Nelson Bean – A freed Jamaican slave in Oxford


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Pavement Jewellery Plague Dedicated to Nelson Bean.

On the Cowley Road in Oxford there is a ‘pavement jewellery’ plaque at the entrance to Manzil Way. It is dedicated to one Nelson Bean, is dated 1881, and also shows the ground plan of the old Cowley Workhouse. The new workhouse, housed up to 330 inmates, was completed in 1865 and stood where Manzil Way and the Mosque are today. During the First World War the workhouse became part of the Sothern General Hospital for injured military servicemen. In 1920 the workhouse was altered to become the Cowley Road Hospital. The second World war saw the premises used as a maternity hospital and closed and demolished in 1981.

U7IDG00ZArchitects drawing of the Cowley Road Workhouse

Nelson Bean was born a slave in Jamaica around 1810 or 1812 in the parish of St Andrew. Nelson and his mother were ‘owned’ by one John Bean and registered in the Return of Slaves in 1817, and again in in 1829. These records are included in the Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834.

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Slave Register of Former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834.

Chance Bean, 1817.

John Bean, the owner of both Venus Chance and Nelson (Duke) wrote to Philip Monoux Lucas in Trinidad on July 12th, 1807. Bean informed Lucas that he was expecting the arrival in Trinidad of the ships Aurora and Agreeable carrying 290 and 250 slaves from the Congo respectively, and discusses with Lucas the likely state of the market for them and the need to procure licences for their sale. It is a moot point that the other of Nelson Bean may have been aboard one of those slave ships. The letter is now in  the Library of Cambridge University. Philip Monoux Lucas was a resident in the West Indies between 1802 and 1810. His role was to act as an agent for the sale of slaves, and was also a partner in P. M. Lucas and Company in Liverpool.

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Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies. 1812-1834.

Nelson (Duke) Bean, 1829.

Nelson’s mother was called Venus Chance Bean and classified as an African negress born around 1790. Nelson Bean, also referred to as ‘Duke’ was listed as a creole in the register. In a number of Caribbean localities ‘creole’ means born there rather than a reference to mixed ancestry. An example is the authoress Jean Rhys who was born on the island of Dominica. Slaves were emancipated in Jamaica in 1834 when Nelson was 22, and his mother having died aged 30 in 1829, cause not given. In the Slave Compensation Notes (1839) of Glasgow, John Bean now a resident of Stirling Castle, received compensation of £1678.8s.8d for 80 slaves in 1839. In today’s terms this amounts to an income value of £150,000 in today’s money.

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Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834.

Lists Chance Bean as deceased aged 30 in 1829.

Nelson died, aged 69, in Temple Street off the Cowley Road on the 9th of September in 1881. The death certificate saying “Disease of the heart. Sudden.” He was described as a labourer with no indication as to his address. Under Coroner’s Order he was named by the Coroner. However, the burial record in the Oxfordshire Record Office describes him as “Nelson, pauper, full age fell dead on the Cowley Road on leaving the workhouse.”, and moreover he was buried on November 12th in a common grave in the graveyard of SS Mary and John, Cowley Road. Being a pauper there is no headstone or marker for him there. Nelson Bean’s death is registered in the England & Wales Death Index, 1837-1983. That record lists his estimated birth at 1812 and his death in the Headington, Oxford, registration District, volume 3a.

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Death Certificate Duplicate for Nelson Bean.

An interesting fact is that Nelson Bean was not registered as being resident in the Cowley Workhouse on census night (April) for either 1881 or 1871. Nonetheless, he is remembered by a pavement plaque in Cowley Road. A number of intriguing questions arise. When and how did Nelson get to England? Can we assume he landed initially in Liverpool? What was he doing in Oxford? Research on these issues have so far proven fruitless. So far then the story of Nelson Bean, born a slave in Jamaica and who eventually lived, worked and died in Oxford, remains sadly shrouded in mystery.

Further documents pertaining to Nelson Bean

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