Saturday 19 December 2015

Two Thousand, Five Hundred and Seventy-Nine Slaves

The first owner of Balintore Castle, David Lyon, made his money in the West Indies, so I had always guessed that "slaves and sugar" were involved.

However, when friend of Balintore Castle, David Orr, emailed me some of the details this year I was actually quite badly shaken. David Lyon had owned 2,579 slaves, and this particular statistic gave me great pause for thought: how can one human being own thousands of other human beings?

Slavery ended in the lifetime of David Lyon, and the British government compensated the slave owners financially. Lyon's compensation payments seem to have come through in 1838, 22 years before he commissioned Balintore Castle. Although this is quite a gap, it seems not unreasonable to assume that construction of the castle was funded from slave labour and the subsequent government compensation after abolition.

Here's the text that David Orr sent me:-

A friend mentioned noticing Balentore (sic) Castle mentioned in the documentation relating to compensation for slave owners for slaves freed on the British abolition of slavery (1833). The name was David Lyon Jnr, Balentore Castle, Glamis, Forfarshire, North East Scotland.  He had slaves in a number of Parishes in Jamaica (Hanover, Trelawney and Westmoreland) and on a number of Plantations within each Parish.  In total he had 2,579 slaves and received compensation of approx £46,860 which would have been an astronomically large sum in the mid 1800s.

UCL have a great website on the legacy of British slave ownership. Click here to see the details held on David Lyon. A political cartoon of the time, shown below, suggests that the abolition of slavery may have been more about conning the government out of the 20 million pound compensation money rather than having a higher moral purpose.



  1. Goodness me! It all leaves an odd taste in the mouth. I wonder what the equivalent value of that sum would be now!?

  2. A bad taste rather than an odd taste. I believe it is around £5m in today's money.

    1. I think £5 million is about right. When I was writing the article, I tried three different websites which calculate the value of historic money. As ever when you look into a technical area, the issues become more complex. £5 million is the absolute minimum, if you look at equivalent modern labour costs, the figure becomes even more astronomical. For a simple life, I decided to investigate no further. :-)

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