Foreign Office Diplomat

Joseph Reffell (1795-1829), Colonial Secretary of Sierra Leone

Joseph Reffell (1795-1829) was in His Majesty’s Foreign Service as the Colonial Secretary of Sierra Leone in the early 19th century, and he died childless and unmarried during the fever epidemic in that country of 1829. His start in life was quite lowly, and his father John was stated to be ‘a man without education and in a low situation in life…’ It is not yet known how Joseph came from these beginings to hold such a distinguished position in the Foreign Service.

Joseph was born on 22 February 1795 to John & Mary Reffell and baptised at St James Westminster on 18 March 1795.

The service record of Joseph Reffell as is currently know so far is summarised below:-
1814 – Arrives at Freetown Sierra Leone
1826 – Colonial Secretary and Superintendent
1828 – Secretary to the mixed British & Brazilian Commission at Sierra Leone
1829 – Dies in a fever epidemic

When Joseph died on 3 July 1829, it was believed by his family that he had left a large estate in Sierra Leone. During the Easter legal term of 1833 his father John, mother Mary, brother Thomas Richard and sister Mary Ann (who was then married to James Partridge) went to court over who was the rightful claimant to it. It later transpired that in fact there was no great land holdings in Sierra Leone and the estate was limited to a small amount of bank shares.

The branch of the Reffell family which comes from south west Africa is believed to take their surname from Joseph. It has been stated in a number of publications that due to his public position, the freed slaves (who were generally not given the decency of a surname) were quite likely to use the surname of someone that they knew in their new life. This could possibly be the origin of the branch of the family bearing the Reffell surname in west Africa.