The long speak: The portrait of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has hidden a long history of profiting from bondage in the Caribbean. By Yvonne Singh

The mangrove-fringed coast of Guyana, at the north-eastern tip of South America, does not immediately bring to mind the Highlands of Scotland, in the northernmost part of Great Britain. Guyana’s mudflats and silty chocolate-brown coastal ocean have little in common with the luxuriant dark-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these sceneries share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the leading edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the leading edge of Europe beat mercilessly by the Atlantic winds.

But look closer and the links are there: Alness, Ankerville, Belladrum, Borlum, Cromarty, Culcairn, Dingwall, Dunrobin, Fyrish, Glastullich, Inverness, Kintail, Kintyre, Rosehall, Tain, Tarlogie, a join-the-dots list of placenames( 30 in all) south of Guyana’s capital Georgetown that hint of a concealed association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.

As a child, I knew low levels of my parents’ district Guyana. I knew that it was part of the British West Indies and the only English-speaking country in South America. I knew that my mothers, as part of the Windrush generation, had answered the call for labour in postwar Britain. My father, aged 19, travelled by ship from Trinidad in 1960 and enjoyed a long career with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by airplane a couple of years later, to work as a wet-nurse at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.

I had inspected Guyana just once at nine years old( our merely plane holiday as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My memories of that time are scrapped and rather strange: the singe heat; the propensity of beings to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner plates that were used to serve sticky pellets of rice at the bridal dinner; the constant nag of bugs- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- enlarged in size and more hateful than any I’d seen in the UK; the ache and humiliation of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt looking demure in a grey cord wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then changing into a Lakshmi-like vision in a red-and-gold sari for the Hindu nuptials.

For this was and is a country that feted all beliefs- Christian, Hindu, Muslim- all features of a colonial past that involved the forced movement of people across continents to a life of bondage and indenture. Those people later terminated and reached Guyana their home, so it is known as the property of six people, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European swoop, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, stimulating up its population.

The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over age: it was something to do with the British, something to do with slavery, but that was all that was shared. Decades later the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur published the seminal book Coolie Woman, which introduced much insight, but there have been few other remarkable labours. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the curriculum in Britain.

This is astonishing when you think that the British had such a role to play in that nation’s birth and how central that settlement was to the United Kingdom’s industrial opulence and raise in the 19 th century. Unlike the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, it is possible that Guyana’s unique geography( being attached to the South American mainland) has interpreted it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the muse for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

I am standing on a ridge cluttered with dehydrated grass and needles on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a sheet of burnished sword, is the fabled ocean. I watch as puffy clouds haul shadows across its skin-deep. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral dwelling of the Baillie family , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late baron was a hands-on estate owner and patrolled his estates ferociously up until his death- one narrative has him pressuring a car bonnet down on the mitt of a transfer motorist “whos been” the temerity to examine his automobile locomotive near the entryway of the property.

Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive room parties” and corporate phenomena. Guests can spend time in the grand dwelling, or experience shooting, fishing and voyaging in the extensive grounds.

It’s an impressive legacy, even more so when you realise that the Baillies of Dochfour were contributing” West Indian shopkeepers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, actively engaged in the slave trade and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Brother Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial interests spread to include orchards in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

When the grunges of its neighboring islands had been manipulated, tours into Guyana demonstrated more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of orchards there, with this colony yielding substantial gains even after the obliteration of slavery.

Stabroek grocery in Georgetown, Guyana. Photograph: benedek/ Getty Images

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t just bring an end to chattel slavery, the committee is also reimbursed Britain’s 46,000 slave owners for the loss of their “property”. As Guyana’s orchards were mostly involved in sugar-making, and sugar boilers required a compensation figure of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an unskilled field worker, the Baillies and other plantation owners were heavily compensated for their estates in Guyana.

Consequently, the Baillies received a total of PS110, 000( equivalent to around PS9. 2m today) seeks compensation for the 3, 100 slaves they lost, which they invested in a Monopoly board of estates from all the regions of the Highlands, ensuring that they and their descendants would become one of the largest landed proprietors in the countries of the north of Scotland, predominantly thanks to the profits of slavery.

