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

A Seat of Power

The Burrell Collection includes a chair with a large decorative crest, carved with the coat of arms of the Cann family of Bristol, with the date ‘1699’ inscribed into the rails of the chair. The Cann family amassed their wealth from plantations they owned in the Caribbean. Sir Robert Cann, 1st Baronet of Compton Greenfield (1622-1685), was a prominent merchant in Bristol and served as … Continue reading A Seat of Power

Robert Nutter Campbell, country gent and slave owner

In Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum hangs Sir Henry Raeburn’s enormous double portrait of Robert Nutter Campbell and his wife, Margaret Montgomery. Mr and Mrs Campbell tower over the other museum exhibits in the gallery – the sheer scale of Raeburn’s painting, the glow of the sunlight reflected in the couple’s elegant clothes and their intense gazes were meant to make you take notice. The … Continue reading Robert Nutter Campbell, country gent and slave owner

Selling West Indian Sugar and Rum in Glasgow

The artist and the sitter’s identities for this unique portrait of a woman working in a grocery shop c. 1790 to 1825 in Glasgow Museum’s collections are as yet unknown and remain to be discovered. However, not all is lost because this portrait has attracted more attention in recent years, such as Professor Eleanor Gordon’s assessment of it in 2014 when she interpreted it in … Continue reading Selling West Indian Sugar and Rum in Glasgow

Voyages of Exploration and Exploitation

This stunning tapestry in the Burrell Collection with its long-necked camels allows us to take a long view and look at the origins of the transatlantic slave trade. Woven in about 1500–30 probably in the workshop of Arnould Poissonnier in Tournai, Southern Netherlands, now Belgium, this tapestry is one of a group known collectively as the Voyage to Calicut. Each panel showed a scene from … Continue reading Voyages of Exploration and Exploitation

Letters from Tobago

In 1776, John Foreman set sail from Greenock to buy cotton in Tobago to send back to Scotland. He was a merchant born in Scoonie, Fife, in 1740. Three letters written by him were donated to the Mitchell Library in 1934. These give an insight into Scottish trade with the West Indies at that time. On 28 November 1776, the day of his departure from … Continue reading Letters from Tobago

Mungo Murray, Darien and Slavery

Glasgow Museums recently acquired the painting A Highland Chieftain: Portrait of Lord Mungo Murray (c.1683) by Scottish-trained artist John Michael Wright (1617–1694) with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund, Friends of Glasgow Museums and National Fund for Acquisitions. At face value it is an exuberant celebration of Highland dress and cosmopolitan Gaelic culture, but it also has links to the transatlantic slave trade. … Continue reading Mungo Murray, Darien and Slavery

Lady Margaret Mackenzie speaks – life with the Glassfords

By 1783 John Glassford (1715 -1783) had been married three times. The last marriage was in 1768 to Lady Margaret Mackenzie.  It is Lady Mackenzie who is seated in the Glassford family portrait. What did she have to say about life with the Glassfords? Lady Margaret Mackenzie wrote to her Aunt, Lady Henrietta Dundas. She noted ‘I do not find any little jealousy’s in the … Continue reading Lady Margaret Mackenzie speaks – life with the Glassfords

John Robertson: Cash for a Cashier

As seen by his signature on this guinea bank note in Glasgow Museums’ collection John Robertson was the Cashier for the Glasgow Arms Banking Office in 1778. The Glasgow Arms Bank was originally established as Cochran Murdoch & Co. in 1750, changing to Speirs, Murdoch & Co in 1763. It later became Murdoch, Robertson & Co a few years after this bank note was issued … Continue reading John Robertson: Cash for a Cashier

Lady Jean Grant and Caribbean Slavery

In 1940 this portrait of Jean Duff, Lady Grant (1746-1805), painted by David Allan (1744-1796) in 1780 entered Glasgow Museums collections without any news coverage. The painting has been displayed in Kelvingrove since 2006 as an example of Scottish art and civility. The obituary written for her in 1805 praised her goodness and piety. She appears to have been as she appears in the painting … Continue reading Lady Jean Grant and Caribbean Slavery

