Hyslops are recorded at the small estate of Lochend - later also called Lotus - in the parish of Kirkgunzeon, Kirkcudbrightshire, as early as 1680. In the next century a John Hyslop of Lochend, who was a writer (solicitor) in Dumfries, married Helen Stewart, daughter of William Stewart of Shambellie. Their only child was William Hyslop (born in 1743) who, after the conclusion of a marriage contract to which their respective fathers were parties, was married in Dumfries on 24 September 1769 to Jane (or Jean) Maxwell, fourth daughter of John Herries Maxwell of Terraughty. Jean came with a tocher, or dowry, of £400 (roughly £42,000 at present-day values).
When his father died, William Hyslop was not content to live his life as a small landowner. While continuing to farm and improve the estate he inherited, he also became a highly successful baker and flour dealer in Dumfries. In the course of time, his wife Jean gave birth to ten children - five sons (John, William, Wellwood, Alexander and Maxwell) and five daughters (Agnes, Helen, Marianne, Elizabeth and Jean).
William considerably increased his fortune in the baking trade - he rented the Town Mills of Dumfries, had a half share in the mills at Stakeford in Troqueer parish, and owned a number of other properties in Dumfries. When he died, on 26 May 1803, he left no will, but had made a Trust Disposition and Deed of Settlement which paid no regard to the terms of the marriage contract of 1769. This unfortunate circumstance began a series of family disputes and legal actions which were not fully resolved until 1812; and it was in 1816, thirteen years after his death, that his children finally received their whole inheritance (for most of them amounting to £1,580 each). William’s wife Jean had died in 1815.
William’s eldest daughter, Agnes, had married in 1797 David Gordon, third son of Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw, parish of Crossmichael, who in 1799 went to New York, where he was taken into partnerhsip by another Scot named John Munro. Munro was a merchant with a commission business on Jones’ Wharf, New York; but the firm of Munro and Gordon was in the insurance business. David Gordon appears also to have been a merchant on his own account.
William Hyslop’s third son, Wellwood (born 28 November 1780) went to Jamaica, where he first appears as Deputy Commissary General to the British Army in Kingston in 1802. His brother Maxwell Hyslop (christened 18 October 1783) first went to New York for instruction in the merchanting business by his brother-in-law David Gordon, and then went to Kingston in Jamaica and entered into partnership with his brother, as M. Hyslop and Company. During his stay in New York, however, Maxwell had become indebted to Gordon for advances, on his own account, to the tune of about £500 - Gordon knew, at this stage, that his wife Agnes and each of her siblings could expect a large inheritance from their father’s estate, but he did not know that more than a decade would pass before the inheritance would be realised. From this debt arose a legal entanglement involving not only Maxwell Hyslop and Gordon, but also the Liverpool firm of commission agents, Rathbone, Hughes and Duncan, who acted as intermediaries in the processs but lost by negligence some £400. Litigation began in the Court of Session in Scotland in 1806 and reached the House of Lords on appeal in 1824.
Meanwhile, following the establishment of M. Hyslop and Company, various commercial transactions took place between them and David Gordon in New York. In particular, with a view to carrying out these transactions, the Hyslops bought an armed vessel called the Agnes (perhaps named after their sister, Mrs Gordon?). Gordon wanted to take a third share in the ship, but found that he could not legally do so; but he joined as a partner in a cargo that was shipped on board the Agnes for Bermuda. At this time, Santo Domingo (later Haiti) was under French rule and thus at war with Britain. However, Wellwood Hyslop and Gordon entered into an agreement that the Agnes, being an armed vessel, should escort an American ship, the Huntress, to Santo Domingo. She did so, but when the Agnes reached Bermuda she was seized by a British warship, together with her cargo, and condemned for convoying a neutral vessel to a hostile port. The underwriters of the voyage, who had not been told of the agreement, refused to pay up. An appeal was made against the condemnation, and eventually the captors agreed to release the vessel on payment of a sum of money.
This disastrous voyage led to disputes between Gordon and the Hyslops which resulted in Gordon raising another action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh in December 1808, claiming that the Hyslops owed him £6000 for his share of the lost cargo. There followed a long series of judgments, court orders and appeals. Finally in 1824 the House of Lords upheld a Court of Session judgment against the Hyslops for $21,000 of principal and interest.
Temporarily back in Scotland, Maxwell Hyslop was married on 29 October 1810 in Dumfries to Mary Maxwell, second daughter of Wellwood Maxwell of Barncleuch. They returned to Jamaica, and in the following year Mary suffered a miscarriage, a stillborn girl. A son, William, was born in 1812; and another, Wellwood, in 1814 (he died in October 1816). There followed two daughters - Catherine and Jean (born in Jamaica in 1816 and 1817); a boy, Maxwell (born in London in 1818); and two further daughters - Mary (born and died at dates unknown) and Agnes (born in London in 1825).
Maxwell Hyslop’s marriage to Mary Maxwell brought commercial advantage to both families - Mary’s brothers, Wellwood and Alexander Maxwell, were already well-established and well-connected merchants in Liverpool, and trading links were soon established between the Jamaican firm and W. & A. Maxwell. In 1811 the Jamaican Hyslops received cargoes including butter, soap, hams, cheese and earthenware; and sent home to Liverpool rum, coffee, cocoa, pimento, indigo, ginger, cotton and logwood.
