Prendergast Slave owners in Jamaica during the 1700s.

Historians are like detectives. They question, analyze and interpret evidence from the past. Studying history is diving into the unexpected and unknown. By understanding our past you’ll also learn to create a better future. Reference; Utas history unit handbook.  

As they say, you cannot change history so with this in mind I have decided to blog about an episode in our family history that is less than commendable. Some people may find this episode distasteful but, I believe that it is important to tell this story as it may  relate to John Prendergast’s arrest and transportation to Australia. 

When I commenced my Bachelor of Arts, History major at the university of Tasmania this year, I enrolled in unit HTA 102. Little did I know that one of the subjects would impact my Prendergast family history research. 

We were studying Slavery when randomly I googled the words “Prendergast and slavery”. I had not expected to find anything and was quite shocked when I came across a study that was taking place at the University College London and read the contents. The study was called the ‘Center for the study of the legacies of British slavery’. The link is if you would like to read it for yourself.

I was horrified to discover that there are 11 Irish Prendergast family members who were slave owners in the 17th and 18th century in Jamaica. Amongst the 11 there were 2 female slave owners. I have since found documentation in Dublin related to one of the slave owners Hannah Prendergast and the addresses on her census are in both Dublin and Jamaica. As there were only three Prendergast families living in Dublin during the late 1700s, and they were all related, there is every chance that she along with several other Irish slave owners, is related to our Prendergast family. 

And now for a quick history lesson. 

Following the British invasion of Jamaica in 1655, Cromwell increased the island’s European population by sending indentured servants and prisoners to Jamaica. Due to the wars in Ireland at this time 2/3 of this 17th century European population was Irish. 

The invading army of 1655 had within a generation become the nucleus of a  prospering band of planters. All sorts of tropical produce emerged from these plantations, but the single most important crop – the biggest volume of exports, the most lucrative product and the crop which devoured the labors of ever increasing gangs of slaves – was sugar. 

Over the next 200 years, 900 plantations sprang up over Jamaica. The rapid introduction of plantations in Jamaica meant that to cover transportation costs between Jamaica and Britain, large scale cropping of Tobacco, Coffee, Cotton, Indigo, Rice, Potatoes, and Sugar ensued. Until the 1st of August 1838 when slaves were fully emancipated, these plantations were worked by African slave labor. During this time more than 800,000 slaves were imported from Africa to Jamaica. 

Annotated map of Jamaica c. 1820 indicating Prendergast plantations

This next piece of information may upset you, as it did me. I could not understand how some people could treat other people, namely the slaves, so inhumanely. 

The British laws defined slaves as chattel, to be sold, bequeathed, and transferred like other goods. These laws were accompanied or inevitably modified by laws that unequivocally treated them as persons even while restricting their activities, bringing them to trial, and punishing them. However slaves and slavery were defined, slaves in fact were not outside the social order. 

Inventory of slaves belonging to Hannah Prendergast

I would like to think that our Pendergast slave owners were kinder to their slaves and there is evidence supporting this theory. On I located an inventory of slaves owned by Hannah Prendergast. Whereas some slave owners used derogatory names for their slaves, Hannah has conformed to the Irish naming pattern giving her slaves Christian names as well as the Prendergast surname. There are records indicating that she had her slaves baptized into the catholic faith. 

I have also located the will of Jeffery Prendergast gent of St. Thomas in the East, Jamaica. He bequeaths property to his Quadroon daughter Elenor, his negro woman slave, and a “Free mulatto” woman. 

According to Wikipedia, the meaning of the word quadroon is – “1/4 black by descent”. The meaning of “Free mulatto” is a racial classification to refer to people of mixed African and European ancestry. I hasten to add that both these terms are considered outdated and offensive. 

 Although this is a disturbing discovery, there is a silver lining to this story. I located a newspaper item in the Irish times “The Irish Lord who freed Jamaican slaves” It reads – 

On his appointment as Governor General of Jamaica in 1834, Lord Sligo made the discovery that he had inherited 2 Jamaican plantations from his grandmother, Elizabeth Kelly, heiress of the Chief Justice of Jamaica, Dennis Kelly from Galway. These plantations used African slaves to provide labor for the plantation. Although the planters expected Sligo to be on their side because he was now a slave owner, he did not hide his disgust at the discovery. 

In 1833 the British government had passed an emancipation act. The act however did not give immediate freedom to the slaves who merely became apprentice to their masters for a further four years. Described as “slavery under another name”, the controversial apprenticeship system which Sligo was appointed to implement, was misunderstood by the slaves and resisted by the Jamaican plantocracy and by powerful vested commercial interests in Britain.  

