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David Alston's Slaves & Highlanders

Sharing my research on Highland Scots and the slave plantations of Guyana

It's coming yet for a' that, that Man to Man the world o'er, shall brothers be for a' that.


Historical irony: One of the first public memorials to Robert Burns, the mausoleum in Dumfries  with its marble mural sculpture, was only completed in 1819 thanks to a donation of £150 from Scots in Demerara, many of whom would have been slave owners. [See Christopher Whatley, Immortal Memory: Burns and the Scottish People (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2016), p33.]


Am I not a Man, and a Brother? [Abolitionist campaign slogan]


Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past (ed Tom Devine) was Edinburgh's University Press's best-selling title in 2015/16.

My chaper in this book is ‘The habits of these creatures in clinging one to the other': Enslaved Africans, Scots and the plantations of Guyana'.

Other recent publications

Details and links to recent peer-reviewed chapters and articles.



Recently added resources on this site

Reports of the Titles to Land Commissioners

A small group of commissioners were appointed in British Guiana in the late nineteenth century to settle disputed claims to land and to clarify titles. Although not a comprehensive survey of land ownership, their reports are a vaulable insight into the complex history of land ownership, especially after emancipation. The report on Berbice (1893) is particularly detailed and runs to 900 pages. Those on Demerara and Essequibo are less so.

A complete set of the reports (possibly the only surviving complete set) was part of the library of the Colonial Office and is now held in the Foyles Special Collections at King's College, London. My thanks to the staff for helping me access these reports.

Sample page: claims to Belladrum, Berbice

Below is a link to a summary of the contents of the Berbice volume:

Summary of contents of Berbice Report

Check the Library for other resources

First Scots in Guyana: For a summary of the first Scots to become involved with plantations in Guyana see the notes which can be downloaded here.

Scots in Surinam: I am beginning to add information on Scots in the neighbouring Dutch colony of Surinam, many of whom moved there from Berbice. Slavery was not abolished in Surinam until 1863 and so these were some of Britain's last slave owners. See Scots in Surinam on this site.

Philip Dikland of KDV Architects, Paramaribo, Suriname has created a database of information on the history of 400 plantations in Surinam. This extraordinarily rich Heritage Database can be accessed through KDV's web site.

Right: Statue of Tata Colin, messianic leader of a slave rising on the Scottish-owned plantation Leasowes (Coronie, Surinam) in 1835.


Finding you way around the site? - this may help:

Index of 610 people with connections to the Highlands and plantations in Guyana.

Indexes also now available for Other Scots, English, Irish, North American, Other Caribbean and Other European

Or try using the FIND box at the top of the right-hand column on this page which will search within this site.


Joshua Bryant's idealised Rainbow over a Plantation (top) contrasts with the same artist's illustration of slaves executed after the Demerara slave uprising of 1823.