Skip to content
Open today 10am-5pm

A history of Geffrye's fortune

Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1704) was an English merchant, who made his fortune partly from his involvement in the exploitative East India Company and Royal African Company and his persistent investment in the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.

As a part of the Royal African Company, Geffrye directly profited from the Triangular Trade, where English goods were sent to West Africa to be traded for enslaved Africans. These men, women and children were then transported in horrific conditions to the West Indies, where they were sold to work on plantations.

He profited directly from the buying and selling of human beings. These profits were very likely sufficient to fund the core part of his legacy.

There is no connection between Geffrye and the founding of the Museum and its collections.

Early years

The son of a Cornish farmer, Geffrye was ambitious and worked hard to make a name for himself, eventually rising to become Lord Mayor of London. Much of his success was due to his membership of the Ironmongers' Company. It was at this livery company that he was introduced to other merchants from the trading corporations he would later become a part of.

Geffrye's fortune

As well as being an influential member of a livery company and several trading companies, Geffrye part owned a ship called the China Merchant. During its lifetime, the China Merchant carried items similar to the ones seen here, trading English woollens and metals for items such as sugar, silk, ivory and tea.  

The China Merchant was also involved in the Triangular Trade and was chartered for two slave trading voyages, buying enslaved men, women and children from West Africa and selling them to plantation owners in Jamaica. Geffrye would have charged the Royal African Company for the use of his ship and received a proportion of their profit.

Geffrye almshouses

As a devout Protestant, Geffrye was expected to leave part of his wealth to charity. Upon his death, he chose to donate money to the Ironmongers' Company to found almshouses that provided charitable housing for poor pensioners.  


Born 1613 in Cornwall, died 1704

Involvement in Ironmongers Company

  • 1630 Apprenticeship
  • 1637 Freeman
  • 1646 Liveryman
  • 1667–8 and 1685 Master

Political positions

  • 1673 Sheriff
  • 1676 Alderman
  • 1685-6 Lord Mayor of London
  • 1702 The Father of the City

Positions in Royal African Company and East India Company

  • 1654 Petitioner, East India Company
  • 1672 Charter member, Royal African Company
  • 1691–2 Assistant, Royal African Company

Investments in Royal African Company

Geffrye originally invested £400 in the Royal African Company. As an investor he was licensed to buy, sell, trade, barter and exchange slaves, wares and other merchandise in West Africa. This investment yielded him an average of 7% a year in dividends. He sold £1,600 of stock in 1692 as the share price of the Company began to fall.

Investment in the China Merchant

Geffrye part-owned a ship called the China Merchant along with three other merchants: John Jeffreys, William Warren, and Nathaniel Warren.

The China Merchant completed two voyages for the Royal African Company, where English goods were sent to Cape Coast Castle in West Africa and traded for enslaved Africans. These men, women and children were transported to Barbados and Jamaica in inhumane conditions before being sold to work on plantations. Geffrye charged the Royal African Company for the use of his ship and received a proportion of their profit. 

  • 1689 Cape Coast Castle to Barbados, where the cargo of 422 enslaved men and women were sold for £500
  • 1692/3 Cape Coast Castle to Jamaica where 272 enslaved men and women were delivered

Position of power in Royal African Company

Geffrye served as Assistant of the Royal African Company in 1691. His decision to serve as an Assistant suggests that Geffrye wished to have more influence in the developing trade of enslaved Africans as well as profiting from it.

Investments in the East India Company

Geffrye held £4,000 in East India Company stock in the 1680s and added £1,800 to this holding in 1691. At his death in 1704, he left £4,108 in East India Company bonds (including interest) and £2,325 in stock and dividends.