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.

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

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t exactly bring an end to chattel slavery, it 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 commanded a compensation chassis of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an unskilled 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 that given to around PS9. 2m today) seeks compensation for the 3, 100 slaves they lost, which they invested in a Monopoly board of estates from all the regions of the Highlands, ensuring that they and their offsprings would become one of the largest territory proprietors in the countries of the north of Scotland, largely 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 precisely a few cases streets, the town boasts a asset of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its exhibition share of chi-chi stores, gratifying to the American and Canadian sightseers who inspect the orbit eager to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different places in this tiny place that have a link with 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 ]; people would talk about coming home’ as rich as a Demerary man ‘.”

It’s hard to process that a system of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area applied Guyana as a “get-rich-quick scheme”, employing for profit the trafficked humans( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no was just thinking about 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 obliteration 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 population was the child or grandchild of a white-hot European.

What is also astonishing is that the person or persons I be addressed to in Guyana don’t seem aware of this link 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 rebel slave commander ] and the slave resistance of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

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

I tell her about Cromarty and she chuckles at the articulation 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 wives 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 … “theres 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 orchard stakes in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the wealthy: ordinary working people had a chance to buy slaves too. Alston has gathered a comprehensive index of more than 600 people from the Highlands with connections to Guyana before emancipation.

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

Alston clarifies:” It was a weird coincidence that so many beings from the Highlands went over. Orchards hired different kinds of beings: 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] led immigrations and looked for opportunities .”

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

Alston governments:” The supports of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone structure near the shelter which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from Saint petersburg and applied 250 beings and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to move suitcases 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, many employees were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for export to the settlements. In knowledge, Cromarty profited so much from the slave traffic, “its one” of the towns that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders too have the dubious commendation of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the abolition of bondage. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and leader 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 readily inhibited labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year contracts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He recognized no rigor with the new recruits, swearing the government has” few craves beyond snacking, sleeping and sucking”, referring to the” mound coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than the man”, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the excursion 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 plantations, until the end of the practice in 1917.

What is appalling, given the extent of the involvement of Highland Scots in the history of Guyana, is the way their role has been airbrushed from biography. Not numerous Scottish people 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 liberal champs, 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 shopkeepers “.

Unlike in Liverpool, Bristol or London, here i am little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public builds 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 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 vast regions devoted to Scotland and the world, there was not a mention of the slave trade or the slave-based plantation economies, which supported the rise of Scotland’s industrialisation. The floor sits very uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historic grievances, specific 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 had wished to show yourself as a martyr, 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 judgment of itself.

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

” In Sutherland district there is a memorial to the permissions funded under a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The feeling on the inscription is exactly that the Scots instructed 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, saw both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her springs. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her enormous, great, great-grandfather, came to Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a plantation with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Accountings of their duration 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 woman”( a successor of slaves) and the selection board had seven infants. The couple’s five sons all emigrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen writes by email:” It will seem strange that I did not see the academic connect 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 inn where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I have met the progeny of a slave owner .'”

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

” I hope my ancestors were benevolent slave owners ,” she scribbles.” I do not like to think they were inhumane, although there is, 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 was of the view 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 legend now. To overshadow these facts is to rob individuals of their legends all over again, and to deny them any the feeling of belonging or situate in the world.

Today, any measures were being made to acknowledge Scotland’s slaving past: there is a campaign to establish a museum of bondage, 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 publicized a report revealing that the institution interested directly from the slave traffic, despite its leading role in the abolitionist motion- 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 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, illuminating the faint inscriptions. The statue of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and writer, perched Nelson-like on a high column, overlooks the background. I speak the carved texts on one crumbling grey stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 years. It says:” John Munro belatedly of Demerara .” Less clear is “Berbice” on another stone. A merely 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 famous monkey paraphrase. One truth remains: however hard-handed we try to cover over our past, it rarely remains buried.

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

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