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The Ordeal of Harry Demane After word came that Harry Demane had been lured aboard a slave-ship, Granville Sharp had only a few hours in which to make sure he did not sail.

In two parts

1786 King George III 1760-1820 Music: Sergei Rachmaninov and Henry Litolff

By William Anderson (1757-1837), via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

About this picture …

‘Merchant ships and Indiamen lying off the Isle of Dogs with smaller vessels in the river and Greenwich Hospital on the opposite bank,’ by William Anderson (1757-1837). Once slave-owners realised that Somersett’s Case meant that the law would not help them protect their ‘property’ in England, selling their African servants to distant plantations became an attractive choice. The stakes were high, and thanks to men of principle last minute rescues were not uncommon. Sharp had a similar experience with Thomas Lewis: see In the Nick of Time. Thomas Clarkson tracked another captive down to the very last berth on the very last ship: see The Persistence of Thomas Clarkson.

The Ordeal of Harry Demane

Part 1 of 2

Thanks to campaigner Granville Sharp, ‘Somersett’s Case’ in 1772 proved that slave owners could expect no help from our courts. But they could still sell their African servants into slavery in far-off British colonies, and when Mr Jeffries of Bedford Street did just that, the race was on to find Harry Demane before his ship left port — even as London was settling down for the weekend.

1786, July 28 [Friday] — WAS informed by John Stewart,* and Green, that Harry was trepanned* by his master, and carried away and sent on shipboard. Went to the Lord Mayor, and to several Aldermen at Guildhall, also to Bow Street, and Litchfield Street, and could not get a warrant;* and, no Judge being in town, I was disappointed of a writ of Habeas Corpus.*

29. — Sent Mr Irwin to call at Mr Mearn’s, surgeon and apothecary in Bedford Street, where Mr Jeffries lodged. Mr Irwin took Mr Fraser with him. They saw Mr J., who was much frightened, and acknowledged the fact, and the name of the ship and the master.* — Sent Mr Irwin to Messrs. Douce and Bridgman, attorneys, who sent one clerk (Savage) with Irwin, Green, and Stewart, to Litchfield Street, to obtain a warrant; but were again refused, notwithstanding the additional evidence. The other clerk, Mr Day, was sent to procure a Habeas Corpus, which he obtained of the Prothonotary’s clerk, signed by the Court, and having the office seals affixed; and he brought it to me about nine o’clock.

Jump to Part 2

* John Stewart or Stuart was the name later adopted by Ottobah Cugoano (?1757-?), an African from near Ajumako in what is now Ghana. Though well-connected among his own people, he was sold into slavery at the age of thirteen, and trafficked to Grenada in the Lesser Antilles. In 1772, he was bought by an English merchant, and taken from his plantation to London where his new master taught him to read and write. Ottobah also chose to be baptised, taking the Christian name John and the surname Stuart; he remained a devout Christian all his life and founded his campaign against slavery on Christian principles. His master subsequently dropped all claim on him in the light of the Somersett Case. In 1784, John entered ordinary domestic service with artists Richard Cosway and his wife Maria, and continued to write and publish anti-slavery tracts.

* ‘Trepanning’ is most commonly a term for drilling, coring or boring, a word taken from Greek; but another meaning of ‘trepan (or trapan)’ is ‘trick, lure into a trap’, from Old English ‘treppan’, which is the meaning here. Harry was a servant working for Mr Jeffries in Bedford Street; Jeffries somehow duped Harry into going on board a slaver’s ship, where he was held against his will.

* From what Sharp says a little later on in this extract, his request for a warrant was denied initially because he could not give the name of the ship where he believed Harry was being held, nor the name of the slave-ship’s captain; he duly gathered this information, but his second application was denied too.

* A writ of habeas corpus is a demand to produce a named person at a court hearing. Sharp wanted to compel Jeffries or the captain of the slave-ship to bring Harry Demane before a judge. July 28th, 1786, was a Friday, which helps to explain why Sharp could not find a judge anywhere in central London.

* By this time, Sharp’s name was well known as an anti-slavery campaigner of the most dogged kind, and Jeffries could foresee a long, expensive and embarrassing legal battle ahead if he put up any kind of resistance. See The Shadow of a Name.

* The chief clerk of the Court of King’s Bench and in the Court of Common Pleas was known as the Prothonotary. By Sharp’s time, the post of Prothonotary was becoming a sinecure, and the work of issuing writs was done by his clerks.


In 1786, former slave John Stewart warned Granville Sharp that an African servant, Henry Demane, had been duped by his master and was being held on a slave-ship bound for the colonies. Sharp at once mobilised Stewart and other friends, and even though it was the weekend managed at last to obtain a writ forcing the ship’s captain into court. (59 / 60 words)

Part Two

By Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832), via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0. Source

About this picture …

The interior of the Guildhall, London, by Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832). Guildhall was one of several places where Granville Sharp tried in vain to obtain a warrant to search for Henry Demane. He also tried to find a judge to issue a writ of Habeas Corpus, forcing Jeffries to produce Harry in court, but it was a Friday and by this time there was no judge to be found.

WE then agreed that Mr Savage should go to serve the writ, and should take with him Stewart, or Mr Green, whichever was most readily found; and Mr Irwin informed me by letter, on Sunday morning, 30th July, that he saw Savage and Green set off last night.

Monday noon, July 31. — Mr Savage and Green arrived in town, bringing with them Henry Demane. They informed me, that when they reached the ship, the anchor was getting up, the sails set, and the captain himself at the helm; so that a single minute more of delay would have lost the opportunity of recovery. Henry confessed that he had intended to have jumped into the sea as soon as it was dark —, choosing rather to die than to be carried into slavery. I sent him with proper officers to find out his master.

Copy Book


On Sunday morning, Sharp learnt that his friends had gone to serve the Writ on the slave-ship’s captain the previous night. At noon on Monday, Sharp was relieved to see them return together with Henry, whom they had rescued with barely a minute to spare before the ship set sail for the colonies. (53 / 60 words)


From ‘Memoirs of Granville Sharp’ (1820), by Prince Hoare (1755-1834).

Suggested Music

1 2

Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12 (‘Sleigh Ride’)

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

Performed by Valentina Lisitsa.

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Transcript / Notes

‘Sleigh Ride’

Valentina Lisitsa writes:

...traditionally described as a sleigh ride, but this is not a joy ride. This is unmistakably a departure, and a very sad one — the feeling of losing something forever, the feeling which painfully pinches your heart. Is it a foreboding of his last sleigh ride through flowing snow that pricked the face with a myriad of tiny needles — never to see his beloved country again?

Concerto symphonique No. 4 in D minor Op. 102

2. Scherzo in G Sharp

Henry Litolff (1818-1891)

Performed by John Ogdon.

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How To Use This Passage

You can use this passage to help improve your command of English.

IRead it aloud, twice or more. IISummarise it in one sentence of up to 30 words. IIISummarise it in one paragraph of 40-80 words. IVMake notes on the passage, and reconstruct the original from them later on. VJot down any unfamiliar words, and make your own sentences with them later. VIMake a note of any words that surprise or impress you, and ask yourself what meaning they add to the words you would have expected to see. VIITurn any old-fashioned English into modern English. VIIITurn prose into verse, and verse into prose. IXAsk yourself what the author is trying to get you to feel or think. XHow would an artist or a photographer capture the scene? XIHow would a movie director shoot it, or a composer write incidental music for it?

For these and more ideas, see How to Use The Copy Book.

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