In the early years of the 19th century, while the Hyslops were establishing themselves in Jamaica, the independence movements in Latin America were gaining strength. Trouble had been brewing before the turn of the century, with colonial resentment of administrators imposed from Spain; and of restrictions on agriculture and trade - Spain maintained an embargo on foreign trade with her colonies. Merchants in the Caribbean and elsewhere were now keenly vying to be the first to establish footholds in any independent states which might emerge on the South American mainland. Napoleon’s invasion of the Peninsula in 1808, demonstrating the fragility of the political and military systems of Spain and Portugal, was the great catalyst for the Latin American independence movements. Cartagena, on the north coast of New Granada, had effectively established itself by November 1811 as an independent state, and Simon Bolivar, “The Liberator”, arrived there when he fled from Caracas in October 1812. Significantly, the Hyslops wrote to the Maxwells in Liverpool in November 1812, saying that they had been appointed agents for the government of Cartagena, and claiming to have “powerful friends” there. In 1813, Wellwood removed from Jamaica to establish a branch there.
However, in 1815, a Spanish expeditionary force under General Morillo reached Venezuela, and shortly afterwards Simon Bolivar was driven from New Granada by civil and military disagreements. He reached Jamaica on 14 May 1815 in a vessel belonging to the Hyslops, and for the next few months was reliant on Maxwell Hyslop for financial support. While exiled in Jamaica, Boilvar wrote his most famous manifesto, his “Letter from Jamaica” addressed to an anonymous friend (but most probably this was Maxwell Hyslop).
In August General Morillo moved from Venezuela to New Granada and set siege to Cartagena. Wellwood escaped through the blockade and arrived in Kingston with representatives of the Cartagena legislature, prepared to surrender the city and province to Britain in full sovereignty - but the Governor of Jamaica refused to receive them.
Wellwood returned through the blockade, and when the city fell on 6 December 1815 he once again tried to escape in a privateer; but the vessel was disabled by enemy fire, and Wellwood was captured and put in the Prison of the Inquisition on a charge of “having aided the insurgent colonists against the Spanish government”.
Some time previously, perhaps in 1813, Wellwood had met, either in Cartagena or in Jamaica, a certain Agathe Berge (or Berger), a young lady of French origin, whose parents had fled the turmoil in Santo Domingo following the French Revolution, They escaped to Baltimore, where her father died and her mother gave birth to Agathe, then going to New York, Cartagena, and finally Jamaica. A letter written by Wellwood to Agathe in 1814 speaks of a gift of $10,000 previously made to her. In a subsequent letter, he proposes marriage to Agathe, and also speaks of “the General” (Bolivar) asking after Agathe and promising balls and concerts should she return to Cartagena - Bolivar was well known as a pleasure-seeking socialiser and womaniser.
Now, in late 1815 with Wellwood imprisoned, it appears that Agathe had indeed returned to Cartagena, and in early 1816 he wrote to her again.
God’s will be done, and my only grief is on your account. There is, however, one consolation left to me and that is in your power: - Let us be married before I go and I implore that ceremony - do not refuse and let it be done at once for there is no knowing how soon these rascals may separate us. I have conferred with our old acquaintance Padre Eurebino. He has undertaken that all has been regulated according to the forms of your [Roman Catholic] Church. Appoint tonight if you can. This is a sad and solemn event and it would be truly distressing in me to celebrate our marriage in such a place as this, but necessity has no laws and I implore you to consent.
They were married on or about 20 February 1816 by the shadowy Padre Orbino. Owing to the risks to all parties and the need for secrecy, the priest gave no certificate of the marriage. A daughter, Mary Ann (or Marianne) was born probably about 1830, but died in early infancy; and a son, John William Hyslop, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on 28 May 1832 and baptised in the Roman Catholic church there, as Jean Guillaume Hyslop, on 30 August 1832. Sent back to Britain to be educated, he is found in the 1881 census as a stockbroker, living in Hampstead with a wife and four daughters.
When Wellwood was imprisoned, the merchant community in Jamaica prevailed upon the British naval commander there to send a frigate, the Junon, to Cartagena, to demand his release. However, the Junon was forbidden by the Spanish authorities to communicate with the shore, and returned to Jamaica. A memorial on Wellwood’s behalf was then addresed by Maxwell Hyslop, his eldest brother John, and the Maxwell brothers in Liverpool, to Lord Bathurst, Secretary for the Colonies; and further, Wellwood’s remaining sisters in Dumfries wrote to the Duke of Wellington to ask him, in his role as a grandee of Spain, to apply to the King of Spain for clemency on their brother’s behalf (which the Duke in fact did). Whether or not as a result of all this activity, Wellwood was freed from prison, and by June 1816 was back in Jamaica. The brothers now claimed to be the commercial agents of General Bolivar as well as of New Granada. When a short-lived republican Congress was established at Cariaco in Venezuela in May 1817, Wellwood was appointed as its minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain, to negotiate a commercial treaty. In March 1819 Wellwood, temporarily in Jamaica, became involved with the adventurer and fraudster Sir Gregor MacGregor when the latter was in trouble for carrying illegal armaments in his ship. Wellwood saved MacGregor from arrest and secured him passage on a ship that would take him to the island of San Andres. (There is some evidence that Maxwell Hyslop was later involved, no doubt innocently, with MacGregor and his fraudulent scheme in 1822-3 for a colony at “Poyais” on the Mosquito Coast.)
