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The Sojourner and the Aristocrat in Antigua Part One – Walter Tullideph

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

This two-part feature looks at two wealthy men connected to Dundee but linked by their ownership of sugar plantations in Antigua. The Sojourner is Walter Tullideph, a son of the Kirk who went out to Antigua in his early twenties armed only with a medical degree and connections to some of the most powerful landowners on the island. Thirty years later, and now one of the island’s richest and most respected men, he returned to Scotland and settled in Dundee. We know a good deal of how he acquired his wealth from the letter books he left, but next to nothing of how he spent his retirement years or what mark he made on his adopted home.


The Aristocrat is Sir John Ogilvy, 5th baronet of Inverquharity, from a landed Angus family that can trace its roots back to the 12th century. By his marriage to Walter’s daughter Charlotte, he acquired ownership of the sugar plantations that had provided Walter with his wealth. In so doing it rescued the family from the financial and political difficulties it had faced following the civil and economic unrest of the early eighteenth century and enabled it to rise into the higher reaches of British society. The Ogilvys’ involvement in slavery spanned fifty years and three generations ending with the sale of the plantations by Sir John Ogilvy, 9th baronet in 1832.


A sugar plantation in Antigua, from a drawing by William Clark, 1823

The Sojourner: Walter Tullideph (1702-c.1774)


Walter Tullideph came from a long line of dissenting ministers in the Scottish Kirk. His father was the Very Rev John Tullideph, Minister of Dunbarney, Perth; and his older brother, Thomas, who followed his father into the church, later became Professor of Divinity at St Andrews, a position previously occupied by his grandfather, and was subsequently first Principal of the United College of St Salvator & St Leonard, which he was instrumental in founding. Walter, however, at age 16 was apprenticed to a surgeon in Edinburgh and later went on to obtain a medical degree from the University. Following this he spent some time in London and France completing his medical education, working for Dr James Douglas, a renowned anatomist and keen amateur botanist. Walter’s interest in botany continued throughout his life, and over the years he maintained a regular correspondence with Hans Sloane, the celebrated 18th century naturalist and President of the Royal Society.


In c.1726, Walter went out to Antigua to join his younger brother, David, at the invitation of his cousin, Walter Sydserfe, who owned extensive sugar plantations there and was a leading member of the Council, the island’s legislative body. In doing so he was following in the footsteps of a great many other enterprising young Scots, quick to seize the opportunities afforded them by the 1707 Act of Union and lured to the West Indies in particular by the prospect of making their fortune: “Nowhere in the world”, wrote the brothers William and Edmund Burke, “could great fortunes be made so quickly”. They came as attorneys, book-keepers, estate managers, overseers and in particular doctors, the men who serviced the estates on behalf of the (largely absentee) owners and who were so essential to the smooth running and commercial success of the island’s economy; in 1750, over 60% of doctors in Antigua were Scots or Scottish trained.


All this was made possible by the exponential growth of the sugar economy in the 18th century. In 1700 the British Caribbean islands accounted for about 40% of all transatlantic sugar consignments to Europe; by 1815 the figure had reached 60%. According to Tom Devine, “The Caribbean colonies employed, directly or indirectly, half Britain’s long-distance shipping, their fixed and moveable wealth was reckoned at more than £30 million, duties on West Indian produce accounted for an eighth of Exchequer revenues and the credit structures linked to the plantation economy were crucial elements in UK financial markets.”


Antigua, though the largest of the Leeward Islands, had been slow to embrace the sugar revolution. It was not until 1674 with the arrival of the Barbadian-born, English colonial administrator and plantation owner Christopher Codrington that Antigua’s first sugar plantation was established. Less than 50 years later sugar had largely displaced tobacco, indigo and cotton as the island’s principal cash crop and by the middle of the century it was fast becoming the leading sugar exporting island, the government seat of the Leeward Islands and centre of trade, shipping, finance, politics, as well as social life.


