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“The core of the rebellion”: Harewood and the Barbadian Revolt of 1816

Sketch of a flag said to have been used by enslaved rebels during Bussa’s Revolt. It demands freedom but also expresses loyalty to the British Crown, 1816. National Archives MFQ 1/112 (2).

On the evening of the 14 April 1816 – 208 years ago to this day – fires were lit in the sugar cane fields of the Bayleys plantation in the parish of Saint Philip on the island of Barbados. These fires signaled the start of a coordinated uprising by the island’s enslaved population, becoming the largest such event in its history. Over the course of the next three days, battles were fought between the freedom-fighters and the British militia affecting over 70 plantations and spanning more than half the island. 

In her latest blog, Researcher Olivia Wyatt discusses Harewood’s links to this major event in Barbadian history, as well as its connection to the Black British actor David Harewood, the sitter of the newest portrait in our collection, now on permanent display in the Cinnamon Drawing Room. 

In the decades that followed the abolition of the British trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, many enslaved Barbadians felt disappointment and frustration at the continued delay of emancipation. On Easter Sunday, 14 April 1816, they decided to take matters into their own hands. An African-born enslaved ranger named Bussa orchestrated a revolt that spanned across half of Barbados and commanded approximately four hundred rebels in battle. According to Colonel Codd, commander of the British troops garrisoned on the island, the rebels felt that “the island belonged to them and not to white men, whom they proposed to destroy.” 

Survey of Barbados, 1827, showing the proximity of Thicket and Bayleys plantation in the parish of St Phillip. Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.

One of the plantations that played an instrumental role in the uprising was the Thicket plantation owned by the Lascelles family and located only 2km North West of Bayleys plantation, where Bussa was based and the rebellion began. While the enslaved individuals based at Thicket were not the instigators of the revolt (as had been the case in the foiled conspiracy on one of the Lascelles family’s plantations in Tobago in 1805) leading Caribbean historian Hilary Beckles has described activity on the plantation as “the core of the rebellion.” 

Thicket’s enslaved Barbadians posed such a threat that Colonel Codd diverted his men to “where a body of the rebels were said to have made a stand” on the estate. A witness later testified that prior to the rebellion, one of Bussa’s co-conspirators, Jackey, “sent to a free man in the Thicket (who could read and write), to let the negroes at The Thicket know, that they might give their assistance.” The rebels at the Thicket adhered to Jackey’s instructions and engaged in fierce battle. Like many of the other plantations involved in the revolt, Thicket sustained significant damage – the rebels destroying profitable sugar crops and key productive buildings such as boiling and distilling houses, and British troops destroying the living quarters of enslaved Barbadians.  At Thicket, damage amounted to £3989, though another of the Lascelles family’s plantations that also participated in the uprising, the Mount, sustained some of the costliest damage on the island, at £5150.  

Photographs of the Mount plantation taken by Florence, 5th Countess of Harewood, 1906.

The rebellion was quashed by British troops after three days of fighting. Many died during battle, including Bussa himself, and even more rebels were executed or exiled as punishment. In the aftermath of the uprising, a committee was established to conduct investigations into the origins and causes of the rebellion. The committee included Richard Cobham, a resident enslaver and attorney to the Earl of Harewood who oversaw the management of his plantations in Barbados. Find out more about how the Lascelles family managed their plantations here

Joseph Connel, manager of the Thicket, was asked by the committee to shed light on the temperament of the enslaved before the uprising. He argued that they were “perfectly contented,” but “when correction was necessary (which was seldom), they were flogged with rods; and if crime was of any magnitude, they were confined in a solitary room, until they were made sensible of their error.” Nevertheless, several months following the rebellion, Cobham wrote to Harewood’s partner, John Wood Nelson, to express his belief that the rebels required a different type of punishment:

In answering your inquiry relative to the negroes Houses at the Mount, which were all totally burnt by the military, and nearly all at the Thicket Estate also, I must let you know that they are not yet restored, as it was the general opinion here that the negroes should not immediately enjoy their accustomed comforts, after their atrocious misdeeds against their owners: they have been, however, sheltered in the buildings they thought proper to spare. As soon as the boiling and distil houses at the Mount are completed I will have the negroes houses rebuilt. They remain tranquil. Seven of the prisoners belonging to his Lordship have been released and six remain to be tried. 

