Scottish Daily Mail
Historians clash in war of words over memorial to Dundas and slavery past
HENRY Dundas remains one of the nation’s most celebrated citizens.
His historic achievements resulted in a giant statue being erected in his honour in the capital city.
But a row has erupted over how to word a new plaque dedicated to Dundas, outlining his links to the slave trade.
As the first lord of the admiralty, Dundas, the first Viscount Melville, played a pivotal role in the expansion of the British Empire in the 18th century.
The decision came at a high human price – forcing a delay in the abolition of slavery that resulted in more than 630,000 slaves having to wait more than a decade for their freedom.
A panel of historians are at the centre of an acrimonious battle over how to reword the plaque – despite discussing it for more than a year.
The Melville Monument, based on Trajan’s Column in Rome, stands 140ft tall in the centre of Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square, with a statue of Dundas on top.
Historian Michael Fry has argued that his pragmatic approach in pursuing a gradual abolition should be considered – especially as parliament in 1792 was hostile towards the abolition of slavery.
He said: ‘As a gradual abolitionist, Henry Dundas thought he had no choice but to wait for change in the climate of opinion. He needed to face the realities of his time, not the virtue signalling of today’s politically correct.’
In stark contrast, Sir Geoff Palmer – Scotland’s first black professor – accused his fellow panel member of ‘humbug’.
He said Mr Fry’s statements were an insult to organisations in Glasgow which had commemorated the suffering of the enslaved, while Edinburgh dragged its feet in facing up to its past slavery links.
The panel of experts was set up by City of Edinburgh Council in the wake of a petition from campaigner Adam Ramsay calling for a new plaque to go up.
Mr Ramsay said: ‘With two entrenched sides, and two very different views, it has been difficult to come to conclusions.
‘I am keen now to bring in a wider group of people to look at this.’
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: ‘We have been happy to facilitate meetings of the working group but, despite ongoing discussions, this issue remains unresolved.’