George Wilson Bridges

1788 - 20th Sep 1863

Claimant or beneficiary

Biography

George Wilson Bridges (1788-1863), Rector of Mandeville (Manchester parish, Jamaica) 1817-23, and subsequently St Ann parish (1823-1837) was the elder son of George Bridges (1759-1835) of Lawford Place, Manningtree, Essex, corn merchant and country banker who, by 1815 in partnership with, among others, John Marratt of Dedham, controlled the recently developed Essex port of Mistley. A loyal Tory, he had staged in 1809 at Lawford Place a commemoration of George III's jubilee, a dinner for a hundred local poor. At the end of 1815 (when, according to G.W. Bridges, the family had a house in Russell Square as well as Lawford Place) his business affairs were precarious and he seems to have withdrawn from banking. One of the tenants at Mistley had been Golding Constable, father of the painter John Constable, who had in 1804 painted the Bridges family at Lawford Place, with the sixteen year old George standing at the left.

George's mother was Mary Wilson (1768-1863), sole daughter of William Wilson, formerly of Durham, Clapton and Dedham, and Knotts Green, Leyton (where George Wilson Bridges had been baptised in 1788) who died at Brunswick Square in 1805. The Survey of London indicates only one Brunswick Square resident of that name, at No 27, between 1802 and 1807, and describes him as Governor of the Foundling Hospital – an indicator of wealth and influence. On the death of his widow, Ann Wilson, in 1820, a substantial legacy from him would be shared among his surviving Bridges grandchildren.

The Bridges family had Leicestershire gentry roots. They still owned the advowson for the Rectory of Bruntingthorpe, a few miles outside Leicester. George's grandfather, another George Bridges, had nominated his son-in-law, Thomas Freeman, for the benefice, and Freeman would live until 1834 at the age of 75. George Wilson Bridges himself, in his brief Outlines and Notes Of Twenty-Nine years (1862), (a document which begins with the claim that 'The Writer would not quit the World in the character of that Myth to them which he has too long been to himself') explains that he became an Anglican clergyman because it was his father's intention, at the first opportunity, to present him to Bruntingthorpe, and that he had had no choice. Bridges has been seen by one modern historian of Jamaica as, in his youth, a disciple of Rousseau, but these late reminiscences around his marriage, in which he presents himself to the friends he had written them for, as, substantially, an innocent victim of the intrigues of others - clearly less than “Confessions” - can't always be independently confirmed.

George's Oxford education was at Trinity. He was ordained priest in Norwich, at 24, in December 1812, becoming curate at Frenze in Norfolk.

The duties did not prevent him undertaking a somewhat abridged Grand Tour in 1814, the result of which was a book, Alpine Sketches, comprised in a short tour through parts of Holland, Flanders, France, Savoy, Switzerland and Germany during the summer of 1814 by a member of the University of Oxford (1814).

In 1815, at 27, he took what turned out to be the life-defining step of eloping from Cheltenham with Elizabeth Raby Brooks, (1794 -1862), said to have been already pregnant by him, whom he married at Gretna Green on 24 August – the marriage was subsequently regularised at St George Hanover Square on 3 March 1816, witnessed by “F Brooks” (sic), almost certainly her sister Frances. No witness from the Bridges family appears to have been present. By the time of his father's death in 1835, leaving a very short will which doesn't even mention him, a complete breach had opened up between him and his immediate kin.

Elizabeth Raby Brooks had been born in Jamaica, daughter of John Brooks in St Elizabeth, and Ann Virgo Dunn. She too had expectations – her father, who had died in 1798, had provided £1000 currency in trust for her marriage or her 21st birthday. She was sister to George Brooks of Burnt Ground, who had in 1807 married Sarah Tharp Petgrave, daughter of William Burt Wright.

Elizabeth's sister, Frances, b 1797, married in 1817 the younger William Burt Wright of Kingston. One of Elizabeth's aunts was Ann Pinnock, nee Dunn, (1765-1818) widow of Philip Pinnock (b 1747) at New Shafston Pen, who, in her will, drawn up in June 1818, (PROB11/1718) left Elizabeth £600 in 3% Consols for her own personal use, in the hands of named trustees, Thomas Philip Hampson, William Burt Wright senior, and Francis Smith of Spanish Town, (though probate was in the end, in 1826, granted to Ann Pinnock's sister, Elizabeth Brooks, widow, then in London - Francis Smith, the only surviving original executor, having renounced). It is not known whether, when she left Bridges in 1834, she had other identifiable independent funds, but she would clearly not (as Bridge himself also claims) have lacked family support. Her estate at death was recorded at less than £800. Bridges however, was convinced that by eloping with her he had earned the lasting enmity of another unidentified Dunn aunt (for whom one candidate might possibly be Elizabeth Brooks) in Cheltenham, from whose house Elizabeth had gone with him, and that she had later funded Elizabeth Bridges and her son in, and on condition of, separation. For Bridges, the Hall family in St Ann seemed to have played a part, too.

