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.

Image of a blue and white delftware punch bowl
The Roberton Hunt punch bowl (Glasgow Museums PP.2003.11)

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 one bottle of rum. He also ordered some nice uniforms for the members to wear and made arrangements for dinner. Finally, he ordered in a hogshead of London porter, 72 bottles of strong beer, 60 bottles of port wine, 12 bottles of sherry and eight gallons of French brandy, to get things going. While the official purpose of the club was to engage in blood sport, drinking, dining and socialising seem to have been the overriding rationale for its meetings.

image of the inscription inside a blue and white delftware punch bowl
Inside the Roberton Hunt punch bowl (Glasgow Museums PP.2003.11)

This bowl – the last one known to survive of the original four – was used to serve rum punch to the hunting club’s members. The drink was poured into individual glasses using a ladle. Rum punch was an incredibly popular drink made from several of the exotic products that flowed into Glasgow at this time, thanks to its lucrative colonial trade: sugar, limes, lemons and rum from West Indian slave plantations – the fruits of enslaved labour, quite literally.

Embedded in the bowl is a fascinating story about the pursuits and lifestyles of Glasgow’s wealthiest, and ultimately, how these were made possible by business ventures that depended directly on the labour of enslaved people.

The Roberton Hunt attracted many young and promising men, many of them in their mid-to-late 20s at the time the club was founded. Of the 23 founder members most were sons of established merchant families within Glasgow’s tight-knit social and commercial elite. Often they were related to one another by kin, marriage and business partnerships. They included landowners; tobacco, sugar and cotton merchants; slave owners and industrialists.

Image of painting of Stobcross House, home of Matthew Orr
Stobcross House, home of Matthew Orr (Glasgow Museums 1906.109)

Brothers John and Matthew Orr were among the core group behind the Hunt. They owned estates at Barrowfield and Stobcross, operated a coal mining business and owned slave plantations in the Caribbean island of Tobago. Cousins James and James Dunlop and their peers Andrew Houston, Robert Dreghorn and Robert Dunmore were sons of wealthy tobacco and sugar merchants. They worked in the family businesses, were partners in numerous industrial ventures and owned estates in Scotland and the Caribbean. The Dunlops’ brother-in-law, tobacco merchant Thomas Donald, also the son of a tobacco merchant and in business with his uncle, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, was also a member of the hunting club.

For these young men, taking part in fox hunting, and the drinking and dining that were part and parcel of club membership, was a way for them to display they belonged in the city’s social and commercial elite. This elite lifestyle was funded directly from money they made from trading in slave produced goods.

Katinka Stentoft Dalglish
Curator of Archaeology

For more information on Glasgow Museums’ collections please visit http://collections.glasgowmuseums.com

Images © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

2 thoughts on “Drinking the fruits of enslaved labour

  1. Can you tell me where the Delft bowls were ordered from? Was it the Glasgow Delftfield company?

    If so, the Scottish Pottery Society would be interested in following this up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello and thank you for your comment. The published histories of the club do not specifically say where the bowls were ordered from; it could have been the Delftfield Co., or it could have been further afield. The style of the blue decoration is not unlike that found on sherds associated with the Deltfield, so the bowl could well have been made there, but we don’t know for certain.


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