Lord Sligo found the slavery personally abhorrent. From the flogging of field workers with cart whips branding with hot irons, to whipping of female slaves, “The cruelties are past all idea” he told the Jamaican assembly. “I call on you to put an end to conduct so repugnant to humanity” 

His campaign to have slaves freed ruffled feathers in government and the planter dominated assembly commenced a campaign of vilification against him in the Jamaican and British press. During this time he built schools at his own cost on his property. He was the first plantation owner to initiate a wage system for black workers and later, after emancipation, to divide his lands into numerous farms to be leased to the former slaves. 

Lord Sligo’s residence, Westport House, Ireland. 

 On March 22nd, 1838 Sligo publicly announced in the House of Lords that, regardless of the outcome of the government deliberation, he would free all apprentices on his own estate in Jamaica on August 1st 1838, thereby leaving the government with no alternative but to implement full emancipation on the same date. 

Sligo earned an honored place in the history of Jamaica where he is acknowledged as champion of the slaves and where the town of Sligo Ville, the first free slave village in the world, still bears his name. 

I feel very proud of Lord Sligo and the campaign he undertook to free slaves. Although Lord Sligo is not directly a Prendergast, his wife’s auntie was a Prendergast. 

When I visited Lord Sligo’s ancestral home, ‘Westport house’ In 2015, Ireland, at that time I did not know of the Prendergast connection. But, in a house full of beautiful antiquaries the one particular item that stood out to me, was the fire guard made of tapestry. The words that were embroidered on this tapestry read “PROREGESAPE PRO PATRIA SEMPER” translated from Latin into English this means “For the king sometimes but for the country always.” 

Tapestry at Sligo’s house

As mentioned in my introduction, I believe that because John Prendergast was related to the Irish slave owners in Jamaica, he may well have been involved in their export/import business of Sugar and Tobacco to Ireland. Large quantities of Sugar and Tobacco were two of the three items that John Prendergast was accused of stealing at his trial. There was always a question about these items because the person who accused him of the theft happened to be the jury foreman at John’s trial. 

Utas diploma of family history 2020

Photo of University of Tasmania taken by “The Examiner”

Following my invigorating research trip to the Hawkesbury NSW in June/July 2019, I felt inspired to plan a P[r]endergast family reunion and coordinate a “go fund me” and heritage grant to raise funds to restore the family Vault at the old Catholic Cemetery Windsor during 2020.

The Whitsundays where I live is a very long way from the Hawkesbury so I knew that I would have the ideas but need a great team of experts on the ground to bring the plans to fruition.

I met with Michelle Nichols OAM, a local Hawkesbury expert, regarding coordinating a Prendergast family reunion in 2019. I emailed Katie Hicks of the National Trust in regard to restoring the P[r]endergast family vault at Windsor. I then emailed a contact that I have in Ireland, Dr. Ruan O’Donnell a senior lecturer in History at the University of Limerick. I invited him to come to Australia for a 220 year commemoration of the arrival of the first convict ship “Minerva” with an Easter service at the Martyrs wall, Waverley Cemetery. I felt confident that my dreams could become a reality.

But, as the expression goes “the best laid plans of mice and men …” So sadly, like many other people world wide, my plans were thwarted by the outbreak of Covid 19 and subsequent lockdown.

Undeterred and not knowing how long Covid would curb my plans, I decided that if I couldn’t coordinate a family reunion and Vault restoration, that I would further my studies in family history.

Several years ago I had been told of the brilliant Utas diploma of family history and after further investigation and comparison with similar University courses, I decided to enrol in the Utas diploma of family history.

I cannot speak highly enough of the course. I loved every minute of it. It was wonderful!

Although, due to the fact that like all Universities world wide, on campus study had to be converted to on-line study for all students, I felt the staff at Utas did an amazing job under very difficult circumstances.

Family photo of Nanny – Milda May Rawlings and grandchildren c.1957
Continue reading “Utas diploma of family history 2020”

Repository Visit to Sydney.

In January 2019, I travelled to Sydney to conduct genealogy research into property owned by the Prendergast family in the Hawkesbury district of NSW. The records were held at various Repositories in Sydney, Kingswood and Wollombi.

I wanted to locate records at the repositories and then visit the land of my forbears to get a sense of how my ancestor John Prendergast and his wife Catherine would have felt as first settlers on that land.

With Barry’s technical assistance, I plan to document these blocks of land on an interactive map, recording them for future generations.

View from Sydney University Village accommodation

I chose Sydney University Village as my base for the first visit in January because it was centrally located, there was plenty of public transport available and it was reasonably priced.

I visited the New South Wales land Registry Services to obtain maps of the Prendergast properties in Lower Portland, Kurrajong, Windsor, Pitt Town(formerly Mulgrave place) and Wollombi.

New South Wales Land Registry Services

By pre-booking the documents that I wished to view during my Mitchell Library visit, I was able to discover which properties were crown grants and which ones were purchased by the Prendergast family.

Mitchell Library safe
Continue reading “Repository Visit to Sydney.”