The elopement and the scandal do not seem to have concerned the Governor of Jamaica, the Duke of Manchester, who in 1817 made Bridges Rector of the new church at Mandeville in the Jamaican parish created in his own name. Bridges claimed that because of the near-bankruptcy of his father he had to fund the voyage to Jamaica on borrowed money. Bridges refused to live in the newly-built Rectory on grounds of lack of privacy and the vestry (with one dissenting vote) allowed him to let it at £300 currency annually as a tavern - which it remained throughout his time in Manchester. He was allowed to keep £240 currency of the rent and found alternative accommodation for his family.

By the 1820s Bridges, who wrote that his attitude towards emancipation had been formed by his residence in the island, was attacking Wilberforce in print, (A Voice from Jamaica; in reply to William Wilberforce London 1823) and compiling the Annals of Jamaica he published in 1828. Bridges derived income from his baptism of thousands of enslaved people, arguably the result of policies put in place as part of the amelioration of the slave system; by 1819 his Jamaican Church stipends were £500 currency for a Rector – the Bishop of London having taken advice from Jamaica merchants that this was a sum which could 'maintain their position as gentlemen'. Daive Dunkley has suggested that Bridges' opposition to amelioration of slavery was in fact opposition to the foreseeable prospect of a black majority with political rights, rather than a simple defence of the slave economy. Dunkley argues that this led Bridges from the advocacy of planter government to - effectively – suggesting the establishment of the equivalent of a Crown Colony in Jamaica, in which a Governor and appointed Council, not an elected Assembly, would rule.

It also gained him a high profile. In 1829-31 Bridges became a major target for anti-slavery journalism. The violence of his language in Volume II of the Annals about the case of the mixed-race Louis Celeste Lecesne and his brother in law John Escoffery, British citizens of San Domingo origin, expelled on very dubious grounds from Jamaica in 1824, perhaps simply because they were arguing to improve the rights of Jamaican people of colour, attracted attention in London. Bridges described them as 'impatient to sheathe their daggers in the breasts of the white inhabitants'. They sued Bridges' publisher, John Murray, in late 1829, forcing him to withdraw and amend volume II. This was one of three major stories around Bridges to break during 1829-31.

The violence was not just verbal. In the case of Henry Williams, (aka Henry Atkinson Williams) in 1829, a Methodist class leader and enslaved person on Rural Retreat in St Ann, at the time being run by an attorney named Betty on behalf of Ellen Moffat Adam, the daughter of the late owner, William Atkinson (vide her husband, Matthew Adam, compensation claimant), Bridges, who was a St Ann magistrate as well as Rector, intervened personally to instruct Williams to ensure his class attended the Parish Church the next Sunday. Williams attended, but his class did not. Williams was then sent in chains to the Rodney Hall (St Ann), and later St Thomas in the Vale workhouses, in both of which he experienced repeated severe floggings. The case was reported in the anti-slavery Jamaica newspaper, the Watchman, and became material in the UK for anti-slavery campaigners. There had been other earlier instances of committal to the workhouse for – effectively – private Methodist worship among the enslaved in St Ann.

During the 1831-2 Baptist War, Williams was again arrested, this time under under martial law, charged with holding suspicious (according to him, Methodist class) meetings at his house, found guilty by court-martial in the guardroom at St Ann's Bay on 16 January 1832, given the maximum 39 lashes, and sentenced to six months in the workhouse. Though those responsible probably had the earlier case in mind, or had been told of it, Bridges' name doesn't appear in the official record of the 1832 court martial. Nor does Williams' further persecution appear to have received much anti-slavery press coverage. Goderich's reaction was to indicate that he supported neither the proceedings not the sentence, but he reversed neither, on the grounds of elapsed time and distance, and confined himself to advising the Governor not to advance the militia officers or the magistrates involved further except in the absence of fit alternative candidates.

A further well-publicised 1828 instance of Bridges's violence towards individual enslaved people was recorded in the case of his servant, Kitty Hylton, whom he accused, on her account wrongly, of slaughtering a turkey for his dinner without his permission. She was flogged so badly by other servants on Bridges' instructions and by Bridges himself that her case was taken to the Council of Protection for St Ann in 1828 by one of Bridges' own colleagues, though the Council voted against proceedings by 14 to 4. This case drew the attention of the Commons, Brougham, and, also, Goderich, who in February 1831, well after the 1828 incident, lamented that Bridges, a Minister of the Gospel, should have gone unpunished and required he be removed from the magistracy.

