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Leslie Primo

Reputed daughter of Sir John Lindsay, then in the Royal Navy, on duty in the West Indies about 1760–5. Sir John discovered Dido's mother, a slave, on board a captured Spanish ship. She was brought to England, where it was speculated that a brief relationship between them resulted in Dido's birth. Soon after her birth, and for reasons unknown, Dido (also known as Belle) was taken to Kenwood House to be brought up with her ‘cousin’ Lady Elizabeth Murray by Lord and Lady Mansfield, Sir John Lindsay's uncle. Lord Mansfield was the Lord Chief Justice who would later be responsible for the landmark ruling of 1772 that freed the runaway slave James Somerset (see Somerset case). Sir John Lindsay died in 1788, when Dido was 25, leaving £1,000 in his will to share between Dido and a mysterious ‘brother’.

Dido lived at Kenwood for ...

Article

Omai  

Jonathan Morley

Polynesian islander taken from the South Pacific to London as an example of a ‘noble savage’ in 1774. Britain invaded Otaheite (Tahiti) on 24 June 1767; Omai (Mai) later claimed to have been among the crowd of islanders sheltering on a hill above Matavai Bay, on whom Samuel Wallis fired a cannon from the Dolphin. During Captain Cook's second Pacific voyage the crew of Cook's companion ship the Adventure befriended Omai, then in his early twenties, and he travelled to England as a crew member, arriving in Portsmouth on 14 July 1774 to be greeted by Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty.

The voyages to the Friendly Islands had opened up a new world where the primitive societies imagined in the utopian literature of Montaigne and Rousseau seemed to survive in peace and harmony replete with breadfruit and bare breasted women Yet a theme in ...

Article

Gelien Matthews

eighteenth-century dandy and one of Britain’s first black sex symbols, was born enslaved on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Attempts to trace Soubise’s life of servitude in the Caribbean have yielded few concrete results, but the historian Vincent Caretta has suggested that his father was probably a free white and his mother an enslaved person of African descent. In 1764 when Soubise was aged 10, Captain Stair Douglas of the British Royal Navy took possession of Soubise and brought him to England. Almost immediately upon his arrival, Douglas handed over the enslaved to Catherine Hyde Douglas, the 64-year-old duchess of Queensberry, who apparently was instantaneously charmed by the youth’s good looks and pleasing manners. It was she who christened the boy Julius Soubise, perhaps after Charles de Rohan, prince de Soubise, then a fashionable French courtier of King Louis XV.

From the time he was adopted into the Queensberry ...

Article

Erin D. Somerville

Equestrian and man of letters, favourite of the Duchess of Queensberry and contemporary of Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano. Born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, he was brought to England at the age of 10 and given to the Duchess of Queensberry as a gift. Under the Duchess's direction Soubise became an accomplished fencer and equestrian, serving as assistant to the Italian fencing master Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo.

Soubise is best remembered as a fop in London high society. Claiming to be an African prince, he was known for entertaining audiences in fashionable London clubs with comic songs and amateur theatre. He often escorted aristocratic women to the opera and was rumoured to be sexually engaged with the Duchess—a relationship depicted in an engraving by William Austin of the pair fencing (1773).

While Soubise regarded himself as a talented letter writer and poet of ...