A Virginian Merchant’s Waistcoat

This cream silk satin waistcoat was said by the donor to have been embroidered by ‘Mrs Glassels’, the maternal grandmother of George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll (1823–1900). While the majority of surviving Georgian waistcoats were embroidered professionally, there is evidence that some were stitched by amateurs to give as presents to their husbands or fathers. If Mrs Glassels did make this one, … Continue reading A Virginian Merchant’s Waistcoat

The Rani of Jhansi, a symbol of resistance to British Rule in India

This dhokra brass alloy sculpture of the ‘Rani of Jhansi’ was made in 2013 by father and son artists Ramu and Shubho Karmakar from West Bengal. It depicts the armoured warrior queen Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, astride her warhorse, carrying an upraised sword in her right hand, a shield on her left and with her adopted infant son Damodar Rao on her back. Lakshmibai … Continue reading The Rani of Jhansi, a symbol of resistance to British Rule in India

Mary McDowall – A Childhood and Dowry Funded by Enslaved Labour

Mary McDowall, sometimes known as Maria, lived a privileged life. She was born on 13 January 1751, the third child and eldest daughter of William McDowall and his wife Elizabeth Graham at Castle Semple, Renfrewshire. The Castle Semple estate had been purchased by her grandfather, Colonel William McDowall (1678–1738), in 1727 with the original buildings demolished and a new Palladian-style country house built in 1735. … Continue reading Mary McDowall – A Childhood and Dowry Funded by Enslaved Labour

Glasgow’s railways … funded by slavery?

The 1830s saw an explosion of railway lines built up and down the length of Great Britain. The first to open for passengers and freight with a set time table was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830. Scotland’s first line opened a year later when the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway started bringing coal from the Lanarkshire pits to the growing city.  Railways were private undertakings that … Continue reading Glasgow’s railways … funded by slavery?

Rethinking the ‘Dutch Golden Age’

The Dutch ‘Golden Age’- the 17th century – is generally spoken of and written about as a time of prosperity, grandeur, and pride. Its citizens enjoyed wealth beyond compare, illustrated in some of the finest portraits in history by esteemed artists such as Rembrandt, Hals and van der Helst. The reason for the wealth of the Dutch Republic is often described in hazy terms, with words like ‘naval strength’, ‘trade dominance’ and ‘mercantile control’ flying around as freely as the flags on … Continue reading Rethinking the ‘Dutch Golden Age’

Cecilia Douglas – Art Collector and Owner of Enslaved People

In 1862 Mrs Cecilia Douglas (nee Douglas) bequeathed oil paintings and sculptures to the then Glasgow Corporation. The paintings initially were on display in the Corporation Art Galleries in Sauchiehall Street before being moved to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Most are now in store at Glasgow Museum Resource Centre.  She and her husband Gilbert married in 1794 and came from two different branches of the Douglas family. Hers apparently was descended … Continue reading Cecilia Douglas – Art Collector and Owner of Enslaved People

Ann Stirling’s Dress

This charming dress represents not only a product of enslaved labour, but also the wealth of those involved in the slavery economy and their extended families. The gown is made from muslin, a finely woven cotton cloth, and has been delicately embroidered in white cotton thread with wheat ears motifs worked in satin stitch. The silhouette, with its wide collar, gigot sleeves and frill skirt … Continue reading Ann Stirling’s Dress

Ghosts: an impassioned call to remember

A unique, augmented reality experience will soon be available to experience in Glasgow. Audiences will be invited to download a bespoke app, to plug in their headphones, and immerse themselves in this poetic storytelling experience, where a young man in 18th Century Glasgow, leads us on an atmospheric journey of over 500 years of resistance through the streets of the Merchant City down to the … Continue reading Ghosts: an impassioned call to remember

Coins of Empire

In 1944 Eric William’s book Capitalism and Slavery was published. He points to capitalism as being the main driving force behind the trade in enslaved African people being forced to work on colonial plantations in the Americas and there may be no clearer symbol of capitalism than money. Great Britain dominated the European slave trade. Glasgow Museums’ collection of coins and trade tokens minted in … Continue reading Coins of Empire

Patrick Colquhoun of Kelvingrove

Before Kelvingrove became a public park it was a desirable private country estate located among gently rolling hills, farm land and ancient woodland. From 1782-1790 the estate belonged to colonial merchant Patrick Colquhoun, who is thought to have built Kelvingrove House. By 1870 Colquhoun’s old mansion was refurbished into the city’s first municipal museum – the ancestor of today’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Colquhoun … Continue reading Patrick Colquhoun of Kelvingrove

