toggle menu

Edinburgh World Heritage/News/New lecture exposes Edinburgh’s links to the slave trade

New lecture exposes Edinburgh’s links to the slave trade


25th October 2018

Edinburgh World Heritage

Sir Geoff Palmer O.B.E., the respected human rights activist and Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, will today deliver a groundbreaking new lecture exposing Edinburgh’s long and profitable relationship with slavery.

Sir Geoff will argue that Scotland as a nation benefited disproportionately from the slave trade, and that relative to population, Scots owned more slaves, more plantations and had a higher share of the transatlantic trade in plantation goods such as tobacco and sugar than England or most other European countries. He will also argue that the remarkable economic transformation experienced by Edinburgh in the final part of the 18th century came at a heavy price.

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville who worked diligently for many years to delay the abolition of slavery

The story will be told through the experiences of the many wealthy residents of the New Town who were slave and plantation owners, such as James Lindsay, 7th Earl of Balcarres, as well as prominent men associated with the city, such as Henry Dundas, who campaigned against abolition.

The lecture draws on detailed research from the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership, established at University College London, and forms part of a series of events in the city to mark Black History Month 2018 including talks, trails and exhibitions.

Sir Geoff commented: ‘Being honest about how Scotland benefited from the slave trade is a crucial step on our journey to becoming a fair and inclusive society.

James Lindsay, 24th Earl of Crawford and 7th Earl of Balcarres, who received one of the largest compensation payments from the British Government.

‘While there has been much discussion in recent years about Glasgow’s role in this terrible trade, we now need to acknowledge that many of Edinburgh’s most notable citizens owned and exploited tens of thousands of enslaved people. Our glorious New Town, seen by many as the physical embodiment of the Scottish Enlightenment, was, sadly, partly funded by the enormous profits derived from the enslavement of Africans.

‘Many wealthy residents were also handsomely compensated by the British Government for the loss of their slaves, described as ‘property’, in the years following the abolition of slavery in 1833.’

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, commented: ‘We cannot expect members of black and minority ethnic communities to feel a connection to our heritage unless we are honest about the past and the source of much of Edinburgh’s wealth in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Our mission as a charity is to connect people to their heritage in everything we do. Through thoughtful debate and respectful discussion our hope is to deepen people’s understanding of both the true value – and cost – of Edinburgh’s remarkable heritage’.

Watch the lecture via our live-stream on Facebook.

(Main image of Sir Geoff Palmer is courtesy of Alicia Bruce Photography and on display as part of the Our World Heritage exhibition at the Tron Kirk)