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Anthony Gambrill: How the Duke of Buckingham lost Hope (Pt 2)

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2015 | 8:00 AM
Anthony Gambrill

The second Duke of Buckingham's life of disrepute began when, at Oxford, he became involved with a young woman who his family had to buy off. He, like his father, went off on a grand tour of Europe. In Rome, he fathered an illegitimate daughter, also bought off by the family.

Returning to England as a self-proclaimed reformed individual, he entered politics as a member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire. His skirt-chasing and money-wasting habits were inherited from his father. He married Mary Campbell, daughter of a Scottish aristocrat, and set about trying to acquire a worthwhile portion of the estate when his father-in-law died. It was 20 years before he inherited his father's title and Mary became the second Duchess of Buckingham.

Two very public extramarital affairs resulted in his wife obtaining a divorce by an act of Parliament. His financial humiliation led to the auctioning of the contents of Stowe, the ancestral home, resulting in The Times editorialising: "... A man of the highest rank and of a property not unequal to his title has flung all away by extravagance and folly, and reduced his honours to the tinsel of a pauper and the bauble of a fool." His extravagance reached its peak when, in 1845, he entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for three days at enormous expense. The magnificence of the occasion included spending £75,000 on refurbishing the house and creating a State bedchamber. He died penniless in 1861 at the age of 64, owing a million and a half pounds to the Great Western Hotel in London.

By the middle of the 1700s, Jamaica had become Britain's most valuable colony, outstripping its Caribbean counterpart Barbados in the production of sugar. As the consumption of sugar abroad grew, so did the competitiveness, which brought an increasing number of producers through an era of rapid expansion. Following on her marriage in 1796 and through these years, Lady Anna Elizabeth, maintained an active interest in the affairs, albeit as an absentee owner.

 

SUGAR ECONOMY

 

But the 19th century put a different complexion on the sugar economy. An 1807 act of Parliament in Britain ended the slave trade, which was followed after a number of turbulent years by Emancipation in 1834. The unpopular four-year period of apprenticeship that followed proved problematic and led to labour shortages. Sugar prices fell while indebtedness loomed large, competitiveness increased, and production costs rose. Added to this were several years of unpredictable droughts and hurricanes as well. For Hope, the unsatisfactory performance of many of the estate's overseers and attorneys rather reduced its prospects.

After the first Duke and Duchess came into possession of Hope in 1819 following the death of Anna Eliza's namesake mother and willed her properties, Hope's output began declining. From 120 tons in 1820, it fell to 116 tons in 1830 and 15 tons in 1835. Rum production suffered similarly. With neglect of the estate becoming apparent, renting out of the land became a paramount concern. By 1827, nearly a third of Hope was leased out. The Buckinghams had no financial resources to call on having massive debts to cope with at home. By 1840, both Hope and the Middleton properties were leased for 10 years. At this time, Hope consisted of 3,344 acres, some of which were rented out.

The decline was persistent and funds for restoring it were not forth coming due to Buckingham's profligacy. Emancipation brought a reparations claim for £6,600, five shillings and six pence (worth several million dollars in today's currency) paid only in 1836, awarded for 379 slaves owned by the estate. But, by this time, the estate was in a condition of complete neglect. In 1848, the Kingston and Liguanea Water Works Company leased 634 acres of Hope Estate's former cane property, including the waterworks and rights to the water previously held by Hope to supply to meet the freshwater needs of Kingston and environs. By this time, the affairs of the Buckinghams were being administered by the second duke's son, Lord Chandos, in an effort to reduce its debts.

Eventually, the government was to take over the company and the task of supplying water to the rapidly-growing city and its suburbs. The governor, in 1871, also purchased the land on which Hope Botanic Gardens were to be created.

 

END OF THE HOPE SAGA

 

It was during the later lifetime of the third and last Duke of Buckingham that the Hope saga was to reach its end. The third duke's career revealed an entirely different side of Buckingham character. Formerly Lord Chandos, he joined the British Army, rising to the title of colonel and entered politics representing the family's constituency of Buckinghamshire.

From the age of 23, he was to attempt to settle his father's and grandfather's debts, which earned him respect. Later in life, he managed to restore a degree of wealth to the family's fortunes after four generations of selling off their inheritance. He died of diabetes aged 65, leaving no male heir, but having his daughter, Lady Mary, succeed him to the Scottish lordship of Kinloss, who in 1914, sold the Buckingham's last holding to the Jamaican government but the title, Duke of Buckingham, once again became extinct.

It was the profligacy of the dukes, particularly the first Duke of Buckingham, that was to be their downfall. The first duke originally had inherited nearly 60,000 acres of land in Britain, and after his marriage, their joint earnings from land rent was £70,000 a year. Hope Estate added another 3,000 acres to this. Eventually, the Buckingham holding stretched from Jack's Hill, along east to the Gordon Town Road at Grove district. It followed a line bordering Barbican to Matilda's Corner and to the southeast it took in Elletson Flat, Hope Tavern, Little Hope, and across the Hope River, to include Kintyre and into the foothills of the Dallas Mountain. It was said to include Middleton on the road to Newcastle, down the present Old Hope Road through Swallowfield, Up Park Camp and Elletson Road to Rae Town.

The sign at Papine, indicating Chandos Place is the only remaining evidence that the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos were ever part of Jamaica's past. More prominent is the frequency of the appellation 'Hope' on roads, the botanic garden and commercial properties in St Andrew. It is Major Richard Hope of General Robert Venables' invading army in 1655 whose legacy has survived.

- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.