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For my research and publications on Enslaved Africans and Scottish Enslavers in Guyana click on the image below

This is a large site with over 400 pages of information. 

I spoke at The Sandbach Tinné Conference – Digitising and Decolonising Collections at the MShed, Bristol on Tuesday 24 October 2023. My presentation 'The Robertsons of Kiltearn: a middling, complicit, 'baggy' family' explored the family network which linked the Robertson, Sandbach, Parker and Rainy men, who (with others) formed what became Sandbach Tinné. This mercantile partnership was one of the largest beneficiaries of the £20m of compensation paid by the British Government to slave-holders at the end of British colonial slavery.

My research into this family is the subject of my most recent publication:

'Christian Robertson (1780–1842) and a Highland network in the Caribbean: a study of complicity' in Scottish Highlands and the Atlantic World: Social Networks and Identities (Edited by Chris Dalglish, Karly Kehoe, Annie Tindley), EUP 2023.


Review by David Parish in Scottish Historical Review (103:1):

'The third section . . . contains two excellent chapters examining Scottish Highland engagement in the plantation economies of the Caribbean and the ways in which Highlanders were active participants in oppressive systems of enslavement. David Alston uses Christy Robertson (1780–1842) and her family as a case study to demonstrate the extent to which middle-class families in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were involved in the enslavement of Black Africans and the extent to which this involvement was accepted as part of everyday life on the north of Scotland (9. 146). Alston’s essay is especially effective in the ways that it highlights the co-existence of enlightenment and oppression; Robertson’s family was deeply invested in the plantation economies even as she and her husband hosted numerous leading thinkers including John James Audubon.'


For links to my transcripts of parts of the extensive correspondence of the Robertson family (part of the Traill Papers in the National Library of Scotland) follow these links:

Traill papers transcripts NLS MS 19331 ff 1-51 Letters of Rev Harry Robertson

Traill papers transcripts NLS MS 19331 ff 55-152 Letters of Mrs Robertson

Traill papers transcripts NLS GB233 MS19332 Letters from the Robertson brothers

Traill papers transcripts NLS GB233 MS19334 Letters from the Watson boys

Memoir of Mrs Traill (Christian Robertson) Part I (to second marriage in 1811)

Memoir of Mrs Trail (Christian Robertson) Part II (Liverpool years)


A ‘menagerie of young heathen’: Enslaved children in a Scottish household and the legacy of the childhood trauma of enslavement

David Alston gave a presentation on this topic, based on the portrait below, at:

Encountering Children of Empire symposium (The National Trust for Scotland and Beniba Centre for Slavery Studies, University of Glasgow) at Culzean Castle (14 and 15 September 2023). Click on the picture of Salvador to read a full version of David's research.


Salvador: An Enslaved African Boy (c.1719–c.1733?)

Salvador was an enslaved African boy in the household of George Keith (1692/3?–1778), tenth and last of the Earls Marischal of Scotland,

Click on the picture to download an account of Salvador and the other enslaved children in the Earl's 'ménagerie of young heathen’: Ibrahim (a Turk, who trained as an artist in Venice), Stepan (a Kalmyk Buddhist), Mocho (an African who travelled Europe) and Emet Ullah (a Turk who met Voltaire, Rousseau, James Boswell and Adam Ferguson –and was known to David Hume).


Click below to see an image of the original painting in the National Portrait Gallery:

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal attributed to Placido Costanzi oil on copper, circa 1733.


The Dick Bequest Trust

James Dick (1743–1828) was born in Forres and was active in the slave trade in Jamaica for twenty years from c.1762. He then returned to London where he added to his wealth. At his death in 1828 he left the larger part of his fortune to create a fund to support parish schoolmasters in the three north-eastern counties of Scotland – Aberdeen, Banff and Moray. When the trust was established in 1832 the value of the fund was equal to the annual salaries of all 137 schoolmasters in that area. The Dick Bequest continues to operate.

My colleague Donald Morrison and I have called on the Scottish Government to ensure the return of this slavery-derived wealth to Jamaica. Our campaign has the support of Professor Verene Shepherd, who heads the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies 

Read our full report and recommendation by clicking on this link.

To see all correspondence with Scottish Government, the Governors of the Dick Bequest, and OSCR: follow this link.

Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean (EUP, 2021). Order from EUP or all the usual bookstores.

David Alston's Slaves and Highlanders is necessary reading for our moment, with the racial reckoning in global headlines resting on an honest reckoning with history. Alston illuminates the Scottish role in slavery, the slave trade and empire in the Caribbean with a moral commitment to the 'half glimpsed figures' at its margins. This is microhistory at its best, for it conscientiously excavates individual lives in the Highlands to reveal how those lives were intimately connected to the fates of forgotten others in the colonized world. Alston's ethics in telling the full truth is matched by a prose style that is evocative and lucid, with an excellent eye for humanizing detail.

– Gaiutra Bahadur, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University-Newark


A landmark book on the links between slavery and the north of Scotland.

– Alison Campsie, The Scotsman


I think it is a superb book.

– Marika Sherwood, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Black and Asian Studies Association


Slaves and Highlanders is an essential read for all Highlanders (and Scots).

– Joan Michael, Chair, Ullapool Book Festival


In profound parts, as painful as it is plaintive, Dr Alston’s dedicated work offers powerful glimpses of the victims and perpetrators of widespread abuses, the bloody terror and casual horror of everyday estate life and the brutally suppressed revolts.

– Indranie Deolall, Stabroek News


Three walks: Inverness and Cromarty


Inverness: Building on Slavery

A circular self-guided walk around sites and buildings in the city with connections to the slave-trade and slave plantions of the Caribbean and South America.

Click on the BLM image to download the walk.

And listen here to a 28 minute radio documentary revealing Scotland's legacy of slavery and sex on the plantations of Guyana. The programme shows that as a consequence there were, in proportion, more mixed-race children in 19th-century Inverness then there are today. Reported by Daniyal Harris-Vajda, Produced by Chris Diamond for BBC Good Morning Scotland, developed by Arlen Harris. Transmitted in March 2019.

Cromarty: Building on Slavery

A self-guided walk from the harbour to the Gaelic Chapel, visiting sites and buildings connected to the slave plantations of the Caribbean and South America.

Click on the image to download the walk.


Cromarty: A Walk to the West

A surprisingly rich mixture of Cromarty’s heritage – a wrecked ship, dead Dutchmen, tennis, D–Day rehearsals, roads, railways, quarries, a mystery apple tree, and some of the largest civil engineering works in the parish.

Click on the picture to download.



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