Family History of the



Thomas McNeil and Bathia Barclay

McNeil Cooke Family

The Cooke Family of Chester

Rookery Hall Cheshire

Chester Castle Jamaica




My great-great-grandfather Thomas McNeil (or McNeel) died on the 22 July 1869 aged 64,[1] i.e. he was born in 1805 whereabouts unknown, as is his parentage.

His name first appears in the Jamaica Almanac List of Proprietors and Properties in 1824 when he was recorded as having 7 slaves but no indication of his property.  But in 1833 he is recorded as owning the estate of Caledonia[2] in the highlands of Westmoreland Parish on the western side of the island – he now had 66 slaves and 90 head of taxable cattle.  Prior to this his family lived in the same parish on the plains at Petersville.  By 1838 he was known as the Honourable Thomas McNeel (sic) now at Retirement with 377 ‘apprentices’.  In the Civil Lists for 1839 he is named as Custos Rotulorum for Westmoreland – the representative of the Governor of Jamaica at parish level and broadly equivalent to the English Lord Lieutenant – as well as a commissioner for taking oaths and assistant judge/magistrate for the parishes of Hanover and St.James. He was also a captain of the Westmoreland Regiment of Militia (No.4 District).  By 1840 he owned over 7250 acres in Westmoreland and was a member of the House of Representatives.

After the abolition of slavery he recruited indentured labourers from Scotland to work in the extensive sugar estates on the western side of the island and a poster dated 5 November 1840 announced the imminent departure of “The First Class Coppered Ship, William Pirrie, 500 tons register” under the command of James McDowall.  The ship would leave Stranraer for Savanna-La-Mar on or about the 20th November and passengers were offered a free passage with food “and every other necessary attention”.  Emigrants were to be provided with a cottage, garden and land (from one acre upwards) by their employers in Jamaica, as well as medical and educational facilities; each family would be provided with a sow-pig to begin their stock as well as other provisions.  The subscriber of the poster was Thomas McNeel, then in Whithorn, who would attend to applications from 10 November at Mr Wilson’s Inn in Wigtown, Mr Craik’s Inn in Newton-Stewart and at Mr McKenzie’s, Glenluce and, finally, on Friday 13th at the George Inn, Stranraer.

Thomas probably married Bathia Barclay about 1843 when she was about 21 years old (a daughter Matilda was born in 1844) and he was then 38 - the exact date and whereabouts of this marriage is uncertain.  His important position in Jamaican society probably led him to order an expensive set of silver cutlery made in 1846, possibly in Aberdeen (the hall mark is difficult to decipher) and doubtless had it shipped out to Jamaica on one of his voyages.


Bathia Barclay was christened on 7 March 1822 at Inchbroom, St.Andrew’s, Lhanbryde, Moray in Scotland.  Her father was Charles Tennant Inchoram Murray Barclay of Inchbroom who had been born at Auchterless in Aberdeenshire on 27 May 1787 of a long-standing family of Barclays from Mill Towie, Turriff, Aberdeenshire.  Charles married Bathia’s mother, Elizabeth Williamson of Fosterseat, Elgin, Moray, (born at Fosterseat on 21 January 1798) on the 5 December 1816.  Bathia’s brothers and sisters were Isabella, Charles George, Elizabeth, William, Mary Ann and Clemantina.

Bathia and Thomas McNeil had at least 8 children.  Matilda Henrietta who was born at Caledonia on 25 August 1844 and later married Dr Octavius Charles Harvey in 1865 - she died in 1915.  Three children, Elizabeth, Charles and Caroline, are all thought to have died in infancy from Blackwater fever on the same day about 1847.[3]  Elizabeth caroline (or Catherine) was born in Scotland on 31 March 1855: she later married Dr. Edleston William Cooke and died at The Hermitage in 1949.  Two other children, Thomas and Catherine Mary, had no issue and a daughter, Bathia, died in London at the age of 15 years on 20 January 1872.[4]  Hence Thomas was only survived by two daughters of marriageable age.


Elizabeth McNeil, my great-grandmother, married Dr Edleston William (Harvey) Cooke about 1875 (exact date and whereabouts unknown).  Edleston’s father was William Hilton Cooke: he was born in April 1814 and died before 10 April 1879.  William was living at Chester Castle by 1836 and was Custos of Hanover Parish from 1871 until 1878.  He was also repsonsible for selling the Cooke home of The Rookery, Worleston, Cheshire to Baron von Schroder in 1867.  Edleston’s mother was William’s second wife, Mary Elizabeth Harvey (born in 1823 to Dr Richard Harvey and Mary - she died at The Hermitage on 22 October 1866).



1655 British army arrived in Jamaica and conquest of Spanish completed five years later.  Grants of land given out.  Royalist prisoners and Irish children (under 14) sent to the island.  After the Restoration investors and planters were recruited and sugar became the main crop, white labourers were indented and political prisoners, vagrants and convicted felons transported to the islands.