By controlling their standards of living, Cobham sought to remind the African-Barbadians of the power of enslavers; that the island belonged to the White man, contrary to the (supposed) beliefs of the rebels. Cobham’s use of “remain tranquil” suggests that there was great anxiety about retaliation. However, not all enslaved Barbadians participated in the rebellion because they often feared repercussions, or sought the benefits of demonstrating loyalty to the upper classes. The Royal Gazette of Jamaica reported that four individuals, “among whom was one belonging to Lord Harewood”, were manumitted (freed) in January 1817, and received “the annual sum of Ten Pounds […] for their good conduct during the late rebellion.” 

Bussa’s Rebellion failed to bring about emancipation, though it represented an important statement of resistance by enslaved Barbadians, demonstrating to British parliament their intent to demand freedom by force if it was not offered to them through reform. Nevertheless, it should be noted that despite these intentions, British parliament and local colonial governments attempted to minimise the implications of the rebellion, choosing to conclude that the enslaved had rebelled due to the ‘meddling’ of William Wilberforce and his (and his supporters’) apparent false promises of immediate emancipation. Bussa’s Rebellion was a shock to the British government and terrified it more than it was willing to admit, choosing to blame misinterpretation and manipulative tactics, rather than concede the widespread desire for freedom. 

Missing Portrait No. 2, David Harewood by Ashley Karrell, 2023. Copyright Ashley Karrell.

The role of the enslaved individuals based at Thicket plantation during Bussa’s Rebellion is particularly significant in light of a new portrait that has recently entered the Harewood collection by the Leeds-based photographer Ashley Karrell. The sitter is the Black British actor and writer, David Harewood, whose great-great-great-grandparents, Richard and Betty Rose, were born enslaved on the Thicket plantation in 1817 and 1820. Richard and Betty Rose’s parents and possibly even grandparents were likely involved in the resistance. 

Richard and Betty Rose were emancipated in 1833 and their son, Benjamin William, was born as a free man in 1840. While their ancestors may not have lived to witness the freedom they fought for, their victory manifests within the achievements of their descendants: those, like David Harewood, who commit their lives to tackling ongoing issues of racism, exclusion, and underrepresentation.

By Olivia Wyatt

Sources and further reading: 

The Report from a Select Committee of the House of Assembly, appointed to inquire into the origins, causes and progress of the late insurrection. Published by T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1818. 

Hillary McD. Beckles, ‘The Slave-Drivers’ War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion’, Boletín de Estudios Latinoamericanos y Del Caribe, no. 39, 1985, pp. 85–110. JSTOR

S. D. Smith, Slavery and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic: The World of the Lascelles, 1648-1834. Cambridge University Press. 2006.

Christmas at Harewood with Studio MUTT

a young man with short hair and large ginger beard wearing a patterned grey shirt with a pink collar

Graham Burn, Director of Studio MUTT © Studio MUTT

As preparations for our Christmas experience, Harewood’s Great Time Travelling Christmas, get underway we spoke to Graham Burn, Director of Studio MUTT, about this unique collaboration with Harewood House. 

How would you describe Harewood’s Great Time Travelling Christmas? 

It’s a familiar yet peculiar installation, playing on our collective imagination at Christmas. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those memorable and nostalgic things that sum up our Christmases past, and it’s not what you’d initially expect. It’s the little things, like your Gran’s decorations, the 90s Christmas disco, or sneaking in a drink while your parents weren’t looking. We’ve also looked forward and imagined the Christmases of our near future, where lab grown turkeys and hydroponic sprouts are on our table at dinner time.

