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Black Isle historian reveals Highland capital's slavery links with self-guided walk

By Louise Glen

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David Alston
David Alston

A FASCINATING self-guided walk around Inverness, examining the city’s links to slavery, has been published by a local historian.

Dr David Alston, the former chairman of NHS Highland, said the hour-long walk revealed the many buildings that are connected to the slave trade and the plantations of the Carribean and South America.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign, Mr Alston published the walk to take in buildings such as the Exchange area where Inverness Town House stands, the Caledonian Bank, Inglis Street, Inverness Royal Academy, Viewmount – which now houses the BBC Studios – and Balnain House, home to the National Trust for Scotland.

UHI headquarters at former Royal Northern Infirmary...Picture: Gary Anthony..
UHI headquarters at former Royal Northern Infirmary...Picture: Gary Anthony..

Mr Alston said: “In proportion to its population, Scotland benefited as much, and probably more, from the enslavement of Africans than other parts of Britain.

“The colonies of Tobago, Grenada and Guyana had particularly strong Scottish links.

“From 1778 it was clear that under Scots law no-one in Scotland could be legally held as a slave, nor could they be forced back to slavery in the colonies. But Scots continued to exploit enslaved people in the British colonies.

“It was not easy for a handful of whites to run a large sugar plantation with hundreds of enslaved workers. The historian Trevor Burnard writes: ‘Planters solved the problem of discipline through the application of terror. To terrify slaves, they needed people willing to inflict terror.’

“Many of these men were Highland Scots.”

The walk starts at the town house. Dr Alston said: “Although the town house dates from the 1870s, this area – once known as the Exchange – beside the old Mercat Cross and the Clach na Cuddin was a popular gathering place for merchants and gentlemen.

“Until his death in 1866 you would often have seen ‘Dandy Charlie’ Robertson among them; he had no profession but still managed to appear in immaculate suits, whatever the season. He was best known for his outfit of white waistcoat and trousers, light-coloured gloves and light umbrella.

“Even then people in Inverness had forgotten that Charles Lamont Robertson had made his money from a slave plantation in Guyana.”

UHI headquarters at former Royal Northern Infirmary...Picture: Gary Anthony..
UHI headquarters at former Royal Northern Infirmary...Picture: Gary Anthony..

From here the walk travels around the city centre, taking in the Old Greyfriars cemetery, the Ness Islands and the Exchange, where the Inverness Courier was founded.

Dr Alston said: “This public space, once known as the Exchange, was where people met to share news. Inverness’s first newspaper, the Inverness Courier, began publication in 1817.

“It was founded by Roderick Reach and two partners. Roderick was a solicitor and accountant who had profited from his work as a lawyer in Berbice [Guyana].”

The three-mile walk, Building on Slavery, is free to download at www.davidalston.info

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