In 1662 there was a population of 3,653 white persons and only 552 negroes, 150 of whom were free.  The following year Charles II and the royal family backed a slave-trading company to avoid having to purchase slaves from foreigners.  By 1673 slaves outnumbered the white population: 25 years later the black population was 40,000 with only 7,365 non-blacks. 

Periodic hurricanes and/or earthquakes in 1812, 1813, 1815, 1818, 1822, 1827, 1830.

1824 an insurrection in Portland and St.Mary.

December 1831 slave uprisings in western Jamaica.

1834 Emancipation Act abolished slavery and provided for a system of apprenticeship for a 12 year period leading to freedom.

1838 Apprenticeship had worked badly and was abolished.  All freedmen now unconditionally free.  This was a difficult financial period for planters, most of whom were heavily in debt with their properties mortgaged.  Planters could not find cash to pay wages or buy labour-saving equipment.

1839-41 Drought. Indentured labourers brought in from Europe, and in 1842 East Indian or coolie labour imported under contract.

1844 census showed a population of 15,776 white, 68,529 coloured and 293,128 black.

By this time many sugar estates were half desolate.

In 1846 protective English laws favouring sugar produced in the colonies were eliminated and prices fell alarmingly – the planter as a class was ruined, some estates were abandoned, others sold off piecemeal to Negro peasants.

1850 Asiatic cholera epidemic in which 32,000 persons died.




Elizabeth and Edleston had 5 children.

Their eldest son was Edleston Cooke who lived at Caledonia for a time, met and married a Canadian, Jean, and went to live in Canada where he practised medicine.

Ernest William Cooke, my grandfather, was born in Jamaica in 1879 and, after many years abroad working as a dentist, returned there and died on 2 July 1958 at Mandeville.  He married Irene Lillian Mercer about 1910 (she died in Hampshire, UK, on 1 March 1955).  They had one child, my father, Vincent McNeil Cooke.

Ina Edleston Cooke, who married Charles Philip Ogilvie and had five children - Doris Christine, Phylis, Iris Edleston, Patrick Ian and Enid Angela.

Elizabeth May (Lizzie) Cooke who was born at The Hermitage on 20 June 1880 and died in Jamaica on 20 January 1973.  She married Richard E Harvey.  They had five children - Edleston Spence, Muriel, Dorothy, Douglas Stuart and Richard Barclay.

Percival (Percy) Hilton Cooke was born on 28 January 1879 at Chester Castle and died at The Hermitage in 1973.  He married Nora Amelia Munn and had five children - Ian Cooke (born 3 July 1915 at Chester Castle), Bernard Cooke (born in Struie on 12 June 1920), Esme Cooke, Edna Cooke and Dennis Cooke (born at Chester Castle on 19 May 1912.




William Hilton Cooke was christened on 6 April 1814, the second child of William Cooke and Eliza Edleston of Cheshire.  He married Mary Elizabeth Harvey in Jamaica during 1844; they had six children - William Hylton Cooke (born 18 January 1845, died 30 May 1909 at Windsor Forrest, Westmoreland), Edleston Harvey Cooke, Charles Henry Cooke (born 17 May 1854), Arthur Edward Cooke, Frederick John Cooke (died about 1930), and Minna who died in 1920.


William Hilton’s parents were William Cooke and Eliza Edleston who married in Nantwich on 30 April 1812.

William (Hilton) Cooke was born at Acton-by-Nantwich in Cheshire on 20 May 1787 and died there on 8 May 1829.  He was responsible for the building of The Rookery house (see below).  Eliza Edleston was also born at Nantwich on 13 January 1794 and died on 15 September 1853; her father was Richard Edleston and mother Eliza.  William and Eliza had nine children - Eliza Anne Cooke (christened 30 January 1813), William Hilton Cooke (christened on 6 April 1814), Edleston Cooke (born 25 June 1815 at Worleston, Cheshire, died 20 July 1836 aged 21), Matilda (born in Worleston during 1818), Agnes (born 1821), Frederick Hilton (born 1821), Richard (born 1821), Mary (born in Worleston during 1826), and Louisa (born 1828, died under 21 years of age unmarried).




The house, originally a late Georgian plain brick building, was constructed in 1816 for a wealthy landowner, William Hilton Cooke (born 1787) whose portrait hangs in one of the rooms - he also owned some 500 acres of surrounding land.  The estate was sold in 1867 by William’s son, also called William Hilton Cooke (1814-1879), to a rich merchant banker from Bavaria, Baron William von Schroder, after which many alterations were made that completely altered the external appearance of the house.





The Jamaica Almanac of 1810 lists Chester Castle as being owned by William Cooke.

In a will of John Hilton dated 21 November 1808 he gives the estate of Chester Castle to his brother William Hilton.  Presumably this is the same William who had Rookery Hall built.  But why the two different surnames?


Has anyone answers to these two queries please?

What are Thomas McNeil’s origins?

What are the connections between the Hilton family and the Cooke family?

[1] Information from tombstone in Petersville church, Westmoreland.

[2] Caledonia was sold by Percy Hilton Cooke a long time ago.

[3] Elizabeth was born about 1846.

[4] Information from tombstone in Petersville, Westmoreland.