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Trade Connections Between Birmingham and the West Indies

Two of Birmingham's trade connections with the West Indies were food based involving the importation of limes and cocoa.

The Montserrat Connection
"The Montserrat Co. Ltd. was formed by J.& E. Sturge for the production and export of lime juice for use in the manufacture of citric acid at their chemical works in Edgbaston. This was a result of the failure of Sicily's lemon crop. The company began with members of the Sturge and Albright families advancing funds for the development of Montserrat estates in 1867. The lime juice was later employed as a source of Vitamin C to combat scurvy among seafarers. There is a good collection of minutes papers and photographs relating to the company in the City Archives (MS1436).

In about 1857, Joseph Sturge bought the Elberton Sugar Estate, wishing to convert it to lime production and to prove that Free Labour could be made profitable. (The Sturge family had been instrumental in the anti-slavery movement.)" (Taken from Birmingham Historian by Fiona Tait).

The following are quotations from a short memoir of John Edmund Sturge, prepared by Jane Sturge:

"The Sturge family having acquired some property in the Island of Montserrat, J. Marshall Sturge, son of Charles Sturge, and John Edmund Sturge went to Montserrat in 1860. J.E. Sturge was then only 18 years old. His father, with his Uncle and Aunt Charles S. Sturge, went to Southampton to see them off. On their arrival in the island they stayed in the house of Francis Burke who had established a Lime Plantation there. This was in conjunction with his father, Edmund Sturge, and his uncle, Arthur Albright, Lime Juice being required for the Chemical Work of J. & E. Sturge in Birmingham; as the lemon crop in Sicily had failed.

Francis Burke took great pleasure in introducing his young fiends to the employment connected with the Estate - The cousins Marshall and J.E. Sturge returned to England in the summer of 1861.

The following year, in consequence of the death of Francis Burke, Edmund Sturge with his wife and second son, Frank went to Montserrat, where they remained till 1863.

During their absence John Edmund Sturge had the care and the responsibility for the Birmingham business, and it was no small sacrifice to him, after that time, to be required to return to and take over the charge of affairs in Montserrat, being thus separated from the many sources of interest in England. He felt this separation greatly, and was much helped and cheered when his sweet sister Edith joined him.

In 1868 Edith married James Spencer Hollings, who was then employed as Assistant Manager.

In 1871 J.E. Sturge left for a visit to England travelling via the United States. He was greatly impressed by the vastness and promise of the country. Shortly after landing in England he attended the Social Science Conference in Newcastle, where he met Jane Richardson. Business called for a prompt return to the West Indies, and it was not till his next visit home in 1873 that his marriage on June 5th took place.

In August 1873 J.E. Sturge and wife arrived in Montserrat. His great power of work was quickly manifested, for the new house, on Olveston Hill, which was in building far from finished, and some thought it would not be finished before Christmas; however in six weeks, on September 21st 1873, they were able to move into it, the intermediate time having been spent at Richmond House, the commodious home of his sister Edith Hollings and her family.

In 1879 a change seemed needful for his wife and two children, who left the Island for England in May. Business cares delayed J.E. Sturge's visit home till January 1880.

A chill caught on a business journey in Dorset turned to pneumonia, and he died in Newcastle on 14th February 1880.

Before his death J.E. Sturge served as the Crown Nominee for Montserrat on the Council of the Leeward Islands.

See internal links below to view a sample of the documents held by Archives and Heritage relating to the Sturge connection with Montserrat.

The Trinidad Connection
In 1897 William Adlington Cadbury visited the Cadbury cocoa estates in Trinidad and Tobago, and returned with some splendid photographs of the estates and estate workers. In addition, reported back to his brother Barrow Cadbury, in diary form, on a visit to the cocoa estate of Sir Charles Tennant, managed by Mr Bain and his wife:

"Mr Bain has one interest: 'Cocoa' - that is outside his own family of 6 boys and 3 girls - so was
delighted to show and explain everything and when we got home `we set and made some chocolate -
[cook] woman in the kitchen roasted it most splendidly in an open bowl over the fire, stirring it continually, and husked it, by throwing it in an open grass tray, shaped like a malt shovel blade, then
we ground it with sugar in the real old way on a flat stone, with a long shaped smaller stone held in both hands, and made up with boiling milk and water it was first rate - Mrs Bain (like all the Creoles)realised also the virtues of cocoa butter for all kinds of wounds burns and strains...so the following night we had great fun 'making cocoa butter' our only apparatus was an ordinary office press, used for letter books,and a dripping tray which we put below.

(Taken from Birmingham Historian by Fiona Tait).

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