The long speak: The portraying of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has secreted 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 liquid have little in common with the lush dark-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these sceneries share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the leading 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 hint of a hidden association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.

As a child, I knew low levels of my parents’ nation 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 merely plane vacation as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My recollections of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the scorch heat; the propensity of people 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 wedding dinner; the constant nag of bugs- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- enlarged in sizing and more ferocious than any I’d seen in the UK; the sting and shame of getting sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt examining demure in a white-hot cord wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then transforming into a Lakshmi-like vision in a red-and-gold sari for the Hindu nuptials.

For this was and is a country that feted 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 parties later resolved and reached Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the territory of six folks, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European descent, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, doing up its population.

The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over age: 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 wrote the seminal journal Coolie Woman, which drew much insight, but there have been few other notable drives. 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 colony was to the United Kingdom’s industrial property and rise 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 muse 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 membrane of burnished steel, is the fabled liquid. I watch as puffy clouds tow shadows across its skin-deep. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral home of the Baillie family , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late lord was a hands-on estate owner and patrolled his countries intensely up until his death- one floor has him obliging a auto bonnet down on the mitt of a extend motorist “whos been” the temerity to examine his vehicle machine near the entryway of the property.

Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive house defendants” and corporate contests. Guests can spend time in the grand manor, or experience shooting, fishing and voyaging in the extended grounds.

It’s an impressive gift, even more so when you realise that the Baillies of Dochfour were resulting” West Indian merchants” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, active in the slave trade and the ownership of plantations 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 sakes spread to include plantations in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

When the soils of its neighboring islands had been exploited, jaunts into Guyana introduced more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of plantations there, with this colony yielding substantial gains even after the obliteration of slavery.

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

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t exactly bring an end to chattel slavery, it also overcompensated 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 required a compensation anatomy of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an unskilled field worker, the Baillies and other plantation owners were heavily pay compensation 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 across the Highlands, ensuring that they and their successors would become one of the largest property proprietors in 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 precisely a few streets, the city boasts a fortune of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its bazaar share of chi-chi stores, catering to the American and Canadian tourists who trip the region enthusiastic 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 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 coming home’ as rich as a Demerary man ‘.”

It’s hard to process that a system of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area utilized Guyana as a “get-rich-quick scheme”, employing for profit the trafficked humen( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no was just thinking about the dreadful human consequence.

As I wade through research and evidences 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 pennant in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same district that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved person was the child or grandchild of a white-hot European.

What is also astonishing is that the people I be addressed 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 educated about Cuffy[ a rebel slave captain ] and the slave rebellion of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

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

I tell her about Cromarty and she giggles at the intonation 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 maidens would be working out in the rice fields and it was then that most of the assaults 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, “whos been” substantial orchard fascinates in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the affluent: ordinary working people had a chance to buy slaves more. Alston has compiled a comprehensive index of more than 600 people from the Highlands with connections to Guyana before emancipation.

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

Alston illustrates:” It was a weird collision that so many parties from the Highlands gone over. Orchards applied different kinds of parties: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good education system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal renters in Highlands after landowners] guided migrations and looked for possibilities .”

Despite Guyana’s distance and perils( many Scots succumbed to yellow fever ), the wage was seen as worth the risk. The welfares were numerous, “therere” parties returning from Guyana buying land and estates and improving farms in Scotland, and the plantation economy likewise fired industrial wealth.

Alston governments:” The subsistences of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone house near the conceal which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from St Petersburg and hired 250 people and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to become bags and sacks 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 laborers were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for export to the settlements. In knowledge, Cromarty advantaged so much from the slave trade, “its one” of the city that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders too have the questionable accolade of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the obliteration of slavery. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and parent 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 brand-new informant of inexpensive and readily inhibited labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year constricts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He realized no impediment with the new recruits, declaring the government has” few hankers beyond eating, sleeping and boozing”, referring to the” mound coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than “the mens””, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the trip they are undertaking “.

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


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

Scots have been portrayed as abolitionists, reformers and radical champs, so David Livingstone is recollected fondly, 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 houses funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are mentioned after notorious slavers, but there is no mention of this in the city’s history.

” The investigate 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 big segments devoted to Scotland and the world, “theres not” a mention of the slave traffic or the slave-based plantation economies, which supported the rise of Scotland’s industrialisation. The tale sits extremely uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historical grievances, specific the Highland clearances( when tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcibly expelled from their residences to make way for large-scale sheep farming ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you had wished to portray yourself as a scapegoat, 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 consider of itself.

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

” In Sutherland district there is a monumental to the clearances funded under a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The ambiance on the inscription is very much that the Scots instructed the world. There was talk of putting replica effigies 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, saw both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her roots. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her great, great, great-grandfather, came to Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a orchard with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Histories of their hour there include shipments 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 descendant of slaves) and they had seven babes. The couple’s five sons all migrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen author by email:” It will seem strange that I did not form the intellectual linkage 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 have met the descendant of a slave owner .'”

She sustains:” I had known that their own families had plantations, but I do be recognized that until this research I had not considered who actually drove these plantations. 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 character in empire does not belong in the margins or footnotes: Highland Scots had a huge role to play in the large-scale trafficking of human beings for profit. I believe that however unpalatable this story is, it is a shared one, and contributes to our understanding of race and how the two movements of parties from long ago fits with our narration now. To obscure these facts is to rob individuals of their storeys all over again, and to disavow them any sense of belonging or place 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 tributes and plaques to go up across the country on effigies, streets and homes linked to the slave trade. In September 2018, Glasgow University produced a report revealing that educational institutions interested immediately from the slave trade, despite its leading role in the abolitionist gesture- receiving bequests of nearly PS200m in today’s money. The university have already been propelled a” reparative justice programme” that will involve the process of creating a centre for its further consideration of bondage as well as a collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sun slants across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, illuminating the swooning inscriptions. The statue of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and columnist, perched Nelson-like on a high column, overlooks the stage. I speak the carved paroles on one crumbling grey stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 times. It says:” John Munro sometime 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 famed monkey paraphrase. One truth remains: nonetheless hard-handed we try to cover over our past, it rarely remains buried.

This is an revised 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 speak weekly email here.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here