Robert Blachford, the eldest son of Robert
Blachford and Anne (née Brydges) of Osborne,
was born in 1699 and died May 30th, 1729.
There have been many rumours and much common talk of his early
demise. Several letters that have not yet been deciphered, suggest
that he was embroiled in some shady dealings, and fell foul of the
authorities. Whether this has anything to do with his early death,
we shall no doubt discover at some future date.
Robert owned or controlled a shipping business,
trading with Europe, West Africa, the West Indies, and America.
In many letters from his Agent (T. Griffin) we have records of three
of his ships, namely, the ‘Berwick’, the ‘Port Mahoon’ captain Arnold,
and the ‘Diamond’ captain Harry Anesley.
The ships did a round trip from England to West Africa, where they
embarked slaves for Jamaica in the West Indies, then made the return
voyage to England and Europe laden with sugar, casks of indigo,
bags of ginger, and tons of mahogany log wood.
There follows some of the correspondence between Robert and his
agent. This gives us a wonderful insight into trading in the early
On the 1st of October, 1725 Mr. Griffin wrote to Robert
“Sir, This waits on you to acquaint you that we are this evening
arrived at Lowestoft roads on our way south to Harwich to repair
a small damage that befell us in our most tempestuous passage. On
Tuesday night it blowing a hurricane and we driving under bare poles,
had like to have drove athwart a Dutch fishing Dogger Hause; but
with much difficulty we got clear by just touching his quarter with
our lyon which went away and our bowsprit swept away his mizzen
mast which thank God is all the damage, But had not this accident
obliged me to put in to get a ferrule for a head, and to secure
our bobstays (part of the cut water being gone) I must have put
in to get her caulked, for both the desk and sides are very leaky,
so that when the sea broke over us our pumps were continually at
work, but with this ill fortune, one piece of good attended us,
and that, we have but one place in the hold that is dry and that
the bale goods were stowed there, so that they have took no damage,
and the rest can hardly take any. I likewise send you for your information,
that the charge of the English cargo amounts to £908.15.0. and the
amount of our Dutch £1392.0.7. and if I can get time to copy the
invoices, I will send them to you. I have got you half a dozen handkerchiefs
which I shall send with a letter by the first opportunity. I think
it will be by the Pilot (Johnson) when we get to the Downs. I have
had time enough to dirty them this bad weather in order to make
the pass the better. (customs)”
By the end of the year the ship had completed a refit and repairs,
was victualled and sailed for the Gambia (West Africa).
In a letter dated 23rd January, 1726. Griffin writes:-
“You will see that we are now at Gilleyfree, about twelve
leagues up the river Gambia (36 miles) and tomorrow in the morn
I intend to weigh and go up twelve more to a place called Anchor
wall. I have got aboard 25 slaves, and expect about 3 more down
by our longboat from Geregia. I have obliged ye gentlemen so much
who belong to ‘James Island’ (the factory and fort for the Royal
African Company) that they have assured me of the first refusal
of the negroes they have to spare since their unfortunate blast
(explosion) which I suppose is no news in England, this misfortune
happening on ye second of November last. I have a prospect of some
slaves teeth and wax at Anchor Wall which occasions my going up
but I shall make no long stay there, but come down here and agree
if possible with my good friends for the rest of my cargo , and
the proceed to Sierra Leone. I have bought more slaves at Gilleyfree
than ye other four sales put together, and thank God still bear
the character of the fairest Trader.”
Sierra Leone, March 27th, 1726 :-
“Dear Sir, This waits on you to acquaint you that I am still
in the land of the living, though I have been much disordered with
an inflammation in my throat. I am passed all danger of death, and
get strength and flesh every day. I likewise have growing hopes
of getting money, though it is got slow. for I have picked up between
90 and 100 good slaves at Gambia and here, and no other ship has
gone down the coast this six weeks. I shall heel, scrub, and tallow
her boot-tops, which will take with other business, about three
or four days. and then proceed down the coast. I find African voyages
are not made so soon, as talked on. I long for an evenings chat
with you, but must be content. In the days of sail, with the difficulties
of provisioning ships for long voyages, to say nothing of the perils
of storms and hurricanes, or clams that could last for weeks, disease
and scurvy, every moment of the day and night fraught with danger
of one sort or another, made a deep sea traders life hostile and
unpredictably nerve wracking to say the least.”
Carlisle Bay, November 7th, 1726.
“My dear friend, I have just time with an uneasy mind and full
of care to tell you that I have had great mortality aboard amongst
both blacks and whites. for I have buried both Mates early in the
voyage, and to my greater grief 58 slaves. I purchased 109 and sold
one, so I have aboard but 150 which I doubt will make but a losing
voyage unless our slaves bring a better price that I am informed
they do at Jamaica. Necessity obliged me to put in here for provisions
which I have got sufficiently, and am under sail for Jamaica, and
am with great concern, and much truth.”
