The long read: The depicting of Scots as abolitionists and radical champs has concealed 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 luxuriant light-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 sunbathe and one on the edge of Europe flogged mercilessly by the Atlantic winds.
But search 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 schedule of placenames( 30 in all) south of Guyana’s capital Georgetown that intimate of a veiled association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.
As a child, I knew low levels 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 parents, as one of the purposes of the Windrush generation, had responded to the call for labour in postwar Britain. My father-god, aged 19, travelled by carry from Trinidad in 1960 and experienced a long occupation with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by airplane a couple of years later, to project as a harbour at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.
I had called Guyana just once at nine years old( our only airplane holiday as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My remembers of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the sear hot; the inclination of beings to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner sheets that were used to serve sticky dances of rice at the wedding dinner; the constant nag of insects- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, hovers- amplified in sizing and more fierce than any I’d seen in the UK; the agony and humiliation of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt appearing 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 celebrated all beliefs- Christian, Hindu, Muslim- all features of a colonial past that involved the forced progress of people across continents to a life of captivity and indenture. Those people eventually terminated and moved Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the land of six people, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European ancestry, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race group, shaping up its population.
The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over season: it was something to do with the British, something to do with bondage, but that was all that was shared. Decades afterwards the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur produced the seminal notebook Coolie Woman, which delivered much revelation, but there have been few other notable makes. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the school 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 resource and increment 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 world 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 bank cluttered with dried grass and leaves on the east bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a membrane of burnished sword, is the fabled liquid. I watch as puffy glooms tow shadows across its face. Northward of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral home of the Baillie house , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the deaths among “his fathers”- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late monarch was a hands-on manor proprietor and guarded his countries furiously up until his death- one narration has him obliging a automobile bonnet down on the side of a passing motorist who had the temerity to examine his gondola machine near the acces of the property.
Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive room parties” and corporate occasions. Clients can spend time in the grandiose dwelling, or enjoy shooting, angling and sailing in the extended grounds.
It’s an impressive bequest, even more so when you realise that the Baillies of Dochfour were leading” West Indian merchants” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, active in the slave trade and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Brothers Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial fascinates spread to include orchards in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
When the grunges of the neighbouring islands had been employed, outings into Guyana presented most fertile territory. Therefore, the Baillies substantiated a number of orchards there, with this colony relenting substantial earnings even after the abolition of slavery.