South Benfleet and Slavery in St Vincent and the Grenadines

By Lynda Manning

The Headstone for Samuel William Finch - in St Mary's churchyard
Lynda Manning

The British Parliament outlawed the international slave trade in 1807, but it took another twenty-six years to finally abolish slavery.

In the West Indies, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 meant that only slaves under the age of six were freed immediately. Slaves over that age were redesignated as ‘apprentices’ and their servitude continued for several more years. An outcry from sugar planters and merchants, who were to lose their slaves, ensured that the 1833 Act included financial compensation. This was set at a sum of ‘Twenty Million Pounds Sterling,’ a huge amount of money, equivalent to 40% of the Government’s total annual expenditure!

Surprisingly, the loan, secured to fulfil the financial obligations of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, was not fully repaid by H M Treasury until 2015! Intrigued by this information, I searched the ‘Legacies of British Slavery’ database to see if there were any local beneficiaries. I found the following:

A young man called Samuel William Finch was the intended beneficiary of £339 2s 2d in compensation for the loss of the eleven slaves he owned on the ‘Chateau Bellair’ estate, in St Vincent. He died before the money could be paid to him, aged only fifteen, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, South Benfleet, on the 17th of August 1837.

Samuel William Finch had inherited the eleven slaves upon the death of his father Samuel Finch. Samuel’s will named John Whitlaw (sometimes described as a merchant, other times a writing clerk) as a Trustee for his son, and there are records to show that John Whitlaw completed a ‘Triennial Return of Slaves’ on behalf of Samuel William Finch, aged thirteen, in 1834.

A document of 1822 records slave owners Samuel Finch and his wife Alzira manumitting (freeing) a slave named ‘Mart’ and her child ‘Elouise’. The Slave Register for 1817 documents an Alzira Constance Daley as the owner of Mary Mart and her daughter Eloais, suggesting that the couple had married sometime between 1817 and 1822. Their son Samuel William Finch was born about 1822. It seems probable that Alzira had predeceased Samuel, as at the time of writing his will in England, young Samuel William Finch remained under the guardianship of John Beresford, Colonial Secretary for St Vincent.

Below is an extract from the ‘Will of Samuel William Finch’ dated the 4th of August 1837:

This is the last Will and Testament of Samuel William Finch late of Island of St Vincent now residing in the parish of South Benfleet in the county of Essex. First I give and bequeath to my uncle Wm (William) Finch now residing in the said parish of South Benfleet in the county of Essex all my compensation money which is now due to me now in the hands of the Commissioners of Compensations, Grate (Great) George Street London. I also give to my said uncle William Finch all moneys which may arise from the hire of my Negroes now residing in the Island of St Vincent in the West Indies which are at this time under the care of John Beresford Esq my Guardian and all other property of every kind whatsoever that may belong to me at my decease and nominate my said uncle sole Executor………

The witnesses were Fr Rev A Parks and A Hall.

The will was proved in London on the 8th of March 1839.

The compensation due to Samuel William Finch was contested by two men: John Whitlaw and William Finch. The Compensation Commissioners decided that as William Finch was an executor of both S Finch’s will and S W Finch’s will, he should receive the award.

The burial record for Samuel William Finch gives Canvey Island as his residence at death. Could he have been staying with his uncle William?

A ‘William Finch’ had been ‘inn keeper’ at the Hoy (now the Hoy and Helmet) in South Benfleet between 1828 and 1833, but in1839 Pigot’s Directory for Essex, has him living at the Lobster Smack Inn, Holy Haven (now Holehaven), Canvey Island.  It is quite possible that William was at the Lobster Smack as early as 1837, caring for his nephew; the ‘South Benfleet’ address would have been correct, as the Lobster Smack was located in an area of Canvey Island belonging to the parish of South Benfleet.


Wikipedia – Slavery Abolition Act 1833

Freedom of Information enquiry dated 5/1/2018: H M Treasury :

Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834 and Census Records

The British Library EAP 345: A survey of the endangered archives of St Vincent, West Indies, during the slavery era

Parliamentary Papers 1780-1849 volume 28 (page 597)

Essex Record Office D/P 300/1/7 Burial Register

The National Archives PROB 11/1908/44

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  • Very interesting it’s good to know about the history of our area. What I would to know what samuel William Finch died of being of such a young age .

    By Colin Gregory (05/11/2022)
  • Very interesting to read about Samuel William Finch a resident of Canvey Island who was buried in St Marys South Benfleet as most Canvey people were at that time. Canvey has other earlier slavery connections. I shall have to investigate.

    By Janet Penn (19/08/2021)

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