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Anthony Gambrill | The making of Mad Jack Fuller

Published:Friday | June 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The family of Fulke Rose had been in Jamaica like many others from the time of the British occupation. By 1670, he owned 380 acres in St Catherine and was a member of the Jamaican Assembly from 1675, serving intermittently until the year before his death in 1693 when he owned substantial plantations in St Catherine, among other parishes.

His friend, Hans Sloane, who had lived in Jamaica in the 1680s, heard from someone in 1693 after the earthquake had destroyed the previously thriving town of Port Royal: "We have a very great mortality (for we have little one daily). Almost half the people who escap'd upon Port Royal are since dead of the Malignant Fever, from Change of Air, want of dry Houses, warm lodging, proper medicine ... ."

The enormity of the disaster, both in terms of human lives and material possessions, resulted in a delegation, including Fulke Rose, travelling to London to plead for the Government's assistance. His exertion presumably proved too great as he died shortly after returning to the island, leaving behind a wife pregnant with their fourth daughter. His widow, Elizabeth, soon married Hans Sloane, who went on to write his classic A Natural History of Jamaica. As one wit at the time suggested that because ladies were extremely scarce articles in Jamaica, widows were quick to dye widow's black weeds into bridal white.

Daughters Elizabeth and Anne inherited most of his property, but it was the former who enriched a British family when she married John Fuller in 1703. The marriage brought a considerable Jamaican fortune to the Fullers, who had an iron foundry in Sussex principally making pig iron and cannon. As the years rolled by, the Jamaican income not only increased their wealth, but supported their domestic enterprise, since at the time, its fortunes were flagging.

John Fuller became an absentee Jamaican proprietor but sent his son, Rose, originally trained as a doctor, to manage his plantations. Finding them rundown and underproductive, he invested in new equipment and introduced more efficient agricultural techniques, which, over two decades, greatly increased their profitability.

On February 27, 1736/37, Rose married Ithamar Mill, whose father owned Grange in St Catherine. She was 16 and died just one year later in childbirth. Rose Fuller never remarried but maintained a long-term relationship with his mulatto housekeeper, Mary Johnston Rose. Her father was probably another member of the Fuller clan. She had two sons, for whom she applied successfully to the Jamaican Assembly for them to be granted equal privileges to white citizens.




Apparently, Mary nursed Rose Fuller through several serious illnesses, meanwhile managing his household until he returned to the United Kingdom in 1755 to enter politics. His time in the Jamaican Assembly had been turbulent in opposition to Governor Trelawny. After being appointed chief justice, Fuller was to resign over the dismissal of a fellow judge.

On his death in 1777, his nephew, John, to become better known as 'Mad Jack', inherited his gun foundry and iron works in Sussex, as well as the Jamaican plantations, although he never set foot on the island.

When he took his seat in the British Parliament in 1801, his outlandish behaviour was to manifest itself. He was blunt and outspoken, on one occasion retorting to the abolitionist William Wilberforce that the living conditions for the West Indian slaves were "equal, nay superior, to the conditions of the labouring poor of this country".

Despite his behaviour, he was more likely eccentric than mad, although sadly, his proposal of marriage to a certain Miss Thrale was rejected when he was 33. He never married but devoted his life after retiring at the age of 55 to, among other enthusiasms, building traditional English 'follies' (often summer houses), his own mausoleum in the shape of a pyramid, a lighthouse, a tower to view Bodiam Castle (which he had bought to restore), and an observatory since he was a keen astronomer. Finally, he erected a 35-foot sugar loaf said to be the epitome of folly-building, in the shape of a cone, which is believed to have been the result of a losing wager.

Mad Jack Fuller died in 1834, willing his estate to two nephews just in time for them to receive compensation of approximately £9,000 (about £1.5 million in today's currency) for Grange, Wellens Pen, in St Catherine, and Knollis and Palm estate in St Thomas-in-the-Vale. This windfall was no doubt fortuitous as earlier, the Fuller forging enterprises had folded, leaving only the income from Jamaican slavery and sugar and their British landholdings to sustain them.

- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright and historian. Email feedback to