St George’s in Grenada. Photo: Poelzer Wolfgang
Can you imagine the heir apparent: James Granville Egerton, Marquess of Stafford, born in 1975, eldest son of the 7th Duke of Sutherland, announcing to the press a grovelling apology over his ancestor’s part in the brutal Highland Clearances, a Westminster approved campaign of genocide that resulted in the deaths, agony and lingering hardships endured by Scots driven off the land to be replaced by sheep, land they and their forefathers had tilled for generations, some drifting to Glasgow or sent abroad on ships as chattel? What if the earl wanted atonement for crimes against humanity?
And there’s more goodies! What if, amazingly, the Sutherland family estate will pay substantial reparations to the successors of those they grievously harmed, giving funds to the towns in which the unfortunate masses took sanctuary to be spent on civic facilities. And the insufferable, insulting Sutherland monument will be dismanted as a first step in reconciliation, all to make amends for the sins of a disgraceful, criminal family history. No? Too fanciful?
How about tens of thousands of innocents given funds to leave Scotland in the 1950s part of another Westminster campaign of emigration to clear Scotland of the unemployed, passages to Australia and Canada cheap and cheerful, authorities of the two commonwealth nations happy to join in the ruse? Still a pipe dream? A fantasy too far. No money invested in Highlands at all, but rather land sold off to earls and profiteers. So let’s imagine London offering a simpler solution – get rid of the poor people from Scotland.
Sleepless nights in his million dollar mansion, remembering what the British did in India to that great nation, Little Sunak apologises on behalf of Westminster for the iniquities of racist policies inflicted on the First Nation – indigenous Scots and Gaels. And Sunak adds, magnanimously, Scotland can take its independence, devolution is dismissed as a halfway failure, all money owed returned to a Scots Treasury, and vast reparations paid for the Thatcher-Blair theft of Scotland’s oil and lately gas.
Alright, scenarios rejected, here is one last try: let’s go back a long way in Scottish history. Scotland is offered a plain unadorned apology from all the Westminster union parties for the crime of 1656. You do not know what that date signifies? Among all the recent hullabaloo guff claiming Scotland prospered from slavery, every man woman and child – the reason we are so free and liberal – you had not been informed about 1656? Oliver Cromwell banished 1,200 Scots prisoners-of-war to the recently acquired English colony of Jamaca. While ultimately one Scots family became dominant and owned a sugar plantation populated by slave workers, the majority of Scots remained slaves to sugar harvests. (And many poor Irish drafted in later.) Subsequently the island attracted a growing number of Scottish immigrants who arrived as indentured servants.
Okay, forget 1656. No harm done. You didn’t know about it in the first place. A final imaginary event: an abject apology from the English State for Sir William Wallace hung, drawn and quartered when he had a signed letter of free passage, and the murder of Mary Queen of Scots by a jealous and insecure English monarch, either is a good start.
Well, pick yourself up from lying on the floor in side-splitting laughter. No one has to clap three times for common decency to manifest itself. The times are a-changing. It can happen…..
An aristocratic British family is making history by travelling to the Caribbean and publicly apologising for its ownership of more than 1,000 enslaved Africans. The Trevelyan family, which has many notable ancestors, is also paying reparations to the people of Grenada, where it owned six sugar plantations. Last weekend, the family met online and agreed to sign a letter of apology for its enslavement of captive Africans. Forty-two members of the family have so far signed and more signatures are expected.
“The Trevelyan name is detested in Ireland. Sir Charles Trevelyan was in charge of British “relief” efforts during the Irish famine (An Gorta Mòr 1845-49) when the population was halved through starvation, disease and emigration. Food was constantly shipped out of Ireland while the people died. Trevelyan believed in minimal intervention and limiting the financial exposure of the British exchequer to funding relief and that the famine was God’s way of punishing the Irish population. He said: “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.” Ben Madigan
This is the backstory: In 1835, the Trevelyan family received £26,898, a huge sum at the time, in compensation from the British government for the abolition of slavery a year earlier. The enslaved men, women, children received nothing, forced to work a further eight years unpaid as “apprentices”.
A £100,000 fund, donated by the New York-based BBC correspondent Laura Trevelyan, will be formally launched in Grenada on 27 February by Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the Caricom Reparations Commission, and Trevelyan family members. Caricom, or Caribbean Community, is a group of 15 countries in the region. Nicole Phillip-Dowe, vice-chair of the Grenada National Reparations Commission, said: “It’s absolutely fascinating that I am seeing history being made. It takes a leap of faith for a family to say, ‘my forefathers did something horribly wrong and I think we should take some responsibility for it’. It is commendable that the Trevelyan family has taken this step and I hope it will be followed by others.”
The Trevelyan ancestors’ involvement in slavery “amounts to crimes against humanity” according to John Dower, another family member who has been central to the decision to go public. “We want to lead by example, in the hope that others will follow,” he said. In 2016 Dower was working on the family history, alongside his relative Humphrey Trevelyan. They looked up the Trevelyan name in the University College London slavery database. “What I read shocked me as it listed the ownership of 1,004 slaves over six estates shared by six of my ancestors,” said Dower.