Kingston, Jamaica, December 13th, 1726.
“Dear Sir, After a most troublesome voyage, and a passage of
fifteen weeks from the coast (west Africa) we arrived at Port Royale
with 140 slaves on November 19th. Since our arrival 4 are dead,
110 sold and 34 more to be sold. I shall defer acquainting you with
prices until our market is finished. We have buried out of the 200
(which was all we could purchase) 64, so I shall leave you to judge
the rest and find our what I am afraid of and dare not name. I shall
put off telling you the particulars of my voyage until we meet,
which may be about April next, for I shall not get from hence this
two months, cargo not being ready, and the ships leak to be stopped.
As to news, the most agreeable I can tell is that ‘Harry Anseley’
drinks to your health (captain of the DIAMOND). The melancholy is
that the FLEET have buried 1,000 men at BASTIMENTOS, and have 1,000
more sick, so that here is a strong PRESS (press gangs looking for
crews). Two, the DUNKIRK and NOTTINGHAM, are moored at Blewfields
and cannot move for want of hands. The rest are here to get provisions
and will sail as soon as possible. The DIAMOND will heave down first.
I have got you some excellent Rum, and shall have some Mahogany.
My best services waits on your good uncle and friends in HOLBOURN
and the Isle of Wight.”
Kingston, Jamaica, February 7th. 1727
“…this comes to acquaint you that we have hove down, stopped
our leak, and have begun to take in stores. Sugars are scarce, so
that we cannot get them neer so fast as I could wish, and the market
for the BLACK JACKS very bad so that we still have some refused
slaves to dispose of. We have ventured to WINDWARD, and to Hispaniola
and the sloop is returned with about thirty per cent profit which
helps a broken voyage a little. The papers advise that my uncle
is dead and his will lost. I hope most heartily that it is not true,
but if it is so, I should be glad of your services and early advice
how it is when I arrive in England…..”
After more delays and setbacks, Griffin eventually set sail for
home at the end of March. On his arrival in England he went straight
to Merstone to make his report, only to find that Robert and his
uncle were travelling abroad.
July 25th 1727
"Dear Sir, I have just time to tell you that this afternoon
we arrived in the Pool. I hope you enjoy good health, and that all
our friends in the Island do the same. I beg that you’ll forgive
my humble service to them and accept the same from Dear Sir, Your
most obedient, humble servant, T. Griffin"
London 3rd August 1727
" Dear Sir, I am favoured with yours and heartily glad
to hear you do not find fault with my conduct in my voyage but am
sorry I have so just reason to complain of our Factor at Jamaica
and BookeKeeper at ….. but as its not proper for me to say more
that they had like (from a mistake) made us lose ship and cargo
but with a good deal of trouble and care thank God it is timely
prevented I shall defer the rest until I see you. As to the affair
of my Uncle I hope to get done what you seem to mention (the Bond)
and that with good management will put me in a better way of life
than I ever was, and it is better he has died when he did than keep
me depending eighteen years more. When I went out you bespoke a
puncheon of rum which I do not forget, though I did other things
and I heartily beg pardon. I hope Nick Cooper brought you the laced
head and handkerchiffs (sic.). If you want more rum le me know if
you would have any more per next post. My best service to your sister
and all friends in the Island and be assured I am Dear Sir Your
most faithful obliged Servant T. Griffin"
York Buildings. August 29 1727
"Dear Sir, I had your favour wherein you mention a Hoy
was to come from your neighbourhood but as I have never heard anything
of him I imagine he laid aside his voyage or your letter, so should
be glad of your further and speedy advice, whether you would have
it remain in the hands of Mr. Richardson of Bear Key, or sent to
your Uncles and …… The reason I wish for speedy advice is our falling
down the beginning of next week to Galeoons, and after a short stay
there to the ….. and soon afterwards to proceed according to orders
either for Siphead or directly for Giberalter though its talked
we shall certainly come to Spitthead and I shall then do myself
the pleasure of waiting on you. If I find I am not like to have
the pleasure of seeing you I shall write a little to you about the
affairs of the Mary Ann. At present every thing that regards her
stands still our Ships Husband is sick and his bookskeeper lazy.
