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The Sojourner and the Aristocrat in Antigua Part Two – Sir John Ogilvy

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 Aristocrat – Sir John Ogilvy, 5th baronet of Inverquharity (1722-1802)


The Ogilvys of Inverquharity can trace their roots back to the late 12th century – to Gilbert, the son of Gillebride, 2nd Earl of Angus – although the acknowledged first of the line is Sir John Ogilvy (c.1380-1434), the third and youngest son of Walter Ogilvy of Auchterhouse, Sheriff of Angus. In a charter dated 3 June 1420, John was gifted the lands and barony of Inverquharity in the Angus glens by his older brother, Sir Walter Ogilvy of Lintrathen. Over the years, through a combination of grants, purchases and judicious marriage alliances, the Inverquharity Ogilvys gradually extended their holdings and with them their power and influence in Angus and beyond. In 1626 Sir John Ogilvy, the 10th Baron, was made a Baronet of Nova Scotia by King Charles I. The baronetcy was a new creation of the Stuart kings, ostensibly intended to encourage the colonisation of North America, but primarily designed as a revenue-generating measure by a perennially cash-strapped monarchy. There is no evidence to suggest that Sir John, or any of his descendants, actually visited the colony or attempted to establish a presence there. However, it is from this point that the Inverquharity Ogilvys count the order of their succession.


On 19 June 1754 at St James, Westminister, Sir John Ogilvy, the 14th Baron of Inverquharity and 5th Baronet, married Charlotte Tullideph (1737-1810), the older of the two daughters of Walter Tullideph of Baldovan and Balgay (1702-c.74), owner of extensive slave-worked plantations on the sugar island of Antigua (see Part One). Walter had gone out to the West Indies in 1726 armed only with a medical degree and connections to some of the islands’ leading politicians and landowners. In 1736 he married a young widow and by doing so came into possession of a small plantation and 63 slaves. Twenty years later as he prepared to leave the island and return to Scotland, he had increased his holdings from 127 to 571 acres, and the number of his slaves to 247, becoming “one of the island’s richest and most respected men”, worth a net £30,000.


Charlotte Tullideph, from a portrait by Francis Cotes, 1752 (private collection)

Walter and Mary had five children, but only two survived infancy, his daughters, Charlotte and Mary-Margaret (Polly) (1739-61), He was determined to do right by them both, even to the extent of going into debt, borrowing heavily from his London agent and others to provide each with a dowry of £5,000 to ensure they were found suitable husbands. Polly married Major (later General) the Hon Alexander Leslie (1731-94), son of the 7th Earl of Leven and half-brother to David, the 8th Earl, in 1760. He came from a distinguished military family, a descendant of the Alexander Leslie who commanded the Covenanter armies in the civil wars of the seventeenth century. Polly died a year later giving birth to their only child, Mary Ann.


On the face of it, Charlotte’s marriage to Sir John was an unlikely coupling: she the grand-daughter of a dissenting minister of the Kirk whose family over the years had fought Episcopalianism and suffered for their beliefs; he a descendant of a family of ancient lineage, staunch royalists and Episcopalians with extensive land-holdings in Angus, and the influence and power that went with that. But both Walter and Sir John had their own investment in the match which over-rode any differences. For Walter it represented recognition; an alliance with such an old and well-established family as the Ogilvys, with its deep-roots and considerable prestige in the area of his birth must have seemed especially gratifying, a very public acknowledgement that he had ‘arrived’. To secure this he not only provided his daughter with a substantial dowry, but agreed to an Anglican wedding in the heart of fashionable London. The symbolism was unmistakeable – a very public statement of his willingness to put ambition ahead of family loyalty.


For Sir John the incentive may well have been largely financial. Although we know little of the Ogilvys’ situation at this time, it is unlikely to have been anything other than financially, and politically, precarious. A series of disastrous harvests at the turn of the century following hard on the collapse of the ill-fated Darien scheme, from which the Ogilvys are unlikely to have been exempt, hit the pockets of the landed gentry hard. And all this against a background of the economic and social turmoil attendant on the Jacobite risings of the early part of the century when the Ogilvys’ loyalties to the Hanoverian government were at the very least suspect: John’s brother, Thomas, had fought at Culloden for the Jacobites and had died in exile in France, and a cousin, a member of the senior Airlie branch of the family, had raised a regiment in the same cause. For Sir John, access to the wealth of the sugar islands and with it the financial security and social and political acceptance by the British establishment it promised must have seemed a very attractive prospect.


