George and James Laing
In 1819, George Laing, then living in Brixton, was described as ‘having been from 1797 to 1812 a Settler & Sugar & Cotton Planter in the Colonies of Demerera & Essequibo and during that period in the constant habit of following up and superintending the labour of Negroes in the cultivation and planting of new lands &c’ [Transcribed from CO48/4 by Sue Mackay]. On the basis of this experience he was applying, unsuccessfully, for a Government post superintending 100 families from the counties of Sutherland and Ross-shire, who it was proposed should be settled in South Africa to grow sugar cane.
In 1798 his partnership in Demerara, Messrs George Laing & Co, subscribed 10 guineas (£10.50) to the establishment of the Northern Infirmary in Inverness [London Chronicle, October 30, 1798]. Later court documents indicate that the other partner was his brother, James Laing.
Laing & Co ‘imported’ enslaved Africans to Demerara, shipping in 155 slaves on the ship Lively in 1802 [A commercial history of the British slave trade, 1785-1806: a preliminary study, Stephen D. Behrendt (University of Wisconsin, 1988)] and also selling slaves imported by other dealers at their premisses in Georgetown.
William Mackenzie & Co.
WILL Expose for Sale on Wednesday the 25th Instant,
at the Store of Messrs. George Laing & Co.
210 Prime Young Gold Coast
The Cargo of the Ship Ann, Capt. Frodsham, from Cape Coast.
Demerary, August 21st 1802
They also traded in London, in partnership with an Alexander Geddes, as Geddes & Laing. This partnership was dissolved by 1807 with the prohibition of the colonial slave trade. [E&DRG 13 June 1807]
George remained in Demerara until c1812 and then established himself in London, leaving his brother James in charge of their affairs in the colony. By 1815 he owned the ship Ann of London, and later the Susan, the Henry and the William Penn, which he used to take salt fish and lumber from Newfoundland to Demerara, from where he shipped colonial produce back to London. [Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the English Courts of ..., Volume 14 and Reports of cases argued and determined in the Court of common ..., Volume 3]
George Laing was declared bankrupt on 23 February 1818 and, as noted above, unsuccessfully sought a Government appointment in the Cape of Good Hope. Creditors were still pursuing him in 1823 [London Gazette, 22 November 1823].
He then appears to have worked with his brother to invest in plantations and other business in Berbice, unless there were a second pair of brothers of the same name. They were later described as ‘the leading merchants of Berbice, and the most enterprising and energetic of our colonists’. After emancipation in 1834 they invested in former Dutch coffee plantations on the Berbice river, converting them to sugar production, but claimed to have suffered substantial losses when the ‘apprentice‘ system, which bound former slaves to the plantations, was ended, as they saw it prematurely, after four years. At this point they had interests in plantations Mara, Ma Retraite, Friends, Enfield, Smythfield and Albion. [Timehri, Journal of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana]
At this date (1838) they were trading in partnership with Robert Semple as Robert Semple & Company. [London Gazette, 2 Jan 1838]
In 1841 George and James Laing were resident in New Amsterdam, both aged 30-40, born in Scotland. In their household were five clerks and eight coopers [Berbice Census, 1841].
George Laing promoted the recruitment of labour for the colony from both Sierra Leone [House of Commons Papers, Volume 31,1840] and from India, a subject on which he gave extensive evidence in person to a Committee of the House of Commons [Report from the Select Committee on East India Produce, 1840: Evidence of Capt G Warren and George Laing Esq]. In 1845, from Berbice, he reported that ‘10,000 instead of 5,000 coolies are to be sent by Lord Stanley to British Guiana [The Asiatic Journal 1845].
George Laing died at sea on his passage from Madeira to St Helena on board the ship Prince Regent on or about 26th January 1847. His brother James was later described as an insolvent partner in Laing Brother & Co, New Amsterdam[London Gazette].
Later a ‘beautiful marble monument to the memory of Mr. George Laing’ was erected in the Court House, New Amsterdam. [Timehri]
Only the subscription to the Northern Infirmary and the involvement in the plan to settle families in South Africa suggest that the brothers had a connection to the Highlands of Scotland.