The Medora – a Glasgow sugar ship

Sugar was the sweetest product that came from the slave plantations of the Caribbean. It was the source of many of the fortunes made by Glasgow merchants and became a ubiquitous condiment on dining tables across Britain. It came from the sugar cane plant, which grew well in the hot and humid climates of the islands in the Caribbean. Growing and harvesting sugar was harsh … Continue reading The Medora – a Glasgow sugar ship

Robert Burns and Jamaica

Robert Burns (1759–1796), the celebrated ploughman poet, is lauded for the humour and earthy realism of his poems that raised the status of the Scots dialect and showed new respect for the rural poor in Scotland. He is a Scottish cultural icon and a national obsession. Many public monuments were erected in his honour in the nineteenth century, often through public subscription, with vast crowds … Continue reading Robert Burns and Jamaica

A Looted Royal Stool

This stool was taken from the Asante Royal Palace of Kumasi by Brigadier General Sir Archibald Alison, on 4 February 1874, when he led part of the British Army’s invading force against the Asante people.  To the Asante, stools were sacred and symbolic, thought to contain the soul of its owner, and passed down through the generations. Asante stools are usually carved from asese wood … Continue reading A Looted Royal Stool

Arrangement in Racism and Black Injustice: Whistler’s Colour Theory

In 1873–74 James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) painted the portrait of Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881). Like Carlyle, Whistler was a confrontational figure, known for his defiant and acerbic temperament, who took on the art establishment in his provocative declarations and radically pared-down compositional arrangements. Challenging the very nature of portraiture, he claimed that colour harmony and pictorial balance were more important that the identity … Continue reading Arrangement in Racism and Black Injustice: Whistler’s Colour Theory

Thomas Carlyle, historian, writer, racist

Glasgow Museums has a number of portraits of the Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881). Most famous is the painting by American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), in which the so-called ‘Sage of Chelsea’ is depicted as a pictorial arrangement of form and colour. There are also three sculptural portraits: an 1874 plaster bust by Austrian-born Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834–1890); an 1889 bronze by … Continue reading Thomas Carlyle, historian, writer, racist

Alexander Campbell, Glasgow’s Sugar Aristocrat

Alexander Campbell of Hallyards (1768-1817) was one of Glasgow’s most illustrious West India merchants active during the city’s ‘golden age’ of sugar. Collectively described as the ‘sugar aristocracy’, these merchants came to prominence after the American War of Independence (1775-1783) had ended Glasgow’s monopoly of Chesapeake tobacco. Around 1787, Alexander Campbell joined with his cousin, John Campbell senior, to establish the firm John Campbell senior … Continue reading Alexander Campbell, Glasgow’s Sugar Aristocrat

Sir William Burrell’s Stained Glass

In September 1945 Sir William Burrell purchased three stained-glass panels from the dealer William Drake. The first shows St Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra (c 270 -343AD), dressed in his bishop’s regalia, stopping an executioner from beheading three kneeling military officers who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death. The second is a roundel with decoration in a technique known as grisaille – where … Continue reading Sir William Burrell’s Stained Glass

Inheritance and Privilege – Alexander Oswald of Changue

Among the many paintings in Glasgow Museums’ collection is a portrait by Andrew Geddes, of his friend, Alexander Oswald. Oswald was an advocate, or barrister, and landowner, and born into the Oswald family dynasty of merchants, MPs and propertied gentlemen.  The Oswalds had been established in Glasgow as colonial merchants and ship owners since the early 1700s and owned numerous estates including Scotstoun, Shieldhall, Moore … Continue reading Inheritance and Privilege – Alexander Oswald of Changue

Addressing the legacies of empire and slavery

I’m delighted and honoured to be joining Glasgow Museums as a curator focussing on the legacies of the British Empire and the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved African people. This post, funded for two years by Museums Galleries Scotland, is a result of Glasgow Museums’ wider programme of activity addressing these issues. I certainly seem to be joining at an exciting time, with cultural institutions looking … Continue reading Addressing the legacies of empire and slavery

Legacies of the Dutch Slave Trade

Suriname, on the north coast of South America, became a Dutch colony in 1667, with numerous plantations for the production of commodities such as sugar, cotton, and coffee. Around 300,000 enslaved people from the African continent were bought, sold, and forced to work in inhumane conditions in Suriname by the Dutch. In the Netherlands, the owners of these plantations often commissioned beautiful wine glasses engraved … Continue reading Legacies of the Dutch Slave Trade