The Bright Family Papers consists of personal, financial, commercial and legal documentation relating to the Bright and Meyler families, including deeds, indentures and wills; correspondence, letterbooks and extracts; journals, ledgers, cashbooks and summaries of accounts; estate plans and inventories; pedigrees, family trees, and copies of Parish registers; folios of artwork; photographs; and some supplementary printed material.
The earliest material in the collection consists of a will (1511) and two arbitration disputes (1532, 1592), the feet of fine or court copies of two final concords (both in Latin, c.1610), and a number of indentures from the mid to late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.
The bulk of the collection dates from 1730-1840, and relates to the various commercial partnerships between the Bright and Meyler families and other merchants and traders in Jamaica and the West Indies. This material covers the management of plantations Meylersfield (also known as Cabaritta) and Garredu (Black Mount) and other Jamaican concerns that the Brights and Meylers were involved in. Specific documents and topics of interest include valuations, inventories and accounts relating to slaves, land and stock; detailed business accounts; correspondence describing daily life and business, including discussion of Tacky’s rebellion (1760), the Capture of St. Lucia (1778), fires (1780, 1782) and a hurricane (1780), governance, medicine and illness, and various plants and animals sent home to England.
The Jamaican correspondence includes significant holdings of letters between Henry Bright, Francis Bright, Richard Meyler, and Jeremiah Meyler and their various business partners, as well as very extensive correspondence from 1800-1830 between Lowbridge and Richard Bright and their Jamaican partners and representatives including David Duncomb, Benjamin Duncomb, William Savage, James Corne Pownall, John Shand, William Caldwell, and John Garnett.
Also well-represented is the management, sale, and purchase of English estates, particularly in the mid-nineteenth century, including Ham Green, Welland Court, Flapgate, Abbots Leigh, and Brockbury. Correspondence and other documents relate to the settlement of tenants disputes, the collection and payment of rent and taxes, improvements and building work, and surveying and enclosure of land.
Correspondence and other documentation relating to family matters includes details of family marriages, deaths and inheritances, including extensive documentation relating to the inheritance dispute between Richard Bright and the Meyler family, and the genealogy of both families, as well as financial documents, accounts and correspondence regarding the estates of Henry Bright, Francis Bright, Allen Bright Sr., Benjamin Heywood Bright, Richard Bright, Lowbridge Bright, and of various other extended family. Other holdings relating to family and personal matters include love letters, letters of advice (particularly to Allen Bright Jr.), letters and accounts relating to medical issues, donations to charities, insurance, and other sundry payments and purchases. The collection also contains correspondence and other material relating to Henry Bright's time as Mayor of Bristol, to the activities of Gibbs, Bright & Co. in Australia (c.1870s-1900s) and family life in Victoria (c.1900s-1920s), to potential research interests for local historians such as an extended dispute over ministers in Castle Green (c.1720s), and extensive correspondence and details of purchases between Benjamin Heywood Bright and the bookseller Thomas Rodd the Younger (c.1820s-1840s).
Originally trading out of Bristol, the Bright and Meyler families activities subsequently expanded across the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand. The Bright family were heavily involved in the trade of sugar between Jamaica and the United Kingdom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their activities in this capacity included the purchase and management of sugar plantations and livestock pens, the shipment of cargo between Jamaica and Bristol, participation in the slave trade, including the purchase and shipment of slaves, and the establishment and running of stores trading in imported goods and purchasing sugar from local plantations. The family also had other commercial and industrial interests, including mining, banking, ship, railway and canal construction, and landed estates.
The Bright and Meyler families forged numerous complex partnerships in Jamaican trade in the eighteenth century. Henry Bright (1715-1777) was apprenticed to Richard Meyler Sr. (1685-1772) in 1732; as junior partner, he went to the Caribbean in 1739 when Meyler's trade expanded, and later married his daughter and heiress Sarah Meyler (1720-1769). Henry and his brother Francis (1723- 1754) worked closely with the Meyler family in Jamaica; following Henry's return to Bristol and Francis' death in 1754, Richard Meyler Sr.'s nephew Jeremiah Meyler (1729-1792) assumed the management of the Jamaican end of their business. This relationship disintegrated in the 1760s as Jeremiah's debts increased. Subsequently, Lowbridge Bright (1741-1818), Henry's nephew, was sent to Jamaica, where he developed a further partnership with Nathaniel Milward. Henry's son Richard (1754-1840) would later enter into business with Lowbridge Bright; together with Evan Baillie they expanded into other parts of the West Indies.
In 1818 Richard Bright inherited the Meyler estates in Jamaica; this inheritance was contested by the Meyler family, and the extensive lawsuits that followed were the primary motivation for the family to assemble and maintain this collection of papers. Charles Edward Bright, Richard's grandson, immigrated to Australia in 1852 during the Victorian gold rush and established a branch house of Gibbs, Bright & Co (the partnership between his father Robert Bright and the Gibbs family, and the owners of the SS Great Britain); the papers of Gibbs, Bright & Co are interconnected with the Bright family papers, and are also held by the University of Melbourne. The Bright family papers were willed to Charles' son Alfred, who transferred them to Australia in the early twentieth century.
Members of the Bright family were also prominent in medicine, law and politics. Henry Bright became Mayor of Bristol in 1771. Dr Richard Bright MD (1789-1858), a son of Richard Bright and grandson of Henry, was a pioneering researcher of kidney disease and diseases of the brain, and Fellow of the Royal Society. Benjamin Heywood Bright (1787-1843), another of Richard Bright's sons, was a barrister, book collector and Shakespearian critic.