“I had no idea. It became apparent that no one living in the family knew about it. It had been expunged from the family history. I was more than shocked, I was badly shaken. I was under the impression that I came from a benevolent, public service facing family.”
Dower informed his wider family, including his cousin Laura Trevelyan. She discovered that when her ancestor Louisa Simond had married Sir John Trevelyan, 4th Baronet, in 1757, she brought to the marriage her merchant father’s partnership in sugar cane plantations on Grenada. Another owner was a vicar, the Rev Walter Trevelyan. Like Dower she was very troubled by this legacy. “If anyone had ‘white privilege’, it was surely me, a descendant of Caribbean slave owners,” she said. “My own social and professional standing 200 years after the abolition of slavery had to be related to my slave-owning ancestors, who used the profits from sugar sales to accumulate wealth and climb the social ladder.”
Last year she went to Grenada and explored her family’s grim past in a BBC documentary and realised that the years of slavery are still affecting the wellbeing of the people there. She has since been working on behalf of her family with Beckles to make a significant gesture in recognition of the Trevelyan’s part in slavery. The family had sold most of the plantations by about 1860. Dower says that a sincere, full, formal apology is the first step in the Caricom 10-point reparation action plan. The family apology states: “We, the undersigned, write to apologise for the actions of our ancestors in holding your ancestors in slavery. Slavery was and is unacceptable and repugnant. Its damaging effects continue to the present day. We repudiate our ancestors’ involvement in it.”
The family is also asking the UK to apologise. “We urge the British government to enter into meaningful negotiations with the governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations through Caricom and bodies such as the Grenada National Reparations Commission.”
According to the letter, the donation contributes to the setting up of the Reparations Research Fund at the University of the West Indies, to look into the economic impacts of enslavement with a focus on development in Grenada and the eastern Caribbean. “We are working to identify other projects that can support communities in Grenada with the help of the Grenada National Reparations Commission among others,” the letter says. Dower would also like to see King Charles III apologise for the royal family’s involvement in the slave trade.
In 1834, to achieve the abolition of slavery, the government needed to compensate 46,000 enslavers for the loss of their “chattels”, or slaves. The Trevelyans were paid £26,898 – the equivalent of about £20m in today’s money – for the “loss” of 1,004 slaves. This compares with the £4,293 12s 6d paid to the ancestors of the MP Richard Drax for the freedom of 189 slaves on their Barbados plantation.
The Trevelyan family owned Wallington Hall, a stately home near Morpeth, but Dower’s great-grandfather, Sir George Philips Trevelyan, a Labour MP, handed it over to the National Trust in 1943. Laura Trevelyan says it was built with money from the slave plantations.
Other families have apologised for their role in Caribbean slavery, including Alex Renton, author of Blood Legacy, a history of his family’s ownership of enslaved Africans, and they have contributed to social causes in the Caribbean. The Lascelles family of Harewood House were one of the biggest owners of plantations and enslaved people. They have also apologised and made reparatory payments to communities in the UK.
The historian David Olusoga says this decision by the Trevelyan family has to be viewed as part of a wider trend. “While governments stubbornly refuse to engage with growing calls for reparations, restorative justice and the return of looted artefacts across the world there are families, companies, universities, charities and other organisations who are acknowledging their historic links to slavery and empire.”
In November last year Drax had a private meeting with the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, after her government requested reparations from his family, which still owns the biggest plantation on the island. Negotiations are in process. (See the Grousist’s essay on Barbados as a republic.)
Trevor Prescod, chair of the Barbados National Task Force on Reparations, welcomed the Trevelyans’ apology and said this was “an example for Richard Drax. The Trevelyan family accepts the truth and demonstrates a great deal of consciousness into how the wealth was accumulated. They have reached the level of redemption.
“It’s an important symbol of common decency, demonstrating a social conscience and a duty to give something back. I have nothing but respect for them. This is an example for others to follow.”
Thanks are due to Paul Lashmar and Jonathan Smith for the original article. ‘Grouse Beater on Barbados’ link here: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-q5z
The Trevelyan name is detested in Ireland.
Sir Charles Trevelyan was in charge of British “relief” efforts during the Irish famine (An Gorta Mòr 1845-49) when the population was halved through starvation, disease and emigration. Food was constantly shipped out of Ireland while the people died.
Trevelyan believed in minimal intervention and limiting the financial exposure of the British exchequer to funding relief and that the famine was God’s way of punishing the Irish population.
He said: “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”
In his book The Irish Crisis, published in 1848, Trevelyan wrote the famine was “a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence”, one which laid bare “the deep and inveterate root of social evil”.
Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
Excellent potted biography of the odious Trevelyan family. I’ve added a section to the article. Thank you.
Thank you. Much appreciated
You’re welcome> I contemplated extending background detail, but the piece has as its goal reparation now offered by the Trevelyan family. Your extracts perfectly encapsulates the family’s terrible history.