I meet with historian David Alston in Cromarty, a small town in the Highlands that sits at the mouth of Cromarty Firth. Comprised of merely a few cases streets, the city boasts a property of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its carnival share of chi-chi boutiques, gratifying to the American and Canadian sightseers who call the area enthusiastic to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different sites in this tiny place that have a link with slave orchards- mostly in Guyana. He says:” If you lived in the Highlands in the 1800 s, you would know about Demerara and Berbice[ in Guyana ]; beings would talk about coming back’ as rich as a Demerary man ‘.”

It’s hard to process that a system of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area expended Guyana as a “get-rich-quick scheme”, employing for profit the trafficked humen( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no was just thinking about the terrible human consequence.

As I wade through the investigations and testimonials of the destinies of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the fury I feel: up until 1826( practically two decades after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 ),” the 11 o’clock flog” was administered in Berbice’s searing heat to men and women who pennant in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same district that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved person was “their childrens” or grandchild of a grey European.

What is also astonishing is that the people I be addressed to in Guyana don’t seem aware of this link with the Highlands. I speak to an older cousin who grew up in Guyana but now lives in the US.” We were taught about Cuffy[ a rebel slave commander ] and the slave rebellion of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

A effigy of Cuffy, the slave disobedience ruler, in Georgetown, Guyana. Photograph: Krystyna Szulecka/ Alamy

I tell her about Cromarty and she chortles at the accent of a well-known place from her childhood, near Cotton Tree in Berbice.” You know Aunty Florence’s mother, Big Mama, was half-Scottish ,” she says.” We all used to wonder why she was so white and so much bigger than us, but then one day Granny told us that her father was a Scotsman .”

She then recalls a troubling story.” Granny said that the Indian girls would be working out in the rice fields and it was then that most of the rapes would take place. No one would hear them bellow … “theres only” nine months later that they had to deal with the consequences .”

The Baillies were part of an Inverness network of Scots, including the Frasers, the Inglis family and the Chisholms, who had substantial orchard concerns in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the wealthy: everyday working people had a chance to buy slaves too. Alston has gathered a comprehensive index of more than 600 parties from the Highlands with connections to Guyana before emancipation.

He says:” Guyana offered some the future prospects of making a fortune, even for those working of limited means, if they were prepared to start work as clerks, overseers and tradesmen. The key to success was to own slaves .”

Alston clarifies:” It was a weird collision that so many beings from the Highlands gone over. Orchards utilized different kinds of parties: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good educational system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal tenants in Highlands after owners] guided immigrations and looked for openings .”

Despite Guyana’s distance and hazards( many Scots succumbed to yellow fever ), the honor was seen as worth the risk. The benefits were numerous, “therere” beings returning from Guyana buying land and estates and improving farms in Scotland, and the orchard economy likewise burnt industrial wealth.

Alston regimes:” The livelihoods of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone construct near the harbour which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from St Petersburg and hired 250 people and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to stir pockets and sacks for West Indian goods .”

The economic benefits of slavery had a trickle-down effect on every part of the Scottish economy: there was a boom in herring fishing in the Highland lochs, as this salted-down fish was a major export to the Caribbean as a protein-rich source of slave nutrition. Similarly, in the Outer Hebrides, numerous proletarians were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the colonies. In information, Cromarty profited so much better from the slave traffic, “its one” of the towns that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders also have the dubious accolade of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the obliteration of bondage. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and papa of the future British prime minister, who received PS1 06,769 in compensation, the equivalent of about PS9m today) wrote to Francis Mackenzie Gillanders of Gillanders, Arbuthnot& Co in Calcutta, requesting a brand-new generator of inexpensive and readily inhibited labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year contracts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He perceived no difficulty with the brand-new recruits, testifying they have” few requires beyond devouring, sleeping and drinking”, referring to the” mound coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than “the mens””, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the navigate they are undertaking “.

The arrival of the ships Whitby and Hesperus in Guyana in 1838 would presage the movement of more than half a million Indians to the Caribbean to work under superiors in the sweltering orchards, until the end of the practice in 1917.

