Intended for Jamaica (Work in Progress)
Responding to the Archives
Intended for Jamaica is an an artist led project that is responding to archives held in the Boulton and Watt Collection at the Library of Birmingham.
The new work focuses on an unseen part of the archive held within the collection that sheds light on the sale of the Boulton and Watt Co. steam engines from Soho Foundry near Birmingham to sugar plantations in Jamaica, during the period of British slavery, indentured labour and colonialism.
The project seeks to explore the collection through artist research that also informed fieldwork in Jamaica to create new artworks in direct response to the archival records detailing Boulton and Watt Co.'s trade with sugar plantations in Jamaica in the nineteenth century.
The Boulton and Watt collection is a vast and of international importance but despite this the archive materials linked to Jamaica and all the sugar colonies is easily located in the archive catalogue. The history at the centre of this project is contained within the Collection in the form of hundreds of correspondence, record books and technical drawings dating back to around the 1770s, specifically on trade to sugar plantations that includes Jamaica.
So although a fragmented, silent, and marginalised story which has largely been disregarded, it is easily accessed. The Library of Birmingham is a free public library and archive service located in the centre, of Birmingham, UK.
James Watt, Matthew Boulton and William Murdoch are celebrated heroes of the industrial revolution and central to the story of Birmingham that history has been written about for the last two hundred year and so it is not repeated in this project.
A Short History
Jamaica was a British colony during the period 1655 until 1962 when it gained independence.
The story of Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and William Murdoch in the late eighteenth century is connected to a crucial chapter in the development of steam engines and their application for sugar-cane milling on Caribbean plantations. This technological advancement plays a role in the expansion and efficiency of sugar production in the region, shaping the dynamics of the colonial trade and its connections to slavery.
Between 1803 and 1825, Boulton and Watt Co. received approximately 119 orders for steam engines bound for the Caribbean, with Jamaica being a primary destination. The first official order to Jamaica occurred in 1808 when Sir Alexander Grant commissioned a steam engine for his sugar plantation in Dalvey, St Thomas in The East. Jamaica lacked the skilled engineers to erect and get the engines working so after much correspondence a man was trained and sent by Boulton and Watt Co. to erect the engine at Dalvey around 1810. He died and his replacement was a William Murdoch Junior who finally got Grant's engine working between 1810 -1812. In 1810 the number of enslaved people recorded on the estate was 191. This sales transaction holds significance as it marked the initiation of a substantial business alliance between Boulton and Watt Co. and sugar plantations in Jamaica.
It's notable that the Grants of Dalvey, a wealthy Scottish family, were deeply involved in the sugar trade and had benefited from generations of profits generated by British slavery. The archive records not only document the technological aspects of steam engine installations but also shed light on the broader context of colonial trade, the role of powerful West Indian planters, and the enduring legacies of British colonisation.
The order for the Dalvey plantation in 1808 and subsequent orders contributed to Boulton and Watt Co. supplying around 55 steam engines to Jamaica from 1803 to 1850. The company's involvement in this colonial trade underscores the intertwining of technological progress, economic interests, and the harsh realities of plantation slavery. The story serves as a historical lens through which we can explore the intricate connections between industrialisation, commerce, and the moral complexities of British colonial expansion.
Intended for Jamaica - New Artworks
The artist's new body of photographic work, incorporating cyanotypes (blueprints), represents a creative and reflective response to archival materials and field trips in Jamaica. The intention is to delve into the intricate connections between individuals, communities, and the island, particularly focusing on locations where steam engines were sold. The themes explored in this artistic work connect to issues relating to place, collective memory, and colonialism, with an emphasis on both environmental and social legacies.
The use of cyanotypes, a photographic printing process known for its distinctive blue colour, aims to evoke a sense of historical documentation and to symbolize the intertwining of past and present, echoing the historical significance of the steam engines in Jamaica.
The exploration of place by capturing the landscapes, architecture, and remnants of the sugar plantations where the engines were installed serves as a visual narrative as a means to connect with the physicality of the locations, offering a visual dialogue between the past and the contemporary.