When the new state of Colombia was founded in 1819, the Hyslops acted as its agents in Jamaica, and supplied it with arms. In 1821 they established a branch at Maracaibo in Venezuela, and re-established the branch at Cartagena. In 1826 the British consul at Guayaquil in Ecuador reported to George Canning, the Foreign Secretary, that he had heard that the Hyslops had been granted an exclusive privilege to construct a canal or railway across the isthmus of Panama - but there is no evidence that this was more than a rumour.
The Hyslops’ relationship with the Maxwells in Liverpool had changed for the worse from 1818, when there were difficulties over credit; and it deteriorated further in 1820 and 1821. In July 1822 Maxwell Hyslop, now based in London, wrote to General Bolivar to tell him, inter alia, that the Hyslops had now got the backing of “a first-rate monied house”, in the shape of B. A. Goldschmidt & Co., merchant bankers. However, in December 1825, “The Panic”, a run on London banks, led to bank failures; and in January 1826, Goldschmidt & Co., loan contractors for the Colombian govermnent, suspended payments.
In March 1827 Maxwell, still in London, wrote again to Bolivar: Alas! the storm which raged in England the latter part of 1825 and beginning of 1826 brought down our correspondents, and our names being on a large amount of their Paper...we were after 20 years hard industry compelled to suspend our payments. I am now here endeavouring to carry through a deed of Trust and I hope to be again in the field of Commerce when I venture to trust your influence and countenance will not be withheld to aid in regenerating our mercantile standing, so that I may have it in my Power to provide for a young family....
It is not clear whether Bolivar answered, or even received, these letters from Maxwell. However, in 1830, Maxwell again wrote to him to plead for his intercession over a commercial setback in Venezuela, and Bolivar replied to him from Colombia. His influence in Venezuela had waned, and although he wrote to an old friend who was foreign minister, he did not want to be seen to meddle in the affairs of that country.
Bolivar died in December 1830. By that time, Maxwell Hyslop had been declared bankrupt in London, the notice in the London Gazette reading: HYSLOP Maxwell, of Tokenhouse-yard, London, and of Kingston, in Jamaica, merchant and commission-agent (partner with Wellwood Hyslop, and late partner with Wellwood Hyslop and Edward Burton, carrying on trade in London and Jamaica, under the firm of Maxwell Hyslop & Co., and at Carthagena, in South America, under the firm of Wellwood Hyslop & Co., and formerly partner with Wellwood Hyslop and Pedro Villamil, carrying on business at Maracaybo, in Columbia, under the firm of Hyslop & Villamil)”.
A dividend was finally declared in 1842, but by this time Maxwell had died, on 10 March 1837 at Falmouth, Cornwall, after landing there after a voyage from a Jamaica; his grave is in the burial ground of the old parish church there.
Wellwood continued in Jamaica, though it seems not on the same scale of business. He had always been more of a participant in Jamaican public affairs than had his brother. From 1808, when he was appointed as Cornet in a Kingston troop of the Surrey Militia Regiment of Horse, he rose through its ranks to become Colonel in 1839. He was a member of the House of Assembly for the constituency of Port Royal from at least 1820; a magistrate and judge from 1824; and chairman of the Planters’ Bank in 1841. He was an active freemason - Master of the Sussex Lodge No.25 in Jamaica in 1818 and 1820; and at an unknown date prior to 1820 Master of Britannia Lodge Provincial No.1 in Cartagena. This may be a further link to Boilvar, who had many years previously, in 1805, been initiated in the Loge Saint Alexandre d’Ecosse in Paris.
Maxwell was a Kingston fire-warden in 1814; quartermaster of a troop in the Surrey Regiment of Horse in 1819, from 1820 a comet, and from 1822 a lieutenant; and he was an elder in the Presbyterian Kirk.
Wellwood Hyslop died in Jamaica on 16 February 1845. His only son, John William Hyslop, had been sent back to Britain to be educated, and in 1853 was living in Liverpool. John’s mother Agathe stayed on in Jamaica for some years, but eventually followed her son to Britain. She died in 1878 at an address in South Hill Park, Hampstead; and in the 1881 census John William Hyslop, stockbroker, is to be found at 90 South Hill Park with his wife Charlotte and four daughters. He died in 1896.
Maxwell Hyslop’ s second surviving son, also Maxwell Hyslop, born in London in 1818, was taken into the firm of W. & A. Maxwell in Liverpool in 1833, later becoming a partner; and in 1867 he inherited the Grove and Glengaber estates of his uncles Wellwood and Alexander Maxwell, and became Maxwell Hyslop Maxwell.