I returned from a long weekend in Dublin a week ago – I was delighted to be able to attend a symposium at Trinity College organised by David Dickson: ‘Ireland and the Caribbean in the Age of Empire.’ The 5-day round trip from Sydney was somewhat crazy but the symposium was so well put-together, with so many ‘big’ names in this emerging field, that it was well worth the jetlag. Many of those of us who presented have been inspired by Nini Rodgers’ Ireland, Slavery and Antislavery, so it was wonderful that she could be at the gathering—in closing proceedings she told us how delighted she is by the direction research is taking in this area, and is amazed at the array of sources scholars are drawing together. I was also rather chuffed that she recalled our chance meeting 18 months ago in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.
It was wonderful to see papers presented by (among others) Jenny Shaw, Matt Reilly, Jonathan Wright and Orla Power – all of whom I have already cited in my in-progress PhD thesis. There were so many other interesting papers covering Irish connections with the Caribbean in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A handful of fascinating papers also touched on interactions with the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. I have dreams of reviving my Spanish skills and exploring those connections in the future.
Many papers took a biographical/microhistorical approach, as I’m doing. A stand-out for me was a paper by Tom Truxes on the value of the British National Archives’ High Court of Admiralty Prize Papers—anyone who’s read the Bordeaux-Dublin Letters 1757 will have an inkling of the type of documents available in the collection. Truxes explained that there are over 4,000 boxes of mostly uncatalogued court records, personal correspondence, commercial documents, shipping papers etc at Kew… so potential dissertation-writers without a topic and with access to Kew—go check out the prize papers! I would if I lived in London.
I presented my work-in-progress on my merchants and planters chapter. I discussed John Black of Ulster/Grenada/Trinidad, and James Watt of Ramelton/Barbados/Jamaica. I was followed on my panel by Jonathan Wright who also presented on Mr Black, and then David Fleming who spoke on Eyre Coote, a Governor of Jamaica. Both papers were excellent, and really helped me think about my approach as I write up my second chapter.
Next week I’m off to my first Irish Studies Australia/NZ Conference, to present much the same paper as I did in Dublin. I’m looking forward to getting the lay of the land in Irish Studies in Australia & promise to report back soon.
Nini Rodgers, Ireland, Slavery and Anti-Slavery:1612—1865 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
The Bordeaux-Dublin Letters 1757: Correspondence of an Irish Community Abroad, edited by L.M. Cullen, John Shovlin and Thomas M. Truxes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)