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Irish planters & merchants:

Lambert Blair [c.1767-1815]

James and Lambert Blair were presbyterian Irish merchants who, as young men in the early 1780s, went out from Newry in Northern Ireland to the Dutch colony of St Eustatius. With money to invest as a result of their trade in slaves, they then bought land in Berbice and by 1799 Lambert Blair & Co owned seven plantations: Utile & Paisible  on the west side of Berbice river; nos 17, 18, 19, 20 and 37 on the west sea coast; and no 38 on the east sea coast. They also acquired sugar and cotton plantations in Demerara and Surinam.

In 1796 Dr George Pinckard, an army surgeon, visited Blair at Utile & Paisible and later described the plantation, and Blair's opulent life style, in his Notes on the West Indies [1806]. This is reproduced below.

Berbice Plantations, 1799

Lord Seaforth, who invested in Berbice in 1800-01, admired Lambert Blair's acument. When grants of land were made in 1799 on the Corentyne coast, at the eastern extremity of the colony, Blair received 40 of the 150 lots granted by the Governor. As speculation in land increased, he sold these on - getting £7000 for a single uncultivated lot east of Devil's Creek.

Seaforth also admired the speed with which Blair had brought land into cultivation, giving the example of how a task gang of 50 slaves had, in 14 months:

  • Impoldered 500 acres
  • Planted 400 acres with cotton and 50 with plantains
  • Dug a canal 2 miles long, 16 feet wide and 2 feet deep
  • Removed stuff for a dam of between 10 and 12 feet

The Dutch regained Berbice under the Treaty of Amiens [1802] but in September 1803 it was once more surrendered to Britain. There followed a dispute between the governor, van Batenburg, and a number of planters over the status of, and tax due on, land which had been the property of the Dutch Society of Berbice. George Baillie and Edward van Hartha [in London] and Lambert Blair [in Berbice] were elected to represent the interets of the 'planters and inhabitants'. Blair travelled to London and, with Baillie, presented a 'memorial', addressed to the King, to the colonial secretary, Viscount Castlereagh. This accused van Batenburg of 'oppressions and abuses of authority'.

Lambert Blair married in England in 1809 leaving his estates to be manged by a relation, James McCamon.

He died at Twickenham in 1815:

Lambert Blair of Berbice and of Courtland, Devon, who, after a lingering illness which he supported with exemplary Fortitude and Resignation, departed this life on the 25th of January 1815. Aged 48 years. Memorials of Twickenham, p. 91

Lambert's heir was his nephew, James, who became an MP supporting the interests of West Indian slave owners. After emancipation in 1834:

James Blair jnr received £83,530-8-11 as compensation from the British government for his 1,598 slaves. He thus claimed for more slaves and received more money than any other slave-owner in the British Empire.

The Irish and the Atlantic Slave Trade
Nini Rodgers
History Ireland, Vol. 15, No. 3, Ireland and Slavery (May - Jun., 2007), pp. 17-23

In 1825 James Blair (c.1788-1841) bought the Penninghame estate in Wigtownshire, where the families origins lay. By the time of his death one of his Berbice plantations had been renamed Balthyock after another traditional Blair holding in Perthshire.


A visit to Lambert Blair’s plantation in 1796 by Dr George Pinckard
Notes on the West Indies, Vol II, Letter XXII [1806]

We have lately made a party from the fort, and spent two most pleasant days—one at the governor's—the other with Mr. Blair, a rich planter, residing at a short distance down the coast on the opposite shore of the river . . .

To speak of the sumptuous day we had at Mr. Blair's were to throw an air of doubt upon my former notes regarding the paucity of fresh provisions in these colonies. But let it be remembered that individuals of large estate may find the means of procuring a most ample supply, for their own table, although the colony may not furnish an overplus to fend to the public market; and, indeed, at Berbische fresh animal food is provided for the troops more frequently than we have yet been able to procure it at Demarara.

Mr. Blair is-one of the most opulent planters in these colonies, and, not disliking the good things of life himself, he has assembled them at his place of residence in sufficient supply to enable him to treat his friends with the most sumptuous liberality. He is, generous and social, and the riches of his table are dispensed with all the bounty of his nature. Instead of a plain cottage just rising from the wild woods of an infant settlement, we might have fancied ourselves feasting in one of the hospitable mansions of old England, nay, in some chartered hall, even, of voluptuous London itself.

The house is a compact dwelling, neatly built of plain wood, offering in its exterior nothing to attract the stranger's eye, nor to bespeak the many luxuries within. It stands on the border of the sea, open to the wide ocean. Before it, is an extensive and flat beach of firm sand, forming a pleasant ride, or walk at the side of .the water. The estate is quite in its infancy, being recently formed out of the rude forest, and indeed only now breaking into cultivation. In great part of it the young plants of cotton are just shooting from the soil between the remaining stumps of trees lately destroyed. Yet notwithstanding the infant state of this hospitable home, it offers more of the good things of life, than I had seen at any other place since leaving England. Having no market in the colony, each planter's abode must necessarily furnish all within itself. No aid can be had from the butcher's, or the baker's, none from the green-grocer's, or poulterer's,— the pastry-cook's, or confectioner's, No such persons are here known, and hence the whole of the entertainment must be the immediate production of the estate: every necessary, every comfort, and every luxury that is given, or enjoyed, must be found in the house or upon the plantation, yet in such plenty were they served at this prolific home, that one might have fancied a Covent-garden, or a Leadenhall market to have been near. From all we had previously seen in the colonies, it had been Wild to have conjectured that so complete a collection could have been assembled.

