Tharp sharp as sugar baron

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AR­GUABLY ONE of the wealth­i­est planters who rose to promi­nence dur­ing Ja­maica’s era of slav­ery and sugar, John Tharp was not born in Britain, but in the is­land.

Of English stock, his for­bears prob­a­bly took part in Penn and Ven­ables’ in­va­sion of the is­land. He was born in 1744 to Joseph and Mar­garet Tharp in the par­ish of Hanover. His fa­ther owned Bach­e­lor’s Hall and Pe­dro es­tate, which he The Good Hope Great House, which was once used as a ho­tel, still con­tains most of its orig­i­nal fur­ni­ture as well as im­pres­sive wood floor­ing.

was to in­herit.

Like other sons of rich planters, he was ed­u­cated at Eton and Trin­ity, Cam­bridge.

At age 22, he mar­ried El­iz­a­beth Par­tridge, an heiress to the Po­tosi es­tate in west­ern St James, where he had been em­ployed upon com­ple­tion of his ed­u­ca­tion. He sold Bach­e­lor's Hall, and with the as­sis­tance of his wife’s in­her­ited land hold­ings, bought Good Hope, Lan­squinet, and Wales.

By the end of the 18th cen­tury, Tharp even­tu­ally owned 10 plan­ta­tions and pens in the newly formed par­ish of Trelawny, West­more­land, and St Ann.

His pur­chase of a thou­sand acres at Good Hope al­lowed him to har­ness the wa­ter power of the Martha Brae River, with which to run its sugar mill, an ad­van­tage also utilised by sev­eral of the other es­tates he owned. He was an early in­vestor in Fal­mouth, own­ing one of its prin­ci­pal wharves, and built a town house – still stand­ing – to watch his sugar be­ing loaded.

John and El­iz­a­beth had five chil­dren who sur­vived into adult­hood, but she died in 1780 af­ter 15 years of mar­riage. Two years later, one of his slaves, Han­nah Phillips, bore him a daugh­ter out of wed­lock. Mary Hyde Tharp be­came his favourite child. In his will, his “re­puted daugh­ter” was to re­ceive two thou­sand pounds at the age of 21. Tharp died when she was only 16, but she had been granted an an­nu­ity of a hun­dred pounds a year un­til she came of age. She later “mar­ried well” in Eng­land.

At the age of 50, Tharp re­mar­ried, this time to a widow, Ann Gal­limore, a woman much younger than he, who was also the heiress to valu­able sugar es­tates. In what might be de­scribed to­day as a prenup­tial agree­ment, she was guar­an­teed an in­come of £2,000 a year if she out­lived her hus­band. She must have been keen to en­joy her new sta­tus be­cause a year later, the newly-weds took up res­i­dence in a fash­ion­able town house at 41 Port­land Place in Lon­don.


Mar­i­tal prob­lems were to emerge fol­low­ing his pur­chase for £40,000 of Chip­pen­ham Park near New­mar­ket in Cam­bridgeshire, in 1791. The park had been largely the cre­ation of Ed­ward Rus­sell, 1st Earl of Or­ford, and was used for hunt­ing and shoot­ing, pos­sess­ing no sub­stan­tial build­ings.

Tharp re­built an en­clos­ing wall – re­puted to have been the work of Ja­maican slaves – and com­mis­sioned the de­sign of a res­i­dence and land­scap­ing for the park, but nei­ther came to fruition in his life­time. He re­stocked the park with deer, and the prin­ci­pal ac­tiv­ity hence­forth was hunt­ing, as well as fish­ing in the water­ways that Tharp and oth­ers cre­ated.

John’s daugh­ter, El­iz­a­beth, from his first mar­riage, had mar­ried a wealthy cler­gy­man, Richard Phillip­son, and lived near Chip­pen­ham Park. Tharp dis­cov­ered that his wife, Ann, had car­ried on an il­licit af­faire with the rev­erend and was now preg­nant. He ob­tained a le­gal sep­a­ra­tion, which gave her an an­nual set­tle­ment of £1,200, de­scrib­ing her in his will as “ut­terly un­wor­thy of my af­fec­tion”. Daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth was also granted an an­nual sum if she “shall find it ex­pe­di­ent to live sep­a­rate and apart from her hus­band”.

Dis­ap­pointed and dis­cour­aged by this turn of events, Tharp re­turned to Ja­maica in 1802, dy­ing two years later at Good Hope. At the time of his death, his es­tates, said to com­prise 25,000 acres and more than 3,000 slaves, were be­ing man­aged by another il­le­git­i­mate slave off­spring, John Har­wood,

sired be­fore his first mar­riage. He ap­par­ently fell out with his chil­dren, and in his will, he left Chip­pen­ham Park in Eng­land to his grand­son, with his son, also John, and later his un­cle, to care for the boy un­til he be­came 24. Three years be­fore he was to reach that mile­stone, John Tharp VI was mar­ried off by his mother to Lady Char­lotte Hay. A short while af­ter the nup­tials, he was de­clared in­sane. Con­fined for the rest of his life, he died at age 45 at The Palace, Much Had­ham Lu­natic Asy­lum in Hert­ford­shire.

John Tharp VI’s death in 1869 led to a con­tentious law­suit, with an as­sort­ment of rel­a­tives, as­so­ci­ates and cred­i­tors hop­ing for fur­ther fi­nan­cial gain, al­though im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers had ben­e­fited from annuities granted when the pa­tri­arch died in 1802.


By the time Eman­ci­pa­tion was de­clared, the slave hold­ing of Tharp’s es­tates had de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly. Four slaves on Pantrepant, which bor­ders the Cock­pit Coun­try, who were ex­e­cuted af­ter Sam Sharpe’s re­bel­lion were among those ab­sent. Com­pen­sa­tion for 2,375 eman­ci­pated slaves was fixed at close to four mil­lion pounds in to­day’s cur­rency, cer­tainly sub­stan­tial at the time. How­ever, Tharp had been known to have made much of his for­tune from slave trad­ing, trad­ing, and dis­till­ing rum.

The ele­gant Ge­or­gian es­tate house at Good Hope in Trelawny pro­vides an en­dur­ing re­minder of John Tharp’s wealth. Built orig­i­nally in 1742, Tharp was re­spon­si­ble for the many fine fea­tures he built be­tween 1782 and 1800 that you can see to­day. It was here that he died and both his grave and that of his first wife, El­iz­a­beth, re­main side by side on the prop­erty.

Chip­pen­ham Park in Cam­bridgeshire has passed down through sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of Tharp de­scen­dants to to­day. Anne Craw­ley is the present owner, liv­ing in an ele­gant Queen Anne Re­vival red-brick coun­try man­sion built in the 1880s. The sub­stan­tial wooded area, to which John Tharp con­trib­uted with his en­thu­si­asm for plant­ing trees and gar­dens, is open to the pub­lic on oc­ca­sion.

The vil­lage of Chip­pen­ham still con­tains ev­i­dence of a Tharp pres­ence. There is an inn, Tharp Arms, the fam­ily coat of arms dis­played on the sign out­side. On it is sur­mounted “the mys­te­ri­ous Tharp lady with a blue sash who, leg­end has it, comes down and dances on New Year’s Eve.”

At nearby St Mar­garet’s Church are four ne­glected fam­ily grave­stones and two plaques mounted in­side the Angli­can chapel. A paint­ing of John Tharp, ‘a hugely suc­cess­ful sugar baron’, in the Chip­pen­ham Park es­tate house, con­tin­ues to be a re­minder of the le­gacy in Britain of Ja­maica’s slav­ery and sugar.


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