THERE’S been much fuss in recent days about a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) report which linked Culloden battlefield, which the Trust manages, to the slave trade. It has been portrayed by some pundits as linking Bonnie Prince Charlie to slavery, so here is what the NTS report states about the very tenuous connection between Culloden and Charlie.

“Prince Charles Edward Stuart sailed from Nantes – a busy port in the transatlantic slave trade – to the Hebrides in summer 1745 on a French slave ship, the Du Teillay. It belonged to the wealthy Irish-born shipowner, slave trader and plantation owner Antoine Walsh, whose father had helped Charles’s grandfather escape after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Antoine took a leading role in financing and planning Bonnie Prince Charlie’s expedition to Scotland.”


THE complex issue of the slave trade and Scotland’s involvement in it needs to feature all sides of the story. A much stronger link between Culloden and slavery is in the next few paragraphs of the NTS report: “After the defeat at Culloden in 1746, many Jacobite prisoners were transported to British colonies. The convicts were typically sold for £10 at the quayside into indentured labour for seven years; their life expectancy was low.”

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In other words, those Jacobites not murdered by Butcher Cumberland and his troops on Culloden field were sold as slaves.

The report continues: “In the years following the Battle of Culloden, many other Jacobites chose to emigrate, seeing no future in Scotland. Of these people, many became involved in enslavement: working enslaved crews to clear trees in the West Indies, managing plantations as ‘attorneys’ and subsequently owning enslaved people. Although many of these men died young too, the numerous Scottish surnames in Jamaica, other Caribbean islands and in the USA bear testament to the 18th-century Scots’ impact and their disproportionate involvement with enslavement.”


THE Facing Our Past project was launched by NTS in September 2020. At the time it was thought that 20 of its properties had links to the slave trade, but that number has since risen to 48.

Put together comprehensively by Dr Jennifer Melville, project leader of Facing Our Past, the NTS report tackles “the issue of slavery and its intertwining with the histories of individual properties, families and the nation as a whole is not something that has ever been completely hidden”.

The report states: “We knew there was much that remained to understand and this report is a first step towards bringing the facts to attention and then using them in the interpretation of our properties, so that we can offer our members and visitors a much more rounded and honest view of the past.”


THE First Minister probably knows that her official residence in Edinburgh, Bute House in Charlotte Square, has past links with the slave trade.

The NTS report states: “It was owned by three men in succession who had links to the West Indies: John Innes Crawford (1776–1839), who was born in Jamaica and inherited his father’s estates when he was about five years old, including the Bellfield sugar plantation and several hundred enslaved people; Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster (1754–1835), who claimed part compensation for the 610 enslaved people living on three estates in St Vincent (although he died before the payout) whilst acting as a trustee for the marriage settlement of his brother-in-law, the Honourable Archibald Macdonald (son of Macdonald of Sleat), and Jane Campbell of Ardneave; and Charles Oman, who bought the property in 1816 from Sinclair and ran it as a successful hotel. Oman’s son Charles worked on the Trinity estate in St Mary, Jamaica – the site of the famous Tacky’s revolt, an important slave rebellion led by a Coromantee chief from Ghana.”

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That’s the trouble with the history of Scottish involvement in slavery – as Professor Sir Thomas Devine told The Daily Telegraph, “every nook and cranny” of Scottish life had been affected by the slave trade at some point.


HOW about Admiral Lord Nelson whose role as a supporter of the slave trade is conveniently ignored by his fans? The NTS report records that in a letter written four months before he died in 1805, Nelson proclaimed: “I was bred, as you know, in the good old school, and taught to appreciate the value of our West India possessions; and neither in the field or in the senate [House of Lords] shall their interest be infringed whilst I have an arm to fight in their defence, or a tongue to launch my voice against the damnable and cursed doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies.”

Somehow we don’t see his eponymous Column being torn down.