The long speak: The picture of Scots as abolitionists and radical champs has concealed a long biography of profiting from slavery in the Caribbean. By Yvonne Singh
The mangrove-fringed seashore of Guyana, at the north-eastern tip-off of South America, does not immediately bring to mind the Highlands of Scotland, in the northernmost one of the purposes of Great britain. Guyana’s mudflats and silty chocolate-brown coastal liquid have little in common with the lush light-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 sunbathe and one on the edge of Europe flogged mercilessly by the Atlantic winds.
But appear 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 roster 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 little 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 parent, aged 19, travelled by carry from Trinidad in 1960 and experienced a long career with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by aircraft a couple of years later, to drive as a nanny at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.
I had inspected Guyana just once at nine years old( our simply aircraft holiday as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My recollections of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the sear hot; the propensity of people to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner sheets that were used to serve sticky balls of rice at the bridal dinner; the constant nag of bugs- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, tent-flies- overstated in length and more wicked than any I’d seen in the UK; the sorenes and mortification of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt examining 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 shift of people across continents to a life of captivity and indenture. Those parties afterward reconciled and prepared Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the tract of six people, with people of African, Indian, Chinese and European ancestry, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, realizing up its population.
The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over period: it was something to do with the British, something to do with slavery, but that was all that was shared. Decades afterward the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur produced the seminal book Coolie Woman, which fetched much penetration, but there have been few other remarkable jobs. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the curricula 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 property and raise in the 19 th century. Unlike the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, it was feasible that Guyana’s unique geography( being attached to the South American mainland) has made 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 ridge cluttered with dehydrated grass and leaves on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a membrane of burnished sword, is the fabled ocean. I watch as puffy glooms haul shadows across its skin-deep. Northward of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral dwelling of the Baillie pedigree , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late sovereign was a hands-on possession owner and patrolled his territories fiercely up until his death- one narration has him action a auto bonnet down on the side of a passing motorist who had the temerity to examine his vehicle machine near the entry of the property.
Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive live defendants” and corporate happens. Clients can spend time in the magnificent mansion, or enjoy shooting, angling and voyage in the extended grounds.
It’s an impressive legacy, even more so when you realise that the Baillies of Dochfour were contributing” West Indian shopkeepers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, active in the slave traffic and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Brother Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trade in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial concerns spread to include plantations in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
When the grunges of the neighbouring islands had been manipulated, jaunts into Guyana presented most fertile domain. Therefore, the Baillies installed a number of plantations there, with this settlement providing substantial earnings even after the obliteration of slavery.