Castle Wemyss Estate papers, Jamaica

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The records comprise deeds and legal, administrative and financial papers relating to the Castle Wemyss Estate, Jamaica, 1802-1845, belonging (during the period covered by the papers) successively to Gilbert Mathison, Simon Halliday and Rev Walter Stevenson Halliday. The deeds and legal papers record the ownership of the estate and financial claims upon it by other parties, as well as compensation claims under the Abolition Act. They include the title deeds to the estate 1802-1845; together with correspondence and other papers concerning financial claims upon it (particularly an annuity payable to Catherine Mathison, widow of Gilbert) 1830-1845, compensation payable under the Abolition Act 1834-1835, and the fate of the estate in 1843-1845 when it was no longer viable financially. The administrative and financial papers illustrate the management of a West Indian sugar estate by attorneys on behalf of absentee landlords, and the process of shipping the sugar and rum produced back to London for sale by a firm of merchants. A fairly complete series of correspondence between Simon Halliday and his attorneys and merchants survives for the period 1823-1828, giving many details of the practical problems of managing a sugar estate and of ensuring an adequate performance by the attorneys. There are many reports on the progress of crops, as well as references to maintenance work required, the need for new cattle (a continuing problem on the Castle Wemyss estate) and the work and health of the slaves. There is further detailed information on the slaves in a series of returns; in addition there are lists of them in the title deeds to the estate after 1807 (following the abolition of the slave trade). There are references to specific events involving the slaves in the correspondence and/or the returns: for example, the case of Catalina alias Susannah Mathison who induced an abortion by taking Vervain and Contrayerva in 1824; and allegations of mistreatment of the slaves by one of the overseers, in 1827. The correspondence of 1823-1828 also includes letters between Halliday and the firms of merchants he used in London to sell his produce. The state of the sugar and rum markets are regularly discussed, and both attorneys and merchants report on the despatch and receipt of shipments of sugar and rum, on which the successful running of the estate depended. There is one instance of a ship being wrecked and part of the cargo lost.There are also financial accounts, both of the attorneys and of the merchants, which illustrate the returns and financial problems of the estate.

