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Edward Protheroe (Adm Reg - blank)_edited.jpg

Edward Protheroe

Life                                       1774 - 1856
Matriculation year             1793
Place connected                  Trinidad; St Vincent; Jamaica

Edward was born in Bristol and educated at Harrow School. He matriculated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in early 1793, before migrating to Christ's later that year. He then became a partner in the merchant firm 'Protheroes & Claxton', with his father, and he later served as an M.P. for Bristol between 1812 and 1820.

Connection to enslavement

Edward Protheroe was the son of Phillip Protheroe (1747 - 1803), who was a West Indian merchant and shipowner.¹ ² Edward, Philip and another Bristol merchant, Robert Claxton, were partners in the firm Protheroes & Claxton.³


Given that the historian David Fisher describes Philip as a 'shipowner', he may have been the Philip Protheroe who became a one-sixteenth shareholder of the voyage of the slaving ship the Hector in 1773-1774: the ship embarked 325 enslaved people from the African coast and disembarked 296 of them in South Carolina (suggesting that 29 people probably died on the voyage).⁴ ⁵ The net returns on the joint venture of the Hector and Ambris (an accompanying vessel) totalled £9382 14s 0d. This is plausible given that Philip was active as a merchant in Bristol from 1768.


Philip was a partner in several merchant firms trading between Bristol and the British West Indies consecutively from that year: in 1783, Robert Claxton was incorporated as a third partner in the firm owned by Philip and another merchant, Mark Davis Jr. This firm, 'Davis, Protheroe & Claxton', became 'Protheroes & Claxton' in 1796, after Mark Davis Jr left and Edward joined the firm as a partner. Edward retired from his position in the firm in 1807-08.


Notably, during its operation before Edward's departure, Protheroes & Claxton imported at least 31,897 hogshead of sugar from the British West Indies (approximately 9.6 million litres, if one hogshead barrel is approximately equivalent to 300 litres).⁸ Presumably as a result of the firm's business activities Philip, Edward and Robert were listed as the mortgage holders for part of the Longville estate in Jamaica in 1798, in exchange for a £5,000 loan to Thomas Bayley Howell.⁹ ¹⁰


When Philip died in 1803, he was very wealthy: he left cash bequests of more than £112,000 in his will (equivalent to £12.8 million in 2022), leaving £20,000 to Edward (equivalent to £2.29 million in 2022), in addition to property in the vicinity of Bristol.


Edward served as an M.P. for Bristol between 1812 and 1820. His attitude to the issue of enslavement was ambiguous: in May 1814, he supported William Wilberforce's address about the slave trade and the importance of securing support for its abolition among the continental powers.⁷ In June 1815, however, he declined to support Wilberforce's bill to clamp down on British colonies still importing enslaved people illegally, instead advising him to agree to an inquiry into the issue. In May 1816, he supported a petition from Bristol West India merchants in opposition to the proposed registration of all slaves in the British West Indies.


Despite shifting his business interests towards collieries, iron mining and smelting (buying collieries in the Forest of Dean from his uncle in 1812 for more than £1,000), Edward maintained economic interests in the West Indies. In 1836, he was the awardee of £3590 13s 10d for 72 enslaved people on the Endeavour estate in Trinidad (who had originally been mortgaged to other merchants, before Edward acquired ownership of them).¹¹ Edward was also awarded a significant proportion of £8513 18s 10d in compensation for 315 enslaved people on the Prospect estate in St Vincent, as he was the mortgagee owed money by the estate owner.¹²

Edward also successfully lodged counter-claims for the compensation awarded for 164 enslaved people on the Teak Pen estate in Jamaica,¹³ and 91 enslaved people on the Four Paths estate in Jamaica,¹⁴ as a result of which he and his brother (named Philip, like their father) were awarded as much as £5281 10s 0d. In both cases, Edward was effectively a mortgagee, owed large sums of money by the estates' nominal owners and therefore the person to whom compensation was awarded.


Edward presumably benefitted from his father's activity as a sugar merchant from 1768 (six years before Edward was born). Edward joined the family firm as a partner in 1796, after his time at Christ's, which had probably been financed by his father. He received a large amount of his father's wealth when he died in 1803. Though Edward's attitude towards slavery while an M.P. appears ambiguous, he clearly benefitted directly when compensation was awarded to slave owners in 1836. The same financial instruments (primarily, granting loans to West Indian planters and slave owners) that his family's firm had used now benefitted Edward: he directly owned 72 enslaved people in Trinidad, but his position as a mortgagee meant he ultimately received perhaps an additional £10,000 of compensation for enslaved people in Jamaica and St Vincent.


Notably, Edward appears to have donated one pair of silver candlesticks to the College.¹⁵


¹ Venn, J.A., ed. (1953) "Protheroe, Edward". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part 2). Vol.5, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive. ² Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Edward Protheroe senior', [accessed 1st September 2022]. ³ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Philip Protheroe the elder', [accessed 1st September 2022]. ⁴ SlaveVoyages, 'Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade - Database', 2018 . Refine using 'Protheroe' as vessel owner, and select the 'Hector' entry. ⁵ Richardson, David, and Bristol Record Society, Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America: Vol. 4 The Final Years, 1770-1807 (Bristol: Bristol Record Society, 1986), p. 45. ⁶ Morgan, Kenneth, 'Bristol West India Merchants in the Eighteenth Century', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 3 (1993), 185-208, at p. 196. ⁷ Fisher, David R., 'PROTHEROE, Edward (1774-1856)' published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, edited by R. Thorne (London: Boydell and Brewer, 1986). ⁸ Morgan, Kenneth, 'Bristol West India Merchants in the Eighteenth Century', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 3 (1993), 185-208, at p. 207. ⁹ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Longville [ Jamaica | Clarendon ]', [accessed 2nd September 2022]. ¹⁰ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Thomas Bayley Howell', [accessed 2nd September 2022]. ¹¹ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Trinidad 1701 (Endeavour)', [accessed 2nd September 2022]. ¹² Legacies of British Slavery database, 'St Vincent 505 (Prospect)', [accessed 2nd September 2022]. ¹³ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Jamaica Clarendon 201 (Teak Pen)', [accessed 2nd September 2022]. ¹⁴ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Jamaica Clarendon 194 (Four Paths)', [accessed 2nd September 2022]. ¹⁵ Christ's College Silver Register (Reference: CA/C/20/3, page 80).

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