Jamaica Magazine

The First Black Britons : Review

Overview of the DVD/VHS:

‘The First Black Britons’: An Educational Documentary from Sweet Patootee Productions:

The Americas are the hidden story of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1793, fighting in the Caribbean triggered major economic meltdown in Britain; a crisis so severe, abolitionist Prime Minister, William Pitt (the Younger), secretly authorised a plan to turn the British government into the New World’s largest buyer of slaves; by creating an entire fighting regiment, purchased at the slave-auctions.

Making his first ever trip to the Caribbean, our presenter, British-born child of Jamaican parents, TV-Actor/Comedian, Gary Beadle, leads a journey to discover this amazing story: from the Haitian Revolution & Napoleonic Wars to Abolition of the slave trade; Emancipation and Apprenticeship System to the Morant Bay Rebellion and a struggle for equality; the grand Imperial age to the Ashanti Wars…
He visits archives, museums and historical sites in Jamaica, Barbados, and the UK, revealing how Britain purchased thousands of slaves to defeat the French and their allies (more than 11,000 by 1800). How these Black soldiers held the same status, wore the same uniforms, received the same pay and training, as their White comrades-in-arms. And how the British government freed every man at a stroke, 30 years before emancipation – a unique 1807 act of Parliament, that established a fighting dynasty and a new class of citizen.

The First Black Britons is a wealth of information and historical discovery, delivered (to-camera) in a warm and ‘to-the-point’ style: the result of painstaking research, backed by dedicated and talented contributions from artists, technicians, educators and countless others (a huge debt of gratitude is owed to Historical Consultant, Prof. Roger Norman Buckley for his friendship, ready advice and support).
Ten years in the making, ‘The First Black Britons’ is a unique window on Jamaican heritage, and a powerful showcase for Jamaica’s leading actors and film-makers. Shot on location at historic landmarks Port Royal, Morant Bay Court House, and
Up Park Camp, the film boasts fine dramatic performances from Winston ‘Bello’ Bell, Carl Davis, Jerry Benswick, and, Miss Zandrian Maine. Their brilliant portrayals are captured by the sensitivity, skill and artistry of Director of Photography, Richard Lannaman, and his long-time collaborator, Sound Recording genius, Don MacGregor.

A 57-minute running time is divided into 3 x 18 minute stories:

Story 1 – ‘Slaves In Red Coats’:
How the government of abolitionist Prime Minister, William Pitt (the younger) secretly purchased a slave-army to defeat French and Napoleonic forces in the Americas.

Story 2 – ‘The Queen’s Gentlemen’:
How Britain’s first African army won the personal favour of Queen Victoria and carved a unique status for themselves as a new class of citizen – ‘Black British’

Story 3 – ‘The Prodigals Return’:
How West India Regiment soldiers – ‘the sons of slaves’ – exacted bloody revenge on the ‘Chiefdoms’ that sold them into captivity, returning to West Africa to win 2 Victoria Cross medals, in a ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ of imperial conquest.


• “It’s a revelation. It is very relevant and straightforward, making it suitable for a wide age-range…”
Monica Bogle, descendant of Paul Bogle & School Teacher, St. Thomas Jamaica.

• “Plenty to ponder and discuss, not least the roundabout routes between our imperial past and our current notions of citizenship”
Times Education Supplement

• “A useful resource for both Black History Month and Citizenship…”
School Library Association

• “Very good and informative. It sets the scene surrounding the creation of the WIR giving viewers a good historical overview of life in the Caribbean colonies and the conditions of slavery – from both slave and planters perspective…”
Guy Grannum, Caribbean History & Ancestry Specialist – National Archives, London

• “A very important story, told very well…”
Professor Roger N. Buckley, University of Connecticut (author, ‘Slaves In Redcoats’, ‘Congo Jack’)

• “With the stories of heroism and adventure comes a dark and difficult legacy filled with uncomfortable truths and damning contradictions. The First Black Britons tells the story of the West India Regiment and a missing chapter in the making of modern Britain”
Trevor Phillips, Chair: Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

Brief information on the creators of the film:

Directed by Cath Sheehan, ‘The First Black Britons’ was researched, written & produced by Independent Media Company, Sweet Patootee Ltd – aka. Tony T and Rebecca Goldstone. The London-based husband and wife team has produced major documentaries for UK broadcasters, Channel Four, and BBC Television. Because of Tony’s Caribbean family background, they specialise in the history and culture of the Black Americas – from the early 1600s to the present. A decade of research, writing and productions has seen Jamaica emerge as their spiritual home, and a vital base of operations. ‘The First Black Britons’ is their second major collaboration with Jamaica’s premier Camera and Sound-team, Richard Lannaman and Don MacGregor.

To date, Tony and Rebecca have concentrated on historical documentaries.
With research for their latest projects well under way the pair are hard at work, raising funds for their next production. But the team have also outlined the script for their first drama, a feature film – set in the Caribbean, where else?

Where to buy the DVD/VHS:

  • ‘The First Black Britons’ is available online at Amazon.com. It is also available through many other online suppliers.
  • Our DVD can also be purchased using Visa online at our distributor’s website www.beckmanndirect.com.
  • Those wishing to use a purchase order should telephone our distributors, Beckmann Visual Publishing: Tel: (+44) 01624 816 585, to arrange supply and payment details. Or email [email protected]
  • Those wishing to stock ‘The First Black Britons’ as an addition to their product-range should contact our distributors, Beckmann Visual Publishing (Tel: (+44) 01624 816 585, or email [email protected])

About the author

Staff Writer