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Saturday, 20 June 2015


George Fife Angas was a cousin of my 3x great uncle Joseph Angus. The spellings of their surname had diverged with different branches of the family several generations earlier. George is revered, and well documented, as the father of South Australia; but his exploits in Central America are much less well known.

George Fife Angas (1789-1879)

George’s father Caleb Angas was a builder of horse-drawn carriages in Newcastle-upon-Tyne who imported his own mahogany from Honduras. George, the youngest of Caleb’s seven sons, learned the ropes and in 1824 formed a separate shipping company to handle the timber imports. Britain had been granted mahogany-cutting rights by the Spanish authorities in 1786, and the Honduran port of Belize was the centre of their operations, a British colony in all but title. (The area around the port only became an official part of the British Empire, as British Honduras, in 1862; and when it gained its independence in 1981 it reverted to Belize.)

On their outward journeys to Belize, the ships carried all manner of goods for which Angas judged there might be a market among the British mahongany cutters. The arrival of the latest cargo was announced in the port’s English-language newspaper, the Honduras Gazette and Commercial Advertiser. On 3rd January 1827, for example, a notice declared:

Such was the strength of the British enclave at Belize that, although not yet formally a colony, it had many of a colony’s institutions, including its own magistrates. The Gazette was established in July 1826, primarily as a vehicle for legal notices of one sort or another. Jurors, for example, were summoned to their duty through its pages – a very public summons which, one imagines, made it much easier for the accused to influence his or her jury.

The magistrates took on the editorship of the Gazette for most of its first year of publication before leaving the task in the hands of the newspaper’s printer JamesCruickshank. Eight months later however, as Thomas Pickstock (one of George Angas’s fellow importers) recalled, they “in their wisdom took it out of his hands, by reason of his intemperance, and very properly appointed a Committee for its better Government.” Perhaps it was the pressure of the weekly deadline that got to him [writes this weekly blogger!].

The Honduras Gazette and Commercial Advertiser
[Vol. 1. No. 39.] Belize, Saturday, March. 24, 1827. [Price 1s. 8d.] 
James Cruickshank's second edition as editor

In only the second edition under his charge, Cruickshank reported an alleged theft from the cargo of one of George Angas’s fleet. It appeared that
a negro man named Green … a seaman on board the schooner George Angas, had plundered from the cargo of that vessel, while on her passage from this port [Belize] to Ysabal, some Pracianas and Cambrics, which he sold in the place last mentioned. He however endeavoured to account for his possession of the goods, after a great deal of prevarication, by saying he bought some of them here, but did not know from whom, and that others were given to him by a negro woman slave to sell on her account. He was fully committed to trial at the ensuing April Summary Court.

Ysabel was a Spanish port on the east coast of Texas at its border with Mexico. Cambric is a fine cloth of linen or cotton. I have no idea what a praciana was. Cruickshank carried a report of the trial itself two weeks later.
The schooner George Angas had been freighted [hired] to a Spanish gentleman named Ramoon [sic] to carry his goods to Ysabal. Ramoon had been led to notice the prisoner disposing of merchandise similar to that bought by him. This occasioned him to open several of his [Ramoon’s] packages, which turned out to be deficient in quantity. It also appeared that the goods sold and given away by him [Green] were of the same quality as Ramoon had bought, and the number of pieces missing corresponded precisely with the number found in the prisoner’s possession.

Mr Miller [one of Angas’s partners in trade] who conducted the prosecution on behalf of the firm stated his inability to produce further evidence. He had felt it his duty, he said, to bring the prisoner before the Court, as suspicion rested so strongly upon him. The rest of the crew were at sea, and consequently could not be brought forward as witnesses.

The prisoner in his defence said that he had bought some goods in Belize to sell in Ysabal, but positively denied the possession of the quantity the indictment specified. He further stated that all the goods had been safely landed under the immediate eye of their owner, and that therefore it was impossible for him [Green] to rob the trunks, particularly as the vessel was small and several persons on board. The jury deliberated for a few minutes and returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

Perhaps Green was a careless thief, fencing stolen goods so openly and lucky to be acquitted. Perhaps Ramoon saw a chance of a bogus claim, either against a former slave or against a British trader. It’s interesting that Green was employed on one of Angas’s ships, and I wonder if he ever sailed to Britain; Angas is credited by some for his part in the abolition of slavery in the territory in 1831.

British Honduras: Mahogany being squared for export
(postcard c1890) 

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