Abstract: Managing a West Indian Interest: The Lascelles' Caribbean Estates (1790-1847)

Simon D. Smith


The Lascelles family ranked among the largest of all Caribbean proprietors. During the fourteen years after 1773, the family acquired +27,000 acres and nearly 3,000 slaves, having previously owned comparatively little real estate in the West Indies. Their efforts at managing up to 24 estates are interpreted in the context of the literature on absentee plantation ownership (critical and revisionist). A "profits" approach (profit = net-revenue/capital value) to performance is compared with DEA (data envelopment analysis). During the 1790s, the Lascelles' estates were characterised by a low and falling ratio of net to gross revenue, and returns failed to match the sectoral average. During the period 1805-20, this situation was reversed. DEA analysis reveals that the Lascelles improved performance by selling, merging, or abandoning their least efficient properties. Accountancy reforms (more systematic bookkeeping) resulted in tighter cost controls and better decision making. Consolidation and retrenchment, resulting in repatriation of capital (estate sales and debt collection) formed the basis of policy. Careful monitoring and well-timed sales enabled the Lascelles to avoid the worst effects of non-residency.