In the absence of a male heir, Walter had earlier expressed his intention of leaving his estates to his two daughters: “My New Division estate, containing that formerly Tremills, William Yorke’s and Samuel Martin’s is for Polly. My Muskito Cove, containing York’s and Bear Gardens, is for Lady Ogilvy [Charlotte], (the) latter worth £3000 more than former”. Polly’s premature death in 1761 made a change to those plans inevitable, and in his new will, drawn up in c.1764-65, apart from one or two minor bequests, he left the whole of his estate in trust to Charlotte.


The remains of Yorke’s plantation, pictured in 1999 (courtesy of Bucknell University Sugar Mill Project)

On returning from Antigua in 1757, Walter had purchased two substantial landed properties on the outskirts of Dundee – Balgay and Baldovan. On the second of these he renovated an existing mansion house – The Bank – and renamed it Tullideph Hall, moving there with his wife and daughter Polly; it was there in 1760 she married Alexander Leslie. Walter died c.1774, predeceasing his wife by two or three years. Shortly after her death in 1776, Charlotte and her husband moved into the Hall and it became their permanent home. In 1781 Sir John sold his Inverquharity estate (to Charles Lyell, a Montrose merchant and neighbouring landowner and grandfather of the eminent Victorian geologist Charles Lyell), severing a link with the land that went back fourteen generations.


It seems more than likely that Charlotte did not legally come into her inheritance until 1794 when Walter’s will was entered into proof, but long before that the Ogilvys had assumed the management of the Antiguan estates. Sir John was out there in 1782, when he was appointed to the island’s Council, but his stay was relatively brief and he was back in Scotland by 1794, when he informed the island’s government that he would not be returning. Management of the plantations was then entrusted to the youngest of Sir John’s nine sons, Adam, an appointment that was to end in tragedy.


As was the all-too-common practice among white owners and managers, Adam had taken one of his female slaves as his mistress, a relationship that is unlikely to have been consensual. She, however, had another lover, a house-slave named Martin, and he, resentful and angry, plotted with others to end Adam’s life. Late on the night of 29 July 1799, while in a drunken stupor, they stole into his bed-chamber to carry out their deed. The anonymous reporter of the incident describes in melodramatic detail his last moments: “Pinioned by his murderers, Mr Ogilvie’s struggles became fainter and fainter –his sighs burst thicker from his lips – the blood gushed in torrents to his head and face, as his deadly enemies pressed more tightly the heaving throat – his blood-shot eyes started from their sockets – and with one sharp pang, one choking, frenzied cry, his spirit winged its flight to another sphere, and his body sank on the pillow a blackened corpse.”


When the body was discovered “stiff and cold” the following morning, the coroner was sent for. The task of fetching him from the other side of the island, however, was unwittingly entrusted to Martin, who delayed returning with the official until the following day. By that stage the body was in such a decomposed state it was not possible to ascertain the cause of death and a formal verdict of “Died by the visitation of God” was returned.


The story, however, does not end there; there was to be a most unexpected coda. Three years later the same ‘conspirators’ plotted to murder the new estate manager, but were apprehended in the act, and following interrogation, confessed their part in the earlier murder of Adam Ogilvy. Sir John, who died in 1802, would not have known the true circumstances in which his son met his death. Offering a final comment on the whole tragic episode the anonymous chronicler of the incident could only conclude that: “The family annals of Sir John Ogilvie present little but a series of disasters. Out of nine sons, two died prematurely in the East Indies, one was killed in Egypt, another fell in the capture of Martinique, while... young Adam was murdered in Antigua.”


In the absence of any family papers we do not know how the family were affected by Adam’s death. In truth, we know little or nothing about the management of the Tullideph/Ogilvy estates from this point until they were finally sold in 1832, just one year before the abolition of chattel slavery in the British Empire. The record is limited almost to the point of non-existence. There is no evidence that any member of the immediate family visited the island or were actively involved in the management of the plantations after Adam’s murder. While there is some indication that Sir Walter, the successor to the Inverquharity title, was not averse to getting rid of them, his hands were tied. Charlotte’s father had left her a life-rent on the properties and she needed the income from them to maintain her station in life. So it was not until she died in 1810 that the Ogilvys were free to dispose of them should they so wish. The fact that they held on to them for a further twenty years, leaving Sir John’s grandson, Sir John Ogilvy, 9thBaronet of Inverquharity, to make that decision, raises some interesting questions.


