Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

No Dates


Archibald Kerr in 1749 left an estate in Jamaica to the Royal Infirmary, which the Infirmary managers leased to James Trecothick ne Ivers (q.v.) in 1801 for 35 years. In 1806 the Infirmary petitioned to be allowed to sell the estate (identified there as Red Hill Pen and described as largely pasture land at the time but with some 50 enslaved people in 1817 and beyond) to Trecothick for £7000.

Their case however, appears to have been unsuccessful as the Infirmary continued to draw rents from Trecothick over subsequent decades. Research by Simon Buck at Lothian Health Services Archive in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, conducted as part of a joint-commissioned project led by NHS Lothian and NHS Lothian Charity, shows that the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh eventually extracted compensation money (£797 17s 3d) and the interest accrued on it, from the claimant, James Trecothick.

A cash book used by the Managers of the Royal Infirmary shows that the organisation received £500 in 1836 as ‘share of compensation for loss of labour of the Negroes in the West Indies’. Over the next few years, the Managers of the Royal Infirmary wrote to Trecothick to demand the remaining funds along with delayed rents: with interest, this figure, they claimed, came to £832. The Managers’ solicitors, Murray, Rymer and Murray, were told by the Slave Compensation Commission office in London that Trecothick had claimed the ‘compensation for the loss of labour of the slaves of the Red Hill Penn Estate in his own name and as if he were the owner of the freehold’. In the solicitors’ letters to the Managers updating them on the case, they reported that officers at the Commission had told them of another compensation claim to ‘another estate belonging to another charity in Edinburgh derived under the same will’ that was put in the same name as the charity, with the claim paid directly to its treasurers. It is unclear which charity or estate this refers to.

When the solicitors confronted Trecothick, he appeared ‘either intentionally or constitutionally very oblivious upon all points’. In a letter to the Managers, the solicitors wrote ‘As to the compensation he at first appeared to forget all about it but we so shaped our questions as at last to extract from him his admissions that the claim was made in his own name and with other property belonging to him but he added that had he not done so as the time for making the claim would have gone by. Why, however, the demand on the Commissioners was not made by him in the name of the Infirmary, he could not explain. He has evidently been dealing with the Estate as if it were his own and some prompt and decided measures should be resorted to with the view to place the matter on a proper footing. We do not conceive that he was entitled to receive any portion of the compensation and we think that the payment of the balance of the £800 and odd should be insisted upon … He complains that he has written frequently to the Royal Infirmary but that no attention has been paid to his letter’. It is true that Trecothick did write several times to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s managers, including telling them that he was sending £500 of the compensation money; he never seems to have offered them the full amount.

In 1842, William Burge, a Privy Councillor, lawyer, and agent in Jamaica, led an arbitration to resolve the dispute between the Managers and Trecothick over the missing compensation money and late rents. This included several examinations and cross-examinations with those who knew the estate, some of which provide insight into insurrection among the estate’s apprenticed labourers, and their movement to Trecothick’s nearby Boston and Buckingham estates. An 1842 cash book shows that the Royal Infirmary’s received £721 through Burge’s award. This amount likely included rent (it is unclear how much rent was owed and rewarded: in 1832, the Infirmary had received £200 in annual rent from Red Hill) and missing compensation money: as Managers were successful in their claim, it seems likely the Infirmary received their desired amount of compensation money (£832), or at least very close to it.

Despite many efforts to sell the property over subsequent years, Red Hill pen remained in the ownership of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh until February 29, 1892, when it was sold to Julia Adelaide Cressar [?] for £650 (leaving around £600 to the RIE after paying expenses for solicitors and other costs.)

We are grateful to Dr Simon Buck for his assistance in compiling this entry.


Email correspondence dated 05/01/23 with Dr Simon Buck, who conducted research funded by the NHS Lothian Charity into the Royal Infirmary’s historical connections with Atlantic slavery. The full report, "Uncovering Origins of Hospital Philanthropy: Report on Slavery and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh", can be accessed at the following webpage:

Associated Estates (2)

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
1749 [EA] - 1801 [LA] → Owner
1801 [EA] - 1832 [LA] → Other

Lessor to James Trecothick