The long speak: The depicting of Scots as abolitionists and liberal champions has disguised a long history of profiting from slavery 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 edge of a former territory 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 indication of a obscured association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.
As a child, I knew low levels of my mothers’ 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 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 experienced a long career with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by aircraft a couple of years later, to work as a wet-nurse at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.
I had visited Guyana just once at nine years old( our only plane holiday as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My retentions of that time are scrapped 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 pellets of rice at the wedding dinner; the constant nag of bugs- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- magnified in width and more hateful than any I’d seen in the UK; the tendernes and mortification of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt searching demure in a lily-white 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 religions- 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 settled and cleared Guyana their residence, so it is known as the tract of six peoples, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European drop-off, 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 season: 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 volume Coolie Woman, which returned much insight, but there have been few other noticeable operates. 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 asset and growing 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 yielded 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 bank cluttered with dried grass and needles on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a sheet of burnished steel, is the fabled sea. I watch as puffy glooms haul shadows 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 sovereign was a hands-on estate owner and guarded his estates intensely up until his death- one tale has him obliging a car bonnet down on the handwriting of a legislate motorist “whos been” the temerity to examine his gondola instrument near the acces of the property.
Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive live parties” and corporate happens. Clients 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 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. Friend Alexander and James, together with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial sakes spread to include orchards in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
When the soils of the neighbouring islands had been exploited, outings into Guyana introduced more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of plantations there, with this colony yielding substantial advantages even after the obliteration of slavery.