In 1831-2, during the uprising, Bridges helped to found the Colonial Church Union and seems to have played a part in steering its attentions, in the manner of the Church and King mobs of the 1790s in England, towards Baptist and Methodist congregations, buildings, and individual missionaries and their followers, however helpful to law and order some of them might in fact have been, in St Ann and elsewhere. He was also (in Emancipation Unmask'd, 1835) a severe critic of apprenticeship, from a completely different direction to that from which the anti-slavery campaigners were attacking, arguing that the evil was the loss of slaveholder power.

In 1834 his wife left him, taking George, one of their two sons, with her. No reconciliation ever took place, though Bridges returned to England with his infant son, just weaned at her departure, for a time to try to contact her, eventually retiring to Coole in Ireland to spend time with a friend, Manchester's successor as Governor of Jamaica from the period of Bridges' greatest notoriety, the 2nd Earl of Belmore. While he was preparing his return to Jamaica and counting the cost of the expedition (which he put at over £1,200, including the loss of a pawned silver presentation plate from the Jamaica Assembly) his father, whose affairs had recovered from their state in 1815, and had been living near Bath, died. Bridges, according to his Outlines, could do little more than follow the coffin from Whitechapel to interment in Ilford. He had been reconciled with neither his wife nor his family. In retrospect, he came to believe he had been frozen out mainly by the influence of his younger brother, John William Bridges (his financial agent in London,who had made a success of the estate and whose son was eventually Rector of Bruntingthorpe), and his brother's wife, whom he even saw as having influence on Elizabeth Bridges. (A photograph of the early 1860s in Essex archives shows J. W. Bridges nearly 60 years since Constable, watching steam threshing at a farm near Manningtree.) In 1837 Bridges's surviving four daughters drowned in Kingston Harbour on New Year's Day. His younger son William was saved.

The effect on Bridges seems to have been profound. Sturge and Harvey, who on the face of it would not have been his most welcome guests at any time, visited him on their 1837 tour in Jamaica, when he was still mourning his loss. They recorded that he received them kindly. The same year, he claims under the influence of the Canadian author Mrs Traill, to whom he eventually let the tower he built there, he left the island for Canada with William. They lived for a while in the wilderness, returning to Britain, for, he says, his son's health, via Malta, in 1842.

On his return he had become, under the auspices of J.H. Monk, (Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Cambridge classicist and Tory, who is said to have been the last Bishop to wear a white wig in public), Rector of Maisemore near Gloucester. Through William, now a pupil at the local school, and the Mount-Edgecombe family, Bridges seems to have come into contact with W. H. Fox-Talbot (to whose family, who saw him as rich, he seems for a while to have presented himself as a frontiersman) at Lacock Abbey. Interestingly, Bridges' friend and predecessor as Rector of St Ann, Rev Lewis Bowerbank, became curate at St Cyriac's, Lacock, Fox-Talbot's parish church, later in the 1840s.

Bridges tried to get instruction in photography through Fox-Talbot and in the end succeeded. Fortified by an annual Jamaican government pension of £60 and a regular supply of photographic paper from Fox-Talbot, Bridges, having with the assistance of the Yorkshire former Whig MP Sir Sandford Graham, who had been one of Byron's companions in Italy in 1810, prepared his son William for the Navy, and set out in January 1846 for Paris, where he acquired a new camera, and began journeying round the Mediterranean, in contact from time to time with friends and contacts of Fox-Talbot, notably Kit Talbot, from his base in Malta, to Greece, Constantinople and Egypt, sometimes following his son's ship, and visiting and photographing Jerusalem in 1850. He had around 1700 pictures, and made attempts to publish them first through a Cheltenham agent and later in editions prepared by himself, without much success. On his return in 1852 Monk made Bridges his secretary, and found the living of Beachley, near Chepstow, for him at a stipend of £40. Elizabeth Bridges died in Ealing in February 1862, and Bridges re-interred her from Ealing at Beachley. He died on 20 September 1863, the year of his mother's death, and was buried next to his wife.

His assets were less than £100.

Sources

We are grateful to Jim Brennan for compiling this entry. See also Hall, Catherine. "Bridges, George Wilson (1788–1863), Anglican clergyman, defender of slavery, and photographer." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 8 Jan. 2018. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-109524.

