In 1792 Henry Dundas succeeded Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, as Secretary of State for Home Affairs. He is currently being criticised in Britain for delaying moves to abolish the slave trade in the British Parliament. On 2 April 1792 Dundas had urged the ‘gradual’ abolition of slavery.
While in London during 1793 the Aboriginal leader Woollarawarree Bennelong and his young Wangal kinsman Yemmerrawanne were hospitably received at the home of Lord and Lady Dundas, probably at their ‘country’ house at Wimbeldon.
Henry Dundas, (1742-1811), a Scot, became 1st Viscount Melville. His statue stands atop a tall column in Edinburgh. Dundas was 1st Lord of the Admiralty May 1804-May 1805. It was Dundas who presented Governor Arthur Phillip (but not Bennelong & Yemmerrawanne) to King George III on 24 May 1793 after his return to England.
Dundas and his second wife, born Lady Jane Hope, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, who married that year, hobnobbed with the prominent anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.
In June 1793, Wilberforce dined with Dundas and afterwards wrote in his journal ‘the conversation on natives of New South Wales, duels, etc.’
Bennelong admired the beautiful Lady Dundas, who he remembered with affection after his return to New South Wales in 1795. He often asked to drink her health when he visited the French voyager Pierre Bernard Milius at Sydney Cove in early 1802. Milius wrote that ‘Benadou’ [Bennelong] ‘drank the health of Lady Dundas and would have drunk to the health of all English ladies’.
Writing in 1805, John Turnbull, author of A Voyage Round the World, who met Bennelong in Port Jackson (Sydney), observed: ‘The names of Lady Sydney, and Lady Jane Dundas, are often in his mouth, and he appears justly grateful for the favours received from these his fair patronesses.’
John Charles Cox, ‘The Parish Registers of England’, Methuen, London 1910, page 47
LORD SYDNEY’S GIFT
Keith Vincent Smith
It was the fashion in high society in Georgian London to have a little ‘black boy’ as a servant. Lord Sydney was sent such a boy as a present from the West Indies.
His name was Thomas West, recorded in the Chislehurst, Kent, Baptismal Records on 20 January 1788 – about the same time the British convoy of eleven ships called the ‘First Fleet’ arrived with their convict cargo at Kamay (Botany Bay).
The boy was described as ‘a negro of about 6 years of age, who had been sent over as a present to Lord Sydney from Governor Orde of Dominica’. Sir John Orde (1751-1824) was the British Governor of Dominica 1783-1793.
I wrote in an earlier post that ‘Nothing further is known about Thomas West’s life in England’. Not so.
In May 1793, about the time Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne arrived in London with Arthur Phillip, Governor of New South Wales, one Thomas West, ‘a thirteen year old Black pauper’, was caught in the act of stealing a silver spoon in Lord Sydney’s home, Frognal House in Kent.
Lord Sydney soon arranged to have the boy placed in the care of the Royal Philanthropic School, founded in 1788 and then at Southwark in London. He was admitted on 27 May 1793. By that time the two Aboriginal travellers from New Holland, dressed in the current society fashion, were lodging at the home of William Waterhouse in Mayfair.
A SILVER SPOON
The school’s committee was told that ‘This boy stole a silver spoon from the Steward’s Room [at Frognal] and half a guinea from one of the servants and is a very cunning artful boy.’
After passing the examination for entry, Thomas was first sent to a tailor. Over the next ten years he was ‘placed’ several more times. Finally, Thomas, by then aged 16, was released in 1798 as a servant to a Mr. Squires, a “Mealman” (dealer in milled meal or flour) in Hertford.
Thanks to Sean Canty who researched this fascinating information in 2020.
For further information see the entry in ‘Exploring Surrey’s Past’ online at https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/thomas-west/
Lord Sydney died at Frognal on 30 June 1800.
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2021