Review ordered into future of statue outside historic RBS headquarters over slavery links

A review has been ordered into the future of a statue of a former military commander and Royal Bank of Scotland governor outside the institution’s historic former headquarters in Edinburgh city centre due to his links with the slave trade.

The statue of John Hope stands outside the historic headquarters of RBS in Edinburgh's New Town. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

RBS has confirmed it is investigating the origins and ownership of the statue of John Hope, the Fourth Earl of Hopetoun and former owner of Hopetoun House, in South Queensferry, which has been in its grounds since 1834.

The statue in the grounds of Dundas House, just off St Andrew Square, is believed to have been gifted to the bank by the city council after it was initially commissioned for Charlotte Square.

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The review has emerged weeks after councillors agreed to add a plaque to the Melville Monument, in St Andrew Square Garden, which honours the advocate and Conservative politician Henry Dundas.

The move was made in response to calls to make clear his efforts to delay the abolition of slave trading using British ships.

Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey has pledged the authority will review all of its monuments with links to “slavery and colonialism”.

The life-size statue of Hope and a horse is located outside Dundas House.

The building was erected by wealthy entrepreneur Sir Laurence Dundas, cousin of Henry Dundas, in 1774 on land originally earmarked for a church.

The site was acquired in 1825 by RBS for a head office and is still home to a branch of the bank. The review could see a plaque added to the statue, or its complete removal.

A recent article posted on government heritage agency Historic Environment Scotland’s website recalls how Hope helped end a rebellion in the Caribbean, which led to slavery going on for nearly more 40 years.

After his military service ended, Hope would on to be the bank’s governor, between 1820 and 1823.

Lisa Williams, director of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, writes: “Dundas was the original home of Lawrence Dundas, cousin to Henry Dundas.

“He owned plantations in Grenada and Dominica. The Fourth Earl of Hopetoun, the brother of Henry Dundas’ second wife, and vice-governor of the bank, is immortalised outside.

“He was second in command to fellow Scot, Ralph Abercromby, commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies.

Together, they helped to end the two year slave revolution led by French-African Julien Fedon in Grenada in 1795-6.

“The suppression of this revolution resulted in slavery continuing for almost another 40 years.”

An RBS spokeswoman said: “Society needs to look at the legacy of slavery and the footprint that it has left behind across our towns and cities today.

“We’ve looked into this very carefully in the past and we are continuing to review it in light of current events.

“We are in very early conversations regarding the statue, including establishing ownership.”

Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland's first black professor, has campaigned for much greater awareness of the country’s historic links with the slave trade.

He said: “John Hope’s statue has a family link with Henry Dundas, who divorced his first wife and married Lady Jane Hope in 1793. She was the second daughter the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun.

“John Hope, who had links with Lawrence Dundas, is ‘guarding’ it for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

“My view is that the statue should remain because it has an important historical link with Henry Dundas and Lawrence Dundas.

“If we remove any of these features of our history, this important interlinking educational context of our history will be lost forever.

“An honest plaque should be placed on Hope’s stature explaining the links between these two old Scottish families and their links with slavery.”

However Cliff Hague, chair of the Cockburn Association heritage watchdog, said: “I see no case for giving John Hope pride of place in the 21st century in recognition of his deeds in the 18th century, which sought to enforce and sustain slavery.

“Edinburgh, like many other cities, needs to come to terms with aspects of its history which are deeply distasteful and are now an affront to human rights.”

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