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The Wealthy Few *
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Indian boy *

The Wealthy Few


Ambition

Wealthy Europeans often employed Africans and Asians as 'exotic' symbols of wealth. But what of African and Asian people themselves? Did riches come to any of them? Before 1850, there were people of African and Asian descent of diverse backgrounds and social origins in Britain. Some came as traders, on private business visits; others were sent to Britain to further their education. George II welcomed two sons of the African King of Annamaboe at his court. To assist in trading, African kings sent young men to Britain for language training.

 

Mahomed's Baths (engraving) - opens new window
Dean Mahomed's Baths
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There are several accounts of individuals who did extremely well in British society. Dean Mohamed was born in Patna in 1759 to an elite Muslim family. His ancestors had served the Mughal rulers. He joined the British army in 1769 and later accompanied his employer, Captain Baker, to Cork in Ireland. By 1810, he had started a new life in London, establishing the Hindoostanee Coffee House in Portman Square. His customers were Anglo-Indians, and he offered them Indian tobacco and Indian dishes. Later, Mohamed was able to expand his business to George Street, near Marble Arch. This early Indian entrepreneur met with difficult times and eventually took a job as a 'shampooing surgeon' in fashionable Brighton. But soon he was back in business, opening his own Medicated Vapour Baths, where he used special herbs and oils brought from his homeland.

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The Wells Family of Cardiff and St Kitts

Africans, West Indians and Asians from wealthy families were sent to England to be educated. One such man was Nathaniel Wells, the son of Welshman William Wells - who owned plantations on St Kitts - and Juggy, a slave woman from the same island. Nathaniel was baptised and declared free in 1783. When he was old enough, he was sent to England to study, with a view to obtaining higher qualifications so that he could enrol at Oxford University.

 

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Will of William Wells,
Owner of West Indian
Plantations (355KB)

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Later, Nathaniel settled in Bath and then moved to London, where he married Harriet Este, the daughter of Charles Este, a former chaplain to King George II. In 1803, one Colonel Wood sold his 2,200-acres Piercefield estate, near Chepstow, to 'Mr Wells a West Indian of large fortune, a man of very gentlemanly manners, but so much a man of colour as to be little removed from a Negro'. Wells also inherited his father's plantations and slaves in St Kitts. When slavery was abolished in the colonies in 1833, Wells was compensated by the Treasury, along with white slave owners.
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Britain's First Black
Justice of the Peace?
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Nathaniel Wells was active in his local community; he was appointed justice of the peace in 1803 and subsequently sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1818. His death at the age of 72 was recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine of 13 May 1852.

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And First Black Sheriff?
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References and Further Reading

Debrunner, H. W., Presence and Prestige: Africans in Europe, Basel, 1979

Evans, J., 'Nathaniel Wells of Monmouthshire and St Kitts: from slave to sheriff', in Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter No. 33, London, April 2002

Visram, R., Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History, London, 2002


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