Scot­land will fi­nally learn hor­ror of Bunce Is­land

Mer­chants from Scot­land grew rich in the 18th and 19th cen­tury from the slave trade but most of the pub­lic is un­aware of the coun­try’s role. Ac­tor and film-maker David Hay­man is now putting the fo­cus on our for­got­ten part in hu­man mis­ery

The Herald on Sunday - - THE WEEK POLITICS - By Neil Mackay

BUNCE Is­land, just off the Sierra Leone coast in west Africa, stands as a sym­bol of Scot­land’s for­got­ten role in the At­lantic slave trade. Few peo­ple in Scot­land know of the is­land, but no-one in Sierra Leone is un­aware of it. It looms in the na­tional con­scious­ness. In the 18th and 19th cen­tury, tens of thou­sands of Africans – ances­tors to the men and women who now live in the cap­i­tal of Free­town – were held cap­tive there in ap­palling con­di­tions by Scot­tish slavers, be­fore be­ing shipped across the sea to plan­ta­tions in the Caribbean and the Amer­i­cas.

Bunce Is­land was turned into a lit­tle oa­sis of all things Scot­tish by slavers. It had its own cas­tle. It was leased from the lo­cal king who once a year would turn up to col­lect his com­mis­sion dressed in a kilt. Isatu Smith, the head of mu­se­ums and relics in Sierra Leone, de­scribes how the Scot­tish slavers even built their own golf course on the is­land and dressed their slave cad­dies in tar­tan so they could be re­minded of home. “They were serv­ing Scot­tish masters, so they had to look the part,” Smith says. “We have a shared his­tory. It is very im­por­tant the Scot­tish peo­ple know about this – whether they ac­cept it or not is an­other ques­tion.”

This week, Scot­land will fi­nally learn of the hor­rors of Bunce Is­land and be con­fronted by its for­got­ten role in the slave trade. David Hay­man, the Scot­tish ac­tor and di­rec­tor, has pro­duced a new two-part doc­u­men­tary that be­gins on Tues­day night. In it, Hay­man, through in­ter­views with ex­perts like Smith, lays bare just how cen­tral a role Scot­land played in the slave trade. The coun­try was “up to its armpits in slav­ery”, Hay­man says, even though the na­tion has al­ways pre­sented it­self not just as hav­ing lit­tle to do with the trade in hu­man lives, but also a coun­try that was a lead­ing light when it came to abo­li­tion. It is a false his­tory and one Hay­man is hell-bent on cor­rect­ing.

Scot­tish slavers ran Bunce Is­land from 1728 to 1807. They im­ported ice from Europe to keep food and wine cool in larders and en­joyed strolls in a pri­vate gar­den just me­tres away from pens where hun­dreds of hu­man be­ings were kept like cat­tle be­fore mak­ing the deadly At­lantic cross­ing. An es­ti­mated 50 per cent of slaves died on the jour­ney. Eric Gra­ham, a mar­itime his­to­rian, says the dead were thrown over­board ev­ery morn­ing. “All slave ships were fol­lowed by sharks,” he says. “There was a din­ner ev­ery day for the sharks.”

The At­lantic slave trade saw goods from Bri­tain – pots and pans, beads, al­co­hol, pipes, guns, knives, and cloth – traded for hu­man be­ings in Africa. These slaves were then sold in Amer­ica. The Amer­i­can cash was used to buy to­bacco, su­gar, cot­ton, rum and indigo which were then brought back to Bri­tain. It was a trade that made mer­chants into mil­lion­aires.

Scot­land in the 18th cen­tury was built on slav­ery. Much of Glas­gow city cen­tre would not ex­ist with­out the money that poured into the cof­fers of to­bacco lords and cot­ton kings – who now have city streets named af­ter them. These men were made rich be­yond their wildest dreams by the prof­its of slav­ery. For the

hu­man be­ings traded as slaves ex­is­tence was a liv­ing hell. Rape, mur­der, tor­ture, abuse, hu­mil­i­a­tion and degra­da­tion al­most be­yond imag­i­na­tion, were the stuff of daily life. At least 12 mil­lion slaves sur­vived be­ing shipped across the At­lantic – with about 3.5m bought and sold by Bri­tish slavers, among whom Scots stood out as the most ef­fi­cient and en­ter­pris­ing.

