Creative Writing, Family, History, Research

Spirited away to Jamaica

Thomas Wilson was a reckless young jake, carousing and imbibing in the meanest taverns in London. The son of a Baronet, motherless since his 10th year, what did he have to lose? His brother WiIliam would inherit the Baronetcy, his brother Edward was destined to be ordained, his sisters wed for love into good families, his other brothers were settled in their ways. Thomas though, he felt the pull of something else, some edge of danger beckoned him, some devil on his shoulder that whispered of the delights of the night and the taste of ale and colonial rum.

Eastbourne, his home town, stifled him, made him feel small and unimportant. A surfeit of siblings had the same effect, wherever Thomas looked, he found no validation. He was one of many, unimportant, yet bound by his father’s protestant conscience and unflinching sense of duty. Thomas was supposed to be good and honourable.

But it was hard.

Cromwell was dead, stricken by malaria some fourteen years earlier. Charles II had been restored to the monarchy and Cromwell’s puritanical, sober rule had ended, now the King and the country celebrated. Too much, some would say. Revellers teetering past Westminster Hall could toast to Cromwell’s severed head, excavated from his grave after Parliament declared the execution of Charles I as regicide.

London was in recovery, from the devastations of the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666, two consecutive years in London’s fateful history that saw hundreds of thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of homes destroyed and residents displaced. This new London was one of brick and stone with wide streets and a surfeit of coffee houses.

The year was 1675 and work was just beginning on the new St. Paul’s cathedral, Charles II was attempting to close down the coffee houses – hotbeds of sedition and scandal according to the crown – and the foundation stone for the new Royal Greenwich Observatory was set in place.

The social divide was as marked as ever, beggars and idlers lined the streets alongside orphaned children and shoeblackers, street hawkers and labourers, prostitutes and destitutes. Butchers, blacksmiths and brewers traded with lawyers, MPs and bankers. London was on the up, but only for some.

Amidst the social and structural turmoil, ruthless press gangers and spirits scoured the streets for young, unwary gullibles to lure onto ships bound for the new world or the wars of empire. The press gangers bundled men onto naval ships to fight for their King and country in foreign wars. The spirits kidnapped children and young adults and sent them to a life of indentured servitude in the colonies. Both were to be feared.

A press gang operating in London c.1780. Note the Tower of London and ships at the Thames Dock in the background.

William Bullock, in 1649, was recorded as stating that “..the usual way of getting servants, hath been by a sort of men nick-named ”spirits..”

The spirits operated a network of organised crime – backed by ships captains, merchants and corrupt officials, henchmen, fences and petty thieves. They targeted the poor and helpless, street beggars and street children, criminals and idlers. Cellars, attics and tap-rooms of London served as temporary prison cells where the stolen people were hidden until they could be passed onto ships at anchor in the Thames.*

Thomas, inebriated and out of his wits, was kidnapped and tossed on board a Jamaica-bound ship. The British had taken Jamaica from the Spaniards in 1655 and now many of the British-Jamaican settlers were land owners invested in growing cash crops for trade – a lucrative business – but a back breaking and laborious one. Jamaican planters needed a workforce, and once they had worked through the willing labourers, they invited ‘spirits’ to ‘recruit’ fresh young blood for their enterprises.

Indentured servants were forced to work the land in insufferable heat as they worked out their term of servitude – ostensibly between four and seven years, though many were tricked into much longer contracts – or died before they achieved freedom.

The first Jamaican slaves (after the British takeover) were white, British men, women and children, expending their youth in the hard-baked Caribbean soil. They worked for free, had to buy the meagre clothes they were permitted to wear and accept their meagre food rations.

Pity poor Thomas Wilson of Eastbourne, son of Baronet William Wilson I, Sheriff of Sussex, as he sweated and ached in perpetual servitude on a plantation so far from home. His father, under no illusion as to his sons predilections for wine and women, thought his son lost even before his son was lost. William passed in ignorance as to his wayward son’s fate until a letter arrived at Bourne Place addressed to him from the colonies.

The letter was a dreadful tale of woe from a truly attrite son, practically prodigal in his desire for home. William Wilson the elder sought the counsel of his fellow townsmen and his pleas fell upon the ears of Captain Francis Scarlett, a native of Eastbourne with lands on the Wag Water River in the Parish of St. Andrews, Jamaica.

Captain Scarlett, having sailed to Jamaica, made enquiries about a plantation servant named Thomas Wilson and “succeeded in effecting his freedom.”* The unlucky Thomas, now blessed with release at the command of his father, bided a while with his saviour before returning to Eastbourne. Though it is not to be assumed that the young man changed his ways entirely, for a clause in William Wilson the elder’s will, read in 1685 on the event of his demise, mentioned ‘a sum of money to be employed for the benefit of the family of Thomas Wilson, a son, “until he shall become a civil and orderly person, fit to employ and manage money”.’

So concludes the curious tale of an Eastbourne man spirited away to Jamaica in the early days of empire.

