SOME VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN BLACK BRITONS

The activities of people of African descent in Britain from the 1830s into the 1910s were broad and spread across the whole of the British Isles.

AGNES BIZZETT / AGNES FOSTER was born in Jamaica around 1827, inherited money from her Scottish father, and in 1848 she married in London. They had four children, and lived on a farm in east Yorkshire. She became a Salvation Army officer, returning to Jamaica where she founded the Salvation Army (1887). Back in England she worked for the Army in Manchester where she died in 1910. One of her daughters was also an officer in the Salvation Army.

SARAH PARKER REMOND was a ‘free person of color’ born in Massachusetts in 1824, active as a public speaker (against slavery, and for women’s rights) in Britain from 1859. She became a naturalized British citizen in 1865, studied medicine in Italy and died in Rome in 1894.

 MARION ‘MATTIE’ THRIFT died in Croydon in February 1907, aged 44. The daughter of an American doctor she had joined the famous Fisk Singers and toured to Australia and New Zealand in the 1880s. She married Harry Thrift, a wealthy Croydon wholesale grocer, in 1890 and had two daughters.

She was a friend of SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR who was born in London in 1875, the son of a doctor from Sierra Leone. He and his mother moved to Croydon when he was a baby. He studied at the Royal College of Music, London, for seven years from 1890. His compositions were popular and his four-part cantata (choir and orchestra) Hiawatha was a continuing success. He died – pneumonia – aged 37 in 1912.

FRANK DOVE was born in London in 1897. His father was a barrister from Sierra Leone. Dove went from Cranleigh school to Oxford (1915), enlisted in the Tank Corps and was awarded the Military Medal in 1917. He boxed for England at the 1920 Olympic Games. He qualified as a barrister. He died in a road accident in Wolverhampton in 1957.

ARNOLD ‘KID’ SHEPPARD was a boxer born in South Wales whose career started in 1907. By 1939 he had amassed a record of 155 defeats. Another British-born black sporting personality was JAMES PETERS, born 1879 in Salford, Manchester. He played rugby for England in the 1900s.

The activist and Chartist WILLIAM CUFFAY, born in Chatham in 1788 and exiled to Australia where he died in 1870, had a sister Juliana who died in the Chatham area in the summer of 1837. Little is known about her.

ROBERT BRANFORD was born in Suffolk in 1817 and joined the Metropolitan Police in 1838. He rose to inspector, then superintendent of M Division (Southwark) in 1856, retiring to Suffolk in 1866.

Sergeant WILLIAM DOBSON of the 72nd Highlanders was an African born in South Africa around 1840.  He joined the 72nd Highlanders in Edinburgh by 1858 and was sent to India where he was a drummer. By the early 1870s he was a sergeant, ‘popular among the soldiers’ and ‘in every respect a typical Scot’ but for his colour. He completed 21 years and retired to Edinburgh ‘with his wife and family’ and may have died in 1898.

THOMAS BETHUNE known as BLIND TOM was autistic. Born into slavery in Georgia, he toured Britain in 1866-1867 where his piano playing attracted praise and wonder: he could reproduce, at the keyboard, music he had only just heard. A later African American entertainer was active in Britain and the continent 1903-1914. He made well over one hundred records, singing and playing the harmonica.

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