The long read: The characterization of Scots as abolitionists and liberal endorses has obscured a long history of advantaging 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 liquid 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 leading edge of a former territory burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the leading edge of Europe whipped 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 veiled association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.

As a child, I knew little of my mothers’ 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 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 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 inspected Guyana just once at nine years old( our only plane vacation as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My storages of that time are scrapped and rather strange: the burn hot; the propensity 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 projectiles of rice at the wedding dinner; the constant nag of insects- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- enlarged in sizing and more fierce than any I’d seen in the UK; the tendernes and shame of get sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt looking demure in a white fasten wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then altering 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 beings later set and stimulated Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the tract of six families, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European descent, 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 era: 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 produced the seminal journal Coolie Woman, which accompanied much insight, but there have been few other noticeable handiworks. 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 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 interpreted it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the brainchild for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.


I am standing on a ridge cluttered with dried grass and needles on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a sheet of burnished sword, is the fabled liquid. I watch as puffy clouds tow shadows across its surface. 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 monarch was a hands-on estate owner and guarded his countries intensely up until his death- one tale has him pushing a auto bonnet down on the hand of a happen motorist who had the temerity to examine his car engine near the entering of the property.

Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive residence defendants” and corporate happens. Clients can spend time in the grand dwelling, or enjoy shooting, fishing and sailing in the extensive grounds.

It’s an impressive legacy, even more so when you realise that the Baillies of Dochfour were conducting” West Indian shopkeepers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, actively engaged in the slave trade and the ownership of plantations 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 pastimes spread to include plantations in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

When the grimes of its neighboring islands had been manipulated, excursions into Guyana demonstrated more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of plantations there, with this colony yielding substantial profits even after the obliteration of slavery.

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

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t simply bring an end to chattel slavery, the committee is also compensated 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 required a compensation digit 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 around PS9. 2m today) seeks 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 offsprings would become one of the largest territory 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 only a few cases streets, the city boastings a resource of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its exhibition share of chi-chi stores, gratifying to the American and Canadian tourists who call the area anxiou to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different locates 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 ]; parties would talk about coming back’ as rich as a Demerary man ‘.”

It’s hard to process that a system of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area used Guyana as a “get-rich-quick scheme”, manipulating for profit the trafficked humans( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no thought of the lamentable human consequence.

As I wade through the investigations and tributes of the fate of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the fury I feel: up until 1826( practically 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 flagged in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same district that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved population was “their childrens” or grandchild of a white European.

What is also astonishing is that the person or persons I speak 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 captain ] and the slave disobedience of 1763 ,” she narrates.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

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

I tell her about Cromarty and she laughs at the pronunciation 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 females 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 call … it was only nine several 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 fascinates in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the wealthy: ordinary working people had a chance to buy slaves extremely. 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 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 clarifies:” It was a weird accident that so many beings from the Highlands went over. Orchards utilized 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] extended in-migrations and looked for opportunities .”

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

Alston districts:” The livelihoods of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone building near the shelter which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from St Petersburg and utilized 250 parties and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to stimulate crates 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 laborers were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the settlements. In fact, Cromarty advantaged so much better from the slave trade, “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 obliteration of bondage. 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, requesting a new generator of inexpensive and easily controlled labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year sickens and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He perceived no difficulty with the new drafts, saying the government has” few wishings beyond gobbling, sleeping and drinking”, referring to the” slope 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 presage the movement of more than half a million Indians to the Caribbean to work under superiors in the sweltering orchards, until the end of the practice in 1917.


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

Scots ought to have portrayed as abolitionists, reformers and radical champs, so David Livingstone is remembered 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 sellers “.

Unlike in Liverpool, Bristol or London, here i am little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public buildings 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 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 huge parts 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 narrative sits very 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 tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcefully evicted from their homes to make way for large-scale sheep farming ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you want to draw 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 consider of itself.

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

” In Sutherland district there is a memorial to the clearances funded by a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The ambiance on the inscription is exactly 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 will put one up in Georgetown, Guyana .”

Helen Cameron, who now lives in Australia, inspected both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her beginnings. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her enormous, enormous, great-grandfather, came to Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a plantation with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Accounts of their day 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 coloured wife”( a successor of slaves) and they had seven offsprings. The couple’s five sons all emigrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen makes by email:” It will seem strange that I did not oblige the academic associate of being a descendant of a plantation owner as too 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 persists:” I had known that their own families had plantations, but I do confess that until such research I had not considered who really made these plantations. I was also ignorant of Britain’s dependence on slavery.

” I hope my ancestors were benevolent slave owners ,” she creates.” I do not like to think they were inhumane, even though, as one person in Guyana said,’ Why would you think otherwise ?'”


Scotland’s persona 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 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 two movements of people from long ago fits with our fib now. To obscure these facts is to rob individuals of their stories all over again, and to repudiate them any sense of belonging or situate 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 memorials and plaques to go up across the country on bronzes, streets and dwellings linked to the slave trade. In September 2018, Glasgow University wrote a report revealing that the institution benefited directly from the slave traffic, despite its leading role in the abolitionist progress- receiving bequests of almost PS200m in today’s money. The university has now launched a” reparative justice programmes” that will involve the process of creating a centre for the study of slavery as well as a collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sun standpoints across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, crystallizing the faint inscriptions. The effigy of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and scribe, roosted Nelson-like on a high column, overlooks the background. I read the carved paroles on one crumbling grey stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 times. 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 far-famed monkey mention. One truth remains: however hard-boiled we try to cover over our past, it rarely bides 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

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