JOHN SHIELL (1788-1843)


By Richard Shiell and Dorothy Anderson, Melbourne Australia.


Revised version March 2005. For reader comment please contact the first author on



John was the second son of Queely and Ann Shiell (nee Gordon) and was probably born on Montserrat around 1788.[1] We know nothing about his early life but it is thought that the family lived on the Richmond plantation about 2 km north of Plymouth. Education did not receive a high priority in the sugar colonies, where a gentleman was not expected to do any actual work. Nevertheless he was expected to oversee the running of his estates and perhaps take a role in Politics, so at least a basic education was desirable. Like most of the sons of the well-to-do land-owners on Montserrat, he probably had a Governess or tutor in his early years and received his secondary education at an English boarding school.


 He must have been quite bright and decided to enter the law. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, London on 22 October 1808. He is recorded as being 20 years of age and "the 2nd son of Queily Shiell [sic] gentleman, of Monserrat [sic]" [2]. We have record of his presence on the Montserrat Legislative Assembly in 1810 [3] so he was presumably spending at least part of his time back in the Leeward Islands. He was “called to the bar”, that is, given his final qualification to practice as a barrister, on 24th November 1813. [4]  


John became a barrister and later a King’s Council for Antigua in 1826.[5]  In 1936 he was Acting Clerk of the Council of Antigua.[6]


It is interesting that John never appears in the records as a landowner like his father or brother William. On emancipation of slaves in 1834, he received compensation of £39-0-7 for his  slaves-probably all domestic servants.[7]


John must have married around 1838-40. [8]  His wife’s name was Elizabeth Jane and her maiden name was probably Nugent although this point has not been confirmed. They appear to have had 4 daughters and the girls start to be married some 20 years later from around 1859.[9] There is also a possibility that John was the natural father of John N. Shiell, a colored Provision farmer, who was elected to the Montserrat Assembly in 1842.[10]


In 1841 John was apparently living in England for a time and was granted a further 9 months leave from his post on the Council of Antigua.[11]  In April 1843 he made application to be appointed a Queen’s Council on Antigua and the following year, in June 1844, he was appointed Chief Justice of Antigua at a salary of £150 p.a. [12] He presided chiefly in Antigua but visited Montserrat in February, May, August and November on official duties.[13]  He died on Sept 6th 1847 aged around 58 years [14] and was succeeded by Sir Robert Marsh Horsford, KCB.[15]


Two mentions of John’s widow have been located. On January 7th. 1861, Elizabeth Jane Shiell and her daughters sold Delvin’s Estate to the English Quakers, Charles and Joseph Sturge of Birmingham for 10 shillings.[16] In 1871, a Mrs. Sheil (sic) was listed as owner of “Yapton farm” of 343 acres in St John’s Parish, Antigua[17]. We do not know the identity of this lady but it was a pretty large place by the standards of Antigua so she was very probably John’s widow rather than some other unknown person.


Copyright © 2005 By Richard Shiell and Dorothy Anderson.

Used with permission of the authors.

Return to M.P. Shiel

[1]  We do not have a birth date for John but Lincoln’s Inn records him as aged 20 in 1808. For details of John’s father and family see the website


[2]  This was not like a Law School in today’s terms – there were no set lectures and one only had to attend a stipulated number of “dinners” at the Inn. Most of the training required working under the guidance of another barrister and reading about famous cases. John took 5 years to attend his stipulated number of dinners so presumably was working his legal apprenticeship well away from London much of the time-probably in Montserrat or Antigua.


[3] Minutes of the Assembly July 1810-Jan. 1811. Queely Shiell and John Queely Shiell both mentioned. (CO 177 17). This is the only time that a middle name for John was ever noted.


[4]  Lincoln’s Inn Register.


[5]  CO 10 10.


[6] BPP H of C, 1838, Vol 47.


[7] Antigua Slave claim number 808.


[8] No certificates but dates deduced from the earliest marriage dates of daughters.


[9]  Maria Ann,  (still single in Jan 1861 when her mother sold Devlin’s estate)


 Louisa Gordon (single in 1861 but  married the 62 year old widower Colonel Sir  Stephen John Hill in 1871. No issue.


 Elizabeth Harriet  ( married Henry Dobridge, merchant prior to 1861 ).


 Eleanor Matilda.  She married the 29 year old Christopher Musgrave, (planter of Antigua and son of Anthony Musgrave) sometime between 1856 and 1859. This was his 2nd marriage and the couple had four children Ella (born 1860), Amy (1862, died young), and Herbert (born 1863, died unmarried 1894) and Marian Christophine who married Edward Jones of Antigua.) (See the History of Antigua Vol. 2, page 287 Musgrave family chart and page 206 T. Savage English)


Anthony Musgrave’s older son, (also Anthony), was knighted and served as Governor of South Australia from 9th June 1873 until 2nd Oct 1877 and of Queensland from 1883 until his death in 1887.


[10]John N. Shiell returned for Town of Plymouth and Kinsale in place of William Dyett” (CO 177 23)

Another John Shiell in recorded in the Montserrat records as dying on 24 June 1899 at aged 36.  This may have been the son or grandson of John N. Shiell. The present Shiell family on Montserrat trace their lineage back through to a 19th century John Shiell but whether it is to the same individual cannot be proved. It is certainly very likely.


[11] CO 7 66

[12] CO 7 66

[13] CO 7 66 

[14] CO 178 17

[15] CO 7 88


[16] The estate was carrying massive debt which was probably as a result of earlier loans from the Government for earthquake repairs. It is most likely that this estate was inherited from Elizabeth Jane’s family, the Nugents, because there is no record of land in John’s name on Montserrat and only a small number of slaves, probably domestic servants,  were claimed under the name of John Shiell on Montserrat after Emancipation in 1836. In 1864 Devlin’s estate was merged with the adjacent Bransby’s estate (which the Sturges had retitled “Elberton” in 1857.) Joseph Sturge, a Quaker and anti-slavery campaigner, also bought the old Shiell plantations of Frye’s, Grove and Richmond and used them to grow limes.


[17] History of Antigua, Vol 3, page 357