Selwyn Image & Mount Pleasant plantation, Barbados

While researching the exhibition Within the Reach of All: The Century Guild of Artists, we discovered that Selwyn Image (1849—1930), a key associate of the Century Guild, held shares in the Mount Pleasant sugar plantation in Barbados. We thought it was really important to investigate these links further, and place them within the wider context of slavery in Barbados, to acknowledge the continuing legacy of the slave trade in Britain in the late 19th century and beyond.

We are aware that there are many different opinions on how best to address the complex legacies of slavery, and welcome your feedback to create a dialogue for the future. Please get in touch at wmg.enquiries@walthamforest.gov.uk with any comments.

We are grateful to Dr Kristy Warren for her expertise and advice in compiling the information below.

Selwyn Image and the Mount Pleasant Plantation

Image's uncle, Thomas Maxwell Hinds (d.1838), was a slave owner, living in Barbados. When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834, 173 people were registered as his property. Even after abolition, formerly enslaved people were not immediately set fully free, and plantation owners continued to benefit from free or under-paid labour and the unjust socio-political conditions that prevailed within the colonial environment.

When Hinds died, Selwyn Image's mother Mary, by then living in England, inherited shares in the Mount Pleasant plantation, increasing the size of the estate in 1864. When Mary died, these passed to her husband, Selwyn’s father, who then passed them to his daughter and second wife, Selwyn's stepmother. Selwyn and his brother helped administer the property, and when she died in 1907, they inherited her shares. The plantation was by then financially unsuccessful, and the shares were sold in 1914.

Image was part of a wide section of British society that benefitted from the legacy of slavery. The continued land ownership by both absentee (those based in England, like Image) and local, white elites allowed structural inequalities to persist well into the 20th century.

Century Guild members were generally socially progressive with some holding explicitly anti-Imperialist views, but we do not know what Image personally felt about his involvement with the Barbados plantation.

Colonialism in Barbados in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

It is important to understand the nature of colonial society in Barbados when considering the links that Image had to Mount Pleasant, as well as to colonialism and slavery more generally. Society remained hugely unequal in the Caribbean even after abolition. The emancipatory nature of abolition is often overemphasised in British national narratives; in reality, many practices continued.

The end of enslavement did not stop coercive practices of labour extraction in Barbados. As part of the compensation agreement reached with slave owners, between 1834 and 1838 the formerly enslaved were made to continue working for their former enslavers for free. This was supposed to be limited to 40 hours a week, but the intensive nature of sugar production would suggest this wasn't always followed. The period was known as apprenticeship and has been called "slavery by another name" (Altink 2001). Apprenticeship was originally meant to end in 1840 for those who worked in the fields (and 1838 for the smaller number of enslaved people who worked in other areas of production), but the abuses in the system saw it end early. However, while some of the previous practices persisted, some things did change. For instance, an important mode of power during enslavement – punishment –was passed from former slave-owners to the state (Harris 2017).

Even after apprenticeship ended, a range of social and political practices continued to restrict the full participation of the formerly enslaved in making decisions about their futures. The aim of those who owned land, and had formerly claimed ownership of people, was to maintain the status quo. There were labour strikes and other forms of resistance related to issues such as lack of access to land and continued social and political inequalities across the Caribbean in the post-emancipation period (Heuman 1995). These issues can be traced forward to the labour riots that erupted across the region between 1934 and 1939. Though immediately linked to the Great Depression, these riots had roots in structural inequalities that stretched back to enslavement as was shown by the Moyne Commission, a report that was published in 1945 and exposed the poor living conditions in Britain's Caribbean colonies. Thus, the continued land ownership by both absentee (those based in England) and local whites and other elites remained an issue for the formerly enslaved and their descendants well into the 20th century.

Selwyn Image's family connections to enslavement

Among Image's ancestors, the Maxwells branch of the family had clear links to slave-ownership. We can find evidence for such a link one generation further back than Image's mother, as his grandmother Ann is shown as the owner of an estate called The Retreat in 1803 (Hughes-Queree Index). It appears that this estate may be the same one that is called Hindbury and was in the hands of (her son?) Benjamin Hinds in 1825 (Hughes-Queree Index). Ann has an entry in the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database that shows her business relations with her sons and her links to James Maxwell, who may have been her father or her brother.

Links to slave-ownership through Image's Hinds ancestors is less clear. His grandfather Benjamin Hinds the elder had died by the time registration began in 1817. As the Hinds family appear to have been mainly based in Barbados until the mid-19th century, finding records concerning their late 18th century landholdings necessitates looking at archives outside of the UK and has thus not been possible in detail. For instance, a manuscript from the 1780s held at Johns Hopkins University Libraries Archives shows a link between Benjamin Hinds and the Warren Estate in Barbados. The link is not clear from the catalogue entry, so it is not possible to say he owned the plantation. It’s also not possible to tell from the information given if this is indeed Image's ancestor. However, the naming practices of his family suggest this could be a relative, which further research may confirm.

The family associations to slave-ownership have legacies into the following generations that cannot simply be thought of in quantifiable terms alone. By the late 19th century, many former enslavers were finding it difficult or impossible to turn a profit. The business had always been a gamble, but it was increasingly the case as competition on the global market increased and sugar prices reduced. Though some managed to hold on to their wealth, many did not. However, most benefited from their history of slave-ownership through status and access to education among other advantages.

Sources

Altink, Henrice (2001) Slavery by another name: Apprenticed women in Jamaican workhouses in the period 1834–81, Social History, 26:1, 40-59, DOI: 10.1080/03071020010004381
Barbados Department of Archives. Hughes-Queree Index

Harris, D.P. (2017) Punishing the Black Body: Marking Social and Racial Structures in Barbados and Jamaica. Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900. University of Georgia Press. (esp. chapter 2)

Heuman, Gad (1995) Post-emancipation Resistance in the Caribbean: AN Overview’ in Karen Fog Olwig ed. Small Islands, Large Questions: Society, Culture and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean, London: Routledge, pp 123 – 134.