We’ve taken the historic uses of the spaces in the house as inspiration for the installations ; Christmas music in the music room, a futuristic Christmas banquet in the dining hall and sum up what Christmas feels like in each decade since the 1950s.  We’re really hoping that it will bring a smile to people’s faces and to bring back memories for people

What have been the biggest challenges of working at Harewood House? 

These incredible rooms inside this historic building are simply unique and whilst they create an incredible backdrop to our experience, they also make the exhibition more challenging to build.  

This is a listed building and we’re really restricted in what we can do in the space – no drilling into walls or painting the floor. We need to respect and protect the incredible interiors whilst transforming the space into something new.  

It’s been a really creative process.  We’ve used lighting to create a sense of theatre and change the ‘feeling’ in each room.    We’ve also used lots of ‘found’ objects that we can place in rooms to evoke a lived in, domestic environment. This really adds that sense of nostalgia.  Almost like creating dream-like representations of Christmas’s that might have taken place in your home and mine.  And we’ve added lots of flat, graphic, free standing elements to give the experience an almost surreal quality and some festive sparkle. 

What do you hope visitors will take away once they’ve experienced Harewood’s Great Time Travelling Christmas? 

I hope they leave having been reminded of a happy Christmas from the past.  I hope they’ll feel inspired to share their memories with their family and friends and to start new traditions, or dig out some of the old ones. 

It really is an interactive experience that is designed to be shared and for me that’s what Christmas is about.  So whether people are visiting to get in the Christmas spirit or to get out of the house between Christmas and new year, we hope it will add some fun and humour to your celebrations this year.  We hope people have as much fun experiencing it as we had creating it – we guarantee you won’t have seen anything like this before.  

Find out more about Christmas at Harewood and pre-book online at harewood.org/


NFU Mutual Agents to support Harewood’s new safari experience

Claire Cox, Head of Development, and Rachel Crewes, CEO of Harewood House Trust, with Samantha Webster and Caroline Pullich, Partners at NFU Mutual.

NFU Mutual Agents and their staff at the Boston Spa & Harrogate agency recently nominated local charity Harewood House Trust, to receive a donation of £6,509 from NFU Mutual’s national £1.92million ‘Agency Giving Fund’.

The leading rural insurer launched this fund, now in its fifth year, to help local frontline charities across the country. The Agency Giving Fund forms part of NFU Mutual’s £3.25m funding pledge for both local and national charities in 2024, to assist with the ongoing recovery from the pandemic and to help tackle the impact of the rising cost of living.

To ensure these donations reach all corners of the UK and are directed to where they’re needed most, all NFU Mutual Agencies, with more than 280 offices nationwide, have been given the opportunity to nominate local charities to receive a share of the fund.

The UK charity sector has faced unprecedented challenges due to the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing cost of living crisis. Harewood House Trust is an independent educational charity as is amongst those that have been affected.

Thanks to the support of NFU Mutual and the Harewood Estate, Harewood House Trust will launch a new nature safari experience sharing fabulous views over the lake, woodlands and parkland.

Young girl and adult looking at the wildlife below the bridge in the Himalayan Garden

Young girl and adult looking at the wildlife below the bridge in the Himalayan Garden, Tom Arber

The funding will go towards providing transport and opening up access to hard-to-reach areas, giving visitors a chance to spot some of the incredible array of wildlife. Harewood is home to amphibians, butterflies, and insects, not to mention the large population of red kites and deer who call Harewood their home. This initiative will ensure that more people can experience the natural beauty and diverse species that thrive in these areas.

Caroline Pullich, Managing Partner at NFU Mutual Boston Spa Agency covering Yorkshire, said: “We’re extremely proud to have nominated Harewood House Trust for this donation and are delighted to be able to support the vital contribution they make to our community. NFU Mutual’s Agency Giving Fund was first created in 2020 in response to the pandemic, and this ongoing support is helping to change lives, providing both emergency support and building long-term resilience.”

