Professor Geoff Palmer, OBE, on Slavery in Jamaica Part 1 of interview
Recorded: 10 March 2008 Length 1 hour 20 minutesAttendees: J Alistair Hood and Professor Geoff Palmer, OBE (date of birth 09.04.1940), author of ‘The Enlightment Abolished – Citizens of Britishness’Venue: interviewee’s home in PenicuikTrack 1Topics covered include: Background to Geoff Palmer; sale of Fasque House; Gladstone links to slavery; Famous Scottish Slavetraders/Wedderburn Family; Robert Burns; Abolition of Slavery in Britain.Christened Godfrey, Henry Oliver Palmer; came to Britain in 1955. Professor Palmer wrote the book “The Enlightenment Abolished – Citizens of Britishness”, published in 2007. He wrote to the Scotsman following an article on the proposed sale of Fasque House and its contents which was bought by Sir John Gladstone in 1829 from monies made from the slave trade in the Caribbean. Professor Palmer believed the house was significant to Scottish history and its links to the Scottish trading in slavery in the Caribbean. In his opinion, morally, he felt the house should remain as part of Scottish heritage rather than being sold off at auction. First Links to Scotland and Slavery1707 Act of Union or the Treaty of the Union contained 25 Acts and Act 4 gave Scotland the right to join the slave trade in the Caribbean. From 1707 to 1800, Scotland dominated the slave trade and many Scots went to Jamaica, made their fortune and returned. Many slave traders had great influence in politics because of their wealth gained from this business.The slave trade in Britain continued for 300 years until it was abolished in 1838 and 20 million slaves were transported to the Caribbean, half of whom died before reaching their destination. The average lifespan of a slave was 5 years after they arrived. Famous Scottish Families and Links to Slavery in JamaicaGladstone Family Sir John Gladstone went into the slave trade, making his fortune as did many other Scottish aristocrats and it became part of their heritage. Sir John Gladstone bought and owned many slave plantations one in particular being the Demerara Sugar Plantation. in the Caribbean. He had great influence with Prime Minister Peel in Great Britain because of his wealth and when he died in 1869 he left a massive fortune of approximately £60M.In 1809, his son, William Gladstone was born and went on to become the British Prime Minister in 4 elections. He often defended his father in parliament over his links with slavery and more so when the argument for the abolition of slavery emerged in the 1830s. William Gladstone was given the freedom of the City of Perth in Scotland. Perth is renowned for its affluence which can be attributed to the linen trade and its links to slavery.Wedderburn FamilySir John Wedderburn was a well-known slave trader in Jamaica. He was executed after the Battle of Culloden and hanged in London. He had two sons, James and John Wedderburn and they both travelled to Jamaica in 1746 to join their uncles who were also slave traders.James Wedderburn: returned to Scotland in 1773 and bought Inveresk Lodge near Musselburgh for £1,000. He married into the wealthy Colvile family who were steel merchants from Motherwell. He had several children. One of his daughters married Lord Selkirk and one of his sons, Andrew Wedderburn became Governor of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada but continued to run his father’s slave trade business in Jamaica. The Wedderburn name was eventually changed to Colvile-Wedderburn and then to Colvile-Henrie. John Wedderburn: returned with a slave (Joseph Knight) of whom there was a famous book written by James Robertson called “Joseph Knight”. This slave ran away and there was a ruling in Scotland in 1778 that slavery was illegal in Scotland. There was also a precedent in England set in 1772 ruling out slavery. A prominent activist in the abolition movement was Robert Wedderburn, son of Scottish landowner, John Wedderburn (jnr) and a Jamaican slave. In 1795 he came to Scotland and travelled to his father’s home at Inveresk Lodge but was rejected by his father. He went on to become of the first black activists challenging the system.Henry DundasOne of the most powerful characters in the slave trade and influential in politics, his statue stands in St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh. Dundas led the invasion of Haiti where thousands of British troops lost their lives. This battle was fought against black independence. Dundas however, was involved in introducing into the Abolition of Slavery Act, the working “it should gradually be abolished”. This however, did have the effect that it slowed down abolition. In 1782, Admiral Rodney fought the most significant battle against French and Spanish when they tried to take over the Caribbean.Other Scottish family slave traders who can attribute their wealth to the slave trade: Cunninghams; Oswalds, MacDowalls, Malcolms, Gladstones, Ewings, Grants.Other Scottish links with slaveryRobert Burns – was set to sail to Jamaica to follow many other Scots in the slave trade, however, following the success of his writing he remained in Scotland. The famous Scottish love song Aye Fond Kiss, was written about his girlfriend travelling to Jamaica and in another poem he mentions the Battle of the Glorious 12th and this is referring to the Battle of 1782 where Admiral Dundas fought to retain the Caribbean.Famous street names in Glasgow – Jamaica Street, Buchanan Street, Gladsford Street and Virginia Street.Bathgate, Dollar and Inverness Academies were all built and funded through the slave trade.Abolition of Slavery in BritainIn 1838, slavery was abolished in Britain and slave traders received compensation for freeing their own slaves. This created great hardship for the slaves because the slavemasters made their life difficult and paid them little. However, although Britain ceased trading, the Americans were quick to fill this gap.Track 2 of this interview is stored on the CD labelled A/AOQ/1/2 re. Dundas and his role in blocking opposition to the slave trade. His career ended when the brewer Samuel Whitbread got him impeached for misappropriation of navy funds. Although acquitted it ended his career. Government making St Andrews Square into restaurant park. Prof. Palmer would feel very uncomfortable having a cappuchino under the statue of Dundas.Second copy of compact disk.