Administrative / Biographical History

Castle Wemyss was a sugar estate situated in the parish of St James in Jamaica, on the north side of the island, inland and east of Montego Bay, and close to the area known as the Cockpit Country. By 1802 it had become the property of Gilbert Mathison who had inherited it from his father, also Gilbert Mathison. The younger Gilbert inherited a debt of some £16,000 along with the estate, and in January 1802 obtained a mortgage to pay off half this sum. Later in the same year, a settlement was drawn up prior to the marriage of Mathison to Catherine Farquhar, including provision for the payment out of the estate to the future Mrs Mathison, of an annuity of £600, beginning from the death of Gilbert Mathison. Subsequently, Mathison had to raise further mortgages to meet further debts he had incurred. Latterly the estate was mortgaged to one Simon Halliday, the husband of Catherine Mathison's half-sister, who took on all previous mortgages, and in 1823 Gilbert Mathison was obliged to convey the estate to Halliday to resolve his financial problems. There followed a few years which saw reasonable returns on the sugar and rum produced at Castle Wemyss; but by 1830, by which time the estate was held by Rev Walter Halliday(the son of Simon Halliday, who had died in 1829) as the heir in tail under his father's will, it was proving less profitable. Gilbert Mathison had died in 1828, triggering the payment of the annuity to his widow, but because the estate was giving low returns, it was not possible to pay it regularly or in full. Further, in 1830 investigations showed that the first mortgage taken out by Gilbert Mathison pre-dated the annuity, which meant that Walter Halliday had a prior claim on the estate and was not obliged to pay the annuity: however, he continued to make payments when returns from the estate permitted it, out of consideration to Mrs Mathison. The Abolition Act, which took effect in 1834, had serious implications for Walter Halliday as the owner of the Castle Wemyss estate. Despite receiving a substantial compensation payment under the Act (after resolving counterclaims for this money from Mrs Mathison and from Peter Wallace and JP Hopkins, all of whom claimed entitlement to annuities payable upon the estate), the estate became very difficult to run owing to the scarcity of affordable labour. There was also the long-standing problem of the relatively lengthy journey from Castle Wemyss to local ports (usually Montego Bay or Falmouth) along poor roads, frequently made particularly difficult by wet weather. The amount of sugar produced dwindled significantly, and by 1843 the estate was considered to be unable to support itself, and Halliday was seriously seeking means of extricating himself from the financial demands it placed on him. Sale or lease were both considered (although sale was made difficult by the fact that Walter Halliday was only tenant for life), as well as placing the estate in the hands of the Chancellor's Court to be managed for the interests of the heirs in tail. Halliday took steps to put into effect a fourth option, by instructing that Castle Wemyss had to support itself - he would not authorise payments of any debts arising - and indicating that the estate should be abandoned if it was not possible to cover the costs of planting a crop from the sale of the sugar and rum it produced. It is not clear to what extent these instructions were carried out. However, at the end of the period covered by these documents, an agreement appeared to have been reached for the lease of the estate by a Dr Macarthey. Meanwhile, the practical management of the estate and sale of its produce had been continuing. Gilbert Mathison had instituted a system of management developed by himself, on principles of treating the slaves on the estate with greater humanity. These methods had been outlined by him in his published work, 'Notices respecting Jamaica 1808-1809-1810' (London: printed for J Stockdale, 1811), and although an advance on the treatment of slaves by many of Mathison's contemporaries, did not reject the principle of slavery itself. Mathison lived on the estate himself at one period and saw to its management directly, but latterly he became an absentee owner and his last attorney, JR Phillips, was Simon Halliday's first when he became the owner in 1823. Halliday appointed a new attorney in 1825: there are indications that he was dissatisfied with Phillips' performance. David McNish, the next attorney, died in 1827, and following an interim period when John Irving was informally in charge, was replaced by William Reeves who continued in the post until at least 1835. In the 1840s, the brothers Dewar and Peter McLaren held the post. The attorneys reported on all aspects of the practical and financial management of the estate on the island, including the work and state of health of the slaves. Simon Halliday initially used the firm of Mathison, Jenkins & Co. to receive shipments of and sell the sugar and rum produced by the estate, an arrangement inherited from Gilbert Mathison. When that firm of merchants became bankrupt (causing significant financial loss to Halliday) in 1824, he used David Lyon and Co., one of the partners of which was a personal friend, John Watson. On the retirement of David Lyon, Watson continued on his own account, and his assistant, Robert Hawthorn, appears eventually to have set up the firm of Hawthorn and Sheddon who dealt with Walter Halliday's interests in the 1830s and 1840s. Besides receiving shipments of produce, these firms arranged despatch of supplies to Jamaica for the use of the estate. While Simon Halliday took a direct interest in the running of Castle Wemyss, his son Walter Halliday appears to have left much of the responsibility for the estate's management with others: his solicitor, Nash Hilliard; the merchants Hawthorn and Sheddon; and his attorneys in Jamaica itself.


The papers were originally arranged in several bundles, which have been retained as files in the present arrangement, these now being grouped into series according to the type of record. The series of deeds, legal papers and related correspondence is more or less distinct from the following series of correspondence, returns of slaves and accounts, which are closely related. There is a separate file containing a small quantity of records concerning another estate; and a further file of research notes and papers compiled by Mrs Halliday in the course of studying the history of the estate.

Conditions Governing Access

Open although advance notice should be given.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued to item level (see link to repository catalogue).

Archivist's Note

Compiled 2000, revised by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project, Aug 2001.

Separated Material

'Notices respecting Jamaica, in 1808-1809-1810' by Gilbert Farquhar Mathison (London: printed for J Stockdale, 1811) is available in the University of London Library.

Conditions Governing Use

A photocopying service is available, at the discretion of the ICS Library Staff. Copies are supplied solely for research or private study. Requests to publish, or quote from original documents should be made to the Information Resources Manager.

Custodial History

The papers were donated to ICS by AJB Halliday, a descendant of Simon and Walter Halliday who owned the estate for much of the time covered by the papers.

Geographical Names