Claire Cox, Head of Development at Harewood House Trust, added: “We are so grateful to the Boston Spa & Harrogate Agency of NFU Mutual, for nominating us for a donation from the NFU Mutual Agency Giving Fund. Thanks to this support, we can provide safari transport that will enable visitors and school groups to easily explore more of the landscape. This will also benefit those audiences in receipt of Universal or Pension Credit and other benefits who are using our new £2 day ticket. The safari will be an opportunity for everyone to learn about the incredible natural environment at Harewood and what we are doing to protect it for future generations.”

The gift of a green turtle

Whilst exploring Harewood’s Old Kitchen, visitors may notice an unusual decoration perched above one of its cooking ranges – a large shell belonging to a green sea turtle. In this article, Harewood’s volunteer researcher, Olivia Wyatt, and Curator, Beckie Burton, discuss the turtle shell’s wider significance and a recent discovery in the archive.

An intriguing letter, written by William Bishop to John Wood Nelson in the summer of 1800, was recently discovered in the Lascelles family’s West Indian archive held at the Borthwick Institute in York. It reads:

“I send a very fine Green Turtle of 75 lbs weight, which, through you, I beg may be forwarded in my name for Lord Harewood’s acceptance and […] another very fine Green Turtle of nearly 50 lbs weight which I must request you will do me the kind favour of placing on your own table.” 

The letter raises many questions. Who was William Bishop? Why did he send several sea turtles halfway across the world from Barbados to Britain? And why might the recipients want to ‘place them on their table’? The answers reveal the historic cultural and social significance of the Caribbean green sea turtle, as well as help us understand the ways in which the Lascelles family managed their West Indian plantations. 

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are native to tropical and subtropical waters around the world, including the Caribbean region. During the eighteenth century turtles were an important source of food for island inhabitants, providing the native, free and enslaved populations with meat, eggs and oil. Turtle meat was also used to ‘revive’ famished Africans arriving on slaving ships. European colonists learned about the nutritional benefits of the green sea turtle from the indigenous Miskitu people of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras, and many Europeans initially believed turtles possessed magical medicinal qualities. 

The culinary reputation of the sea turtle inevitably spread via colonial trade networks to Europe, with live turtles shipped across the Atlantic in large tubs of seawater to ensure their ‘freshness’ upon arrival. Dishes such as turtle soup were created, which involved boiling and baking turtle meat with varying combinations of vegetables and spices; the bestselling eighteenth-century cookery book The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse contained several turtle recipes, such as how to prepare it ‘the West India Way’. Turtles were rare commodities in Europe, and as such its meat came to be considered a delicacy. Turtle dishes developed a reputation as high-status cuisine, available only to those with access to global trade and its closed systems of communication, transport and finance. Accordingly, serving a dish containing turtle at the dinner table implied a level of status and wealth, and became a way for hosts to show off and impress guests. 

The turtle shell hanging in the Old Kitchen at Harewood today almost certainly belonged to a turtle that was consumed in the House or possibly at an external event hosted by the family; Edwin Lascelles, the builder of Harewood House, is recorded as having provided a ‘Turtle-feast’ to the ‘gentlemen of [his] neighbourhood’ in ‘Chapel-Town’ in 1767. In fact, the presence of several turtle shells in Harewood’s wider collection reveals an eager consumption of this high-status commodity by the Lascelles family. The shells themselves were kept for decorative purposes, a culinary trophy that continued to hold prestige and intrigue even after the turtle itself was gone. 

