‘Eminent Service’: War, Slavery and the Politics of Public Recognition in the British Caribbean and the Cape of Good Hope c. 1782–1807

By John McAleer, published February 2009


The presentation of gifts to successful naval officers in recognition of their achievements provides insights into the political and commercial priorities of those who made the presentations. Many of these ‘objects of esteem’ are in the National Maritime Museum. They provide important insight into the social and economic context and the motives of the donors, particularly true in the Caribbean colonies in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when events such as Admiral Rodney’s victory at the Saints (1782) and Admiral Duckworth’s at San Domingo (1807), were rewarded with money and gifts of swords and plate by the political and commercial elites on the islands concerned.  These gifts were also in recognition of the economic interests at stake, particularly those of the ‘slave-owning plantocracy’. Similar lessons can be learned from the award to Admiral Elphinstone following the capture of the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 by the East India Company reflecting the commercial importance of his capture of the Cape of Good Hope. The non-acceptance of such gifts on occasion as with General Walpole, who disapproved of Governor Balcarres’ treatment of the Jamaican Maroons in 1796 and declined a sword, and the absence of their offering in others can also be seen to have significance for the relationship between the navy and the communities which it served.


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Filed under: Napoleonic War | Other (Eighteenth C) | Caribbean | East India Company
Subjects include: Administration | Navies | Strategy & Diplomacy

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