What is outraging, given the extent of the involvement of Highland Scots in the history of Guyana, is the way their character has been airbrushed from biography. Not many Scottish beings would have a clue where Guyana is or of its importance to their own nation’s industrial growth.

Scots ought to have portrayed as abolitionists, reformers and radical champions, so David Livingstone is recollected lovingly, as is Scotland’s role in abolition, while the slave-owning conglomerates of Sandbach Tinne, John Gladstone, HD and JE Baillie, CW& F Shand, Reid Irving and others are referred to euphemistically as” West Indian shopkeepers “.

Unlike in Liverpool, Bristol or London, there is little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public houses funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are reputation after notorious slavers, but there is no mention of this in the city’s history.

” The experiment I was doing in the 1990 s felt very lonely ,” says Alston. He recalls the opening of the National Museum of Scotland in 1998.” Despite massive parts devoted to Scotland and the nations of the world, “theres not” a mention of the slave trade or the slave-based plantation economies, which supported the rise of Scotland’s industrialisation. The floor sits extremely uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historic grievances, specific the Highland clearances( when tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcibly ejected from their homes to make way for large-scale sheep farming ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you had wished to portray yourself as a casualty, the last thing you want to do is be the victimiser, and it is difficult for that to change because it is so embedded in the Scottish view of itself and the Highlands belief of itself.

Cromarty graveyard in the Highlands, where some Scottish slave owners are lay. Photograph: Calum Davidson/ Alamy

” In Sutherland district there is a monumental to the clearances funded by a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The manner on the inscription is exactly that the Scots enlightened the world. There was talk of putting replica statues up in all the places that Scots went to … I wonder if they will put one up in Georgetown, Guyana .”

Helen Cameron, who now lives in Australia, saw both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her roots. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her enormous, enormous, great-grandfather, came to Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a orchard with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Accountings of their epoch there include shipments of coffee, cotton, rum and sugar, and the sale and hire of slaves. John Cameron had a relationship with Elizabeth Sharpe,” a free emblazoned dame”( a successor of slaves) and the selection board had seven brats. The couple’s five sons all emigrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen scribbles by email:” It will seem strange that I did not construct the academic contact of being a descendant of a plantation owner as likewise being a descendant of a slave owner. I was somewhat taken aback when the manager of the inn where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I “ve met” the descendant of a slave owner .'”

She prolongs:” I had known that the family had orchards, but I do be recognized that until this research I had not considered who really labor these orchards. I was also ignorant of Britain’s dependence on slavery.

” I hope my ancestors were gracious slave owners ,” she writes.” I do not like to think they were inhumane, although there is, as one person in Guyana said,’ Why would you think otherwise ?'”

Scotland’s role in empire does not belong in the margins or footnotes: Highland Scots had a huge role to play in the large-scale trafficking of human beings for profit. I was of the view that however unpalatable this story is, it is a shared one, and contributes to our understanding of race and how the movements of parties from long ago fits with our narrative now. To obliterate these facts is to rob individuals of their tales all over again, and to disavow them any the feeling of belonging or situate in the world.

Today, any measures were being made to acknowledge Scotland’s slaving past: there is a campaign to establish a museum of slavery, and for tributes and plaques to go up across the country on bronzes, streets and dwellings linked to the slave trade. In September 2018, Glasgow University wrote a report revealing that educational institutions benefited directly from the slave traffic, despite its leading role in the abolitionist change- receiving bequests of almost PS200m in today’s money. The university has now launched a” reparative justice programme” that will involve the process of creating a centre for its further consideration of slavery as well as a collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sun slants across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, illuminating the swoon inscriptions. The effigy of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and novelist, roosted Nelson-like on a high column, overlooks the panorama. I read the carved statements on one crumbling grey stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 times. It says:” John Munro belatedly of Demerara .” Less clear is “Berbice” on another stone. A merely 20 miles south-west of this graveyard, at Gilchrist near Muir of Ord, is an ornate mausoleum containing the well-preserved tomb of Gillanders- he of the famed ape paraphrase. One truth remains: however hard-handed we try to cover over our past, it rarely abides buried.

This is an revised version of a piece that was firstly published in adda , a publication run by Commonwealth Writers, the culture initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation

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