Updated: Feb 28
Events, starting in the USA 2020 and known under the title of Black Lives Matter influenced many in the UK. Our Museum archivists read an article in the local Bridgewater paper where the Blake Museum had researched whether there were any links between Robert Blake, Bridgewater’s most famous citizen and slavery.
This made us wonder if Chard had any connections with slavery or the slave trade. In amongst the research Gerrie Bews, our Senior Researcher has found a surprising candidate in Dr John Quier. He was born in Chard in 1739 to Joseph and Catherine Quier; he grew up in the town and went to Chard Grammar School. After medical training in London and Leyden, John joined the army, serving until about 1766.
After his military service John sailed to Jamaica. Once there he bought the 250-acre Shady Grove Plantation which was adjacent to the much larger Worthy Park Estate. John set himself up as the local doctor for the area and charged £1 for a white patient and approximately 5/- for any of the 4000 slaves that he treated. In addition, John set up a campaign of inoculating the slaves for smallpox and measles and recording their reactions to his ‘experiments’.
Six letters that he wrote to his friend Dr Donald Munro in Scotland still survive. In these he discussed his treatments on the slaves. After assessing these, Michael Craton (University of Waterloo, Ontario) considers that ‘In some respects his medicine was so hidebound and ignorant that the unfortunate patients might well have stood a better chance with no treatment at all’. His remedies included copious bleeding, purges and blisters behind the ears and on the neck.
John did redeem himself slightly by suggesting a lifestyle of living in a dry, healthy location; temperate drinking of a little wine; eating more vegetables and fruit than meat; moderate exercise; frequent bathing and changing of clothes and maintaining a cheerful disposition!! One can only presume that the slaves were not allowed to adhere to his suggested healthy lifestyle. In the 1820 Jamaican Slave Register, the doctor recorded his 67 slaves by name, age, whether they were African or Negro and the date that he bought them; the young ones had their mothers' name as well. We can only imagine what their lives were like.
John Quier seems to have become obsessed with the treatment of smallpox and measles above all else. He learnt from his failures and mistakes. Eventually, he ceased treating any but the strongest of his patients with savage purgatives and bleeding as this weakened them and those lucky enough to be deemed weak, he allowed nature to take its' course and as Michael Craton says ‘...some patients clearly gained a fortuitous reprieve’. Quier did have some successes though; in 1768 he inoculated 700 slaves when an outbreak started and by trial and error, realised that there was no point treating the very young, the old and those advanced in pregnancy, so his reputation increased as he had more success.
John never married and when he died he left the majority of his estate to his Jamaican 'family'. He had four children by four different slaves, one of these, Catherine, produced his four grandchildren. The only member of his English family named as a beneficiary was Samuel Brown, a clothier in Chard, his maternal kinsman, who was left a parcel of land in Somerset and £200 cash in 'funds'. Samuel Brown of Chardley Green, Chard, left a considerable estate to his own two sons and two daughters when he died in 1836. In his Will made in 1826 he mentions ‘...the said three closes, house and garden purchased of my kinsman Dr John Quier’ And again later, ‘...purchases of my kinsman the said John Quier also all those closes or parcels...’. A brief family history search has not turned up any relatives still in Chard, but there are bound to be some Browns in the county unaware of their eccentric ancestor and their connection to the present Black Lives Matter campaign.