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David Alston: Work Portfolio

This Portfolio is based on a model suggested by the late Professor Charles Handy, formerly of the London School of Economics. It is an attempt to describe how the different parts of my life fit together to form what is, I hope, a balanced whole.

All of them are ‘work’ – if by that is meant things to which I have devoted serious and sustained effort.

It provides a fuller answer than a standard CV to the questions:
Who am I? What have I achieved? What can I do?

It describes . . .

  • Paid work 
  • Home work (all that is done to establish and sustain a home)
  • Gift work (work done freely, for the community, voluntary organisations and others)
  • Study work (all learning and training, seriously undertaken)

‘Flat people’ as E M Foster called them, were those who had only one dimension to their lives. He preferred rounded people. I would now call them portfolio people, the sort of people who, when you ask them what they do, reply, ‘It will take a while to tell you it all, which bit would you like?’ Sooner or later, thanks to the re-shaping of organisations, we shall all be portfolio people. It is good news.

Professor Charles Handy

Paid Work

1981–1984 Teacher at St Aidan’s High School, Wallsend, Tyneside.

1984–1989 Tutor/organiser for the Workers’ Educational Association, Highland Region, Scotland

1990–1991 Self-employed consultant

1991–2003 Founder curator of Cromarty Courthouse Museum.

When I think what museum experiences have been special to me in recent years, then I recollect not the big museums, but the small scale and the individual, the Museum of Cromarty based in an old courthouse . . . or the Inverness Miners’ Museum in Inverness, Nova Scotia . . . They have preserved a sense of integrity in what they do and communicate effectively the meaning and experience of life in the past just as powerfully as they do information about it.

Charles Saumarez Smith in ‘The Future of the Museum’
(Martindale Lecture, 2001)




‘David Alston: Mr Courthouse’, print by John McNaught (2003)

1999–May 2017 Elected councillor for the Black Isle Ward of The Highland Council; Council Budget Leader 2008-12; Deputy Leader of Council, 2012-15.

April 2016-February 2019: Chair of the Board of NHS Highland.


Public appointments

Member of the Children’s Panel, Highland Region, 1988–1995
Member of Independent Tribunal Service Appeal Tribunal (Child Support Agency Tribunals), 1995–1999
Justice of the Peace, 1999–2003
Trustee of Cromarty Harbour Trust, 1998–2017; Chairman 1999-2017
Board member of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, 2001–05
Non-executive director of the Board of NHS Highland, 2003–11 and 2013–2016. Board Chair 2016 - 2019


Home Work

I have raised a family of three children, now in their thirties, and created a home in a restored nineteenth-century merchant’s house in the small town of Cromarty (pop 720). I regard the community, and not just the house, as my home.

I have played an active role in our small town and believe it is in many ways a model for other small communities. Among other things, I was chair of the local Harbour Trust and consider one of my successes is to have kept the harbour accessible to all as a focal point for the community. By using risk/benefit analysis, and with the advice of David Ball (Professor of Risk Management at Middlesex University), we have kept alive the local tradition of ‘harbour jumping’.


David Alston is one of those most valuable people: a historian committed to local history and the possessor of a startling intellect, most of which has been devoted to the town . . . His enthusiasm for Cromarty fills the room as soon as he walks in.

Charlie Connelly, Attention All Shipping (2005)


 Photograph: Calum Davidson

Gift Work

A selection of my involvement in the voluntary sector:

  • Full-time volunteer at Great Georges’ Community Arts Project, Toxteth, Liverpool June 1971–September 1972. A combination of youth work and arts activities in an area of multiple deprivation and racial tension.
  • Founder member of and part-time volunteer with Play Workshop, St Katherine’s Community Centre, Aberdeen 1973–76.
  • Founder volunteer at Aberdeen Employment Rights Information Centre, Aberdeen. 1976/77.
  • President of the Middle Common Room, The Queen’s College, Oxford 1979/80.
  • Convener of Management Committee of Highlands and Islands Forum, 1987–1990. An organisation promoting an integrated approach to conservation and development in the Highlands and Islands.
  • Member of the University of the Highlands and Islands Foundation, 1997–2001 and of the University Court 2013–2017
  • Trustee of Nigg Old Trust (a body dedicated to preserving the old parish church of Nigg and its Pictish cross-slab), 1998–2018.
  • 2012–2018: Trustee of The Middleton Trust (for the benefit of young people in Cromarty).
  • 2022–present: Trustee of Inspiring Young Voices


Study work

I have studied full-time at the Universities of Aberdeen (1970-77), Oxford (1977-80) and Newcastle (1980-81), and part time at the Universities of Leicester and Dundee.

Academic degrees

M.A. with First Class Honours in Mental Philosophy [Aberdeen, 1975]
LL.B. [Aberdeen, 1977]
Post Graduate Certificate in Education (with distinction) [St Mary's College, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1981]
Diploma in Museum Studies [Leicester, 1994]
Ph.D. in Modern History [Dundee, 1999]

Principal publications

‘The fallen meteor: Hugh Miller and local tradition’ in Michael SHortland (ed), Hugh Miller and the Controversies of Victorian Science (Oxford University Press, 1996)

The Resolis Riot (Cromarty Courthouse, 1996)

Ross and Cromarty: A Historical Guide (Birlinn, 1999)

My Little Town of Cromarty: The History of a Northern Scottish Town (Birlinn, 2006)

 ‘Very rapid and splendid fortunes’? Highland Scots in Berbice (Guyana) in the early nineteenth century' in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (2006)

'A Forgotten Diaspora: The Children of Enslaved and ‘Free Coloured’ Women and Highland Scots in Guyana Before Emancipation' in Northern Scotland, Volume 6, Issue 1 (2015)

‘The habits of these creatures in clinging one to the other': Enslaved Africans, Scots and the plantations of Guyana in Tom M Devine (ed), Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection (EUP, 2015)

‘You have only seen the fortunate few and drawn your conclusion accordingly’: Behavioural economics and the paradox of Scottish emigration in Angela McCarthy & John Mackenzie (eds), Global Migrations: The Scottish Diaspora since 1600 (EUP, 2016): A tribute to Professor Sir Tom Devine, FBA, the leading historian of modern Scotland and its diaspora.

‘Scottish Slave-owners in Suriname: 1651–1863’, Northern Scotland, 9 (Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) – Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year 2022.

'Christian Robertson (1780–1842) and a Highland Network in the Caribbean: A Study of Complicity' in Chris Dalglish, Karly Kehoe & Annie Tindley (eds.), Scottish Highlands and the Atlantic World: Social Networks and Identities (Edinburgh University Press, 2023)

'The Guyana Maroons, 1796–1834: Persistent and Resilient until the End of Slavery' in Slavery & Abolition (2023) at https://doi.org/10.1080/0144039X.2023.2165065

With Caroline Vawdrey: East Church, Cromarty: A Guide (Scottish Redundant Churches Trust, 2012) and The Port of Cromarty Firth: the first forty years (CFPA, 2014)

Current research

I research the role of Highland Scots in the slave plantations of the Caribbean, especially Guyana, before emancipation in 1834. I am one of the first Scottish historians to draw attention to the prominent role of Scots in the slave trade and the plantation economies of the Caribbean.

Slaves & Highlanders is a creative commons website, which I design and manage myself, to share my current research and co-operate with others.


Contact details
Dr David Alston, Buzancy, 51 Church Street, CROMARTY IV11 8XA
Tel: 01381 600243 Mobile: 07771 664445 email: davidalston77@gmail.com

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