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Brodick Castle: The Sugar Fortune

The fine Beckford Collection of furniture, silver and china displayed at Brodick Castle, on the Isle of Arran, once belonged to William Beckford, owner of several sugar plantations in the West Indies. His family was one of the first to settle in Jamaica. It rose from modest beginnings to become one of the richest families in Europe.

In 1810, his daughter Susan Beckford married the 10th Duke of Hamilton. They lived mainly at Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire but also stayed at their other home, Brodick Castle.

Family Fortunes

Susan Beckford married Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton. Her father, William, died in 1844. Susan inherited his estate and collections.
William Beckford was the last in a line of rich men. He inherited a fortune made from the Jamaican sugar plantations and built Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire to house his collections and impress visitors. The cost was so great that he fell into debt. He sold the Abbey and bought property in Bath where he continued his life as a gentleman. He never visited his plantations.
Susan’s grandfather, William ‘Sugar Cane’ Beckford (1709-70), was born in Jamaica and lived in Britain – and was reputed to be Britain’s first millionaire. He owned 22,000 acres in Jamaica.
Her great-grandfather, Peter Beckford (1672-1735), also born in Jamaica, was said to be the richest man in Europe: by 1700; he owned 24 plantations where 1,500 enslaved people worked.
Great-great-grandfather Peter Beckford the Elder (1643-1710) arrived in Jamaica shortly after it became an English colony and took jobs as a hunter and horse catcher. When he died, he owned 11 estates, 24 plantations and around 1200 slaves. His fortune was estimated at £250 million (modern value).
Great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Beckford started as a clothworker and slopseller (he sold ready-made clothes to poorer people) in London but was later knighted. Pepys mentions him in his diary. His brother was a trader in Jamaica from 1659

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