John Earle

WAG 9283


This artwork has been identified as having links to a person connected with transatlantic slavery. This research is part of the Walker Art Gallery’s ongoing work to be more transparent about the collection’s relationship to Britain's colonial past. The Earle family were deeply embedded in the British trade in enslaved African people, across four generations. In 1688 the sitter in this portrait, John Earle (1674 - 1749), moved from Warrington to Liverpool to work for the merchant and shipowner William Clayton. In 1699 they co-financed the ‘Union’, one of the first legal slave ships to leave Liverpool. Earle, like Clayton, was a Tory, and became Liverpool’s Mayor in 1709. Earle set up on his own in 1700, trading primarily in wine but also in iron, tobacco and sugar. He also traded in enslaved African people. Three of his seven children, Ralph (1715 - 90), Thomas (1719 - 81) and William (1721 - 88), became prominent merchants and by the 1780s they were the tenth largest British concern trading in enslaved African people. William was also a ship's captain in his early years, and therefore instrumental in their inhuman treatment and procurement. He later retired to become a merchant. This portrait of John Earle may be a copy of another work, made for the branch of his family referenced in the inscription painted lower left, which reads: John Earle Mayor of / Liverpool 1703 [sic] married Mary / only Daughter and Heiress of Ralph Finch Esquire / & Elizabeth De Anyers Coheiress with her Sister Ellen / Willis of Colonel Willm. de Anyers. The artist is unknown.