of mixed race off-spring and their transfer to Britain for the purposes of education and cultural advancement. It’s very interesting and I’m thinking we are very lucky that Patrick Taylor belonged to this family because of the amount of writing that exists about them. It throws light not just on the forces which must have influenced Patrick and his own colonial family in Western Australia but brings into play the wider subject of the British Empire and the nature of both racial exploitation and subsequent attitudes towards mixed race children delivered from the various countries within it, at that time.

Australia’s indigenous were not alone in being duped.

It’s hard saying that. I feel guilty even coming out with it. When you read around and see the experiences of the Native American Indians, of the Central Asian sub-classes (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan) and of what happened in South America (and specifically the Carribbean with regard to slavery) since the arrival of Christopher Columbas as far back as 1494, it’s easy to look upon the Australian indigenous as just another native race caught up in the evolution of human kind, but the moment you do that, of course, you dilute the personal experience of those involved and it’s essential, at least to these pages, that things remain very much on a close-up, face-to-face basis.

So, John Taylor fell for Polly Graham and in 1786 Polly gave birth to their first son, James. According to John Livesay at the William L Clements Library, who also created the finding aid for the Tailyour Family Papers at the University of Michigan;

“In the next several years, the couple would have three other children together, John, Simon and Catherine. John made no attempt to hide this mixed-race family from his friends in Jamaica, nor from his family back in Scotland, but he did not generally broadcast his liaison beyond those circles. Most information on his Jamaican family comes from the writings of John’s friends and family, not John himself.”

 

Livesay adds. . .

“Although John Tailyour does not discuss his Jamaican family in the letters of this collection, the papers of Simon Taylor at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London contain several letters from John to Simon indicating his affection and devotion to his colonial family. Indeed, in 1790, John implored Simon to free Polly and their children: “Having now for several years experienced her care & attention both while I have been in sickness & health,” he wrote, “I confess myself much attached to her. . . . I feel my self more anxious to obtain this Favour than I can describe.” (John Tailyour to Simon Tailyour, 3 January 1790, Simon Taylor Papers, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London). Simon readily complied and freed John’s family.”

 

Two years later John Taylor left Polly Graham and Jamaica (ostensibly, but a long way from exclusively) on health grounds, never to return. But he brought the children out to Britain and had them schooled and as as far as what is known got at least John and James, the two eldest, into the middle-class work force. Nothing more is known of them but there is a good chance the children returned to Jamaica at some later stage, helping to add to what Livesay called ‘the complexity of creolisation’.

West Indian Washer Women - Agostino Brunias Jamaica 1760sSo, on the one hand he is willing to ruthlessly traffic and trade in enslaved human labour in order to profit but yet, on the other, John is soft-hearted enough to fall for a single slave woman, whom he took in Jamaica as his common-law wife around the time of the birth of their first son, James, and then to take full responsibility for her and all the children.

Simon Taylor, in contrast, had something of a policy of fathering as many mixed-race children as possible and left little or nothing to either his lovers or children, bar his long-term housekeeper, Sarah Blacktree Hunter, mother of his outright preferred daughter, Sarah, and a (far) lesser amount to Charlotte Taylor, the Golden Grove Child.

Opposite: West India Washer Women, a painting by Agustino Brunias, 1760s. Courtesy of the National Library of Jamaica.

John Taylor, however, returns to Scotland with what looks like the express purpose of forming a legitimate Scottish family with which he can join the aristocracy. He didn’t waste any time either, returning in 1792 and marrying Mary McCall in 1793, their first child, Robert, being born the following year.

John Taylor’s colonial experience, apparently, wasn’t uncommon. There were numerous returning men who brought back mixed-race families with them, as Daniel Livesay’s essay shows. These children had to be ‘whitened’ as far as possible in order to have them accepted into society, which meant they powdered their skin, wore nullifying coloured clothes (blue coats apparently) and kept their hair cut short, and they had to disguise (lie about) their origin. Their blackness could not be African without being European first. They could not be known to be the direct children of someone African, let alone a slave.

Mixed-race aristocracy. Late 18th–early 19th century painting by unknown artist of Dido Elizabeth Belle, left, and her cousin. Courtesy Wikipedia
Mixed-race aristocracy. Late 18th–early 19th century painting by unknown artist of Dido Elizabeth Belle, left, and her cousin. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

I’m asking myself about John Taylor in this regard because it informs me about Patrick. I wonder what Patrick’s attitude toward slavery was?  He was certainly highly class conscious and amongst the first to petition for convict labour in Albany, which shows his practical side. Because of the dearth of people building progress was deathly slow at the Swan River Colony and he had few qualms about solving that problem with the importation of free labour.

I wonder what his racial attitude was too, though I think it was amongst the most fair going. I’ll elaborate a bit more on that in the next post because it ties in with the arrival at Albany of Henry Camfield, and his experience at ‘Cattle Chosen’ when the Bussell private war with the Aborigines of the Vasse was in full flow.

After his money disappeared Patrick retreated into himself, becoming nasty toward his own family, particularly the girls who the older they became the more he resented as an expense, yet he allowed (encouraged) the Noongars who camped near the house to stay. He employed the men for longer and for more (money) than was practical (according to Mary’s diaries) and he brought the children into the house, encouraging them to learn religion and to read and write under the tuition of his daughters. The Noongars brought them fish and kangaroo from time to time but I don”t think the Taylor’s relied on them as a food source. As a result the Taylor children, when they got back out to Candyup some time toward the end of the 1840’s, grew up alongside a regular Aboriginal presence which will have included children around their own age.

Mary didn’t necessarily disagree with the Aboriginal presence at Candyup, but she did complain. Patrick was the boss though, maintaining an unpleasant, dictatorial stance in that house until he died in 1877, the longest living of all John Taylor’s afflicted children, aged 70.

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