Fond memories and exciting new research

Saturday 19 August, 2017

I am back in the Whitsundays and constantly in awe of the amazing trip I enjoyed to Ireland in May/June this year.



Visiting the National Archives at Kew, I changed trains at Turnham Green Station. This is the very area where King William 111 would have been assassinated had it not been for my ancestor Sir Thomas Prendergast, 1st Baronet. I did not know this at the time but found out a few days later about the Jacobite plot with the intended ambush of his coach at Turnham Green on Saturday 15 February, 1696 and Sir Thomas Prendergast’s role in preventing the murder.


At the National Archives Kew I was delighted to read the details of Sir John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, Baron Kilarton of Gort, sixth Viscount Gort, and the role he played as Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary force at Dunkirk.


Lord Gort’s promotion to Governor of Malta and Gibralta in 1942 was exciting to read with the often hand written documents and mention of the Prime Minister of England Sir Winston Churchill, Louis Mountbatten and King George V1


Lord Gort is descended from Maurice de Prendergast, as am I. Continue reading “Fond memories and exciting new research”

A Princess in Enniscorthy Castle.

Tuesday 30 May, 2017

Every little girl dreams of being a Princess in a Castle. We grow up with stories of Snow White and Cinderella but no one really believes that they can live in a Castle – even for a short time.

Today I felt like a Princess. As I watched the tables being laid, the flowers being arranged, the food being plated up and people running to and fro to ensure that everything was ready for my High Tea to take place in Enniscorthy Castle, I felt like a Princess.

I had to keep pinching myself that this was really happening. I was so excited. Continue reading “A Princess in Enniscorthy Castle.”

Antiques, Grave stone Rubbings and Prendergast family Deeds.

Wednesday 24 May, 2017.

At 10am this morning, a warm welcome awaited me at the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland when Aaron Binchy, a relative of my favourite author Maeve Binchy, greeted me at the door of the Society.





Conor Lucey, the President took me on a personally escorted tour around the building and historical garden. The house has been kept in its original state and the garden has been planted in keeping with herbs and flowers of the original garden. Continue reading “Antiques, Grave stone Rubbings and Prendergast family Deeds.”

Interesting discovery in Dublin and at the National Archives of Ireland

Tuesday 23 May, 2017

John Prendergast, my 5x Grandfather died intestate in 1833. In Windsor, Australia, shortly before his death, he distributed all of his possessions to his children. Why did he die without leaving a Will? Was it to save his family the expense of paying death taxes? Was it so that he could distribute his property in the way that he was assured that each beneficiary would receive what he wanted them to inherit? Or, as a United Irishman who was transported to Australia for his involvement in the 1798 Rebellion, had he memorialized a Will in Ireland prior to being arrested in 1799.  Was he afraid the authorities would tie his Australian Will to his Irish Will had he left one in Australia? Continue reading “Interesting discovery in Dublin and at the National Archives of Ireland”

Conference papers and Certificate ceremony

Clans and Surnames Conference, Nenagh, Tipperary.

Friday 19 May, 2017

I awoke bright and early and very excited. Today is the day I deliver my Conference paper ‘The Quest to find Prendergast ancestry”

The day started with Dr. Michael C. Kean who has written a book from Laois (pronounced Leesh) to Kerry.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAkVAAAAJDM0MzYwMWJmLTQyNGEtNGEzMi04NWE2LTc0YmFiM2IxMWI2ZgDr. Penny Walters delivered a very interesting and heartfelt paper “Is adoption the Primal Wound”



This was followed by Jane Halloran-Ryan- Tyredagh Clunes – What we can learn from one family’s journey – From Country Clare to Connecticut. Continue reading “Conference papers and Certificate ceremony”

The importance of taking care of your family history

Clans and Surnames Conference, Nenagh, Tipperary Ireland

rachelLast year with the help of the lovely Rachel Spano, Senior Archivist of the State Library of Queensland, Australia, I was able to pass on techniques for Preservation, Conservation and Restoration at a Workshop that I conducted where Rachel Spano participated in an outreach skype session.

When I held the Workshop at the Whitsundays Regional Council Library in Cannonvale little did I realize that just 4 months later, Cyclone Debbie would cause catastrophic damage to the Whitsundays and demolish the Cannonvale Library and the Whitsunday Family History Library in Proserpine. Continue reading “The importance of taking care of your family history”

Portumna Workhouse and Portumna Castle visit

Clans and Surnames Conference Nenagh, Tipperary.

Wednesday May 17, 2017

We started the day with a Round table discussion.



Tony Browne was very knowledgeable on the subject of Limerick Surnames. He had us all laughing with some of his stories about tracing family names.


Civil Parishes and Death Registration sources was discussed at length with John Nangle and Dr. Paul Mac Cotter. John had been the expert who accompanied me to the Registry of Deeds in Dublin in 2015 when I found a primary document of one of my ancestors. Continue reading “Portumna Workhouse and Portumna Castle visit”