Tate Britain online has the best account of Bridges' family: its catalogue entry for the Constable group portrait is at www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/constable-the-bridges-family-n06130/text-catalogue-entry. The portrait shows a sixteen-year-old Bridges standing to the left of his father.

The information on Bruntingthorpe comes from “Outlines”, the Clergy of the Church of England Database and the will of George Bridges of Mistley (PROB 11/1340/140, GW Bridges's grandfather).

See also littleilford.fsnet.co.uk/StMichaels/Headstone%20inscriptions.html for headstone inscriptions for the Bridges and William and Ann Wilson.

An account of the celebration of the Jubilee on 25th October 1809 beiing the Forty-Ninth anniversary of the reign of George the Third “the father of his people” collected and published by a Lady the wife of a Naval Officer (Longman, 1809) p. 62.

Will of William Wilson of Brunswick Square in the County of Middlesex 1805 PROB 11/1434.

Cced entry for G.W. Bridges.

Elizabeth Raby Brooks - Vere Langford Oliver, Caribbeana being miscellaneous papers relating to the history, genealogy, topography, and antiquities of the British West Indies (6 vols., London, Mitchell, Hughes and Clarke, 1910-1919) Vol. 2 pp. 49-53, Vol. 6 p. 26 – see also Jamaica Family search www.jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Members/bcarib26.htm which has the Caribbeana Vol 2 material as its centrepiece.

“The Lang Collection of Gretna Green Marriages Records.” (The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, Canterbury, 1815) p. 29 via Ancestry.com.

Ancestry.com, London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921 [database online].

Will of Ann Pinnock PROB 11/1718.

Daive A. Dunkley, Agency of the Enslaved. Jamaica and the Culture of Freedom in the Atlantic World (Lanham, Md., Plymouth, UK 2013) pp. 46-47, 140, 157, 170-172.

Russell Lord, “Faithful Delineations: Rev George Wilson Bridges and Photography” in Daive A. Dunkley (ed.) Readings in Caribbean History and Culture: Breaking Ground ( Lanham, Md., Plymouth, UK 2011) pp. 109-126.

Daive A. Dunkley, "The Life of Rev. George Wilson Bridges The Jamaican Experience" Daive A. Dunkley (ed.) Readings in Caribbean History and Culture: Breaking Ground ( Lanham, Md., Plymouth, UK 2011) pp. 87-108.

Accounts and Papers relating to Colonies, East and West Indies Canada, Ceylon etc. Session 29 January -29 August 1833 Vol XXVI pp. 481-489 (Trial of Henry Williams 1832) and p. 489 (Memorial and Statement of Baptist missionaries in Jamaica).

Anti-Slavery Reporter LXXVI Feb 15 1831 II.6 "Minutes of Evidence in the case of the Rev G.W. Bridges and his slave Kitty Hylton"; LXXIX April 2 1831 II "Despatch of Lord Goderich respecting the case of the Rev G.W. Bridges and his slave Kitty Hylton"; LXXVII March 1 1831 "Sequel of the Case of Henry Williams of Jamaica"

Article on Bridges, Reverend George Wilson by Ian Sumner in (J. Hannavy(ed.) Encyclopaedia of Nineteenth Century Photography.

National Probate Calendar for Elizabeth Raby Bridges (1862) and George Wilson Bridges (1863).


Further Information

Absentee?
Transatlantic
Name in compensation records
George W. Bridges
Spouse
Elizabeth Raby Brooks
Children
2 sons, 4 daughters
Wealth at death
£100
University
Oxford (Trinity)
Occupation
Clergyman and photographer
Religion
Anglican
Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Claims (1)

£87 9S 4D
Awardee

Associated Estates (1)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1826 [EA] - 1829 [LA] → Owner

Legacies Summary

Historical (8)

BooksAuthor?
Alphine Sketches, comprised in a short tour through parts of Holland, Flanders, France, Savoy, Switzerland and Germany during the summer of 1814 by a member of the University of... 1814 
PamphletsAuthor?
A Voice from Jamaica; in reply to William... 1823 
BooksAuthor?
Dreams of Dulocracy: or, The puritanical... 1824 
BooksAuthor?
The Driving... 1824 
BooksAuthor?
The Annals of... 1828 
PamphletsAuthor?
Emancipation unmask'd, in a letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of Aberdeen, Secretary of State for the Colonies by the author of "The annals of... 1835 
BooksAuthor?
Palestine As It Is: in a series of photographic... 1858 
BooksAuthor?
Outlines and Notes of Twenty-nine... 1862 

Relationships (1)

Son-in-law → Mother-in-law

Addresses (3)

Canada
Maisemore, Gloucestershire, South-west England, England
Beachley, Gloucestershire, South-west England, England