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An Outstanding October at Harewood

Primley Wood Primary

It’s certainly been an exciting start to the new school year, as well as launching several brand-new workshops we’ve also been busy delivering some old favourites too!

October saw us teach the first of our Harewood & the Transatlantic Slave Trade workshops. This session has been designed to highlight Harewood’s historic links to the horrific practice, as well as discussing the trade and its wider legacies. Harewood is dedicated to an Open History and acknowledges the importance of addressing these important topics with all ages.

We have been so pleased to have been rated outstanding by all of the schools who have taken part in our new workshops so far. All of the positive and lovely feedback has been greatly appreciated.

”The workshop was fantastic as not only did it explore the slave trade, it also had strong links to Harewood House and its own challenging history. The children were able to look at replica sources and documents during the session which we would not have had access to if teaching the lesson at school. The workshop was also cross-curricular as we did some map work based on the location of different plantations, some investigative source work and had lots of discussion. We then had a tour of the house by the staff members whose expertise shone through.”

-Teacher, Primley Wood Primary, October 2022

If you would like to find out more about available workshops, our friendly Learning Team can be reached via email at learn@harewood.org.

Primley Wood Primary

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 to understand the ways in which the Lascelles family managed their West Indian plantations.

 

Turtle for the table

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; for instance, 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?

 

A transaction of turtles 

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) shipped over from Lascelles family plantations. Bishop was Nelson’s counterpart in Barbados, appointed to oversee the running of family 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 this gift of turtles – Bishop had risen to the prestigious position of President of the Barbados Council.

Close up of a letter between William Bishop and John Wood Nelson showing a date stamp

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 physically 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 professional point-scoring. It is unknown whether Lord Harewood or Nelson acknowledged their extravagant gifts, though it is certain they would have been gladly received.

 

Olivia Wyatt and Beckie Burton, 2022.  

Recovering Identity in Harewood’s West Indian Archive

inventory

Inventory of enslaved people belonging to Castle plantation, Barbados, 1777.

In this article, Olivia Wyatt – Harewood’s volunteer researcher and an expert on the Lascelles family’s West Indian archive held at the Borthwick Institute – discusses the importance of surviving plantation inventories and how they can be used to recover the identities of enslaved African Caribbeans.

Deep within the Lascelles family’s West Indian archive lies the collection’s best preserved inventory of enslaved African Caribbeans – that of Castle plantation, Barbados, dated to 1777. 

“It was created to enable plantation managers to calculate the value of their enslaved population and reinforce their subhuman status.”

This inventory (or list) records over 200 individuals by name as well as their ‘country’ of origin, occupation, computed age and condition. It was created to enable plantation managers to calculate the value of their enslaved population and reinforce their subhuman status. Ironically, however, historians can use this and other similar inventories, to ascertain lost names and reconstruct the lives of the marginalised, in turn helping us to return power to enslaved African Caribbeans. By using inventories to understand the ways in which experiences of disability, Blackness and naming practices operated on Lascelles-managed sugar plantations, we can diminish the attempts of slave masters who sought to eradicate the legacy of those they enslaved. 

Some of the entries in the Castle Plantation inventory claim that the value of certain individuals was “nothing” because they had a “broken back” or were “very infirm”. At first glance, old age appears to be a key factor in this assessment, as the estimated age of ‘Great Joe’ and ‘Old Bridget’ was 80; Great Joe was only worth £10 despite being a “clarifier” and in “good health”. 

However, a thirty-year-old man was also deemed valueless because he too was “infirm”. This implies that any injuries enslaved individuals acquired – most likely through work on the plantations – rendered them worthless, unable to emulate the labour of their counterparts. Even ‘Robin Almond’, at the age of just 10, is listed as valueless because he was also “infirm”. ‘Goany’, however, despite being only one month-old and “not fit for work”, was worth £5 because she was considered to have labour potential. These entries show that not only were enslaved African Caribbeans dehumanised by the brutal ways in which they were treated, but Black disabled people were considered worthless because they could not fulfill their assigned purpose, which reinforced the idea that Africans were only fit for servitude.

In an attempt to strip enslaved African Caribbeans of their identity, it became common practice to rename newly-arriving Africans as objects, or to give them European names. Two examples are ‘Black Silver’, a 45 year-old enslaved woman, and ‘Yellow Silver’, a Barbadian enslaved washer. The dehumanisation that naturally occurs when one’s heritage and name is replaced with that of a commodity reveals how slave owners intended to use naming practices to further oppress the enslaved population. These two names also represent the different shades of Blackness found on Caribbean plantations, which usually emerged as a result of the (typically coercive) sexual relations between enslaved women and their masters. ‘Black’ and ‘Yellow’ likely refer to the shades of the women’s skin, given that ‘Black Wallis’ and ‘Molatto William’ are other names on the plantation. ‘Yellow Silver’, like ‘Molatto William’, may have acquired her light complexion due to a mixed heritage. We do not know enough about the lives of the individuals listed in this inventory, though a growing amount of research has revealed that light-skinned African Caribbeans sometimes received preferential treatment due to their proximity to Whiteness. This could explain why ‘Molatto William’ was accorded one of the most valuable roles on the plantation. 