The gift of a green turtle, then, was one of cultural capital, offering prestige and status to its new eighteenth-century owners. It is also representative of the broader context of exploration, conquest and enslavement that defined British colonialism. William Bishop’s turtles would have been shipped alongside other desirable Caribbean products such as sugar and rum, their production enabled by the systematic trade and exploitation of enslaved African Caribbean people. This was a trade that the Lascelles family dominated, and were amongst its most successful beneficiaries. 

But who were the individuals involved in this particular transaction of turtles and what was their relationship? 

By 1800, the Lascelles family managed a network of 24 Caribbean plantations located across several Caribbean islands: Barbados; Jamaica; Trinidad; and Grenada. However, their business interests were administered from Britain, relying on a hierarchy of managers to carry out day-to-day operations on both sides of the Atlantic. Both William Bishop and John Wood Nelson (the second recipient of a turtle after ‘Lord Harewood’, later 1st Earl of Harewood) were a part of this system.  

Nelson was a senior partner in the Laselles family’s London commission house, a business established to sell products (such as sugar) produced and shipped over from Lascelles family plantations. Bishop was Nelson’s counterpart in Barbados, appointed to oversee the running of Lascelles family’s estates on the island. Men based in the Caribbean such as Bishop were known as ‘attorneys’ and were responsible for reporting back to the commission house; it took approximately two months for letters to arrive by ship from the Caribbean to London, so it was essential for the Lascelles family to hire powerful and trustworthy individuals to deal with immediate problems on plantations, such as uprisings. In the mid-1790s, William Bishop was selected as an attorney because he had been born in Barbados and belonged to a prominent family with pre-existing connections to the Lascelles family; he had also already served as interim governor of Barbados from 1793-94. By 1800 – the date of the gift of turtles – Bishop had risen to the position of President of the Barbados Council. 

Bishop’s letter is dated 18 July, but the red stamp on the envelope, dated 26 September, indicates that it was received by Nelson over two months later. (Photograph by Olivia Wyatt)

This hierarchical management structure explains why Bishop wrote a letter to Nelson to request that his gift of a turtle was “forwarded in [his] name for Lord Harewood’s acceptance”. As Lord Harewood’s main contact, Bishop needed Nelson to present the turtle, though he was keen to ensure he received due credit as the sender. Interestingly, Bishop was also obliged to send Nelson himself a turtle, understanding the importance of impressing both Lord Harewood and a senior partner within a bureaucratic management system. In fact, the dismissal of Bishop’s predecessor, John Prettyjohn, for incompetence may have increased his desire to make a good impression. Nevertheless, the not-so-subtle size difference between the two turtle gifts – Lord Harewood’s being 25 lbs larger – demonstrates Bishop’s acknowledgement of the difference in status and authority between the two recipients.  

In this context, then, the gift of a green turtle can also be seen as a calculated act of flattery and professional point-scoring. It is unknown whether Lord Harewood or Nelson acknowledged their extravagant gifts, though it is certain they were gladly received. 

Olivia Wyatt and Beckie Burton 



“Diane and I are very sad to know of the death of Terry Suthers who we have known for more than thirty years.

Terry was Harewood House Trust’s first Director from 1992 to 2007. His experience in the museum world, both in York and at the Science Museum in London, brought a new level of professionalism to Harewood and his tenure here saw a period of great change. We started winning awards for our education programme and making successful bids for public funding. We became the first country house in the UK to become a fully Registered and Accredited Museum, our collections Designated as being of national importance. In partnership with the Borthwick Institute at York University we obtained funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conserve, digitise and make publicly accessible papers discovered in the basement
of Harewood House that now form the Lascelles Slavery Archive. Terry was also an executive producer of Carnival Messiah, the hugely successful theatrical production staged in a huge marquee on the North Front, that was the climax of our year of activities to commemorate the bi-centenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 2007.

Terry’s glass was always half full; he was always positive in his dealings with people, always supportive to younger colleagues, always respected by his professional peers. There are only a few people still at Harewood who would have worked with him, but those of us who did will all remember him as a lovely man. We will all miss him.”

David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood