Category Archives: Current Events

THE MICO TRUST

There is an interesting end-piece to the story of the Barbary Corsairs which involved Thomas Fowell Buxton. After the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies, Buxton was seeking funds to establish a school in Jamaica. He became aware of a fund called the Lady Mico Trust which was dormant.

The Mico fund was established by Sir Samuel Mico, born in Weymouth, who had made his fortune in India.

On his death in 1666, he bequeathed most of his estate to his widow and to his nephew, Samuel, but he left the George Tavern and a sum of £500 to the town of Weymouth for the preaching of an annual sermon in the parish church, for the binding out of three poor children apprentices and for the relief of ten poor decayed seamen of the town, aged 60 and upwards.

Lady Mico in her turn with her share of Samuel’s estate, established her own trust.

In her will Lady Mico left a sum of £1000 for the redemption of Christian slaves in Barbary, a problem which her husband, as a member of the Court of Levant Company, would have been very familiar. This money was invested in the purchase of a wharf and and premises at Castle Baynard, but with the exception of one payment in the 1730s, the income was never used, and by 1830 a sum of over £100,000 had accumulated.

In 1835 it was diverted by those concerned with the emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies to the education of freed slaves. A prime mover in this matter was Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a great grandson of Charles Buxton, Master of the Mercers’ Company in 1768, although not himself a Mercer. The fund was used to set up elementary schools throughout the British West Indies and to found a teachers’ training college at Kingstone, Jamaica.

The Schools were soon afterwards handed over to various religious societies, who also maintained schools in the islands, but MicoCollege, Kingstone, remained the responsibility of the Mico Trustees and is now the second largest teachers’ training college in Jamaica. The Buxton family have been represented on the Board of Trustees of the College since its inception.

Compensating the Slave Owners

A mini hullaballoo arose earlier this year when the Independent newspaper revealed that the UK Government had paid some £20M to pay off the slave owners in 1833. It was a sort of ransom money, and the usual suspects were expressing their shock and horror at such largess.

“Britain’s Colonial Shame” screamed the headlines. It was a typical Main Stream Media “holier than thou” comment with little interest or appreciation for the problems of 180 years ago. We only needed calls for the likes of David Cameron to apologise to someone and our self flagellation would be complete.

At the time Buxton was subject to a considerable vilification. One of his children reported:

“And now the Anti-slavery people are so violently turned against my father for not voting against the 20 millions that they can hardly find word to express their displeasure. I must say that his spirit through all is wonderful. He is as uninfluenced by the attacks of friends as of foes and goes straight on to his mark with a degree of firmness which considering it is unaided by that very supporting quality, natural obstinacy, seems almost incomprehensible. Every day he receives violent letters of censure.”

Politics has always been the art of the possible. But what if Buxton had dug his heels in and insisted in no compensation; there would certainly have been an impasse. Another slave revolt would have been likely with lives lost and property destroyed. Of course the USA had seen their own slave crisis looming for many years (“A firebell ringing in the night” said Thomas Jefferson), but the country either lacked the will or found it impossible to resolve it. Eventually this was resolved by a bloody civil war at great cost.

We recall the prayer by Abraham Lincoln on Saturday March 4th 1865 at his inauguration for his second Presidential term (just 6 weeks before he died from an assassin’s bullet)

. . .Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.” . . .

The cost to the USA of that civil war was estimated at the time as $8,000,000,000 (8 Billion dollars). Three quarters of this was spent by the Union, the other $2 Billion by the Confederacy. Even at the devalued dollar exchange rate (10:1), 8 billion dollars is still equivalent to £800,000,000 in 1865 moneys.

At a cost of £20M, it seems that Buxton got quite a good deal, especially as many of the beneficaries invested their ill gotten gains in the burgeoning railways.

