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Alexander Macrae (Kintail)

For family tree see Macrae of Inverinate on Ancestry (subscription required)

In 1856 Alexander Macrae [1787-1860] published A Manual of Plantership in British Guiana, describing himself as ‘a resident planter in that colony for half a century’. He was one of three sons (Kenneth, Alexander and Duncan) of Duncan Macrae of Inverinate in Wester Ross, who all became planters in Demerara - as were their father’s three brothers (Alexander, Farquhar and Colin).

He gave evidence to Alexander MacDonnell, the London representative of Demerara planters, who published his anti-abolition Considerations on Negro Slavery in 1824. From this it is clear that Macrae arrived in the colony in 1806.

Alexander Macrae cultivated plantation Endeavour on Leguan island from 1821; was attorney for seven estates in 1832; and invented a ‘novel steam-driven plough’ in 1839. He had, however, a low opinion of the former slaves and the recently arrived indentured labourers:

One of the greatest evils which the planter has to contend with here, is the almost total absence of any active sense of moral obligation on the part of the great bulk of the labouring population, more particularly among the coolies and negroes. These people are addicted to the vices of thieving and lying to an extent that is fearful to contemplate; and hence entire confidence never can be placed in the great majority of them by their employers. There are indeed some few honourable exceptions, but they are (I regret to add) "few and far between."

Manual of Plantership

In 1851 his three daughters - Christina (b1836), Mary (b1838) and Flora (b1840) - were boarding at a ladies school in Tain (Ross-shire). All three were born in Georgetown, Demerara.

Alexander died at Southampton on 31 July 1860, reputedly as the result of an accident during the voyage from Guiana. In his will, written in Southampton, he left $1000 to his wife, Eliza Macrae, with the remainder of his estate to be divided between his three daughters.

Mary was now a governess in Rosneath, in the household of Rev John Paisley, minister of Garelochhead. Christina (or Christiana) and Flora were mistakenly entered twice in the census of 7/8 April 1861 - both at a house in Rhu (close to where Flora was governess) and in Glasgow. This was probably because they were travelling in one direction or the other on one of these days. With Christina, who identified herself as a widow, was a 14-month old daughter, also named Christina, who had been born in Demerara. They were accompanied by two female servants, one born in Jamaica.

Christina and her daughter are said to have emigrated to New Zealand in 1865, while Flora moved to London as a governess.


Alexander Macrae's evidence to Alexander MacDonnell, published in MacDonnell's Considerations on Negro Slavery (1824):

Plantation Endeavour, March 4.1824.
In compliance with the request of the Committee, appointed by the public meeting, held in George Town, on the 24th of February last, communicated to me in your letter of this date, I have the honour to state for their information, that it is now nearly 18 years since my first arrival in this colony, during which period I have held under my charge as manager, 3 plantations; Plantation New Hope, with a gang of 230 negroes for 3 years; Plantation Bilbowe, with 350 negroes for about 6 months; and Plantation Endeavour, with 245 negroes for nearly 3 years, where I at present reside.

Treatment.—The treatment of the slaves generally, as far as I have had an opportunity of observing in this colony, has been of as mild a nature as the system by which they are governed can admit of. Their condition I conceive to be comfortable and happy in most cases, and in all instances, where the good conduct of the individual merits the kindness of the master. The quantity of food generally allowed to them I consider abundant, and the quality extremely wholesome, and well calculated for labouring people in this climate. The clothing with which they are furnished is in my opinion quite sufficient, both as regards their comfort and health. So much for what their masters furnish them with: but in speaking of the articles of food and clothing, I may be here permitted to remark, that the facilities allowed the slaves generally, in raising various descriptions of live stock and ground provisions, is so great as to enable the more industrious class to furnish themselves with many of the luxuries of the one, and extravagancies of the other.

Labour. — The quantity of daily labour required of an able man, as far as I have had an opportunity of observing, is as follows, viz. in shovelling, to throw out from 450 or 500 cubic feet of a trench in a day; in cane-holing to dig from one-twentieth to one-twenty-fifth part of an acre; in weeding and moulding young canes, to go over one-eighth or one-ninth of an acre, and so on in proportion; varying, however, in this as in all field-labour, according to the state of the weather, cultivation, and nature of the soil. These three circumstances operate so much either in furthering or retarding field-labour in this colony, that it is almost impossible to lay down any general fixed rule to go by; so that in this department a great deal must be left to the discretion and correct judgment of the manager.

As it is, of course, the object of the Committee to obtain every information that may tend to promote the happiness or comfort of the slaves, and having myself had an opportunity of introducing a system on this estate which, in my opinion, has added both to the comfort and happiness of the negroes under my charge, I hope it will not be deemed presumptuous in me here to state the nature of that system.

About 12 months ago I adopted a plan of tasking the field labourers in all sorts of work; this I was induced to do from two considerations; first, because by the old system there was no inducement, in the shape of reward, held out to the labourers to make them exert themselves to finish a day's labour; and, secondly, on account of the constant harrassing duty that was required of the persons having the charge of the slaves employed in the field: by the system of tasking, the negroes know what they have got to do for the day as soon as they muster for work in the morning; and there is a strong inducement and reward held out to them in knowing that when their task is finished, the rest of the day is their own: it is also attended with a very great relief to those having the superintendence of the field-work, as there is no necessity for their harrassing or pushing on the negroes with their work, as the people themselves are generally very anxious to finish their task, and the only attention that is consequently required from an overseer or driver, is to take care that, the work be well done. Having carried on this tasking system for about three months, and finding the negroes highly satisfied with it, on account of its contributing so much to their comfort and happiness, by enabling them to devote so much time to their own purposes; and finding also that a whip was never required by a driver in the field, I was induced to order the drivers to discontinue carrying their whips to the field altogether, and to reserve to myself the sole power to inflict punishments for all offences. It is now nine months since this last system was adopted: and I am happy in being able to add, that it has contributed greatly to the general contentment and good behaviour of the negroes, as well as to the interest of the owner, by whom, I believe, it is felt and acknowledged. The Committee will, I hope, excuse me for making this digression; and 1 shall now proceed to state what I know relative to the medical attendance and treatment of the slaves, as well as to their religious instruction.

Medical Attendance. — With regard to the former, medical practitioners are invariably employed by every owner of slaves that I have known in the colony, to attend upon them when sick. On plantations the medical attendant generally visits once every second day; and when there are any dangerous cases he visits as often as, and at whatever periods, he may be required. The hospitals are generally amongst the best buildings on every estate; comfort, convenience, and ventilation are studied in their erection; they are invariably kept clean, and are in most cases well calculated for the intended purpose: they are attended by one or more nurses, as circumstances may require, and the medicine, in all dangerous cases, is administered by either an overseer or manager. I have never known any limitation as to the necessaries required for the sick; they have in all cases (which have come under my observation) been supplied with whatever the medical practitioner ordered.

Religious Instruction. — Several of the slaves that I have had under my charge have had opportunities of receiving religious instruction. I never prevented any of them from attending divine worship, but I have known some persons who did not wish their negroes to attend missionary chapels, upon the plea of those preachers extorting money from them, and instilling dangerous doctrines into their minds.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your very respectful obedient servant, (Signed)
A. M'rae



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