9 objects that link Scotland to slavery

From paintings of ships to newspaper cuttings, dresses, glasses and a mahogany bookcase, the story of Scotland’s links to slavery is told in many different places.

A silver slave collar manufactured in Glasgow , probably for an enslaved person belonging to John Crawfurd of Milton, alias Sir John Stewart of Castlemilk. PIC: Glasgow Museums.

Much work has been done to reinterpret items held in Scotland’s museum collections so their connections to plantation wealth and the suffering of humans held as slaves are no longer ignored.

Glasgow Museums has led the work with the city’s prominent role in the trading of goods manufactured by slaves – such as sugar and tobacco – affording rich material for its Legacies of Slave Ownership project.

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Some items are overt in their links, such as the silver slave collar manufactured in Glasgow and the the family portrait of wealthy ‘Tobacco Lord’ John Glassford that shows a black servant just making it into the painting.

Kelvingrove House circa 1860. It originally stood on the rolling estate of colonial merchant Patrick Colquhoun, former Lord Provost of Glasgow, who worked all his life to promote slavery and exploitation. The house became home to city's first municple museum - the precursor for Kelvingrove Art Gallery. PIC: Glasgow Museums.

But behind seemingly benign museum pieces, such as a pictures of Kelvingrove House, which stood in the west end park when it was still a rolling country estate, lies a more hidden story.

The house is thought to have been built by merchant and former Lord Provost Patrick Colquhoun who worked all his life to promote slavery and exploitation.

“On at least one occasion one of his ships carried enslaved people from Jamaica to North Carolina,” said Katinka Dalglish, curator of archaeology.

By 1870, Colquhoun’s old mansion was refurbished into the city’s first municipal museum – the precursor of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

The ship Medora, owned by Scot James Lamont, the second biggest slave owner on Trinidad, who bought the ship to sail his sugar back to Scotland. PIC: Glasgow Museums.

A painting of the ship Medora reflects one Scot’s rise to great riches on the back of slavery. Owner James Lamont moved to Trinidad to make his fortune and became the island’s second largest owner of enslaved Africans.

In 1834, he received £17,000 compensation for almost 400 enslaved people following emancipation. He then purchased the Medora to transport his sugar and operated a shipping office in Glasgow.

A drinking glass that celebrates the wealth of planters in Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America where there was a large Highland population from the late 17th century, forms part of the city’s vast Burrell Collection.

Meanwhile a painting – A Highland Chieftain: Portrait of Lord Mungo Murray – depicts the son of the John Murray, the Marquis of Atholl. Mungo died on the second expedition to Darien, his father a major subscriber to the scheme. A letter from 1699 to the directors of the Company of Scotland, which set up the colony, reveals the intended use of slaves for planting and labour.

A drinking glass celebrating the wealth of plantation owners in Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the north coast of South America, where there was a large Highland population from the late 17th Century. PIC: Glasgow Museums.

A vivid purple dress also holds a hidden story. It was dyed with cudbear, a breakthrough purple dye extracted from orchil, with John Glassford, the wealthy Glasgow-based Virginia merchant, among financial backers of a cudbear dye works at Dennistoun in 1777.

Earlier that decade, a newspaper cutting details the escape of a 16-year-old enslaved boy, Boyd, from his master James Kippen in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, National Trust for Scotland has been looking at the use of Jamaican mahogany in its collection, including a George II bookcase at Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire. For 300 years, the material was harvested primarily using the forced labour of enslaved Africans.

“These items, although beautiful to look at, have a far more complex history than may first meet the eye,” Dr Désha A Osborne, in an article for the trust, wrote.

Highland Chieftain: Portrait of Lord Mungo Murray, who died on the second expedition to the failed Scottish colony of Darien. His father was a major subscriber to the scheme with a letter revealing the intended use of slaves for planting and labour in the colony. PIC: Glasgow Museums.

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A purple dress died with cudbear, with the newly discovered colouring technique heavily invested in by 'tobacco lord' John Glassford, who, along with others, built a dyeworks in Dennistoun in the late 18th Century. PIC: Glasgow Museums.
A Glasgow newspaper advert for a runaway enslaved boy called Boyd. PIC: Glasgow Museum.
A bookcase made from Jamaican mahogany at Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire. PIC: NTS.
The family portrait of Glasgow 'tobacco lord' John Glassford, which shows a black servant standing to the far left, behind his master's shoulder. PIC: Glasgow Museums.