The artist was moved by the words from an essay "The Site of Memory," by Toni Morrison, which now serves as a poignant inspiration for the project. Morrison's writing delves into the complexities of history, memory, and the cultural narratives that shape our understanding of the past. In this essay, she explores how memory is embedded in physical spaces and how those spaces can serve as sites of profound historical significance.
Toni Morrison's The Site of Memory
'On the basis of some information and a little bit of guess work you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply…to yield up a kind of truth’.
Drawing from Morrison's insights, the projects visual narrative adopts a similar approach by using photography, particularly cyanotypes, to excavate layers of history and memory in the context of Jamaica. The act, in this context, involves a careful and deliberate exploration of the historical strata, examining the remnants of the colonial era and the legacy of the steam engines in Jamaica.
Worthy Park cyanotype on Awagami paper (shown above right)
The blueprint above right made by the artist is an example of the new artworks emerging through the cyanotype process. The print is a fragment of a Boulton and Watt engine drawing for Worthy Park sugar plantation ordered in 1846, for George Price of Penzance, Cornwall. Several generation of the Price family had been involved in plantation slavery. The associated estate claim on the 28th March in 1836 records 464 enslaved people at Worthy Park and that £3579 3s 2d in compensation was paid to the estate heirs and beneficiaries.
The works will be exhibited in a new exhibition at The Library of Birmingham in 2024 called Intended for Jamaica.
The project is supported with a grant from Arts Council England.
For further information about the work contact the artist here
Photograph (2022) Frome Sugar Factory, Westmoreland, Jamaica
Photograph: Letters (c1790s) from the Boulton & Watt Collection, Birmingham
Cyanotype, Denbigh Jamaica (2023) photo montage made in response to an original sugar mill engine drawing
Boulton & Watt Collection
Blueprint Worthy Park, Jamaica (2023) cyanotype made in response an original engine drawing (c1845) in the
Boulton & Watt Collection
Key References & Notes
Dalvey Estate, St Thomas in the East, Jamaica, Legacies of British Slavery
Denbigh Estate, Clarendon, Jamaica, Legacies of British Slavery
Frome Sugar Factory in Westmoreland is one of only a few sugar estates in Jamiaca that still process sugar. Sugar grown near by on what would have been the former Midgham Sugar Estate (formerly estate owned by the Ricketts of Westmoreland, planters and slave owners) is taken to the factory at Frome for processing. Boulton & Watt Co, steam engine order was recorded in 1816 for the estate. In the twentieth century Tate and Lyle bought sixteen estates in Westmoreland and built the sugar processing factory at Frome. In 1938 Frome was at the centre of a nationwide labour dispute that ended in violence, tragedy and the transformation of Jamaican politics.
Toni Morrison, (1987) The Site of Memory in William Zinsser Ed. Inventing the Truth: The art and Craft of Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 103-124.
Richard Pennant, Penhryn Castle and Gardens, North Wales, property managed by the National Trust. Owned by the Pennant family, and the staunch anti-abolitionist, Richard Pennant's whose fortune was gained from sugar plantations in Jamaica that used enslaved labour inculding at Denbigh in Clarendon. Pennant was itimately involved in discussions with Boulton and Watt on a scheme to make available steam engines for sugar cane milling in Jamaica, c1780s onwards. The estate later ordered engines from Boulton & Watt, during the early part of the 19th century.
Jennifer Tann, Steam and Sugar: The Diffusion of the Stationary Steam Engine to the Caribbean Sugar Industry 1770–1840 in the History of Technology, Vol 19 (1997) 63 - 84.
Satchell, Veront, Steam for Sugarcane Milling: The Diffusion of Boulton & Watt Stationery Steam Engine to Jamaican Sugar Industry, 1809-1830 in Jamaica in Slavery & Freedom, (2002) 242 - 258.
George Price, Trengwainton Gardens, Cornwall, gardens managed by the National Trust. The estate near Madron, Penzance was once owned by Sir Rose Price (1768-1834) who had inherited sugar plantations in Jamaica, which inculded Worthy Park. Price became a powerful Jamaican planter and slave owner using the wealth to create a landed estate at Trengwainton with gardens in the picturesque style in Cornwall. George Price whose name is on the Boulton and Watt Co. engine drawings was Rose Price's son.
Worthy Park Estate, St John, Jamaica, Legacies of British Slavery