The long speak: The portrayal of Scots as abolitionists and liberal champions has secreted 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 irrigate have little in common with the lush light-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these landscapes share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the edge of Europe flogged 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 indication of a concealed association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.

As a child, I knew little of my parents’ country 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 aircraft a couple of years later, to work as a nanny at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.

I had called Guyana just once at nine years old( our simply plane holiday as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My rememberings of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the burn heat; the inclination 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 dances of rice at the wed dinner; the constant nag of bugs- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- magnified in size and more hateful than any I’d seen in the UK; the agony and shame of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt seeming demure in a grey cord wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then altering 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 people later adjudicated and represented Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the territory of six folks, with people of African, Indian, Chinese and European swoop, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race group, moving up its population.

The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over meter: 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 publicized the seminal book Coolie Woman, which drew much insight, but there have been few other remarkable undertakings. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or educational curricula 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 growing in the 19 th century. Unlike the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, it is feasible that Guyana’s unique geography( being attached to the South American mainland) has rendered 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 crest cluttered with dried grass and buds on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a membrane of burnished steel, is the fabled sea. I watch as puffy glooms tow darkness across its face. 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 monarch was a hands-on estate owner and patrolled his tracts furiously up until his death- one tale has him pressuring a auto bonnet down on the handwriting of a pas motorist who had the temerity to examine his automobile engine near the entering of the property.

Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive home parties” and corporate occasions. Guests can spend time in the splendid dwelling, or enjoy killing, fishing and sailing in the extended grounds.

It’s an impressive legacy, even more so when you realise 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 plantations 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 plantations in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

When the clays of the neighbouring islands had been exploited, outings into Guyana presented more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies proved a number of orchards there, with this colony yielding substantial advantages even after the abolition of slavery.

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

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

Consequently, the Baillies received a total of PS110, 000( equal to around PS9. 2m today) compensation for the 3, 100 slaves they lost, which they invested in a Monopoly board of estates from all the regions of the Highlands, been assured 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 merely a few cases streets, the city boasts a opulence of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its fair share of chi-chi outlets, gratifying to the American and Canadian sightseers who stay the arena eager to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different areas in this tiny place that have a link with 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 ]; people 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 utilized 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 was just thinking about the unfortunate human consequence.

As I wade through the investigations and testimonies of the destinies of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the fury I feel: up until 1826( roughly 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 flagged in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same district that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved population was the child or grandchild of a white European.

What is also astonishing is that the people I been referred 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 learnt about Cuffy[ a maverick slave governor ] and the slave rebellion of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

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

I tell her about Cromarty and she chortles at the inflection 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 females would be working out in the rice fields and it was then that most of the abuses would take place. No one would hear them scream … it was 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 the hell is substantial orchard interests in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the prosperous: ordinary working people had a chance to buy slaves too. Alston has compiled a comprehensive index of more than 600 parties from the Highlands with connections to Guyana before emancipation.

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

Alston explains:” It was a weird collision that so many parties from the Highlands went over. Orchards employed all sorts of beings: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good education system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal renters in Highlands after owners] guided migrations and went looking for possibilities .”

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

Alston districts:” The livelihoods of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone building near the harbour which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from Saint petersburg and applied 250 parties and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to form crates and sackings 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 craftsmen were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the colonies. In detail, Cromarty profited so much better from the slave traffic, it was one of the city that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders too have the questionable commendation of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the abolition of slavery. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and father-god 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, soliciting a new root of inexpensive and easily restraint labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year contracts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He perceived no rigor with the brand-new drafts, showing the government has” few wishings beyond ingesting, sleeping and drinking”, referring to the” mountain coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than the man”, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the travel they are undertaking “.

The arrival of the ships Whitby and Hesperus in Guyana in 1838 would herald the free movement of persons of more than half a million Indian to the Caribbean to work under overseers in the sweltering plantations, until the end of the practice in 1917.

What is outraging, given the extent of the involvement of Highland Scots in its own history of Guyana, is the way their capacity has been airbrushed from record. 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 depicted as abolitionists, reformers and liberal endorses, so David Livingstone is recollected lovingly, as is Scotland’s role in obliteration, while the slave-owning firms of Sandbach Tinne, John Gladstone, HD and JE Baillie, CW& F Shand, Reid Irving and others are referred to euphemistically as” West Indian sellers “.

Unlike in Liverpool, Bristol or London, there is little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public constructs funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are referred 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 gigantic segments devoted to Scotland and the nations of the world, there was not a mention of the slave traffic or the slave-based plantation economies, which supported the rise of Scotland’s industrialisation. The narrative sits exceedingly uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historic grudges, specifically the Highland clearances( when tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcefully ejected from their homes to make way for large-scale sheep farming ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you just wanted 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 opinion of itself.

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

” In Sutherland county there is a memorial to the permissions funded by a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The flavor on the inscription is very much that the Scots instructed the nations of 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, called 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 put in a orchard with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Chronicles 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 coloured woman”( 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 author by email:” It will seem strange that I did not stir the scholastic connection 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 hotel where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I “ve met” the offspring of a slave owner .'”

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

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

Scotland’s role 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 nonetheless 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 narration now. To obliterate these facts is to rob individuals of their legends all over again, and to disavow them any sense of belonging or plaza 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 monumentals 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 instantly from the slave trade, despite its leading role in the abolitionist push- receiving bequests of almost PS200m in today’s money. The university has now propelled a” reparative justice programmes” that will involve the creation of a centre for the study of slavery as well as a its cooperation with the University of the West Indies.

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

This is an edited form 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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