Glasgow publishes slavery audit - Museums Association

Glasgow publishes slavery audit

Museums and heritage feature heavily in the survey
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Simon Stephens
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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum sits in grounds that used to be owned by a colonial merchant
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum sits in grounds that used to be owned by a colonial merchant

Museums and heritage feature heavily in a report into Glasgow’s links with the transatlantic slave trade.

Glasgow, Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: An Audit of Historic Connections and Modern Legacies was commissioned by Glasgow City Council. The 119-page report was written by Stephen Mullen, a research associate in history at the University of Glasgow. Advisers included Zandra Yeaman, the curator of discomfort at the Hunterian, part of the University of Glasgow.

The study focuses on residents who were involved with Atlantic slavery between 1603 and 1838. The report does not make any recommendations as the city council, which will be holding public discussions and consultations to determine what steps need to be taken next.

The report includes a summary of efforts in the heritage sector, including in museums and galleries, to address historic slavery connections. This points to work at the Museum of London Docklands, Hackney Museum and Archives in London, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and Bristol Museums.

“The audit was produced to inform the city of Glasgow's consultation how to address its historic connections with slavery,” said Mullen. “I was, and remain, entirely independent of the political process but historians have an important role compiling empirical evidence for public discussion. 

“Whilst there is now a manufactured controversy around the few statues included in the audit, the overall findings confirm what is generally accepted amongst historians of imperial Scotland: the direct and multiplier effects of Caribbean slavery and its commerce ran deep into Scottish society, and had a transformative effect on national development overall.”

Findings include
  • Glasgow Town Council received and managed donations from individuals with connections to Atlantic slavery.
  • Glasgow Corporation and City Council was bequeathed an art collection by Cecilia Douglas in in 1862. Douglas (1772-1862) was the sister of several prominent Glasgow-West India merchants, and also became an enslaver in the British West Indies. The paintings were displayed in the Corporation Art Galleries before being moved to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Most are now in store at Glasgow Museum Resource Centre.
  • 11 existing mansions and urban buildings in Glasgow are connected to individuals who were involved with Atlantic slavery.
  • Funding for the City Chambers in the 1880s was derived from municipal incomes, while occasionally borrowing from banks with previous connections to the Atlantic slavery economy.
  • Eight individuals with connections to Atlantic slavery are commemorated across multiple monuments and other representations in Glasgow.
  • 62 Glasgow streets and locations have a “direct” or “associational” connection to Atlantic slavery.
  • West India merchant Richard Dennistoun purchased the Kelvingrove estate in 1806 and added to the land a year later. Before that the area belonged to colonial merchant Patrick Colquhoun. Glasgow Corporation bought the estate in the late-19th century, and today the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum sits in the former grounds.

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