In terms of the historical past of empire, Scots are accustomed – in the event that they consider it in any respect – to seeing themselves because the loyal lieutenants of Britain’s imperial historical past; the troopers, missionaries, civil servants and clerks who travelled the world in the hunt for a job or in pursuit of a mission, however whose imperial endeavours meant little to many of the inhabitants again house.
The British empire, although was in the beginning a business mission, and an enormous get-rich-quick scheme on a world scale; and Kate Phillips’s complete and generally breathtaking examine of the extraordinary colonial relationship between Scotland and Jamaica successfully blows aside the thought of Scotland as a mere assistant to that course of, demonstrating how a lot of the financial improvement of the Scotland we now know, within the 150 years after the Act of Union in 1707, was formed and enabled by cash made within the Caribbean, and by the horrific West African slave commerce commerce that introduced enslaved employees to the islands.
Phillips’s e book subsequently tells the thrilling and sometimes stunning story of how Scottish firms and entrepreneurs leapt ahead, after 1707, to grab the alternatives supplied by commerce with Britain’s West Indian colonies. Households just like the Malcolms of Argyll, the Hamiltons of Ayrshire and the Oswalds of Glasgow quickly grew to become main gamers not solely within the infamous triangular commerce between the UK, West Africa and the islands, but in addition within the complicated techniques of loans, finance and insurance coverage, typically utilizing the worth of slaves as collateral, that underpinned the commerce.
By the late 1700s, it’s doubtless that just about half of the British colonists working in Jamaica had been from Scotland; they usually ranged from rich property house owners attempting to sweat their Jamaican property to help the luxurious life of their households again in Scotland, to younger males born in poverty who had sufficient expertise and literacy to have the ability to begin a profession as an overseer or senior tradesman on a Jamaican property, and earn sufficient – such was the demand for labour – to have the ability to purchase land and slaves of their very own, and return to Scotland comparatively rich males. These younger single males, given limitless energy over tons of of slaves of each sexes, fathered many hundreds of kids on the islands, generally bringing them again to Scotland or England to be educated, extra typically abandoning them utterly; and if a few of these relationships had been affectionate and enduring, many concerned rape and sexual coercion of the worst form.
Ultimately, in fact, the entire Caribbean system got here crashing down, because the rotten foundations of the slave financial system grew to become extra extensively recognized among the many British public. By 1800, a full-blown ideological battle was being waged, in Scotland and throughout the UK, between those that argued that Christian and enlightened values forbade the enslavement of fellow human beings, and people so determined to defend their wealth and privilege that they started – with horrifying political penalties that hang-out us nonetheless – to attempt to justify their system by elaborating vicious theories of white racial superiority.
Ultimately, in 1834, the abolitionists gained. Large compensation was paid to the slave house owners; and that summer time, The Scotsman marketed on the market “a chic properly executed low-cost medal with the determine of a Negro… his head being lifted up in the direction of heaven in expressive gratitude”, in order that its readers may have a good time their very own magnanimity in lastly ending the slave system.
The cash, although, remained precisely the place it was, within the pockets of those that had benefited most from that abominable commerce. Kate Phillips’s e book provides a memorably vivid and detailed account of precisely why the nations of the Caribbean will always remember that traumatic historical past of colonial exploitation; and why, immediately, a lot of them are nonetheless looking for compensation, for a mighty historic improper through which Scotland may hardly have been extra deeply concerned.
Purchased and Offered – Scotland, Jamaica and Slavery, by Kate Philips, Luath Press, 353pp, £11.99