Scotland and the Caribbean Connection

Professor Geoff Palmer OBE

12th October 2011


Vice-President, Bob McKendrick welcomed members and friends of the Old Gala Club to the meeting in the Upper Volunteer Hall on the 12th October 2011.  He introduced Professor Geoff Palmer OBE, who gave an interesting and informative talk on ‘Scotland and the Caribbean Connection’.

The Scottish Connection grew in the Caribbean in the early 18th Century following the Act of Union in 1707, when Scots were allowed to join the English slave trade.  Some Scots had already gone to the Caribbean following the Darien Disaster.

In time many plantations were owned and managed by Scots and some slave masters had children with their slaves.  Names like McFarlane, Campbell, Stewart and Graham are common and in the Jamaican phone book 70% of names are Scottish with Scottish place names being common too.

Well-known Scottish families including the Gladstones, Wedderburns, Stirlings of Keir and the Ewings of Glasgow made their fortunes from plantations and the slave trade.

In Scotland the economy was transformed and industry grew from the products imported from the plantations.  Large estates and houses were bought, cities improved, buildings and schools were built.

Harmony House in Melrose was built for Robert Waugh, a joiner, who made his fortune in linen, which was produced in Fife, and exported to the Caribbean to clothe the slaves.

To this day many streets, buildings and establishments bear the names of those who prospered from the slave trade.

Robert Burns planned to go to Jamaica with Highland Mary but the Kilmarnock Edition of his poems sold so well that he changed his mind.  Mary died whilst waiting for him in Greenock.

The abolition of slavery was prolonged until 1833 by those who had a vested interest in the trade and in the end the government paid compensation to slave owners who had lost out.

Strong links between Scotland and the Caribbean remain with some old plantation land still being owned by Scottish families.

After questions Norman Houldsworth gave the vote of thanks.