Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Anthony Gambrill | Kingdom of Heaven

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:12 AM
William Hudson-Heaven

William Hudson, who had emigrated from England at the age of 20, made his fortune in Jamaica, ultimately owning four estates in Hanover by the time of his death in 1807. He bequeathed his properties and an endowment to his godson, William Hudson-Heaven, who realised a life-long dream of owning an island by purchasing the Island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel three miles off the coast of Devon in England. Lundy had a turbulent past, and after the Hudson-Heaven years of tenure, it was to have an odd future.

At the end of the 18th century, William Hudson was registered as the owner of Golden Grove, which was to have over 700 slaves producing sugar and rum; Ramble Pen, with a livestock inventory of nearly a thousand cattle; Bean’s Estate at one point was producing sugar and rum but also listed copper, iron, and lead as its assets; and Silver Grove, all of which were in Hanover.

William Hudson-Heaven attended Oxford, and in 1825, married an admiral’s daughter with whom he had a son, who was to become an Anglican reverend, and a daughter, Cecilia. He purchased the island of Lundy for 9,400 guineas (a million pounds in today’s currency) in 1834, thanks to his godfather’s generosity. He was to benefit further after Emancipation when he received over nine thousand pounds in compensation for freeing his slaves. With his latest windfall, he set out to make a childhood dream come true out on this barren 1,000-acre granite island, planning to use it as a summer retreat and for shooting. By now, he was an absentee Jamaican plantation owner.

Myths have it that Lundy was known in times past as the Giants Grave and was rumoured to be the burial ground of the Viking Chieftain Hubba, who died in 1878 during a raid on nearby Devon. Lundy acquired a degree of normalcy when it was acquired by the Norman family de Marisco, who had arrived in Britain with William the Conqueror in 1066.

HAVEN FOR PIRATES

For centuries, Lundy became a haven for pirates, and by the time William Hudson-Heaven purchased it, the landscape contained only a small farm, a ruined castle, and a lighthouse. The locals were to call the island ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’.

Heaven built the island’s first road up from the beach, renovated the farm, and began building cottages in the castle courtyard for labourers. His pride and joy was Millcombe House, a Georgian-styled villa, completed by 1836. The road was extensively used for servicing the lighthouse essential as Lundy had been the scene of hundreds of shipwrecks. St Helen’s Church, completed in 1896 by his son, is still standing, an appropriate legacy of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

The mounting cost of maintaining the island combined with the declining returns from Heaven’s Jamaican properties had a ruinous effect on the family’s fortunes. At one point, a lease was granted to a company to quarry granite, employing 200 men, allowing for an extensive building programme. But five years later, the company went into liquidation.

Heaven attempted to sell the island for several years and even had to make it his permanent home before he died in 1883. His son, Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven, was the one to complete the stone church. Unfortunately, he decided his priority was to erect St Helen’s (substantially assisted by an endowment he also had received from his wife) rather than invest in a bad-needed new harbour. Unwise speculation and falling investments added to the family woes.

The reverend died in 1916, and two years later, his nephew was forced to sell Lundy. Six years on, the island was sold again to Martin Coles Harman, who decided to proclaim himself King of Lundy. He issued his own coins – one Puffin was the equivalent of an English penny and a Half Puffin, to a half penny. He was prosecuted for five pounds plus costs incurred by the House of Lords.

The only other curiosity that is associated with Lundy came in the form of a bottle that washed up on the Devon shore in 1957. A message inside dated 1843 had been thrown into the ocean by a seaman on board the HMS Caledonia. He beseeched the finder to look on Lundy for the shipwrecked with its cargo of ivory and leather bags containing gold dust. The ivory was subsequently recovered but not the gold dust.

Ironically, Lundy was the original Norse name for the puffin, but by the beginning of the 21st century, rats had decimated them. Happily, the island was purchased by a millionaire in 1969 and given to the National Trust, and since then, the puffins have made a comeback.

Successive generations of William Hudson-Heaven’s descendants owned Jamaican property he had inherited into this century, and the original 18th Great House built by his godfather, William Hudson, at Ramble is still occupied.

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