 

 

The Mayor Making Ceremony at Weymouth, 2013 – and a little History

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Cllr Ray Banham, Mayor of Weymouth and Hon. President of the Thomas Fowell Buxton Society

On Thursday, my wife and I, were invited to attend the ‘Mayor making Ceremony’ at the Pavilion Theatre Weymouth, when Councillor Ray Banham was elected as this year’s Mayor of Weymouth. The Thomas Fowell buxton society has a special interest because all the Mayors since the Society was inaugurated in 2010 have consented to be our Honorary President.

As deputy Mayor, Ray had attended our AGM in February and kindly took the Chair for the afternoon.

In Mayor Banham’s inaugural speech, he mentioned that the office of Mayor was instituted in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth. As I was not taking notes, I wanted to make sure that I had heard correctly, and therefore decided to do some googling about Weymouth’s history. Sure enough, google found a book by an Nineteenth Century Antiquarian “The History and antiquities of the Borough and Town of Weymouth” by George Alfred Ellis 1829, and I was able to scan through the pages and locate the event 1st June 1571.

The boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis facing each other across the harbour had been so long at loggerheads, complaining to Parliament that the Queen decided to sort it all out by combining them into a single unit. Bernard Maior, was the first Mayor and Cllr Ray Banham is his 430th successor!

In this same history book, there is an account of our hero TFB and his election to Parliament in 1826. (Recall that he had first been elected in 1818 and by 1823 he was leading the anti-slavery movement. This election was important to him and the cause.) This was a stormy election – with armed mobs roaming the town and the  Military called out to keep the King’s peace. The account states:

The military conducted themselves with great degree of forbearance, though provoked by repeated acts of imprudence; the chief magistrate was knocked down, the hall taken by storm, polling books destroyed, and the poll closed by force and arms. The town itself though protected by the military who scoured the streets, and by an extra number of the posse commitatus  hired at 5s. per day, was a scene of wild anarchy riot and confusion, for such were the horrid contests that ensued that nearly betokened a civil war; neither did the close of the poll arrest the irascibility of the malevolent passions excited! Legal proceedings were instituted at the County hall, pecuniary compensations were awarded and several of the most active were incarcerated in the county gaol.” 

After everything had settled down the votes for the candidates were as follows:

T. F. Buxton, Esq.                   248

Colonel Gordon                      189

Rt. Hon. Thos. Wallace           177

Masterton Ure Esq.                 170

J. W. Farrer, Esq.                    153

So Buxton and Gordon, Wallace and Ure were returned as members for Weymouth. This was before the parliamentary reform act when Weymouth returned 4 members to Parliament.

 

 

The Agony of the Bangladesh Garment Workers and their Families

The horror of the collapsed building in Bangladesh, with now over 700 dead (and the death toll possibly rising to 1400), has brought into sharp focus the plight of workers in the Far East, who supply the goods that are on sale in the West  at rock bottom prices. Primark and Matalan retail these goods in the UK.

Some years ago, I was invited to Odense Shipyard in Denmark to witness the launch (or the Scandinavians say – ‘Christening’) of a very large container carrier, the Svend Maersk. Glenys Kinnock, then MEP was the lady sponsor and in her speech she praised the technology that enabled cheap ocean transport, to the benefit as she said of workers in the Far East as their products could be delivered to market at a competitive rate.

In the conversations at the after launch luncheon, it was mentioned that the trainers (the footwear of choice in people of all ages except fogies like myself) could be produced in the Far East for pennies yet sold in the UK at £60-£70.

I accepted the hype that this was good for the workers without thinking too deeply about it, but of course this all depends on the good will of the owners to pay fair wages and provide safe working conditions. .

This tragedy brings home that in the developing world, there are few checks and balances to curb rapacious owners. Governments promise change but it proceeds at glacial pace. It seems that only if the retailers in the West who buy the products and sell them at a profit take steps to demand better working conditions and wages, will there be any possibility of change.

Thomas Fowell Buxton would have recognised this incident as not far removed from slavery and would have used his influence and authority to bring about change.

How we need more Thomas Fowell Buxtons today!