More stories to emerge from the annals of Eastbourne history include tales from a Neolithic enclosure; Rituals at a Bronze Age settlement in the marshes, a Flotilla of fishing ships rescuing British soldiers from a beach in France after the Dunkirk evacuations and.. well.. you might just have to buy the book to find out more!


Jordan, Don and Walsh, Michael, White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America, NYU Press, 2008

Green, Matthew, The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse: an Essay at

Budgen, Walter, Old Eastbourne: Its Church, Its Clergy, Its People, Frederick Sherlock Ltd., London, 1911

DuQuesnay, F., J., The Scarlett Family in Jamaica,

Image Credit:

1780 caricature of a Press Gang, scanned from Vaisseau de Ligne, Time Life, 1979

Creative Writing, Family

Children’s story: Moon Base Odin (an extract from Chapter One)

Here’s a short extract from a children’s novel I’m working on, based on the moon, space archaeology, space junk and climate change (and space mice!)

Chapter One:  Footprints on the Moon

There’s a photo on the moon.

Solar radiation has made it a little blurry.

There’s a human family living on the moon, locked in time in a blurry photo.

A mum in a smart blue coat with a short, smart haircut; a dad wearing a white shirt and tie; a blonde boy in a smart shirt and striped tie, one hand casually stuffed into a trouser pocket; a boy in a red polo shirt and smart trousers:  Smiling at the camera.  They’re sitting on the moon, staring out into space and the great blue-green earth spiralling around them.

There’s a plastic bag on the moon, that houses a family locked in time in a blurry photo.

If you look up at the moon tonight, the family will be looking back at you, smiling from inside their translucent, plastic home.  You could wave at them, if you like.

The photograph sits lightly on the dusty surface.

It casts its own shadow. 

There’s a footprint near the photo, made by the man who took the photo to the moon.  The footprint has been there as long as the photo has. 

A tyre track curves past the photograph, there is no wind to blow it away.

The photograph, the footprint, the tyre tracks:  they remain where man once stood.

That is not all humans left behind on the moon.

Humans left vehicles, flags and telescopes, cameras and bags of poo.  Humans are clever and stupid:  Clever to fly from their home planet and explore their neighbouring rocks; clever to forge metal and make engines that can withstand the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere and the chill vacuum of dark-space. Stupid to wreck other cosmic rocks with their debris and disorder; stupid to leave a trail of destruction in their wake. Clever and stupid and oh-so-human.

Those astronauts might return to the moon someday, to search for their left-behind things, their lost and forgotten things.  They’ll say it was all an experiment, to see how materials fare on the moon, in the glare of the sun.  They’ll say they had no other choice, that things needed leaving behind so they could make their way home.

They can say what they like, they’ll never find those things.

Well, they will find the photograph in its plastic bag.

[End of excerpt]

Thank you for taking the time to read this.. and if you do have any curious 8-12 year olds in your life, please share this excerpt with them and add their comments below.

Thanks in advance!


Here’s a link to the earlier post about Moon Base Odin:

My husband Jo has been creating some sketches for the illustrations for Moon Base Odin, I think they’re great.. will you let us know what you think about them?

President Odin the 545th
An abandoned moon buggy
Monochrome scavengers
Colourful scavengers
Creative Writing, Family

My daughter Alice..

My daughter Alice is a creative little lovely and she’d like to share some of her writing on mummy’s blog.

Her first post is inspired by a poetry anthology we picked up at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, based on climate change.

Ice is Melting, by Alice Lyra Seaman (age 8)

The ice is melting,

Wind and water swirling


The ice is melting,

Sun gently shining


The ice is melting,

Creatures fleeing

A broken world.

The ice is melting,

The ice is melting.

Save the kingdom of ice and snow.

Creative Writing, Family

Children’s story: Moon Base Odin

I’m writing a children’s story, about the moon, space archaeology, space junk and climate change.

The story is told from the point of view of a colony of space mice (!) and offers up an opportunity for discussing animals in space.

It’s fun and informative, silly yet serious.

The story is aimed at curious 8-12 year olds and is illustrated by my lovely husband, Jo.

I’ve had a whiff of interest from a publishing company and am having a second edit on it to extend the story a little further.

I’ll be adding illustration samples and chapter extracts to this site very soon.. If there are any curious 8-12 year olds in your life, please ask them for their opinions and comment on the posts.

Thanks in advance!


Here’s a link to the excerpt I’ve just posted:


Post-funeral blues

Grandma died.

Her spirit drifted from her body in the darkness of night as she lay in sleep, breathing in then out, in then gone.

Her body lay cold and spiritless in the morning. She walks this earth no more.

All this is as it should be.

Her passing was as inevitable as night following day.

We gathered to remember and Grandma’s life was affirmed, her life had mattered to her family.

Family clustered to feel communal pain and loss and sorrow and we hugged each other and cried and parted.

And life goes on.

For us.

In our separate places, with our separate feelings and sorrow lingers.

And where my loving energy carried me through her death and the touch of her cold body and the fact of it all and supporting my mum who is suffering and my children who are barely able to understand and my extended family who are bereft, my energy has since stuttered and drained from me.

