Samuel Ally was born a slave on St Helena but won his freedom – only to die, still a teenager, on another island 5,000 miles away. Now tribute is to be paid to his memory.
His story had been all-but forgotten on St Helena, though not completely lost. But on the Isle of Man, where he lived his last years as a servant, his grave is a well known landmark.
Councillor Mervyn Yon was told of his story when he met delegates from the Isle of Man parliament, the Tynwald, at a recent convention in Scotland – and he promised that a wreath would be sent to be laid on the grave.
St Helena Online understands that arrangements for the wreath-laying are still being made.
Samuel was granted his freedom by Governor Mark Wilks, who was in post when Napoleon arrived on the island as a prisoner.
The authorities in London decided that a military general should oversee the deposed emporer’s exile, and Governor Wilks – who was only a colonel – was relieved of his post and paid compensation for his disappointment.
He went home to an estate on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, and took Samuel with him.
When Samuel died, his employer paid for an expensive gravestone at Old Kirk Braddan Church. The text, some of it still legible after nearly 200 years, describes Samuel in lavish terms:
“An African and native of St Helena. Died the 28th of May 1822 aged 18 years. Born a slave, and exposed to the corrupt influences of that unhappy state, he became a model of TRUTH and PROBITY for the more fortunate of any country or condition.
“This stone is erected by a grateful master to the memory of a faithful servant who repaid the boon of Liberty with unbounded attachment.”
Alan Rice of the University of Central Lancashire notes that there was an irony in Samuel’s “brief black presence” on the Isle of Man.
He writes: “The island’s links with the slave trade… had been at their height in the mid-18th Century, when Liverpool and Lancaster slavers stopped on the island to load illegal duty-free Rotterdam cloths.
“Manx maritime tradition provided captains and crew members to the trade, including one of its most famous exponents, Captain Hugh Crow.
“Ally’s grave is a physical marker of a history that hitherto has been buried in the footnotes of history.”
Nearly 200 years on, it seems Samuel Ally is to be restored to his place in St Helena’s history too, as a result of that chance conversation in Scotland.
Samuel Ally’s grave