A Biography of
Robert Blachford of Merstone 1699 - 1729
from A FAMILY HISTORY by Jack A. G. Blachford
Blachford coat of Arms



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 18th century.

On the 1st of October, 1725 Mr. Griffin wrote to Robert Blachford:-

“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. Griffin"

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.