Thursday, 13 June 2019

Rev Boys and Illegitimacy on St Helena

Rev. Boys,"l'homme que même Hudson Lowe craignait" (1)

Rev. Richard Boys MA (1785–1867) was appointed Junior Chaplin on St. Helena in 1811 and remained on the island until 1829. His stay, particularly during the Governorship of Hudson Lowe, was eventful to say the least.

The dubious claims made by his descendants about his alleged meeting(s) with Napoleon, furniture from Longwood, and death masks have appeared from time to time on this blog.

He also made an appearance in the Judicial Records, for testifying on behalf of a lady of somewhat dubious repute who was given shelter in his home until she left for some reason in the early hours of the morning!

Table supplied by Chris Hillman

The story of Rev. Boys' assault on the lax moral standards of the slaveowners of St. Helena is generally accepted by those who have written about St. Helena in the time of Napoleon. Whether the decline in the number of illegitimacies as shown in the table above was due directly to Rev. Boys is perhaps not quite as clear as the accepted narrative suggests. The probable source for most who have written about this is Arnold Chaplin's A St Helena Who's Who, now over a century old.

When, as it sometimes happened, Mr Boys was called upon to record the births of illegitimate children of slave women, begotten of men who were some of the highest and most trusted of Lowe's lieutenants, the chaplain in his righteous indignation did not hesitate to write in bold characters in the registers the titles and high positions of the sires. In these old registers, which have been inspected for me by Major Foulds, it is amusing to observe the frantic attempts that have been made by means of blots and pen-knife to obliterate the damaging evidence . But Mr Boys was determined to write for all time, and the precise titles and positions of the fathers, in spite of the attempted erasures, can still be plainly distinguished . This was probably the real reason for the ostracism of Mr Boys by the high St. Helena society, and the fear of his out-spoken tongue evinced by Sir Hudson Lowe. (2)

Chris Hillman, who with his wife Sheila, has been working through a set of registers microfilmed on St. Helena in 1989, has now led me to doubt the reliability of Chaplin's account. Chris informs me that the records they have worked on show "no apparent tampering", although as already indicated, it is indisputable that illegitimacy declined significantly in the course of Boys' time on the island. Chaplin as he admits never actually saw the registers nor any photographic images, and depended on the report of Major Foulds, whoever he was. I wonder if Major Foulds made it up, what was his motive? It would be great if someone could clear up this mystery.
1.Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Chroniques de Sainte-Hélène (Perrin 2011) pp. 111-117.
2. Arnold Chaplin, A St Helena Who's Who (London 1919) p. 224

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