Mr. Gray sends his hearty service and I beg you’ll will make mine
acceptable to your guests and believe me to be as I truly am Dear
Sir Your faithful obliged Servant T. Griffin"
London, Sept 9th, 1727
" Dear Sir, I had the favour of your just now being this
minute arrived from the Gib in Galeoons. I sent you by the Hoy the
Puncheon of rum and cask of old Madeara, it should have been half
a hogshead if no fraud but I’m afraid since Mr. Gray, your Uncle,
and I fear dear Bridges have been cheated in theirs, as to quantity,
I had agreed for a plank for you but Harry made me lose it not being
able to go in time for it as to my part I brought none home the
fault was our Jamaica factors. As to the affairs of the ship I can
give you but satisfaction, only they begin to sell, but have not
got off the Brad Arrow by reason Mr. Smallwood is sick so that the
ship cannot be sold until that be adjusted. One piece of good news
is that 15 hogshead more are arrived in the Neptune Capt. Winter
upon account of Mary Ann. As to the old story setting our in Holland
I observed the goods dear upon which the bookkeeper to Mr. Vane
by name Lebemode told me that he supposed I knew that ten per cent
was charged upon the cargo besides the costs and would not seem
to be a stranger to that though I knew nothing of the matter. ……
hopes to have heard further but in my opinion they have charged
20 as I shall endeavour to prove tomorrow when we meet and compare
my Invoice with theirs you shall then hear further. I am heartyly
concerned that I have imbaresst you with people I like so little
but shall show my great uneasiness by saying no more. My service
to all friends with you Bob Holms and I have drank to your health
twice. I am Dear Sir Your most faithful obliged Humble Servant T.
Lisbon, October 2nd 1728 Abd. Gibralter.
" Dear Sir, I could not amiss this opportunity of sending
this to kiss your hands and enquire after your good health I should
have sent with it something to encourage your drinking towards mine,
but Mr. Grame, the bearer hereof will tell you sufficient reason
why I could not. If sending anything to London would do I should
be glad of your orders, but opportunities happen so seldom to the
Island (and then perhaps I am not provided), that I am uneasy least
you should think I forget. I assure you that I do not and in good
time I shall certainly send your velvet which I am told you may
want in a little time, whether true or not you nest know, but I
could not hear who is to be that happy lady. - ----- I should esteem
it a very great favour if you would let me know how you proceed
with Mr. Mainwarring and what is become of that cursed MaryAnn,
a curse that you owe to me, and if you know anything of my other
affairs for I have not one word from Mr. Gray, which makes me doubt
that things go bad I must hear one time or other so sooner the better.
I thank God I have no chickens spirit, but am able to meet adversity
as becomes a man and a letter per post to Lisbon will scarce fail.
We are in expectations of our new ship the Louisa were I am to follow
my Captain. I beg you’ll make my most humble service acceptable
to Colon: the Holmeres, Sir William and Mr. Pophams family, likewise
to honest Clem!, and John Urry Bedredickt and all other friend and
believe that I am most sincerely, Dear Sir Your most obedient servant
T. Griffin. "
Smuggling was rife in the eighteenth century. Many and varied were
the ways to out wit the authorities. A successful operation paid
far greater dividends than honest trading.
We already have observed small time evasion of excise duty appertaining
to the soiled lace handkerchiefs, and the odd keg of Rum and bottles
of Madeira wine.
In 1726 Smuggling shattered the lives of Robert Blachford
of Merstone and some of his accomplices.
R------ the captain of a Lugger was ordered to cruise off the
south coast of the Isle of Wight and await the arrival of a fleet
of heavily laden East Indiamen. At a pre-arranged signal he was
to board and receive cargo from each of them. (seven in number)
Due to rough seas and strong winds he was only able to intercept
two ships commanded by Captain Williamson and Captain Thwaites from
whom he received a large quantity of Indian merchandise.
He then sailed across the channel to the Isle of Guernsey where
he delivered his cargo to D------ who re-packed the portion belonging
to Robert Blachford of Merstone, and sent it to
the Port of London.
On arrival the cargo was transferred to another vessel. All goods
were Customable but no duty was paid.
On the 12th of June, 1726, the goods were surreptitiously landed
at Radcliffe in the county of Middlesex. The cargo consisted of
600 pieces of Indian silk, 200 pieces of chintz, 1,000 pieces of
Indian muslin, 200 pieces of Indian calico, 3,600 lbs of coffee,
860 lbs of tea, all to the value of £8,000.
Customs duty payable should have been £3,000 in all. A certain
Mr. Bainbridge (warden of the fleet?) and apparently a very corrupt
official, attempted to extort money from Robert in respect to the
suspect cargo. Bainbridge was taken into custody of the Sgt. of
Arms of the House of Commons, and eventually charged with “Iniquitous
Practices”; and turning King’s Evidence he implicated Robert and
many others in an attempt to lessen his own involvement.
Under normal circumstances, or, by what was then accepted as the
“Gents issue”, Robert could have paid the duty with a possible fine.
But with Bainbridge in custody the whole affair became considerably
more sinister, and Robert Blachford found himself
on a very serious charge of “Importing from parts beyond the seas
into this Kingdom of England, and to defraud the said Kingdom of
excise duty and Taxes accordingly.” Bainbridge based his accusations
on evidence he received from one ‘Boyse’ who claimed he was present
and overheard Robert and others discussing the venture.
Robert Blachford died three years later in 1729.