Nonetheless, research has also revealed that enslaved African Caribbeans often had multiple names because they did not always adhere to the names that slave owners gave them. They also often played a role in the naming of their children and grandchildren. The names ‘Phibah’ and ‘Quashy’ appear frequently in the Castle plantation inventory, which have been identified as West-African “day names”, as ‘Phibah’ translates as Friday and ‘Quashy’ as Sunday. Historians agree that it was unlikely that slave owners selected these West-African names; therefore, these African naming practices are indicative of the ways in which the enslaved population retained their culture and humanity in the face of the brutality of slavery. 

 

But what about Castle plantation itself and why this inventory was created? 

The Lascelles family initially avoided owning plantations and instead operated as one of the biggest financiers of the Caribbean plantocracy and the sugar trade. Nonetheless, from 1773 they amassed many properties in Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, and they sold their last plantation in 1975. Alongside managing their own plantations, the Lascelles provided loans for other planters and controlled some plantations as mortgagees in possession. The Castle plantation in the parish of St Lucy in Barbados was one such plantation. The Sober family owned it in name, but the management of the estate was overseen by representatives of the Lascelles family, and its produce was consigned to the Lascelles’ commission house in London until the mortgage was repaid. To determine the specifics of this mortgage, surveyors composed a full inventory of the Castle plantation’s enslaved population, cattle and horses in 1777. This document was originally drafted therefore to reaffirm the assigned status of enslaved African Caribbeans as property, but this blog has demonstrated how it can today be used to recover their humanity and ensure that they are never forgotten. 

Olivia Wyatt
HHT Volunteer Researcher

Harewood takes part in BBC Art That Made Us Festival

Chris Day in All Saint's Church. Picture Credit Charlotte Graham.

Harewood is taking part in the BBC’s Art That Made Us Festival, which runs throughout April. Museums, libraries, archives and galleries are opening their doors to tell the stories behind their astounding collections. The festival complements the broadcast of a major new BBC documentary series Art That Made Us, which explores Britain’s creative history.

As part of the festival, Harewood has worked with the BBC Rewind team to produce a digital feature which delves into the story behind Under The Influence by Chris Day, a work part of his 2021 Craft Spotlight exhibition at Harewood.

Read the full story below or head to the BBC Art That Made Us website.

Harewood’s collection will also feature in the accompanying documentary series Art That Made Us, as sculptor Thomas J Price visits Harewood House to see the elaborate Robert Adam-designed interiors, Joshua Reynolds portraits and Thomas Chippendale furniture, paid for through fortunes made from the transatlantic slave trade.

The series launches on Thurs 7 April at 9pm, with the whole series available on iPlayer shortly afterwards.

Art That Made Us Festival

Chris Day: White Wash

Whitewash Wall

A guest blog commissioned by Harewood from Chris Day, to mark UNESCO’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

Have British black artists found their voice in today’s art world when it comes to equality and race?

Are British black artists visible in today’s art world or have the historical entrenched imbalance of equality towards black artists still an issue.

Throughout history, the legacy of the 1800s’ transatlantic slave trade and colonial rule has been depicted in one form or another in art, and not always in a positive manner. The painting by François Biard (Proclamation de la liberté des Noirs aux Colonies [Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies]) was criticised by another painter of the time, Nicolas Auguste Galimard, who remarked that, ‘Negroes will always show up badly as principal figures in a picture’.

With racial and dehumanising images, black people have had to endure an assault on their identity, equality and social status. Whilst visually portraying them as inferior to the rest of society, other artists like J M W Turner (The Slave Ship) and Richard Ansdell (The Hunted Slaves) captured barbaric acts of the transatlantic slave trade and the suffering of Africans and somehow tried to instil in the audience a sense of pity and injustice, or even, perhaps, tried to make a political statement with art.

This points to one of the reasons why western art of the early 1800s mainly shows black people in subservient and inferior roles and, with no television or internet these paintings were the window onto social life of the time. In the years following, both black and white people have been shown images that portray black people as inferior.

Such issues continue to haunt black communities and the rise of an intolerance to anything that is foreign is only fuelling the fire of inequality.

Black culture and identity did not begin with the transatlantic slave trade and yet, in school history lessons, slavery is amongst the first thing you are taught about black people and how famous white men protested to free the enslaved. Thus, even at an early stage of education, the seed of black people being inferior is planted.

