Greetings from Kingston. I’ve been spending some time at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Kingston. The campus must have a claim to be in the most picturesque setting in the world (except the University of Glasgow in the west end, of course). The University of the West Indies was built on the site of three former sugar plantations, Mona, Papine and Hope. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership website reveals that on the emancipation of slavery in 1834, the compensation for the enslaved people on Mona was claimed by Abraham Watson Rutherford and Sarah Wilkinson; on Papine by James Beckford Wildman and on Hope, the compensation was claimed by Hon. George Neville Grenville and by a Scotsman, Sir John Campbell, 2nd Marquess of Bredalbane, as a trustee on a marriage settlement. And I’ve just today discovered that Papine was owned by Colonel Alexander Grant of Scotland from 1756, and that he named the plantation in Jamaica after a village in Banffshire. Were some of the buildings constructed by Scots?
There are some remains of the built heritage which attest to the locations past. There is a large acqueduct running through the campus, built in the 1750s, which would have transported water around and powered the mill on the sugar works, some of which is still standing. The chapel was a former rum distillery – thus full of regional symbolism – that was transported from Trelawney Parish in the 1950s and recreated as a non-denominational church.
I’ve since discovered the rum distillery was formerly on the Hampden plantation, owned by the Stirlings of Keir and Cawder who were involved with the Glasgow-West India firm, Stirling, Gordon & Co. Thus, Mona, a location that was ‘formerly a place of cruelty and suffering’ has been reclaimed and now ‘symbolises West India nationhood’. The message here is clear: education is the way forward. It’s certainly a wonderful setting to be undertaking research and writing on Scots in Jamaica. And I’ve been learning lot. Since I’ve been here I’ve attended lectures in honour of Mr Kenneth Ingram, the archivist at UWI Mona for a long number of years, given by Professor Barry Higman. I was first attracted to Caribbean archives by Mr Ingram’s manucript collections and I’ve read lots of B.W. Higman’s work over the years. And I’ve exchanged some knowledge in return. I gave a talk today on ‘Scots in the Caribbean: Jamaica, c.1630s-1838’ in the National Institute of Jamaica, which seemed to be quite well received. Very interesting debate followed on Scots who claimed compensation on the emancipation of slavery as well as the implications of the reparations debate for Scotland.