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Jamaican Worthy of the Past
Biographical Sketch of Hon. Henry Shuley [Shirley]
By Oscar Plummer
Henry Shuley was a native of Savoy, his education was rather a superior one, by his own account he had a considerable property, which he lost at the time in Savoy being conquered by and annexed to republican France.
Mr. Shuley proceeded to St. Petersburg where he asserted he was attached to the suite of Lord Cathcart, the British Ambassador there. He asserted the cause of his separation from his Excellency was that one of his Lordship's daughters entertained him for an ardent affection, which he being unable to resist, but overcome by his regard for the lady and considering the difficulties and inconvenience to which she might be reduced, then existing no prospect of obtaining her father's consent, he most prudently retired by taking "French leave".
He repaired to England and then proceeded to Jamaica to make a tour of that island. On his arrival he dressed very gay, and started a smart equipage, he spoke and wrote English with fluency and easily got access to the best society and before long paid his addresses to a rich widow, proprietress of Petersfield, a fine sugar estate in the parish of St. Thomas in the East. They were married.
The widow's being somewhat encumbered, dealt inadequate support for an establishment of those moving in the first circles being at the time very expensive in Jamaica, Mr. Shuley took the first convenient opportunity to represent this to his lady and to press the benefit her health would receive by a residence in England. He prevailed on her to retire there, as his own personal expenses in the island would be comparatively small by his living en garcon. And he would manage the plantation, pay off the debts in a few years and remit his ample means for all her engagements.
Thus if he did not become actually proprietor of Petersfield plantation, that property at least served to give him credit and as the foundation of raising a fortune in his own right, nor did he allow these advantages to escape him. He purchased other sugar estates in the parish St. George, and others. Certainly he had at first to mortgage them to their value. The times, however, were favourable and Petersfield always gave a helping hand in liquidating the debts on his own estate.
Mr. Shuley became a rising character and was elected a member of the House of Assembly. One of his first acts there was highly unpopular. He proposed to introduce a bill to subject the Militia of the island, TO CORPOREAL PUNISHMENT.
The Militia of the island were in all respects very different from what they now are. They consisted of planters, merchants, clerks, and tradesman, mechanics, etc. all in good circumstances, many of them being wealthy merchants, they find their own clothing, the Cavalry, their own horses, they serve gratuitously, receiving no pay except during the existence of Martial Law, and then a mere trifle hardly adequate to pay for small refreshments when on duty.
The Kingston Militia took ire at the proposed measure of Mr. Shuley and no wonder either they confined their officers to prevent them being implicated in the proceedings which they contemplated. They elected other officers and marched suddenly to Mr. Shuley's house in Spanish Town which they surrounded, the owner having barely time to escape from a window. It was resolved to burn the house, the library was cast into the yard to commence the bonfire and was consumed.
The house and furniture was about sharing a similar fate and
only saved by the interference of several members of the House
of Assembly, who pledged themselves that Mr. Shuley's proposal
should be instantly quashed. They kept their word. Popularity
and court favour however rise from very different sources. Mr.
Shuley on the vacancy of the Custos-ship of the parish of St.
During the rebellion of the Trelawney Town Maroons in 1795-96, an invasion of the Brigands from St. Domingo was expected, it was almost apprehended that the Maroon town of Charleston would join that of Trelawney in the rebellion therefore, the Colonial Government considered it prudent to adopt decided, prompt and secure measures to prevent if possible the last named proceeding. For this purpose early one evening with out previous notice, a squadron of the 20th Light Dragoons, two companies of the 63rd Foot with frafts from the Kingston Horse and Grenadier Militia, the Infantry being mounted for the occasion were assembled and marched about 40 miles to Charleston Maroon Town, near Buff Bay which it was expected they take by surprise and so prevent their JOINING THE TRELAWNY MAROONS.
This expedition made a forced march during the night, only occasionally halting for a little refreshment. By day light they were in a position close to Charleston which they expected to occupy without resistance, their own appearance being quite unexpected as they imagined, but on reconnoitering they found the enemy wide awake the road leading to the villages broke and lined - palisados constructed, and the inhabitants jumping about armed to the teeth.
What was to be done ? A parley was sounded, and the negotiation was about commencing, when lo His Honour the Custos appeared, represented to the Commander of the Forces the danger of an appeal to arms, surrounded as he was by a force having every advantage of ground and defences. On the other hand His Honor held a palaver with the Maroons told them that they must obey "Massa Govenor", and he being aware of their fidelity he advised them to send some of their chiefs to make their submission and remain as hostages at headquarters for the good behaviour of their villages .
All this was accomplished and His Honour had the credit of saving detachment from being cut to pieces and of being the good friend of the Maroons. His service to both were great indeed, but how was all this brought about, an express having been sent to him as Custos to prepare supplies for the troops, on their arrival he immediately sent to the Maroons to be on the alert, to receive the military with all due respect and he would soon make his appearance and effect all in his power for their advantage. All is well that ends well, but had a single party or even a chance musket had fired, sad, sad , indeed might have been the consequence.
In the year 1798 a voluntary subscription having been entered
into by every parish in the island for the aid of the mother
country then struggling against the desperate efforts of a ferocious
enemy which threatened to invade and even annihilate her as an
independent nation. The parish of St. George subscribed considerable
sums for the purpose named which was paid into His
On the Custos being applied to for an explanation respecting the non-remittance of the subscription for the parish of St. George, he replied in THE BLANDEST MANNER
And taking credit for himself for his prudence - "My
dear friends, I did not like to send the money to that man, Pitt,
who is a great enemy to the colonies, to assist him in his projects,
but here are the bills for the whole of the moneys which you
can remit yourselves. I will endorse them to your order or save
you the trouble and remit them yourself." Such candor was
"In early youth (writes the biographer) I had some acquaintance
with Wm. Richardson, Profesor of Humanity in the College of Glasgow.
Previously he was with Lord Cathcart during his embassy to St.
Petersburg and wrote and published a volume respecting Russia.
One day I took an opportunity of asking Mr. Shuley if he remembered
him. He replied that there was no
About a year after returning to England, and meeting with the Professor, chatting of former times and events, I told him that in Jamaica I met a foreigner who had been very successful there and had been formerly in the suite of Lord Cathcart in Russia, and asked the Professor if he knew him.
'Shu'ey - Shuley,' replied the professor, I assure you it
must a mistake, but on my begging him to try and recollect, he
promptly replied, 'I am quite right, there was no such person
among His Lordship's suite, but there was a foreigner and I think
he was a Swiss of the name you mention, but he was only a Valet
de Chambre and was kicked out of the house for attempting to
Whether the Professor or the Planter was the most correct I leave for the readers to determine.
The Hon. Mr. Shirley was an agreeable companion, lived well, enjoyed himself and left a considerable fortune.
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