John Dougan.jpg
Portrait of John Dougan. Photo from Tina Woodhead via Laurel Rockliff.

John's life is detailed in "John Dougan Remembered" by Mary Kinsman though I have not yet been able to procure a copy. Happily the basic details have been relayed to me by Dougan descendant Tina Woodhead:

In 1793, John Dougan was a commissioned 'prize agent' (i.e. one who paid out bounties for captured vessels on behalf of the Admiralty) in Tortola in the West Indies. From 1794-1798 and 1803-1808 he was the sole prize agent in Tortola, and had dealt with 1127 captured vessels containing property worth more than five million pounds. He owned at least one armed privateer, was a Speaker of the Assembly, an assistant Judge with a seat on Vice Admiralty court, a Master in Chancery, and Commander of Voluntary Militia on Tortola.

A religious man, he became friends with James Stephen (1758-1832) and under the latter's influence became an abolitionist, later becoming friends with Zachary Macaulay (1768-1838) as well. Back in London, he lived near Cavendish Square in the West End. On 22 November 1798 he married Clarissa Squire (1780-1830), third daughter of a wealthy merchant from Plymouth called Joseph Squire, and Joseph's second wife Elizabeth Spurrell.

From 1803-1808 John returned to the West Indies as a prize agent, then again in 1812 as 'Agent for The Commissioners' having charge of American Property in Bermuda and The Bahamas during the American War. In 1813-14 he conducted the droit business as Agent for the American Commissioners in Newfoundland, Halifax and New Providence.

Clarissa gave birth to Mary Stephen Dougan in 1804 and was pregnant with her daughter Clarissa when she returned to London in 1805. When Emily Dougan was born in 1806, she and Mary were christened at the same time on 19 March 1806, at Holy Trinity Church in Clapham. Rev John Venn conducted the christening.

In 1821, shortly after William Wilberforce proposed a commission to investigate the condition of slaves in the West Indies, John Dougan applied to be one of the commissioners. The other commissioner was to be Thomas Moody, who married John Dougan’s niece. Both men came from plantation families, and found themselves on opposite sides with regards to slavery: John supporting a fair deal for the slaves, Thomas Moody a good deal for their owners. After numerous disagreements, John Dougan resigned his commission in June 1822, and he and Moody sent separate reports to the House of Commons. Thereafter, plagued with ill health, he travelled between the Caribbean and London a few times, but died in September 1826 with a report unfinished. It was submitted on his behalf by his daughter Mary Stephen Dougan, on 12 April 1827. By the time he died, John Dougan was relatively poor and his family were left struggling. His wife Clarissa died of dropsy on 11 May 1830.

"It must have been in 1830 that my Father met my sweet Mother (Emily Dougan), of whom I love to say that 'I owe her all I am and have' — (for she always prayed for her daughters' husbands and her sons' wives from the time they were 17).

They met in a romantic way – for being caught in a summer shower in Torquay he suddenly bethought him he must be near the home of the sisters of a young officer he had known in India, and promised to call on. He said to himself 'there will I take shelter, & pay off my visit at the same time'. No sooner said than done - and he found himself in the middle of what must have been a very charming family of sisters, of rare accomplishments and good looks, and seems to have been in no hurry to leave Torquay. Their name was Dougan, a good Irish family, descended from the O'Neils. But we know but little of our dear Mother's family – for both her parents died before she became our father's wife; and as his jealously absorbing love induced him to separate her one by one from all her family, it came to pass that we never saw but one of them - whom you elder boys may possibly remember in Strathmore Gardens in 1876, your Great Uncle John Dougan: a handsome gentle old man, with marked features very like our little Guy Douglas. He had been in the Army. What I do know of my Grandfather Dougan is that he owned large sugar plantations in Jamaica & did such good service, first on his own property and then for the Government in inducing plantation owners to free their slaves, that he was received with honors as he sailed up the Thames - the shipping being decked with flags etc. But he lived only a short time to enjoy his honors, and his pension dying with him, his family were left indifferently off.

My Grandmother Dougan was known in Devon as one of the 3 beautiful Miss Squires; her Christian name was Clarissa. (On 2 separate papers given me by my cousin Sir Claude Macdonald - great nephew of my Mother's - you will find full particulars of the Dougan family). " *Memoirs of Emily Elliott pp6-7.

Documents relating to the Dougan and Moody reports

The last report of John Dougan on the treatment of African 'apprentices' is deserving of its own article, here. The following sources also relate to the same matter:

From "Parliamentary abstracts, containing the substance of all important papers laid before the two houses of parliament during the session of 1825." p239 (online here):

"To the schedules are added the separate reports of the late commissioners, John Dougan esq. and major Thomas Moody royal engineers; the report of the former is dated London 20 Dec 1823 and is on the state and condition of captured negroes produced before the commission at Tortola; the report of the latter is dated London 2d March 1825, and details the reasons why major Moody could not sign or approve the report of his colleague. The inference Mr Dougan draws from the investigation in which the commissioners were engaged is, that free labour in the West Indies is preferable to compulsory labour; that of major Moody on the contrary is that without some species of coercion African labour would be worthless."

