Wednesday, November 4, 2009
GLASGOW SLAVERY WALK by Stephen Mullen
As part of the GARA commemoration of The Black History Month there have been a series of walks with Historian Stephen Mullen guiding participants through the sites and locations of Glasgow link to slavery through the massive wealth accumulated via the Tobacco trade.
Glasgows link to the trade was established by a set of circumstances and a much denied pro-active participation from the Scots in colonisation and empire building.A history that runs counter to the narrative in which Scotland was seen as the first victim of English hegemony.A unique blend of the primacy of Scottish education , with some of the most established and innovative Universities at the time , and a superb business acumen enabled Scottish graduates to become able administrators of the Empire and Scottish entrepreneurs to become the architects on the efficient management and processing of the newly acquired wealth to be found in the colonies.Glasgow , in particular , benefited by becoming the major port for the shipment and distribution of the highest grade tobacco from the Americas and Sugar from the Caribbean.Newly built state of the art constructed Ports like Port Glasgow handled over 98% of the trade in Scotland and about 60% plus for the entirety of the UK.
The reason for the primacy of the trade in Glasgow was the better standard of education and administrative skills as well as a much better system of interlocking trading.Glasgow used a system developed by Scottish entrepreneurs called the Store system , this made masterful use of the triangular trade of weapons and refined goods to Africa; slaves to the colonies; and the highest grade sugar and tobacco from Jamaica being brought into Europe.The store system was effective because the traders were permanently stationed point men ( called apprentices , something which Rabbie Burns nearly became) in the New World who would personally deal with the plantation owners to get the highest quality yields.The English traders dealt with a system called the Distribution system which would be more adhoc and less well administered than the superb streamlined Scottish one.Another vital component to the Scottish lead in this field was a highly established Scottish Banking system which fully understood the Store system therefore allowing the scope for longer term loans with big yields as opposed to the Boom -Bust short term constraints of the Distribution model.
The walk itself began inside the Glasgow Cathedral , the first time i have been inside there despite growing up in the vicinity , in which guide Stephen Mullen pointed out 2 large stain glass windows funded by and honouring Families with links to the Tobacco trade.One has the depiction of a negro receiving the sacraments from a priest , the other shows a scene which may resemble plantation type buildings from the Caribbean with mottos highlighting the "civilising mission" which is the reputation the traders would like to ascribe to themselves , and be known in prosperity as having undertaken.
Then we were shown the burial plots of the Oswald Family inside the Cathedral and a portion of the plot belonging to the Buchanan Family.
Further on we were shown the original site of Glasgow University halfway down High Street.One of the many paradoxes is that the University was not only churning out the administrators and architects of this trade but also some of the primary Moral Advocates which , in time, would become the most outspoken and effective voices for action that would challenge the process.One important aspect in this was the University was highly established , receiving most of its funding from ecclesiastical sources and was not , as we perturbingly find today , wholly dependent on funding from the Trading Lords ( todays corporations) with the ultimate ability to use this as leverage to temper any radical trends the University may produce to counter the moral points of the trade.This is very important to remember because Universities today are funded by the Modern day version of the Lord traders in the form of multi-national Corporations to such an extent some University departments even bear the name of the sponsor.The Independence the University enjoyed a couple of centuries ago does not exist today , which will mean that it will not churn out the radicals it did in the past to counter negative global trends.One of the great claims to fame Glasgow University has to its credit is that it produced the first Black graduate from the slave colonies.This student was rejected in every University in the Americas , but received entry in Glasgow.
Further along , not far from the street i grew up in , we saw the Ramshorn Cemetery , where many Tobacco Lords are buried and the Glasgow City Halls , a place that became a major platform for articulators of the abolition of slavery , playing host to many speakers at the time including a visit by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Then we saw some locations of the Mansions of the Tobacco Lords , including the Glassfords.Stirling Library , now the MOMA Museum is one of the former Mansions ( it is the middle segment of the building which you can clearly deduce if you look at the side of the Museum).
Finally the walk ended with a symbolic full circle with the statue of a latter day Oswald in George Square , he was a descendant of the former highest placed Tobacco Lords.In a very British way he was a major player in bringing the end to this formal Slave Trade , though cynics would argue the slave trade had run its course and Banking had taken over the role of the efficient extraction of wealth in the Americas.
To his very great integrity and credit Stephen Mullen categorically states that , unlike Liverpool , Glasgow is in denial about its links with the Slave Trade and has to do more to acknowledge its role and to accept its place in the colonial empire rather than hide behind the veneer of victimhood.
For example , there is no mention of the slave trade in this years Homecoming celebrations and a recent commissioned report of the trade had nearly two hundred alterations enforced upon it by government officials much to the outrage of the academics who produced it.