Ce­leste-Marie Bernier, pro­fes­sor of Black Stud­ies at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity, says: “Slav­ery bleeds in ev­ery build­ing, in ev­ery brick, in ev­ery town across Scot­land.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hay­man: “Scot­land’s in­volve­ment in the slave trade is a story of un­com­fort­able truths over how we see our­selves and per­haps that is why it has been for­got­ten. It chal­lenges the no­tion that we are all Jock Tam­son’s bairns. Scots were plan­ta­tion own­ers, slave own­ers, mer­chant ship own­ers. The prof­its fired Scot­land’s in­dus­trial growth and in ev­ery city in our na­tion you will find civic build­ings and pri­vate homes built from the prof­its of slav­ery – bricks drenched in blood.”

There is now a grow­ing cam­paign to, as Hay­man puts it, “ac­knowl­edge our past” with an apol­ogy and repa­ra­tions. There is also a cam­paign to es­tab­lish a mu­seum to slav­ery in Scot­land, and for memo­ri­als and plaques to go up across the coun­try on stat­ues, streets and homes linked to slav­ery – such as the Gallery of Mod­ern Art in Glas­gow, which was once the man­sion of to­bacco lord Wil­liam Cun­ning­hame, a man made rich on the backs of slaves in the Amer­i­cas.

Slav­ery bleeds in ev­ery build­ing, in ev­ery brick, in ev­ery town across Scot­land

BACK across the sea in Ayr­shire, the stately home of Auch­in­cruive stands as a “colos­sal shrine to ill got­ten wealth”, says Hay­man. The house was built by Richard Oswald, a mer­chant slave trader who was an in­vestor in Bunce Is­land. Oswald owned four plan­ta­tions in the Caribbean and left a for­tune worth £40 mil­lion.

In Clark­ston, on the out­skirts of Glas­gow, stands an­other Na­tional Trust of Scot­land jewel, Green­bank Gar­dens, once owned by Robert Al­la­son. He and his two broth­ers had the slave trade sown up. Goods would go from Robert in Glas­gow to a brother in Africa to be ex­changed for slaves, and then an­other brother with a plan­ta­tion in Vir­ginia would pick up the slaves and send to­bacco back to Scot­land. It was a money ma­chine, with hu­man lives oil­ing the en­gines.

One of Scot­land’s most pow­er­ful slavers was John Glad­stone of Leith – the fa­ther of Wil­liam Glad­stone, who be­came one of Bri­tain’s most fa­mous prime min­is­ters. When Bri­tain fi­nally abol­ished slav­ery in 1833, slave own­ers re­ceived mil­lions in com­pen­sa­tion that they went on to in­vest in in­dus­tries such as bank­ing, mills, min­ing, and rail­ways. John Glad­stone had 2,508 slaves, for which he was paid a sum worth £83m in to­day’s money.

Jean Fran­cois Man­i­com, cu­ra­tor of Liver­pool’s In­ter­na­tional Slav­ery Mu­seum, tells a story of an anony­mous donor from Ed­in­burgh, whom he de­scribes as a Scot­tish su­per­hero. Once ev­ery fort­night the donor posts a Scot­tish £10 note to the mu­seum with an apol­ogy on be­half of the na­tion. “This is very sym­bolic,” says Man­i­com, “a very pow­er­ful story of repa­ra­tion.”

An­other Liver­pool his­to­rian, Lau­rence West­gaph, him­self a de­scen­dant of slaves and slave traders, be­lieves the racism that blights the UK to­day has its roots in the slave trade. “Racism comes down to the idea that some peo­ple are less hu­man than oth­ers and slav­ery helped cod­ify that. What I see to­day is that anti-black racism has its ori­gins in the slave trade.’” Con­fronting the past helps draw the poi­son.

The Gallery of Mod­ern Art in Glas­gow, above, was once the man­sion of Wil­liam Cun­ning­hame, who be­came rich by prof­it­ing from slav­ery, while Green­bank Gar­dens, left, was once owned by Robert Al­la­son, an­other slave trader

Slav­ery: Scot­land’s hid­den shame be­gins at 9pm on BBC 2 on Tues­day, Novem­ber 6

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