I am so tired.

Where I saw positivity and affirmation, I now see nothing.

I’ve missed something in the grieving process.

Guilt and regret dog me. Did I see her enough in her later years? Did I love her enough?

My heart is heavy and I look around me at those I love and I feel helpless. How is my love enough?

And then something fierce in me rises and shouts:

I am here, I am still here. I am living and breathing and loving and this is my life and though it – and I – am not perfect, I’m doing my best.

And love feels good and fills up what was hollow.

And if love lives on, it is memory and beauty and joy and it must be cherished.

Fare well, spirit of Grandma, wherever you may be.

I will hold my love for you in my heart and remember you always.



Just how powerful can a haiku be?

Old age and illness

Are not things that are fun to

Be a part of. No.

One grandma and one

great aunt and one step grandma

Are all so.. Ending.

And endings are so

Bittersweet but mostly they

Suck. Life gets harder.

I remember when

I am with them.. Being small

And full of happy.

I can remind them

Of happy for a while but

Then we remember..

Time and we are lost.

Dementia and cancer will

Win in the end. But

The end is not a

Day or a date or a time.

It is a concept.

Sometimes I wish that

Concepts would fuck off and leave

Us with the happy.

I sit with grandma

And I don’t know who I am.

She’s roaming inside.

I hold her paper-

Hand and see right through to blue

Veins and gnarled old bones.

It’s like holding air.

Are you there Grandma? Can you

Remember any..

Thing? Your cheeks are so

Sunken, is it hard to breathe?

Did your eyes open..

Today? Will you o-

Pen them tomorrow? You are

Dissappearing now.

Hello auntie, how

Is your day? Did you have a

Good sleep? I love you.

I know you look like

You’re there but you lost some parts

Along the way. Thoughts.

Remember when you

Were evacuated and

The Americans..

Gave you sweets? War was

Not so bad when soldiers brought

Candy, remember?

Tell me again how

You were born in a bucket

One Sunday morning.


I love to hear how

You lived, all eleven of

You. I am proud to..

Be a Family

Such as ours. You weigh less than

A child now. Going..


Backwards. Time reverts.

I love you, I love you I

Tell you. Remember?

Hello my other grandma,

Not blood but family still,

You look so sad, now.

Cancer, they said, is

Back for the third time and this

Time it will claim you.

What do you say to

That? Hello cancer, come take

Me when you’re ready?


Months, they say. You sit

Staring at the end. I love

You. Remember that.


All in your eighties,

Quietly fading and I

Weep for youth gone by.

I weep for your lives

And the coming of concepts

And the passing years.

I hold my children’s

Hands and walk them through the days,

And we talk of time.

But mostly we laugh

Because if we can’t stop time

We can play with it.

Family is all.

I didn’t know that I thought

That until I did.

Family, Travel

Drusillas Park: Alfriston zoo and playground

I promised a post about Drusillas Park. Here it is!

I love it. Literally. We come at least once a month – though it’s been once a week during these Summer Holidays. Some people I mention it to pull a face and say something like “oh the poor animals” or “zoos are so cruel” or something similar. Like visiting the zoo actually endorses cruelty to animals. It doesn’t.

The Drusillas animals are well loved, well fed and well cared for.

There’s an eight week old baby Macaque – we’ve visited him every week since he’s been born. Yup, he’s that gorgeous! He’s called Mango. Mango the Macaque! He cuddles his mum and tries to walk and climb and jump and peers out of his enclosure at all the crazy humans wandering round his home. He’s utterly contented. So am I when I stand gazing at the little Macaque family.

The baby Common Marmosets are nearing adult size but are still notably young – as are the Rock Hyraxes.

The baby Coatis are also up and about, climbing precariously around the branches of their habitat. The South Downs frame their view of the world, across sweeping fields of potatoes and sweet corn.

I haven’t caught a glimpse of the baby Kookaburra yet but I’m holding out hope.

For there to be baby animals in the zoo, the adult animals must be happy and contented.

Last year’s squirrel monkeys – everyone should spend time in their life watching baby squirrel monkeys – are full of fun and vim and tearing about the treetops.

I read an article in the National Geographic yesterday about Red Pandas being fertile for 24 hours once a year. Last year, the Drusillas Red Pandas gave birth to two healthy babies.

They’re doing something really right!

The young Spectacled Owls have tried to breed two years running, maybe next year they’ll figure it out.

The new ant eat eaters, Olivia and Diego are a treat to observe, as are the flamingos, the Lar Gibbons and the meerkats.

The capybaras are a sight to behold as are the beavers and otters.

The capuchin monkeys are a must-see along with all the other marmosets and monkeys and who couldn’t gaze in wonder at a party of ring tailed lemurs?

For my children, the fun never ends. They’ve been going for five years – with more frequency in the latter years – and their learning opportunities are endless. The outdoor play and soft play provide hours of exercise and temporary friendship and thrills and they’ve both learned to rock climb there.

I could extol the virtues of Drusillas over and over.

Actually, I’ve just convinced myself to go. Perhaps we could fit a couple of hours in later today..