Black history and culture are rich and colourful and should be celebrated. This sense of worth has influenced a multitude of black artists to take up arms to depict not only the transatlantic slave trade but also promote black culture and history in a positive light.

Researching social, civil and racial differences that occurred in the 1960s and 1980s helped me to develop and understand the racial barriers that artists in this era had to face and how they dealt with it. Black British artists in the 1980s like Keith Piper, Sonia Boyce, Chila Burman and many more have had to fight to be recognised as equal in the art world; unfortunately many have not had the same exposure or recognition as their white counterparts.

Errol Lloyd, a founder-member of CAM (The Caribbean Artist Movement), had his first exhibition shut down by white controllers due to his black images – images that confronted social indifferences of the time the hostile approach in the 1960s to black people was not only in the streets of Britain but managed to infiltrate all establishments.

21st century artists like Kara Walker depict racism with provocative imagery that shouts out the brutal acts that happened in black people in history to the view. Today, galleries have embraced her art work instead of the opposition that Errol Lloyd had to face, although there is still an inherited imbalance of mainly white males who dominate not only the art scene but the galleries, museums and art schools that decide what and when it is suitable for artists’ material to be seen.

Have positive steps been taken to allow Black artists to gain more of an equal stance or has the committed work by collective groups – such as BAM (Black Arts Movement) and artists like Eddie Chambers, Keith Piper and Lubaina Himid – been eradicated? Who is promoting today’s black British artists and how are these artists addressing racial and equality difference in their art?

The development of people into the arts in recent times has had to start at a grass roots level. Workshops in the community have taken the lead in educating people in different areas of artistic expression and culture (due to the decreasing funding schools receive) and a change to the curriculum has forced a number of small workshops and galleries to set up to promote art and support black artists. Link at Brixton Hill and The Alexandra Gallery represent a few that embrace the development of British black art.

Has the perceived lack of black artists in the art sector made it a mainly white establishment by percentage? Visiting many of the galleries in Britain it is hard to find black artists’ work on the walls and in the cabinets.

If so, what are the reasons behind the lack of black faces in the arts and what is being done to address the matter? Examining the education system, social impacts, careers and role models I see how this has affected the way young black people perceive the arts.

Is this a sign of remorse from the art world or are they getting on the band wagon to make a quick buck? The state of play at this time seems to be in favour of all things black and as a result vast amounts of money are being invested into film, art and other media to promote these arrears.

Just like the transatlantic slave trade, we have rich white men investing their money to gain wealth at the cost of the black society. Let’s hope this time the money gained will find its way down to educate and empower and not keep the black race at a subservient level as history likes to depict issues that black artists have to face in today’s art world. Even the work done by fellow black art movements has not made it easier for black artists to be seen. The education system seems to be inherently flawed in its approach to how and what is taught, so even at this root level inequality already has a foothold.

Aspects of equality are apparently being implemented in all areas of social life including the arts. Unfortunately, with the rise of intolerance against ethnic groups in Britain and around the world, race and equality are still an issue and instead of disappearing into history they have re-emerged for the new generation of black artists to confront.

Chris Day is a glass and mixed media artist, who uses his art to engage audiences on issues that are hard to confront, helping to overcome some of the traumas that haunt society’s collective past. His current exhibition at Harewood House, Chris Day: Craft Spotlight, runs until Sunday 31 October 2021.

Previous posts marking International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade & its Abolition

Joe Williams: Memorialise those who sacrificed everything

Olivia Wyatt: Power. Whiteness. Resistance. Challenging the ‘facts’ of the archive

Elaine Mitchener: Sweet Tooth

The Lascelles Slavery Archive

Bibliography

Bailey, A. D, Baucom, I. and Boyce, S. (2005) Shades of Black Assembling the 1980s. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Chambers, E. (2014) Black Artists in British Art a history since the 1950s. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.
Chambers, E. (1988) The Arts Council Artpack. A history of black Artists in Britain. London: Haringey
Godfrey, M. and Whitley, Z. (2017) Souls of a Nation Art in the Age of Black Power. London: Tate Publishing Ltd.
Honour, H. (1989) The image of the Black in Western Art. London: Harvard University Press.
Ansdell, R. (1861) The Hunted Slaves [Oil on canvas]. International Slavery Museum, Liverpool.
Biard, F. (1849) Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies [Oil on canvas]. Palace of Versailles, France.
Turner, W. (1840) The Slave Ship [Oil on canvas]. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Roots (1977) ABC, 23 January
Black Panther (2018) Directed by R. Coogle [Film] Paramount Pictures.
12 years a Slave (2013) Directed by S. Queen [DVD] Fox Searchlight.
Tate (2017) Soul of a Nation. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/…/exhibition/soul-nation-art-age-black-power (Accessed:8 October 2018).