Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal – ‘Extraordinary History of Mr Thomas Jenkins’

Primary source material reproduced from ‘Extraordinary History of Mr Thomas Jenkins’, Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, 15/12/1832

Mr Thomas Jenkins was the son of an African king, and bore externally all the usual features of the negro. His father reigned over a considerable tract of country to the east of, and, we believe, including Little Cape Mount, a part of the wide coast of Guinea, which used to be much restored to be British vessels for the purchase of slaves. The negro sovereign, whom the British sailors knew by the name of King Cock-eye, from a personality peculiarity, having observed what a superiority civilization and learning gave to the Europeans over the Africans in their traffic, resolved to send his oldest son to Britain, in order that he might acquire all the advantages of knowledge. He accordingly bargained with a Captain Swanstone, a native of Hawick in Scotland, who traded to the coast for ivory, gold dust, &c. […] Swanstone brought his protege to Hawick, and was about to take the proper means of fulfilling his bargain, when, unfortunately, he was cut off from this life. No provision having been made for such a contingency, Tom was thrown upon the wide world, not only without the means of obtaining a Christian education, but destitute of everything that was necessary to supply still more pressing wants […]

‘Black Tom’, as he was called, became at Falnash, a sort of Jack-of-all-trades. He acted as cowherd at one time, and stable-boy at another: in short, he could turn his hand to any sort of job […] By and by, though daily occupied with his drudgery as a farm-servant, he began to instruct himself in Latin and Greek […] His employers respected him for the faithful and zealous manner in which he discharged his humble duties, and everybody was interested in his singular efforts to obtain knowledge. Having retained no trace of his native language, he resembled, in every respect except his skin, an ordinary peasant of the south of Scotland: only he was much more learned than most of them, and spent his time somewhat more abstractedly […]

When Tom was about twenty years of age, a vacancy occurred in the school of Teviot-head, which was an appendage to the parish school […] Among three of four applicants appeared the black farm-servant of Falnash, with a heap of books under his arm, and the everlasting soldier’s greatcoat with the staring ‘XCVI’ upon his back […] this prospect was dashed. On the report coming before the Presbytery, a majority of the members were alarmed at the strange idea of placing a Negro and born Pagan in such a situation […] But, fortunately, the people most in the matter felt indignant at the treatment which he had received […] it was immediately resolved to set up Tom in opposition to the teacher appointed by the Presbytery, and to give him an exact duplicate of the salary which they already paid to that person […]

After he had conducted the school for one or two years, finding himself in possession of about twenty pounds, he bethought him of spending a winter at college [in Edinburgh…] On applying to the Professor of Humanity (Latin) for a ticket to his class, that gentleman looked at him for a moment in silent wonder, and asked if he had acquired any rudimental knowledge of the language. Mr Jenkins, as he ought now to be called, said modestly what he had studied Latin for a considerable time, and was anxious to complete his acquaintance with it. Mr P—, finding that he only spoke the truth, presented the applicant with a ticket, for which he generously refused to take the usual fee. Of the other two Professors to whom he applied, both stared as much as the former, and only one took the fee […]