Old Glasgow Club
Minutes of ordinary meeting of Club held at Adelaide’s, 209 Bath Street on Thursday 9 October 2008 at 7.30pm
Mr Gordon (for President)
Mr Gordon welcomed members and visitors to the meeting.
There were apologies from Anna Forrest, Brian Henderson and Janette Knox.
The minutes of the last ordinary meeting held on 11 September had been circulated. Subject to an amendment to the effect that the ghost shirt had in fact been returned to America the minutes were approved, proposed by Miss Cairns and seconded by Mrs Sneddon. There were no matters arising.
There was no President’s report, as Mrs Forrest was now working in Cyprus.
Mrs McNae reported that she and Mrs Thom had attended the Old Edinburgh Club conference on 4 October and had been warmly welcomed. 250 people had attended and listened to lectures on various topics concerning Edinburgh. The club meets on the second Wednesday of each month.
The South Glasgow Heritage Educational Trust (SGHET) would meet on 28 October and the Scottish Local History Forum on 7 November.
Mr Gordon introduced Mr Stephen Mullen, who spoke on the topic of “Glasgow, Slavery and Abolition”, illustrated with slides and pictures on screen.
“It wasnae us”; Mr Mullen noted that many denied that Glasgow was involved in the slave trade, and he aimed to challenge the audience to consider the evidence. History had a capacity to surprise, anger and reform; there was no denying that Glasgow’s wealth was built on slave labour. “Observed history” was all around us; Scots were involved and Glasgow had a role as both perpetrator and opponent. Glasgow was a prime trading post for trade with the colonies, and exported foodstuffs while importing luxuries. In the 18th century sugar fortunes were made, the Clyde was dredged, the Broomielaw built and also Port Glasgow (the “Piraeus” of Glasgow).
The ill fated Darien scheme of the 1690’s was the brainchild of William Paterson, the drivers for the Act of Union of 1707 were largely economic and the 18th century Scottish economy was clearly dependent on slaves. The “triangular” trade between Britain, Africa and the Colonies involved trafficking in slaves who were regarded as no more than chattels. It appeared however that only 19 slave voyages were recorded from Glasgow, compared with over 1000 from Liverpool, so perhaps Glasgow was not as fully involved in slavery as other places.
Glasgow merchants included Richard and Alexander Oswald, (who are buried in Glasgow cathedral); they bought land off Sierra Leone to allow easier trading in slaves. Glasgow imported tobacco from America and exported it to Europe. Merchants lived in ostentatious houses such as Stanfield mansion and Virginia Mansion, and purchased large estates on the outskirts of town. The “Golden Age” of the Tobacco Lords (Glassford from Paisley, Cunningham from Ayrshire and Speirs from Edinburgh) was from 1740 –1790. They built stores in USA to monopolise goods at source. The tobacco trade spawned other trades and led to the creation of Jamaica Street, Trongate, Tontine Hotel, St Andrew in the Square. When Virginia Street became overcrowded people moved west to Buchanan Street and Miller Street.
The American War of independence put paid to the tobacco trade, but then the sugar trade grew. 20,000 young men emigrated from Glasgow to the Caribbean and in 1775 one third of plantation owners were Scots.
The Glasgow necropolis, modelled on the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, was built by the Merchants House. James Ewing proposed the plans for it, but his cousin Rev Ralph Laidlaw was an abolitionist. The Scottish Enlightenment under men like Francis Hutcheson at Glasgow University left a legacy which led to abolition. The philosophical challenge for abolition became a political challenge. In 1787 evidence on the practice of slavery was collected by Thomas Clarkson and Wilberforce. Professors at Glasgow University drafted a petition which was defeated in 1791, but the abolitionist movement continued with further evidence collected by William Dickson.
Slavery still continued overseas after 1807, but Scots motivated public opinion. Slave owners fought back through eg the Glasgow West India Association, but had little public support. In 1836 there was a petition from 30,000 Glasgow citizens, demonstrating that Glasgow was in the vanguard of abolition. George Square has a statue of James Oswald, a noted abolitionist, and a member of the same family as the slave trading brothers Richard and Alexander.
“It wis us”, but Glasgow has perhaps atoned for its sins.
Vote of thanks
Miss Sannachan thanked Mr Mullen for his detailed and highly enthusiastic talk.
Mr Gordon announced that the winner of the “Spot the Photograph” competition was Elaine Devlin (the photograph being that of Whitehill).
He advised that the next directors’ meeting would be on 23 October and the next club meeting on 13 November.
Mr Gordon wished all a safe journey home.