DW index - search  


Valentine Morris and the 1779 surrender of St. Vincent's. 
How a Welsh squire tried to avoid blame for the
loss of a Caribbean island.
 

A note on "A Vindication Of My Conduct" by Dr. Todd E. Harburn and Rodger Durham,
published in the United States, September 2002.

In 1779, Valentine Morris, as governor of the British Caribbean island of St. Vincent's*, negotiated an ignominious surrender to French forces. He later brought charges against the military commander of the island, Lt. Colonel George Etherington, on several grounds. The most potentially damning of these was the dread accusation of "Neglect of duty and ... improper behaviour in the Face of the Enemy." 

Col. Etherington presented a vindication of his conduct at his trial on the island of St. Lucia in 1781 and the book contains this within a full transcript of the proceedings. Todd Harburn is a specialist in the history of the British 60th or Royal American Regiment and for him Etherington, the American born commander of the 2nd battalion at the time of the surrender, is the focus of interest. 

The book begins with a very useful introduction to the rather sad early colonial history of St. Vincent and introduces the participants in the surrender and the forthcoming trial (although Valentine Morris could not attend this and we are deprived of his contribution to the court proceedings). The first publication of a transcript of the court martial  forms the next section and this is followed by discussion of the evidence presented. An epilogue looks at some of the wider issues raised by the trial and the personalities. Brimming with fascinating detail, the book benefits from the intimate knowledge of St. Vincent brought to it by Dr. Harburn's collaborator, Rodger Durham. 

The writers are led to the conclusion (shared by the military judges) that Valentine Morris was quite wrong to bring charges against Col. Etherington. Even after reading the book, I found it difficult to fathom Morris's motivation. In his vindication, Etherington says that bad feeling between Governor Morris and himself only broke out after the surrender, when was refused monies granted to his regiment "for taking up runaway Negroes at St. Vincent's". Morris did not enjoy proper financial support for his task in retaining St. Vincent as one of the minor jewels in the British imperial crown. His personal expenditure there compounded the financial woes which had already caused him to sell his beloved estate in Wales and resume the family tradition of service in the British colonies. He was even prevented from appearing at the surrender court martial through being detained elsewhere because of an unpaid debt, and his financial worries may well have clouded his judgment at the time of his governorship. It is fair to say that references to him in books of Welsh history suggest a man of generous spirit and cultivated taste. He is known to have helped people less fortunate than himself, even after descending into the poverty which marked his later life. Historians of the Welsh economy fondly remember him as the man who told the British parliament that what passed for roads in the Wales of his time were, in fact, ditches. There is nothing to suggest the vindictive nature he seems to have demonstrated in his attempt to make Col. Etherington a scapegoat. For Valentine's background see The Morris family, Wales and early America.

My enjoyment of this well researched and worthwhile publication was only slightly marred by noticing the poor reproduction of several of the otherwise interesting monochrome illustrations.  

* The island is now known as St. Vincent

"A Vindication Of My Conduct"  by Dr. Todd E. Harburn and Rodger Durham
Heritage Books, Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-7884-2092-5

Paperback, 195 pages, several dozen illustrations, bibliography and index. 

For more information about the book and its availability, mail Todd Harburn in the United States.


     John Weston / Data Wales, 2002
 
    Data Wales Index