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.

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

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t just put an end to chattel bondage, 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 carbohydrate boilers dominated a compensation representation of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an uneducated 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) compensation for the 3, 100 slaves they lost, which they invested in a Monopoly board of estates from all the regions of the Highlands, must make sure that they and their offsprings would become one of the largest landed proprietors in 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 just a few streets, the town boasts a affluence of Georgian and Victorian structure and its fair share of chi-chi stores, gratifying to the American and Canadian sightseers who see the neighbourhood enthusiastic to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different areas in this tiny plaza that have connections to 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 was coming’ 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 programme”, manipulating for profit the trafficked humen( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no believed to be the sad human consequence.

As I wade through research and tributes of the fate of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the indignation I feel: up until 1826( nearly two decades after the obliteration of the slave trade in 1807 ),” the 11 o’clock flog” was administered in Berbice’s searing hot to men and women who pennant in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same region that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved person was their own children 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 link with the Highlands. I speak to an elderly cousin who grew up in Guyana but now lives in the US.” We were learnt about Cuffy[ a maverick slave governor ]~ ATAGEND and the slave resistance of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

A statue of Cuffy, the slave disobedience chairman, in Georgetown, Guyana. Picture: Krystyna Szulecka/ Alamy

I tell her about Cromarty and she titters at the articulation of a well-known home 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 disturbing tale.” Granny said that the Indian girls would be working out in the rice fields and it was then that most of the crimes 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 had substantial plantation attentions in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the prosperou: everyday working man had a chance to buy slaves very. Alston has gathered a comprehensive index of more than 600 parties from the Highlands with a link with Guyana before emancipation.

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

Alston explains:” It was a strange accident that so many beings from the Highlands went over. Plantations utilized all manner of parties: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good education system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal tenants in Highlands after owners] preceded immigrations and “ve all been looking for” possibilities .”

Despite Guyana’s distance and chances( numerous Scots succumbed to yellow fever ), the reinforce was sees as worth health risks. The advantages were numerous, “theres gonna be” beings returning from Guyana buying tract and estates and improving farms in Scotland, and the orchard economy also fuelled industrial wealth.

Alston countries:” The subsistences 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 Saint petersburg and hired 250 people and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to induce cloth to represent pockets and sackings for West Indian goods .”

The economic benefits of slavery had a trickle-down gist on every part of the Scottish economy: there was a thunder in herring fishing in the Highland lochs, as this salted-down fish was a major export to the Caribbean as a protein-rich generator of slave nutrition. Similarly, in the Outer Hebrides, numerous laborers were employed in its production of bumpy linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the colonies. In reality, Cromarty profited so much better from the slave traffic, it was one of the towns that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders also have the questionable accolade of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the abolition of slavery. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and leader of the future British prime minister, who received PS106, 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 readily controlled labour.

Gillanders had already transmitted Indian to Mauritius under five-year contracts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He comprehended no predicament with the new recruits, saying the government had” few wants beyond eating, slumber and booze”, referring to the” mound coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than the three men”, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the journey they are undertaking “.

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

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

Scots have been represented as abolitionists, reformers and radical endorses, 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, there is little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public structures funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are appointed 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 huge divisions devoted to Scotland and the world, there was not a mention of the slave trade or the slave-based orchard economies, which supported the rise of Scotland’s industrialisation. The story sits extremely uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historic grievances, specifically the Highland clearances( when millions of Highlanders were forcibly dispossessed from their homes to make way for large-scale sheep farm ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you want to show 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 idea of itself and the Highlands view of itself.

Cromarty graveyard in the Highlands, where some Scottish slave owners are implanted. 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 atmosphere on the inscription is very much 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 are able to put one up in Georgetown, Guyana .”

Helen Cameron, who now lives in Australia, inspected both Cromarty and Guyana in attempting to detect her springs. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her enormous, great, great-grandfather, came back Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a plantation with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Reports of their time there include the transport of coffee, cotton, rum and carbohydrate, and the sale and hire of slaves. John Cameron had a relationship with Elizabeth Sharpe,” a free emblazoned girl”( a successor of slaves) and they had seven offsprings. The couple’s five sons all immigrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen writes by email:” It will seem strange that I did not induce the academic connection of being a descendant of a plantation owner as also being a progeny of a slave owner. I was slightly taken aback when the director of the hotel where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I have met the progeny of a slave owner .'”

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

” I hope my ancestors were benevolent slave owners ,” she writes.” 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 persona 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 contribute to our understanding of hasten and how the two movements of beings from long ago be in line with our fib now. To obscure these facts is to rob individuals of their floors all over again, and to repudiate them any sense of belonging or target 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 statues, streets and residences linked to the slave traffic. In September 2018, Glasgow University publicized a report disclosing that the institution benefited instantly from the slave traffic, despite its leading role in the abolitionist movement- receiving bequests of almost PS200m in today’s money. The university has now launched a” reparative justice programme” that will involve the creation of a centre for the results of the study of slavery as well as a collaborating with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sun slants across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, decorating the faint inscriptions. The statue of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and columnist, perched Nelson-like on a high pillar, overlooks the incident. I read the carved terms on one crumbling grey-haired stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 times. 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 famed monkey repeat. One truth remains: however hard-boiled we try to cover over our past, it rarely stays buried.

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

* Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here