Racist or women's advocate?

Racist or women's advocate?

The case of Lady Musgrave, 1833-1920


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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Lady (Jeanne Lucinda) Musgrave, wife of Sir Anthony Musgrave, governor of Jamaica, 1877-1883, has become a controversial figure due to an unsubstantiated claim that brands her a racist. It is said that while assigned to Jamaica, she demanded that the road, now known as Lady Musgrave Road, be built because she was so offended that a coloured man, George Stiebel, Esquire, Jamaica's first black millionaire, had the audacity to build a mansion at Devon Pen in 1881. She did not want to pass his house. This story has taken on new legs; now generating a petition to have the road's name changed. I believe that facts matter, and that proper research should be undertaken to establish them.

Who was Lady Musgrave?

Jeanne Lucinda Field was born in New York City in 1833 to Dudley Field, a law reformer, and his wife, Jane Hopkins. In 1870 she married Anthony Musgrave of St John's, Antigua, British West Indies, a British colonial civil servant. She was his second wife. They came to Jamaica in August 1877 when her husband was appointed governor and left in April 1883, when he was reassigned to Queensland, Australia.

The Women's Self-Help Society

A search of the Gleaner Archives revealed that Lady Musgrave, along with Mrs Charles Campbell, established the Women's Self-Help Society in 1879. Based at 48 Church Street in Kingston, it assisted Jamaican women of the middle and lower classes to earn an income from their arts and crafts products. It also offered needlework courses. The focus was on women who needed to earn a living and to prevent child beggary. In 1882 the society earned 465 for its female depositors. Lady Musgrave also took an interest in the St Andrew Orphanage.

At a farewell function on April 16, 1883, the ladies of the Women's Self-Help Society, in their address to Lady Musgrave, expressed their appreciation for her work with the group and with the girls (refer to the address and response in The Gleaner of April 18, 1883). In her response, Lady Musgrave stated that they were far too flattering in their estimation of her efforts to help the poor of Jamaica and she would be eagerly looking forward to good news of the people's improvements in industry and self-dependence to which their efforts were already directed.

The society was named for Lady Musgrave on her departure from Jamaica. From Gleaner reports it is evident that the Musgraves were highly regarded in Jamaica. In one report, it was said that were Jamaicans able to elect the governor, Sir Anthony and Lady Musgrave would still hold the position.

It is also reported that Lady Musgrave was instrumental in having the Jamaica Women's Self-Help Society exhibit their work at London's prestigious Colonial and Indian Exhibition held in 1886. The society is mentioned in Jamaica's official catalogue for the exhibition found online.

Campbell died in 1886 and an effort was made to raise funds in her name to purchase a permanent location. In 1897 the society was selected to provide a gift to Queen Victoria on her anniversary. In their 24th report, of 1903 they stated that the society was prospering with 153 depositors on its books and earning 1,200. The society was still in existence up to 1952.

This was one of the earliest women's self-help groups in the Caribbean. It is mentioned in several journal articles and other publications. Women's self-help societies were also founded in Barbados and British Guiana. One author indicates that women associated with these societies would become leaders in the movement in the Caribbean for women's right to vote (Jamaica 1918) and other basic rights.

Lady Musgrave, during her stay in Queensland, Australia, 1883-1888, was involved in assisting women who were immigrants, homeless, or at risk. The Lady Musgrave Trust was established in 1885 and still exists today. Her husband died there in 1888 and she returned to England.

George Stiebel

In the 1880s The Gleaner describes Stiebel as a prominent citizen of Kingston. Born in 1820, he was the son of a German Jew and a Afro-Jamaican woman. Making his money in overseas business ventures, he was a justice of the peace and treasurer for the Jamaica Reform Fund, among other things. He became custos of St Andrew in about 1890 and was among a group of men who contributed to financing the 1891 Great Exhibition organised by Governor Henry Blake (1888-1898). He was honoured by Queen Victoria with the Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George. He died in 1896, apparently, a quite contented man.

Lady Musgrave Road

It is said that the road now known as Lady Musgrave Road existed when Lady Nugent was here with her husband, Governor George Nugent, 1801-1805. Governor Sir John Peter Grant, 1866-1874, moved the governor's residence from Spanish Town to Bishop's Lodge, now King's House, in about 1872. It is documented that Governor Grant undertook a major road and bridge building and rehabilitation project during his tenure. It is possible that the road was named to honour Lady Musgrave after she left Jamaica.

Lady Musgrave Road shows up in The Gleaner from 1905. It was pointed out that it is one of few roads in Kingston and St Andrew named for a woman. More research is required to clearly determine when the road was constructed and named for Lady Musgrave. Perhaps the research should now be completed to determine the facts of this case enabling the records to be amended to give credit where it is due.

Marcia Thomas, a history enthusiast, manages the Facebook page: Georgian History Jamaica and More.

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