The Dawkins Familial Nexuses and English Country Estates

By: James Dawkins

As the story of the Dawkins family’s involvement in slavery unfolds, it becomes more startling and intriguing.  Indeed, my recent findings show that the family established themselves amongst the highest echelons of the Jamaican plantocracy forging marital links with the island’s most prominent, powerful, and wealthy slave-owning dynasties during the 18th century.  Over the span of 72 years (1719-1791), the Dawkins family created matrimonial alliances with the Beckford, Colyear, Long, Morant, and Pennant families, many of whom possessed important and influential positions in the Jamaican Assembly and Council.[1]  Furthermore, by 1750 James Dawkins (d.1757), a third generation slave-owner, had become the largest landholder in the parish of Clarendon and the fourth biggest owner of real estate in the island of Jamaica.[2]  These astonishing findings along with the existence of the family papers, which have lain relatively unused since they were deposited in the Bodleian Library some 40 years ago, have left me asking how the activities of such an influential and prominent slave-owning family could have been overlooked and underreported in the discourse on British slavery and slave-ownership.

Since my previous blog in May, I have refined my study which is now focussed on the slave-owning activities of Henry Dawkins (d.1814), the younger brother of James mentioned above, and have taken several trips to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library to find out more about his procurement of estates across England between 1750 and 1814.  The Dawkins family papers clearly show that during this time he purchased both large and small parcels of land and consolidated them into large estates that were then rented to husbandmen.  The acquisition and expansion of great English estates is associated with notions of power and social prestige which the Dawkins family clearly attempted to galvanise in order to gain respect amongst Britain’s leading planter families.

Whilst going through the manuscripts, I stumbled upon one box which contained information on Henry’s purchase of Salford Manor, which he obtained via a public auction at London’s now defunct Garraway’s Coffee House, in 1796.  This finding was particularly interesting as the large manor house that once stood on the estate no longer exists because it was dismantled just 14 years after Henry acquired it.  Original catalogues from the auction provide extensive details about the estate which consisted of over 1,000 acres of land containing the manor house, pleasure gardens, canals, fish ponds, farmland, cottages, stables and coach houses, and a variety of wild animals.[3] Unfortunately, I have not been able to source any paintings of the manor. However, a second catalogue exists in the collection which contains an exhaustive list of structural materials that were stripped out of the house and sold off just before it was disassembled in 1810.  Although I have not been through the catalogue thoroughly, initial glimpses indicate that the house was furnished with extravagant décor such as mahogany staircases, stone fireplaces and silk curtains, providing a glimpse into Henry’s materialistic taste.

I have also been working with a collection of maps located at the British Library which comprise detailed plans of Standlynch Manor, a large estate located in the county of Wiltshire, which acted as the main location of residence for Henry Dawkins, his wife Juliana Colyear and their 11 children between 1765 and 1814.[4] These plans, dated 1779, contain information on the 2,400 acres of arable land possessed by Henry which contained cottages, mill yards, stables and dairy houses.

My findings have given me much food for thought and are helping me to develop profiles which detail the character, extent, uses, and commercial activities that are likely to have taken place on the Dawkins’ estates located across south west England in the 18th and 19th centuries.

[1] The History of Parliament Online

Henry Dawkins (1698-1744) married Elizabeth Pennant in 1719, their  son Henry (1728-1814) married Juliana Colyear in 1759, and their son Richard (1768-1848) married Jane Catherine Long in 1791

[2] Morgan, K. (2006) Materials on the History of Jamaica in the Edward Long Papers, Wakefield: Microform Academic Publishers.

[3] MS. D. D. Dawkins. C.34, Dawkins Family Papers:  Salford Manor, I.D. 1