From Social and Industrial Capacites of the Negroes (1827) by Baron Thomas Babington Macaulay, collected in Critical, historical and miscellaneous essays, Volume 6 (1860) pp361-404 (online here):

"In order, therefore, that our remarks on the Report of Major Moody may be clearly understood, we shall give a short account of the circumstances under which it appeared.

By the Act which abolished the trade in slaves, the King was empowered to make regulations for the employment and support of Negroes, who, under the provisions of that Act, or in the course of hostilities with foreign States, might be rescued from their kidnappers. Some of these liberated Africans were, in consequence, admitted into the army and the navy. Others were bound apprentices in the colonies: and of these last many were settled at Tortola.

In the year 1821, the House of Commons presented an address to the King, requesting that commissioners might be sent to ascertain the condition of these people, and to report it to the Government. Major Moody was selected for this purpose by the Colonial Office. Mr. Dougan, a gentleman to whose talents and integrity the Major bears the highest testimony, was joined with him in the commission. But Mr. Dougan, whatever his good qualities may have been, was under the influence of some unhappy prejudices, from which his colleague appears to have been wholly free [Macaulay is dripping with sarcasm here, as he acknowledges in the paragraph after next]. He had been led to adopt the extravagant notion that the Africans were his fellow-creatures; and this delusion betrayed him into errors which Major Moody, to his eternal honour, endeavours to palliate, but which a less candid and amiable censor would have stigmatized with the severest reprehension. Our readers will be shocked to hear that an English gentleman actually desired a black apprentice, during a long examination, to take a seat! and they will be touched by the delicacy and generosity of the Major, who mentions this disgraceful occurrence " only," as he says, " to show the bias on the mind of his colleague when one of the African race was concerned with a white person."

At length some female Africans in the service of a person named Maclean, were brought before the Commissioners. By their statement, and by the confession of the master himself, it appeared that they had been cruelly treated. Maclean, too, it appeared, had no legal right to them: for they had been originally apprenticed to another person, and the indentures had never been transferred. Mr. Dougan thought it desirable to take advantage of this circumstance, and at once to place them in a more comfortable situation; and he prevailed on his colleague to concur with him in recommending the case to the particular consideration of the collector. In the mean time, however, Maclean wrote to the Commissioners, requesting them to revise their proceedings, and most impudently telling them, at the same time, that lie had whipped the apprentices with tamarind switches for daring to bear evidence against him! Mr. Dougan seems to have imagined that such conduct was grossly insulting to the Commissioners, and to the government which employed them. He probably thought, too, that to re-examine persons who had been flogged for what they had stated on a former examination, would be to violate every principle of equity and reason. On this point, it appears that Major Moody was of a different opinion; and conceived that truth was likely enough to be obtained from a witness who had just learned that if his evidence be disagreeable to the accused party, he will undergo severe chastisement. A rupture took place. The apprentices, we should perhaps say the slaves, remained with Maclean; and Mr. Dougan returned to England.

But we really cannot continue to speak ironically on a subject so serious. We do earnestly and gravely assure Major Moody, that we think his conduct, on this occasion, most unjust and unreasonable. Lord Bathurst seems to have entertained the same opinion: For in consequence of orders sent out from England, the wretched women were taken from Maclean and apprenticed to another master.

Mr. Dougan now returned to the West Indies; and the disputes between him and his colleague recommenced. At length both were recalled. Mr. Dougan drew up a report of the proceedings under the commission. The Major refused to concur in it, and presented a separate statement in answer to it. Mr. Dougan, while labouring under a fatal malady, prepared a reply. This document has, since his death, been transmitted to the Colonial Office, and will, of course, be published with all expedition.

Mr. Dougan thought it sufficient to perform the duty with which he was charged. His report is therefore, what it professes to be, an account of the condition of the liberated Africans. But the genius of the Major was not to be confined within limits so narrow. He had command, without stint, of the public paper and the public type. He conceived that the opportunity was not to be lost — that now or never was the time to be a philosopher like his neighbours, and to have a system of his own, which might be called after his name. The history of the liberated Africans forms, therefore, a mere episode in his plan. His report is, in substance, a defence of West Indian slavery, on certain new principles, which constitute what he is pleased to call the Philosophy of Labour.

His theory has met with a very flattering reception from those who are favourably inclined to the Colonial system, because they dread innovation, because they hate the saints, or because they have mortgages on West Indian plantations. Unable themselves to defend their opinion, but obstinately determined not to renounce it, they are pleased with a writer who abounds in phrases which sound as if they meant something, and which, in the chat of a drawing-room, or in the leading article of a newspaper, supply the place of a reason very creditably."


With Clarissa Squire (1780-1830):
  1. Clarissa Angela Dougan (1800-1841)
  2. Robert Frederick Dougan (1801-1829)
  3. Ellen Penelope Dougan (1802-1835)
  4. Mary Stephen Dougan (1804-1881)
  5. Emily Gertrude Dougan (1806-1877)
  6. Clara Domett Dougan (1809-1858)
  7. John Crooke Dougan (1811-1878)
  8. Anna Maria Dougan (1813-1833)
  9. Laura Dougan (1814-1861)
  10. Charles Cockburn Dougan (1815-1824)
  11. Rosalie Adelaide Dougan (1817-1894)
  12. George Augustus Dougan (1818-1877)