The long speak: The show of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has hidden a long history of advantaging 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 brown coastal ocean have little in common with the lush dark-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these sceneries share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the leading edge of Europe whipped 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 clue of a obscured association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.

As a child, I knew low levels of my mothers’ commonwealth 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 responded to 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 aircraft a couple of years later, to work as a harbour at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.

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

For this was and is a country that celebrated 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 beings later resolved and formed Guyana their home, so it is known as the ground of six peoples, with people of African, Indian, Chinese and European swoop, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, making up its population.

The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over period: 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 wrote the seminal journal Coolie Woman, which fetched much insight, but there have been few other notable tasks. 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 colony was to the United Kingdom’s industrial resource and growth 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 made it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

I am standing on a ridge cluttered with dehydrated grass and buds on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a membrane of burnished steel, is the fabled water. I watch as puffy glooms tow darkness across its surface. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral residence of the Baillie family , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late lord was a hands-on estate owner and guarded his tracts intensely up until his death- one narration has him pressuring a gondola bonnet down on the mitt of a occur motorist who had the temerity to examine his auto locomotive near the entryway of the property.

Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive home parties” and corporate phenomena. Guests can spend time in the grand manor, or experience shooting, fishing and sailing in the extended grounds.

It’s an impressive bequest, even more so when you be understood that the Baillies of Dochfour were resulting” West Indian sellers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, active in the slave traffic and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Friend Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial sakes spread to include plantations in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

When the grunges of the neighbouring islands had been exploited, tours into Guyana portrayed more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of orchards there, with this colony yielding substantial earnings even after the obliteration of slavery.

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

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t merely bring an end to chattel slavery, it also overcompensated 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 dominated a compensation illustration of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an unskilled field worker, the Baillies and other plantation owners were heavily pay compensation their estates in Guyana.

Consequently, the Baillies received a total of PS110, 000( equivalent to around PS9. 2m today) compensation for the 3, 100 slaves they lost, which they invested in a Monopoly board of estates across the Highlands, ensuring that they and their descendants would become one of the largest landed proprietors in the countries of the north of Scotland, primarily 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 just a few cases streets, the town boasts a fortune of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its bazaar share of chi-chi shops, catering to the American and Canadian sightseers who stay the province eager to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

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

It’s hard to process that a network of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area exploited Guyana as a “get-rich-quick scheme”, exploiting for profit the trafficked humen( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no thought of the sad human consequence.

As I wade through research and testimonials of the fate of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the rage I feel: up until 1826( virtually 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 white-hot European.

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

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

I tell her about Cromarty and she chortles at the intonation 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 maidens 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 several 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 plantation attentions in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the wealthy: everyday working people had a chance to buy slaves very. Alston has compiled a comprehensive index of more than 600 beings 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, superiors and tradesmen. The key to success was to own slaves .”

Alston explains:” It was a weird accident that so many parties from the Highlands gone over. Orchards hired all sorts of people: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good education system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal renters in Highlands after landowners] produced migrations and looked for possibilities .”

Despite Guyana’s distance and perils( numerous Scots succumbed to yellow excitement ), the honor was seen as worth the risk. The benefits were numerous, there were people returning from Guyana buying land and estates and improving farms in Scotland, and the orchard economy likewise fired industrial wealth.

Alston territories:” The livelihoods of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone house near the harbour which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from Saint petersburg and applied 250 people and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to attain handbags and bags 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 works were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the settlements. In fact, Cromarty profited so much better from the slave traffic, “its one” of the towns that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders likewise have the dubious accolade of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the obliteration of slavery. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and parent 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 new root of cheap and easily self-controlled labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year constricts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He comprehended no rigor with the new recruits, showing the government has” few hankers beyond devouring, sleeping and boozing”, referring to the” slope coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than the man”, 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 acclaim 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 scandalizing, given the extent of the involvement of Highland Scots in the history of Guyana, is the way their persona has been airbrushed from biography. Not many Scottish parties would have a clue where Guyana is or of its importance to their own nation’s industrial growth.

Scots have been shown as abolitionists, reformers and radical champs, so David Livingstone is recollected fondly, as is Scotland’s role in obliteration, 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, here i am little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public buildings funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are named after notorious slavers, but there is no mention of this in the city’s history.

” The research 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 gigantic areas devoted to Scotland and 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 narrative sits extremely uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historical grievances, specifically the Highland clearances( when tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcibly ejected from their dwellings to make way for large-scale sheep farming ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you want to draw yourself as a victim, 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 interred. Photograph: Calum Davidson/ Alamy

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

Helen Cameron, who now lives in Australia, visited both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her beginnings. 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 plantation with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Chronicles of their age 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 female”( a descendant of slaves) and the selection board had seven children. The couple’s five sons all migrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen author by email:” It will seem strange that I did not realize the intellectual acquaintance of being a descendant of a plantation owner as likewise being a descendant of a slave owner. I was slightly taken aback when the manager of the inn where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I have met the successor of a slave owner .'”

She persists:” I had known that the family had plantations, but I do be recognized that until such research I had not considered who actually worked these orchards. I was also ignorant of Britain’s dependence on slavery.

” I hope my ancestors were benevolent slave owners ,” she makes.” I do not like to think they were inhumane, even though, as one person in Guyana said,’ Why would you think otherwise ?'”

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

Today, steps are being made to acknowledge Scotland’s slaving past: there is a campaign to establish a museum of slavery, and for memorials and plaques to go up across the country on statues, streets and homes linked to the slave trade. In September 2018, Glasgow University produced a report revealing that the institution interested instantly 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 programmes” that will involve the creation of a centre for the study of bondage as well as a collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sun pitches across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, decorating the swooning inscriptions. The effigy of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and novelist, perched Nelson-like on a high column, overlooks the incident. I read the carved paroles on one crumbling grey stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 times. It says:” John Munro sometime of Demerara .” Less clear is “Berbice” on another stone. A mere 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 monkey mention. One truth remains: however hard we try to cover over our past, it rarely stays buried.

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

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