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Life in Greenwich Hospital

Life in Greenwich Hospital

Estimates for the numbers of Black Pensioners at Greenwich Hospital are difficult to establish. Between 1749 and 1763 only four men are listed as having been born in ‘Africa’. In this same period 23 had been born in the Americas of whom several are likely to have been Black.

As the British Empire grew so did the numbers of non-White applicants to the Hospital. At least 45 Black men were admitted between 1824 and 1841. Their places of birth included Grenada, Surinam, Jamaica, Barbados, Nevis, Guadeloupe, Senegal, Martinique, Angola and Guinea. Ten men were born in ‘Africa’.

Pensioners were not listed by race but by nationality. A significant number of Black Pensioners so far discovered have been African-Americans. A high percentage of the many mid-19th century American Pensioners may have been Black.

The numbers in official records do not tell the whole story – the Black Greenwich Pensioner is ever-present in caricatures and popular culture of the period.


London Illustrated News, 1848

In this famous cricket match between one-legged and one-armed Pensioners at the Priory Ground, Lewisham, a one-legged Black Greenwich Pensioner is at the crease. The match was said to have attracted 2,400 spectators.

Unknown Black Pensioner

A Black Greenwich Pensioner appears third from the left in John Havers’s 1854 photograph of a group of naval veterans in the grounds of Greenwich Hospital. Like some of the other men in the photograph, he wears a medal and may have served at Trafalgar. We do not currently know his name (he was previously thought to be Richard Baker).