Benjamin and Thomas Boddington

The monument to ‘To the Memory of the Family of Benjamin Boddington, Esquire’ and ‘To the Memory of the Family of Thomas Boddington, Esquire’ is an example of the anti-epitaph which ‘…resisted individualising [monuments] with anything more than names and dates’, in a belief ‘…that poetical sentiments were subject not only to misrepresentation, but smacked of middle-class sentiment, religiosity, and excess.’

The memorial to the Boddington brothers is also an example of what have been called ‘tables of death’. Shorn of emotional expression, they take ‘…the form of an account book, a ledger neatly recording familiar transactions’.

This austere approach to memorialisation is further reflected in the style of the monument itself. While the pilasters (columns) are delicate and stylised, the overall impression of the monument is precisely to act as a plain background for the lines of data.

The exception to this austere style is the dedication to Thomas’ wife which enthusiastically and emotionally praises Maria’s motherly and spousal virtues in the narrow and exaggerated manner of the 18th century.

The remaining dedications on the epitaph emphasise a paternalistic attitude to the family unit by framing all those recorded in terms of the two patriarchs: those recorded are either the wife’s or children of Benjamin or Thomas. While all Benjamin and Thomas’ wives are memorialised, the memorialisation of their children is restricted to those who died before or around their fifth birthday.

Reaching your fifth birthday is still a significant milestone today and the calculation of mortality rates for children up to the age of five reflects this, but the inclusion of the Boddington children on the monument is more a reflection of a shift in societal understanding about the nature of childhood.

This shift, from seeing children as miniature adults, which had started to occur in the middle of the 18th century within the writings of the French philosopher Rousseau and the romantic poets, viewed ‘…childhood innocence, goodness, frankness and vision [as a means to] restore the moral wellbeing of adults and society’ and would eventually lead to what became known as ‘the Victorian cult of the child’.

This was the idea that the innocence and moral purity of children was preserved by their ignorance of the adult world. An idea which then became inseparable from the nurseries and governesses that the wealthy could afford to ensure their children were only seen on their ‘best behaviour’. This was, in turn, an image of childhood innocence which was diametrically opposed to the conditions of those less-wealthy children for whom chores, if not the adult world of work itself, functional (adult) clothing and less pristine conditions in which to remain clean (innocent), were seen as indicators of their moral impoverishment, as much as their relative economic poverty.

The Boddington monument’s purposeful communication of a strict Victorian morality and its inherent view of the innocent child sits alongside the families intimate and active involvement in the slavery of thousands of children and adults on plantations they owned and profited from in Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Vincent and Jamaica.

“The Boddingtons were a powerful merchant and planter family whose involvement in the slavery business spanned three generations. Benjamin Boddington (1730-1791) and his brother Thomas Boddington (c.1735-1821) were West India merchants. Both men were involved with the South Sea Company and Benjamin was a Director. The Company won the right to something called the Asiento following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This gave the company the sole right to sell enslaved Africans to the Spanish”

Demonstrating the degree to which involvement in the slavery business was embedded within British cultural, religious and societal norms, Benjamin Boddington was also a Director of the Million Bank while Thomas Boddington was also Director of the Bank of England, Director of the London Dock Company, and Director of the Royal Exchange. Both were dissenting deputies who lobbied the government of the day to protect the civil rights of dissenting Christians (non-CofE protestants) in England, while energetically working against the civil and human rights of those they had enslaved.