Life 1714 - 1791
Matriculation year 1733
Place connected Jamaica; Grenada
Ralph Verney matriculated at Christ's in 1733, and obtained an M.A. there in 1735/36. He succeeded his father, also named Ralph, as second Earl Verney in 1752, and became one of the most significant landowners in Buckinghamshire. He subsequently became an M.P. for Wendover, then for Carmarthen, and then for Buckinghamshire.
Connection to enslavement
Ralph inherited a considerable fortune on succeeding his father in 1752, and additionally received a wedding dowry of £40,000 when he married Mary Herring, the daughter of the director of the Bank of England, in 1740.¹ ² The historian Patrick Woodland records that 'he ultimately squandered this wealth through ruinous extravagance, injudicious business dealings, and an absurd generosity'.²
As part of those business dealings, Ralph made 'speculative purchases of West Indian lands', which the Legacies of British slavery database suggests presumably included the 'enslaved people there'.² ³ Ralph lent money to Lauchlin Macleane, who owned enslaved people in Grenada and St Vincent (and was the Lieutenant-Governor of St Vincent in 1766).⁴ Ralph's loan was reportedly secured on Macleane's investment in property in Grenada, which must have included plantations and probably the enslaved people on them.³
Ralph also leant £6,500 on mortgage to William Gray, secured on his Rhine plantation in Jamaica, in 1778.³ ⁵ The estate is recorded as producing rum and sugar in records from 1782, and the earliest record of the number of enslaved people on the plantation was in 1810, when 183 enslaved people were registered on the plantation.⁵ When Ralph died, his niece, Mary, inherited the mortgage over the Rhine estate from him.⁶
The historian John Brooke notes Ralph's reputed 'folly and extravagance', by which 'he wasted his fortune'.⁷ After failing to be re-elected to Parliament in 1784, he fled England for France, in order to avoid being arrested for his debts.⁷ A slightly more generous interpretation is offered by George Lipscomb, writing in 1847 in his 'History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham' that Ralph was 'lavish in his personal expenses, and fond of show', such that 'he was one of the last of the English nobility'.⁸
Notably, that lavishness apparently included having 'a brace of tall negroes with silver French-horns behind his coach', who were 'perpetually making a noise', and 'blowinge very joyfully to behold and see'. They were apparently 'constantly attendant upon him'.⁸ It is unclear whether these individuals were enslaved, though it probably less likely that they were after the Somerset v Stewart Case of 1772. Equally, they may have been brought to England as enslaved people, and it seems implausible that they would have been entirely freely employed as part of Ralph's 'gorgeous equipage'.⁸
Ralph presents something of an anomaly for this database: though he is categorised as a 'financial beneficiary of enslavement', by all accounts his business activities were ruinous for his fortune. In Brooke's damning words, he 'was more enterprising than judicious'.⁷ Nonetheless, he purchased land in the West Indies, lent money to slave owners, and was a mortgagee for at least one plantation worked with enslaved labour in Jamaica. He may also have brought enslaved or formerly enslaved people to England to form part of his noble entourage. At any rate, he attempted to benefit from enslavement.
¹ Venn, J.A., ed. (1927) "Verney, Ralph". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part 1). Vol.4, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive. ² Woodland, Patrick, 'Verney, Ralph, second Earl Verney (1714–1791), politician', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition (2008), https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/28234 [accessed 5th September 2022]. ³ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Ralph Verney 2nd Earl Verney', http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146645389 [accessed 5th September 2022]. ⁴ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Lauchlin Macleane', http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146645275 [accessed 5th September 2022]. ⁵ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Rhine [ Jamaica | St Thomas-in-the-East, Surrey ]', http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/3252 [accessed 5th September 2022]. ⁶ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'Mary Verney Baroness Fermanagh', http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146658729 [accessed 5th September 2022]. ⁷ Brooke, John, 'VERNEY, Ralph, 2nd Earl Verney [I] (1714-91), of Claydon House, Bucks.' published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, edited by L. Namier and J. Brooke (London: Boydell and Brewer, 1964). http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/verney-ralph-1714-91 [accessed 5th September 2022]. ⁸ Lipscomb, George, The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham, Vol. 1 (London: J. & W. Robins, 1847), p. 183-184.