Across the valley from Ballakilley Beg lies Crowville, an old farmhouse once owned by and named after a remarkable Manxman, Hugh Crow.
Hugh Crow was born in Ramsey in 1765 and lost his right eye in a boyhood accident, the source of his nickname in later life “Crow Mind-Your-Eye!”
He trained as an apprentice at a shipyard in Ramsey before going to sea in the slave trade. He made thirteen voyages to the West African coast, seven as captain. This is itself a remarkable record when the mortality rate among the crew on a slaving voyage to the “white man’s grave” was between twenty-five and fifty percent, a significantly higher death rate than the slaves themselves.
His last voyage was in 1807, as captain of the Kitty Amelia. This was one of the very last legal voyages out of Liverpool before the abolition of the trade in the same year.
Crow was the most commercially successful of all the slave ship captains, retiring with a considerable fortune of £4,000, several million pounds in today’s money. He spent a prosperous retirement at Crowville writing his memoirs.
His will left instructions and money for his memoirs to be published after his death, indicating that he knew that his views would be controversial. His executors included a rather defensive introduction, explaining that they were duty bound under Crow’s will to publish, and distancing themselves from his views on slavery.
Oxford University Press recently republished the work – The Memoirs of Captain Hugh Crow: The Life and Times of a Slave Ship Captain. The republication ignited fresh controversy, with some commentators stating that the book should have been left out of print.
The memoir gives a vivid account of the slave trade, which Crow staunchly defends.
He describes seamen, fishermen, factory workers, prisoners and Irish peasants as white slaves. “Slavery in its essence exists at home as well as abroad” he writes, “I would rather be a black slave in the West Indies than a white slave at home.”
Crow was proud of his seamanship, his commercial acumen, his close relationships with the rulers on the West African coast, and his humane treatment of the slaves he transported.
Hugh Crow died in 1829 and is buried in a fine grave in Maughold Churchyard, half a mile from us. His grave has an extensive if rather bombastic inscription, surely written by Crow himself. The last line is a quote from Alexander Pope:
“An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”