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.

Stabroek market in Georgetown, Guyana. Photo: benedek/ Getty Images

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t just put an end to chattel bondage, it also offset Britain’s 46,000 slave owners for the loss of their “property”. As Guyana’s plantations were mostly involved in sugar-making, and carbohydrate boilers dominated a compensation representation of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an uneducated 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) 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 successors would become one of the largest landed proprietors in the north of Scotland, mainly 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 just a few streets, the city boasts a abundance of Georgian and Victorian structure and its fair share of chi-chi shops, catering to the American and Canadian sightseers who inspect the neighborhood enthusiastic to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different locates in this tiny situate that have connections to slave plantations- mainly 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 was coming’ as rich as a Demerary man ‘.”

It’s hard to process that a network of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area applied Guyana as a” get-rich-quick programme”, exploiting for profit the trafficked humen( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no thought of the tragic human consequence.

As I wade through the investigations and testimonies of the destinies of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the rage I feel: up until 1826( nearly two decades after the obliteration of the slave trade in 1807 ),” the 11 o’clock flog” was administered in Berbice’s searing hot to men and women who flagged in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same region that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved person was the child or grandchild of a white European.

What is also startling is that the peoples of the territories I speak to in Guyana don’t seem well informed this link with the Highlands. I speak to an elderly cousin who grew up in Guyana but now lives in the US.” We were educated about Cuffy[ a rebel slave lead ]~ ATAGEND and the slave resistance of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

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

I tell her about Cromarty and she giggles at the diction of a well-known lieu 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-hot and so much bigger than us, but then one day Granny be said that her father was a Scotsman .”

She then recalls a troubling storey.” Granny like to remind you that the Indian girls would be working out in the rice fields and it was then that most of the rapes would take place. No one would hear them scream … it was only nine a few 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 attentions in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the wealthy: ordinary working people had a chance to buy slaves too. Alston has compiled a comprehensive indicator of more than 600 parties from the Highlands with a link with Guyana before emancipation.

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

Alston excuses:” It was a spooky collision that so many parties from the Highlands went over. Plantations employed all sorts of beings: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good education system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal renters in Highlands after owners] led immigrations and looked for possibilities .”

Despite Guyana’s distance and dangers( numerous Scots succumbed to yellow fever ), the reward was seen as worth health risks. The assistances were numerous, there were parties returning from Guyana buying estate and estates and improving farms in Scotland, and the plantation economy also fired industrial wealth.

Alston nations:” The supports 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 Saint petersburg and utilized 250 people and 600 out-workers- more than the people of Cromarty now- to make cloth to become handbags and sacks for West Indian goods .”

The economic benefits of slavery had a trickle-down upshot on every one of the purposes of the Scottish economy: there was a thunder in herring angling in the Highland lochs, as this salted-down fish was a great export to the Caribbean as a protein-rich source of slave nutrition. Similarly, in the Outer Hebrides, numerous workers were employed in its production of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the settlements. In happening, Cromarty advantaged so much from the slave trade, it was one of the towns that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders too have the questionable honor 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 PS106, 769 in compensation, the equivalent of about PS9m today) wrote to Francis Mackenzie Gillanders of Gillanders, Arbuthnot& Co in Calcutta, seeking a brand-new source of cheap and easily limited labour.

Gillanders had previously been moved Indian to Mauritius under five-year contracts and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He realized no difficulty with the brand-new drafts, showing they have” few misses beyond eating, sleep and boozing”, referring to the” slope coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than the three men”, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the voyage they are undertaking “.

The arrival of the vessel Whitby and Hesperus in Guyana in 1838 would herald the free movement of persons of more than half a million Indian to the Caribbean to work under overseers in the sweltering plantations, until the end of the practice in 1917.

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

Scots have been drawn as abolitionists, reformers and liberal endorses, so David Livingstone is remembered fondly, as is Scotland’s role in abolition, while the slave-owning houses 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, there is little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public builds funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are appointed after notorious slavers, but there is no mention of this in the city’s history.

” The study 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 slice 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 extremely uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historical grievances, specifically the Highland clearances( when tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcefully expelled from their residences to make way for large-scale sheep agriculture ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you want to draw yourself as a casualty, 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 look of itself and the Highlands view of itself.

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

” In Sutherland county there is a memorial to the permissions funded by a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The atmosphere on the inscription is very much that the Scots instructed the nations of 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, called both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her roots. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her enormous, enormous, great-grandfather, came back Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a plantation with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Details of their hour 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 girl”( a descendant of slaves) and they 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 realise the academic connection of has become a progeny of a plantation owner as also being a descendant of a slave owner. I was slightly taken aback when the director of the hotel where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I have met the offspring of a slave owner .'”

She continues:” I had known that their own families had plantations, but I do confess that until such research I had not considered who really wreaked these orchards. I was also ignorant of Britain’s dependence on slavery.

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

Scotland’s role in empire does not belongs 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 nonetheless unpalatable this story is, it is a shared one, and contributes to our understanding of hasten and how the movements of beings from long ago be in line with our storey now. To obscure these facts is to cheat individuals of their legends all over again, and to repudiate them any a feeling of belonging or plaza in the world.

Today, any measures were being made to acknowledge Scotland’s slaving past: there is a campaign to establish a museum of slavery, and for monumentals and plaques to go up across the country on bronzes, streets and homes connected with the slave trade. In September 2018, Glasgow University wrote a report exposing that appropriate institutions interested instantly from the slave trade, despite its leading role in the abolitionist move- receiving bequests of virtually PS200m in today’s coin. The university has now propelled a” reparative justice programme” that will involve the creation of a centre for the results of the study of slavery as well as a collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sunlight standpoints across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, decorating the swoon inscriptions. The bronze of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and columnist, perched Nelson-like on a high editorial, overlooks the vistum. I speak the carved texts on one crumbling grey-headed stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 years. It says:” John Munro sometime of Demerara .” Less clear is “Berbice” on another stone. A mere 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 mention. One truth remains: nonetheless hard we try to cover over our past, it rarely bides buried.

This is an revised version of a piece that was first published in adda , printed publications run by Commonwealth Writers, the culture initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation

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