A large and very handsome boat was sent for our conveyance, having an awning at the stern to protect us from the fun ; and we were rowed across the mouth of the river by eight of the finest slaves of the estate, who pulled us on with surprising, speed. At the landing place another party of slaves were in attendance with horses in readiness to conduct us to the house. The sun was extremely powerful, but we had a pleasant ride about a mile and a half through fields of cotton and of plantains; the negroes running at the horses fides, according to the custom of the country, as fast as we chose to ride.

Hock and Seltzer water were presented immediately on our arrival, and the time until ^ dinner was most gratefully occupied in the perusal of a packet of newspapers, just arrived from England : than which perhaps a greater treat could not have been offered us. For dinner we had excellent soup, with boiled fish, stewed fish, and fish in pie—also turtle, and crabs, most exquisitely dressed, and forming two uncommonly rich and high-seasoned dishes. We had likewise a side of lamb, a fine goose, a large well-flavored ham, and a variety of other good things. Pies, tarts, and a well compounded trifle followed, amidst a complete course of sweets. The cook was quite a proficient, and did every justice to the feast, the whole dinner being well dressed, and as well served. We had afterwards pines, shaddocks, melons, water-lemons, and multitudes of other fruits. Nor were the fluids of the banquet less amply administered. Hock, Claret, Madeira, and Port wines were in liberal use. We had also Seltzer and Spa waters, likewise bottled small beer, ale, and porter, with brandy, rum, Hollands, noyeau, and other liqueurs—all in supply sufficient for a lord, mayor's feast.

After our good eating and drinking we took a walk about the plantation, and found every corner of it equally plenteous as the table and the cellar. Such a store of living stock, both large and small, I had not seen upon any estate since my arrival in the Western world. Here were large herds of cows, oxen, sheep, and goats ; droves of hogs, horses, and mules ; flocks of geese, turkies, ducks, Guinea fowls, and chickens. A more gratifying assemblage of domestic plenty could scarcely be found in any country. Among the stock I should not omit to mention a pen of living turtles kept in readiness for the table :—whole droves of crabs were also running about near the door ;—and the neighbouring sea is, at all times made tributary to the board. Several hundreds of negroes employed at work, or moving from place to place, improved the variety of the scene ; while they added essentially to the value of the home—for, like the cattle, these are always included in calculating the stock of the estate. Together with the multitude of domestic productions at this all-, supplying abode were likewise some of the more rare and curious specimens—such as the small lion,-—monkey—and the large powys, or wild turkey of the woods; also the trumpeter, the fly-catcher, and several other uncommon birds. Our walk was highly gratifying, and offered much to excite, as well as to interest our contemplations. We extended it to the sea beach, and found the sand flat and firm as a bowling green, and of a dark brown colour, whence it was neither liable to be blown into the eyes, nor to offend them by its brightness. A cool and constant sea-breeze adds to the many advantages of this situation: it is always free and pure, there being nothing to impede or contaminate it between the house and the ocean. After it grew dark a rubber was proposed .as the amusement of the evening-*—but cards had no power to attract the majority of us from the dear unfinished Times and Chronicle. We slept in hammocks according to the common mode of the country, and a most excellent and convenient mode it is, for a very large party may be thus accommodated in a small house, it being only necessary to hang up as many hammocks as there are persons. Neither beds, meets, nor blankets are required, for the hammock includes them all, and serves as bedstead, mattress, and coverlet into the bargain.


A second visit is described in Vol III, Letter IV

I have again been one of a party across the river, to visit our princely neighbour Mr. Blair, who in this remote corner of the globe, where others find it difficult to procure the common provisions of the table, would seem to have assembled an inexhaustible supply of all the good things of life. It was a birth-day festival, and perhaps a more choice and sumptuous repast could not have been found, even in the proud city of London. The dinner table exhibited a happy combination of English taste, and Irish hospitality. It was served in the style of Europe, and displayed a profusion of the best and richest viands, without any of the more common dishes of the country, such as Moscovy duck, Guinea-fowl, kid, and the like. Amidst a crowded variety of other covers we had a large green turtle, with a great variety of the best European vegetables, and, to crown the feast, a complete course of sweets, consisting of no less than four-andtwenty dishes. The fruits were endemic, and such as London with all its riches cannot produce. The drinking part of the feast was such as I have described to you before. At no other house in the colony are such entertainments given. A circumstance, which, together with the paucity of our ordinary supply, and indeed the difficulty of procuring any fresh provisions for our table, makes such a gala-day quite an object of notice. To you, who have daily feasting before you, it can offer nothing remarkable. You will not be surprized when I tell you that the generous donor experiences the honorable reward of luxury, by feeling, in his remotest extremities, the pungency of his dishes.


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