John McCall and Family

In 1965 Glasgow Museums added this painting, called John McCall of Belvidere and family; Family Group known as the Dennistoun to its collections. Although the artist remains a mystery there are enough clues from the clothes that the McCall family are wearing to date the painting to the late 1760s. Unlike the Glassford portrait this does not feature a slave, but the McCall family, like … Continue reading John McCall and Family

The Black House

The ‘Black House’ deserved its name – it was built of stone from the Black Stone quarry, which was once between St George’s Road and North Woodside Road in northern Glasgow. This house represents one of the better known buildings made with stone from the quarry. It was built on the corner of Queen Street (Cow Lone) and Argyle Street (West Gait) for the McCall … Continue reading The Black House

The Navy and Slavery

One of the earliest ship models to enter the collection of Glasgow Museums was a fine model of HMS Oxford, made around 1727. It came from the collection of Robert Napier, known as the ‘father of Clyde shipbuilding’ and was presented shortly after his death in 1876 as an example of early naval ship design. However, beneath the beauty and intricacy of this model lies … Continue reading The Navy and Slavery

Glasgow Merchants’ Investment in Purple

The profits from Scottish-owned plantations in the West Indies that used enslaved men, women and children were returned to Scotland and invested in industries here rather than helping to develop their local Caribbean communities. One such area that profited was Glasgow’s burgeoning dye industry. Many purple dyes were traditionally made using lichen dyes which were much cheaper than the famous Tyrian or murex purple extracted … Continue reading Glasgow Merchants’ Investment in Purple

The earliest enslaved person in Glasgow?

In 1705, the Glaswegian businessman, John ‘Bass’ Spreull published an account of Scotland’s prospects for international trade. He suggested that Scotland should make appropriate trade links with the West Indies, Virginia, the Guinea coast and what he called the ‘Negroes Coast’, by which he probably meant West African countries such as Senegal where European countries had established a slave trade. Spreull promoted a trade of … Continue reading The earliest enslaved person in Glasgow?

A Free Press but not a Free People

Many objects in Glasgow Museums’ collection bear witness to Scots’ participation in slavery during the 1700-1800s. A copy of the Grenada Free Press and Public Gazette, published on 27 August 1828, is one such example. The pages are faded and yellow now, but the words printed on the back page speak loud and clear. Among adverts for handkerchiefs, crackers, socks, candles, hams and horses, two … Continue reading A Free Press but not a Free People

A black and white photograph of a building in Miller Street, Glasgow, taken in 1909

The Tobacco Merchant’s House at 42 Miller Street

Nestled amongst imposing 19th and 20th century industrial and retail architecture on Miller Street in Glasgow’s Merchant City, sits an attractive little house, built in 1775.  42 Miller Street, now known as The Tobacco Merchant’s House, is remarkable for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that it survived the enormous industrialisation and commercialisation of Glasgow over the last two centuries. The house … Continue reading The Tobacco Merchant’s House at 42 Miller Street

Cathkin House 1870

Cathkin House and Slavery

In 1870, James Maclehose published a volume of photographs entitled Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry. The photographs were taken by Thomas Annan (1829 – 1887), and the text, by John Guthrie Smith and John Oswald Mitchell, catalogued the stories of the families who lived in them. Tom Devine has commented that “they were essentially uncritical hagiographies, silent on the slavery roots of … Continue reading Cathkin House and Slavery

Image of a blue and white delftware punch bowl

Drinking the fruits of enslaved labour

This ceramic bowl is known as ‘The Roberton Hunt’ bowl. It belonged to the members of an 18th-century fox hunt which took place twice a year in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. In 1771, the year the hunt was established, the club’s treasurer ordered four of these bespoke delftware bowls, customised with the club’s name. They were designed to be the right size for punch made from … Continue reading Drinking the fruits of enslaved labour