Sir John Ogilvy, 9th Baronet of Inverquharity, portrait by R Peyton Reid after an original by George Reid, c.1885 (courtesy of Tayside Medical History Museum, University of Dundee)

The buyers were the Jefferson brothers from Whitehaven, who held mortgages on the properties. We don’t know how much Sir John received from the sale, although we do know that in 1764 Walter Tullideph had been offered £20,000 for the York and Bear Garden estates, and since that time the number of slaves working the estates had increased to 426. But in selling when he did Sir John forfeited around £7,000, which he would have received from the government’s compensation fund had he hung on for just a few more months. There were, however, other financial considerations, but of a different kind. The depression that followed the ending of the Napoleonic wars had witnessed a sharp decline in sugar prices. Years of intensive cultivation, especially in those islands where sugar production was long established – and Antigua was one such – had resulted in serious soil depletion, which in turn increased costs and reduced both yields and profits. Added to these difficulties, the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 had left British planters with a serious labour problem. All of this left them at a distinct disadvantage to their foreign competitors. The attractions of plantation ownership were no longer what they had been.


The social distance the family had travelled since the days of his grandfather is perhaps best symbolised by Sir John’s two marriages. His first wife was Lady Juliana Howard, daughter of Lord Henry Howard-Molyneux-Howard, younger brother of Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of England; his second was Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 16thEarl of Suffolk. The importance of the Antiguan money to that ascent remains an open question, but the significance of this association with the country’s social and political elite, which these marriages represented, is not to be under-estimated.


But for a man like Sir John, such considerations may not have weighed heavily on his mind. By the early 19th century public opinion in Britain had turned decidedly against slavery. Led by an alliance of Evangelicals and Quakers the Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1823, organized numerous nationwide petitions, putting increasing pressure on the Government to abolish the practice, and in 1833 it eventually did. Sir John’s opinions on this are unknown, but he was certainly reform-minded and he associated socially and politically with many who were in favour of abolition. On the other hand, his first wife’s family had derived much of their considerable wealth from their extensive West Indian plantations. Juliana’s maternal grandfather was Edward Long, historian of Jamaica, a rabid racist and extremely vocal critic of the anti-slavery lobby, although by this time he was long-since dead, and there is no indication that she shared his views. Coincidence or not, a year after she married Sir John he sold his Antiguan estates.


Certainly, the image of him as an owner of slaves sits uncomfortably with his subsequent long career of philanthropy and his support for progressive causes. Described as “an aristocratic Whig of the better sort”, Sir John was to serve as MP for Forfarshire for sixteen years (1857-74), was Convenor and Vice Lieutenant of the County, Chairman of both the Harbour and Prison Boards in Dundee for more than 20 years, and an active supporter of many other charitable organisations. He was a prominent campaigner for the new Dundee Royal Infirmary and was present at the laying of the foundation stone in 1852. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Corn Exchange and Public Hall Association, for which he gave land in Bank Street to be used for public concerts, classes and meetings. And with his second wife, Lady Jane Howard Ogilvy, he established on the grounds of his estate the Baldovan Institution for children with learning disabilities, later to become Strathmartine Hospital, the first of its kind in Scotland, and one of the very first in the world.


Despite these achievements, Sir John’s contribution to Dundee has been largely overlooked in modern times. The reason for this may well be that following his death the family spent less and less time in Baldovan and by the 1920s had cut their ties with Dundee and the North-East entirely. Sir John died in 1890 at the age of 87 after a long life of public service. In the many fulsome obituaries of him at the time, there is no mention of his early life as a slave owner.



Written by David May



Sources


Anon (Mrs Lanaghan) Antigua & the Antiguans: a Full Account of the Colony and its inhabitants volume 2 (Saunders & Otley, 1844)


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


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)


P X Scanlan, Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain (Robinson, 2022)


UCL Legacies of British Slave-Ownership website at https://www.ucl.ac.uk


J R Ward, ‘The British West Indies in the Age of Abolition, 1748-1815’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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