Now, lesser known figures from Scotland’s past – from Walter Sholto Douglas, a 19th Century transgender writer to Diwan Pitamber Nath, an Indian student who fought racial segregation at Edinburgh’s dancehalls and cafes in the 1920s, are taking centre stage in a new exhibition.
Called Unforgettable, theexhibition, which has been curated by Historic Environment Scotland, is being mounted at Blackness Castle in West Lothian in April for Scotland’s Year of Stories, 2022.
Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of Historic Environment Scotland, said the exhibition shone a light on those from marginalised communities who helped to write the country’s story.
He said: “Our heritage and the stories which shaped it, are of course more than the bricks and mortar, and through the themed year we want to take the opportunity to highlight Scotland’s unknown stories and provide a voice for the individuals and communities who went before us.”
Walter Sholto Douglas was christened Mary Diana Dods in 1790, the illegitimate child of George Douglas, 16th Earl of Morton, a former Lord Lieutenant of Fife and High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland, whose family seat was Dalmahoy House near Edinburgh.
Raised in London to avoid scandal, Walter used the pseudonym David Lyndsay for his work, and created a whole male identity through his writing, exchanging professional and personal letters in this name.
He became a close friend of author Mary Shelley, who knew of the writer’s fluid identity and helped him obtain a false passport, which allowed the writer to live publicly as a married man in Paris.
Walter’s true identity was sensationally unravelled by literary academic Betty T Bennett, author of Mary Diana Dods, A Gentleman and a Scholar, in 1991.
Unforgettable also highlights the story of Agnes McDonald, the last Scot hanged under anti-Gypsy legislation in Scotland. She was executed at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh in 1714.
Dr Margaret Blackwood, of Dundee, a pioneer for the rights of disabled people also features.
The struggle of Diwan Pitamber Nath to resist racial segregation in Edinburgh will too be told. A medical students at University of Edinburgh, he became central to the campaign against the ‘colour bars’ enforced by the capital’s entertainment venues – from dance halls to restaurants – to promote a white-only clientele.
At the time, the capital was home to large numbers of students from across the former colonies.
Nath became an active member of Britain’s first South Asian student organisation — the Edinburgh Indian Association (EIA) – and became a spokesperson against the policy that made them “social lepers” in their adopted city. Reports of protests in venues such as the Assembly Rooms and Music Halls made their way into newspapers in India, fuelling the independence movement back home.
Nath passed his medical exams and served as Lieut. Colonel in the Indian Medical Service in the Second World War. He died in Edinburgh and was taken back to his family in New Delhi.
The exhibition also uncovers the the stories of Ethel Moorhead (1869-1955), an artist who became one of Scotland’s most vocal suffragettes and threw an egg at Winston Churchill and Tom Jenkins, the son of a West African King and slave trader who reportedly became Scotland’s first black schoolteacher.