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Sex, slavery and a dark secret

1996/1 pp6–7


Sex, slavery and a dark secret


You may wonder what the above mentioned headline has to do with the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society: the connection is Occasional Paper 23, A History of Bourne Hall. In 1796 the mansion that was demolished in 1962 was purchased by Thomas Hercey Barritt who came from Jamaica, where his family had built up considerable estates. This followed a grant of land by Charles II to Lieutenant Hersey Barrett, who went to Jamaica with the British invading force in 1655 when the Spaniards were ejected. A descendant of Hersey Barrett was Elizabeth Moulton Barrett, who became Elizabeth Barrett Browning, following her elopement with Robert Browning.


The headline comes from a Magazine review of a new book by Julia Markus, Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. According to this book, Elizabeth’s father, the autocratic Moulton Barrett, who had been brought up in Jamaica, became convinced that he was of mixed blood: sexual liaison between the early settlers and African slaves working the plantation had been commonplace. Elizabeth herself is said to have believed that she had some African blood. Moulton Barrett’s fear that the African connection would be revealed by a coloured grandchild led him to forbid his eleven children to marry on pain of disinheritance, hence the elopement.


Charles Abdy


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