William Pole

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Sir William Pole was the grandfather of the government minister Sir Walter Pole, whose help was so material in first bringing Gilbert Norrell to public notice. Although he does not appear within the pages of our story Sir William has an effect upon it in two significant ways: he is responsible for the presence of Stephen Black, and he burthens his grandson Sir Walter with debts so enormous they affect not only his career but choice of wife.

Sir William appears to have been a man of amiable temper but careless, spendthrift habits[17]. He died with his affairs hopelessly embarrassed. His heir could only extract himself from the toils of debt when he made his advantageous match with Miss Wintertowne.

Connexion with Stephen Black: Sir William had, at a time prior to his losses, owned estates and slaves in Jamaica, but as his debts forced him to retrench he travelled overseas to sell off his property. On his return he fetched back with him the mother of Stephen Black, a young African woman whom Sir William was apparently bringing to England with the intention of making her a servant in his house. Sadly, this young woman died hard upon the end of the voyage, and later the forgetful baronet was unable to recall anything about her - not even so much as her name - to satisfy the natural curiosity of her orphaned child[30]. Stephen, with that mildness which is so characteristic of his nature, does not resent this: indeed he even goes so far as to protest the kindness of Sir William in having him christened and educated. (The former was more rare than one might think. It was a curious belief among slave-owners that christening a slave changed his status in the eyes of the law, virtually enfranchising him. This was not at all the case, but many slave masters were fearful of allowing their slaves baptism nonetheless.)

It is melancholy to relate that the gentleman with the thistle-down hair seems entirely confident that, after death, the surviving spiritual portion of Sir William Pole would be found in Hell[30]. It is much to be hoped the Gentleman was wrong in his expectation.