Sir Rose Price, Trengwainton and Jamaica

Brick arch leading into Trengwainton's kitchen garden

In 1814, long before the Bolitho family acquired the estate, Rose Price (1768-1834) purchased Trengwainton, then little more than a large farmhouse. Price was part of the Cornish establishment, a magistrate, and in the coming years knighted (1815) and appointed inaugural president of the Penzance Library (1818). His wealth came from inherited sugar plantations on Jamaica and spent at Trengwainton, where he created a landed estate with gardens in the picturesque style.

The Price family and Jamaica

The Price family owned large sugar plantations on Jamaica. They descended from Francis Price (1635-1689) who was believed to be a junior officer at the island’s conquest of 1655. Francis acquired his first Jamaican plantation in 1663, and subsequently bought further estates. In 1670, after England gained formal possession of Jamaica, he acquired 840 acres which he named Worthy Park.

Worthy Park passed through the hands of various members of the Price family, including John Price of Penzance the Younger (1838-97), Rose Price’s father. John Price was mostly absent from Worthy Park, running his plantations from England through local agents. His son Rose Price was educated at Penzance Grammar School, Harrow and then Oxford University, before embarking on a Grand Tour.

In 1791 the family estates in Jamaica, including Worthy Park, were in trouble owing to unscrupulous local agents. Rose Price travelled to Jamaica to assume direct management, where it is claimed he doubled their value.

The enslaved people at Worthy Park

Rose Price made detailed records which survive in his “great plantation book” covering the years 1792-96, now held by the Library of Congress. In this we learn he expanded sugar-cane cultivation by 25% within three years. In order to achieve this, Price had expanded the number of enslaved people at Worthy Park from 355 to over 500. He also introduced adapted Cornish mining technology for mills and brought Cornishmen to assist in the plantation management.

The enslaved people working at Worthy Park came predominately from Africa. They, and their descendants, were deployed in the harvesting of sugar cane, but also worked in the production of sugar and rum. Others worked as carpenters and blacksmiths, a midwife and nurses, and in the “great house” worked a 50-year-old cook named “Penzance”. Lizette, a 13-year-old enslaved girl, bore Rose Price two children during the 3 years he spent at Worthy Park. Once older he sent them to England to be educated.

Rose Price and Trengwainton

Rose Price returned from Jamaica in 1795 and that year married Elizabeth Lambert, niece of Lord Sherborne in Gloucestershire. His income from Jamaican estates was then around £6,000 a year, and he continued to invest in further plantations.

Price remained committed to slavery and became a staunch anti-abolitionist. In 1832, whilst living at Trengwainton, he wrote a defence entitled Pledges on Colonial Slavery, to Candidates for Seats in Parliament, Rightly Considered. This included his response to a pro-abolition article published in the West Briton on 7 December 1832. In his response, Price claimed, by giving various examples, that the treatment of enslaved people on plantations in Jamaica was better than of most labourers in England, and “milder” than in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. His defence of colonial slavery is followed by printed letters in support of his view.

Rose Price died soon after British Parliament passed the Abolition Act in 1833. His executors later received over £10,000 compensation awarded to owners of formerly enslaved people. Despite this large sum, Price’s finances were not sound: he had encumbered both his Jamaican and Cornish estates with substantial debts, and Trengwainton was sold by its mortgage holders in 1835.

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Further reading and sources

Sue Appleby, 'The Cornish in the Caribbean: From the 17th to the 19th Centuries' (Troubador Publishing, 2019).

Michael Craton & James Walvin, 'A Jamaican Plantation, The History of Worthy Park 1670-1970' (University of Toronto Press, 1970).

Ulrich B. Phillips, ‘A Jamaica Slave Plantation’ in The American Historical Review, April, 1914, Vol. 19, No. 3.

'Sir Rose Price 1st Bart.', Legacies of British Slave-ownership database.

Smith, Raymond, 'The Matrifocal Family: Power, Pluralism and Politics' (Routledge, 2014).

‘History of Jamaica’, Black History Month Website, accessed 6 July 2021.

'Pledges on Colonial Slavery, to Candidates for Seats in Parliament, Rightly Considered.' Penzance, 1832. This publication is available on Google Books.