On first arriving on the island Walter practised medicine, ministering to both white and black patients (primarily the latter) on a contract basis, and using his family connections to augment his income by working as a factor and attorney for a number of absentee landowners, overseeing the operation of their estates and general business interests, and engaging in trade on his own account, with contacts across the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Great Britain. In 1736 his fortunes took a decidedly upturn. Writing to his brother, Thomas, he informed him that “I was married January 19th last to an agreeable Young Widow, by whom I have gott [sic] possession of a very fine estate, to which I am making additions and improvements”. The agreeable young widow in question was Mary Tremills (née Burroughs). Her mother was one Lucy Thibou, born in London of French parentage and a member of a long-established and well-connected island family. Over the next twenty years Walter steadily expanded his newly acquired plantation from its initial 127 to 571 acres, and the number of his slaves from 63 to 247. By that time he had become “one of the island’s richest and most respected men”, with a net worth of £30,000, the “social equal of the island’s first families”, elected to the island’s Assembly in 1748, and six years later ‘called up’ to the Council.


Tullideph family tree, published in VL Oliver’s History of the Island of Antigua volume III, 1899

The early British settlement of the Americas had relied heavily on the use of indentured (white) labourers, political exiles and transported prisoners – Scots and Irish predominating – from the wars and rebellions of the 17th and 18th centuries. But even if the supply of such labour could have been assured, which it rapidly became clear it could not, it proved entirely unsuited to the tropical conditions that pertained in the islands and the unremitting, intensive, and back-breaking work involved. The solution was import slaves from Africa, whose human rights, indeed their very humanity, could the more easily be discounted. As the sugar boom took off and the shift to a monoculture economy became more pronounced, so the island’s reliance on slave labour increased; by the middle of the century slaves out-numbered the white population by a ratio of nine to one. One result of this was that the white population lived in a perpetual state of collective paranoia, haunted by the threat of a slave rebellion.


In early 1736, just as Walter was contemplating the twin challenges of marriage and plantation ownership, islanders were confronted by what they had long feared: a widespread ‘conspiracy’ to murder the island’s leading citizens and release the slaves from their servitude. The plot was discovered before it could come to fruition, and was met with appalling, if all-too typical, brutality, as this account from the Gentlemen’s Magazine shows:


“At last, about noon King Court [Rebel leader] was broke on the Wheel, as were Tomboy and Hercules [his lieutenants]. Four more were burnt the same day in Otters’ Pasture and tomorrow will be seven more, and so many as they can find leading men in this plot...Six were hung in chains upon gibbets and starved to death (of whom one lived nine nights and eight days without any sustenance) their heads then cut off and fixed on poles, and their bodies burned; and 58 were at several times chained to stakes and burnt; and above 130 remained in prison”.


In 1757, having made his fortune, Walter left Antigua, leaving his estates in the care of his cousin Elizabeth’s son, James Russell, and returned to semi-retirement in Scotland, where he bought two estates outside of Dundee – Balgay and Baldovan – moving into The Bank, the house on the Baldovan estate, which he renamed Tullideph Hall; it was later, in the early 19th century, to be renamed again as Baldovan House. Shortly after his return from Antigua he was admitted as a Burgess of Edinburgh; he seems not to have been accorded the same honour by Dundee.


In 1763 Tullideph advertised in the Caledonian Mercury for an overseer for the slaves on his plantations

Walter did not sever his connections with the islands entirely, returning there briefly in 1764-65 to settle his affairs, but we hear very little of him after that date. He continued from a distance to actively involve himself in the management of his Antiguan properties and the furthering of his general business interests on the Continent and in London, where he had plans to set up a sugar factorage business. He died c.1774, possibly in London, where he had a residence, leaving his Antiguan properties to his only surviving child, his daughter, Charlotte Tullideph, who in 1754 had married Sir John Ogilvy, 5th Baronet of Inverquharity. Walter is commemorated in Dundee by several streets bearing his name.


Continued in Part Two


Written by David May



Sources


Bucknell University Sugar Mill Project at https://antiguamills.bucknell.edu


Caledonian Mercury 12/9/1763


T M Devine, To The Ends of The Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora 1750-2010 (Smithsonian Books, 2011)


T M Devine (ed), Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection (Edinburgh University Press, 2015)


David May, ‘The Ogilvys of Inverquharity, Walter Tullideph and the Antiguan Connection.’ forthcoming


V L Oliver, The History of the Island of Antigua, one of the Leeward Caribbes in the West Indies, from the first settlement in 1635 to the present time (Mitchell & Hughes, three volumes, 1894-99)


R B Sheridan, ‘The Rise of a Colonial Gentry: A Case study of Antigua, 1730-1775’, The Economic History Review 13, 3 (1961)


R B Sheridan, ‘The Formation of Caribbean Plantation Society 1689-1748’ in P J Marshall (ed), The Oxford History of the British Empire Vol 2. The Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1998)

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