Letters from Messrs. Manning and Anderdon to the Viscount Combermere

Scope and Content

The firm's main interest was to furnish the proprietors with accounts of the sugar hogsheads and rum puncheons which arrived in the Thames from the West Indian estates, their distribution and sale etc. They were also repositories of reports from the attorneys and managers, and were particularly sensitive to rumours of hurricanes and drought. They were experts in analysing the state of the sugar market, and in accounting for the causes of its vagaries and fluctuations - sugar from Mauritius (probably, they think, smuggled via Mauritius from our East India possessions) (31 July 1826); the introduction of foreign sugar into the English refineries (24 January 1828); the great danger of the Government of the day lowering the duty on sugar (12 March 1841); the high prices for provisions and timber in the islands of the West on account of the American Civil War (5 June 1862); the good effect of Gladstone's tea duty (17 April 1863)

Their letters are full of references to mechanical devices for the better development of the estates - the sending out to Nevis from Combermere of half-bred Indian cattle (20 January 1841); the possibility of extracting cane-juice by pressure and by boiling in vacuo (28 July 1843); the adoption of guano as a stimulant to the soil, a practice which became universal in the cane plantations (24 June 1844); the arrival in St. Kitts of a multi-tubular boiler.

More important still was the reaction of slave-freedom, a consummation which was anathema to plantation managers and overseers. According to their reports to Manning and Co., very especially those enclosed in the letter of 9 September 1842, the negroes became irregular in their work and were tempted away by higher wages elsewhere. Viscount Combermere (see postscripts to letter of June 24, 1844) seems to have been ready to tempt back such emigrants by promise of passage money, better wages and to establish more firmly those who had remained by building good houses to the negroes and supplying them with schools. We even find a reference to strikers at St. Kitts. Indeed, labour was so scarce and so dear that the Government gave its sanction for the introduction of coolies and for paying bouties to agricultural labourers (letter of 8 November 1844); the proprietors, in their turn, pushed forward the supplies of manure and the emigration of ploughmen from Cheshire. One of the most constructive documents in the bundle is Menning's letter of advice regarding cultivation and concentration on fruitful ground (9 November 1847)