Falconbridge, Alexander (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 18
Falconbridge, Alexander

by Gordon Goodwin
Contains subarticle Anna Maria Falconbridge (fl. 1794).

FALCONBRIDGE, ALEXANDER (d. 1792), surgeon, was forced by poverty to practise his profession on board slave ships. He made several voyages to Bonny, Old and New Calabar, and Angola, on the coast of Africa, and thence with the slave cargoes to the West Indies. He forcibly depicted the horrors that he was compelled to witness in his ‘Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa,’ 8vo, London, 1788. By that time he held a comfortable situation at home, and two years later he married a Bristol lady. At the instance of Thomas Clarkson [q. v.] he accepted a commission from the St. George's Bay (afterwards the Sierra Leone) Company to carry relief to a number of unfortunate people, both whites and blacks, whom the government had sent to the river Sierra Leone some years before, and who, in consequence of having had some dispute with the natives, were scattered through the country in a deplorable condition. He was also to form a settlement for them. Accompanied by his wife and brother William, Falconbridge left Gravesend in January 1791. After haiing considerable trouble with the native kings he was enabled to fix on a settlement on the south side of the river Sierra Leone, fifteen miles below Bance Island, and six from Robana, to which he gave the name of Granville Town, in honour of Granville Sharp [q. v.], who had liberally contributed to the support of the intending colonists. He returned home in September 1791, bringing with him numerous samples of country produce and a native prince, son of Naimbana, king of Robana Town. The company rewarded his exertions by appointing him their commercial agent at Sierra Leone, with, as he supposed, the chief direction of affairs. Leaving Falmouth on 19 Dec. 1791, he reached his destination in the following February. On the 28th of that month he took quiet possession of a spot situate on rising ground, fronting the sea, six miles above Cape Sierra Leone, and eighteen miles from Bance Island, and named it Freetown. Before long he found to his mortification that he was superseded in the presidency of the council by Lieutenant John Clarkson, R.N., a brother of Thomas Clarkson, who was bringing with the sanction of government several hundred free blacks from Nova Scotia to people the infant colony. Dissensions among the executive prevented Falconbridge from giving effect to his schemes for extending the company's commerce. In September 1792 the directors thought proper to annul his appointment, and sent out a Mr. Wallis in his place. His dismission came just as he was preparing for a trading voyage to the Gold Coast. By way of finding relief in his misfortunes he kept himself constantly intoxicated, and died on 19 Dec. 1792.

Anna Maria Falconbridge, his widow, who had again accompanied him, stayed in the colony, and a month later found a second husband. After quitting Africa in June 1793 for a voyage to the West Indies in a slaver, she reached England in October. If her statement can be believed, she met with shabby treatment from the directors, who refused to acknowledge Falconbridge's claims, or make her any compensation. She complained that her late husband had been appointed to a post for which he was not in the least fitted in order to secure a sure footing for the emigrants expected from America, and having done the required service was forthwith dismissed on the ground of wanting commercial experience. This lady obtained some notoriety by publishing a ‘Narrative of Two Voyages to the River Sierra Leona during the years 1791–2–3, performed by Anna Maria Falconbridge. In a series of Letters. To which is added, a Letter to Henry Thornton, Esq., M.P., Chairman of the Court of Directors of the Sierra Leona Company,’ 12mo, London, 1794, in which she defends the slave trade, and treats the memory of her dead husband with contempt. Other editions appeared in 1795 and in 1802.

[Mrs. Falconbridge's Two Voyages, passim; Georgian Era, iii. 468; Watt's Bibl. Brit. i. 354 s, 355 i; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors (1816), p. 112.]

G. G.