Stirling-Maxwell’s Connection to the North Atlantic Slave Trade

A study of Pollock Houses’ Walled Garden to Reveal a Hidden History to the Slave Trade

Pollok Estate and its financial associations with the North Atlantic slave trade.

Preliminary research reveals that Scotland was complicit in the trade of goods manufactured by African slaves during the colonial period, up to Abolition 1833.[1] Many Glasgow locations and street names celebrate the magnificent wealth-building of early merchants, who took Glasgow from an insignificant Scottish town of barely a dozen streets, to global trade dominion. Much of Glasgow’s architecture, landscape and parkland was created as a result of slavery. 

Pollok Estate occupied most of what is no known as Glasgow’s Southside,[2] covering 13,000 acres. Maxwell’s many tenants paid feu duty to Maxwell, the landowner. [3]  Like other  Glasgow gentry, it was expected that the Maxwells had merchant interests abroad, prompting a research question, ‘To what degree did the Pollok Estate benefit from the profits of slavery?’, or ‘How are the profits of slavery evidenced in the landscape of Pollok Estate?’ Although records support enormous tenant revenue, around £47 p/a per tenant, there is no evidence of colonial trade.[4]

Amongst the Scottish merchants making profits from the use of slaves in the Caribbean were the Stirlings of Keir,[5] notable Perthshire gentry and landlords.[6] Elizabeth Maxwell of Pollok married Archibald Stirling of Keir in 1815. The Keir and Pollok Estates united in 1865. Their son, William inherited the Maxwell baronetcy taking the title Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, 10th Baronet of Pollok, choosing to live on the Pollock estate.

The Stirlings planned and opened two Jamaican plantations, Hampden and Frontier.[7] Mortgage details covering Hampden Estate from 1750 shows the names of slaves who were sold with the estate.[8]  Social and architectural historian, Mark Girouard claims that for landowners like the Stirlings, power was based on the ownership of land.[9] Plantations become an extension of land ownership, where power establishes a dynasty, becomes part of the dominating class and contributes to the ruling of the country thereby protecting their own interests, prompting a research enquiry based on division of labour and contributions to monetary economy. 

Slave related wealth seemed to have stimulated regeneration in many country houses and gardens, Pollok House included.[10] Historian, Madge Dresser suggests a list of criteria to judge whether properties are linked to the slave trade, including: ‘employing’ slaves; owning plantations, or dealing in slave-produced goods.[11] Using these criteria, slavery association with Pollok House and William Stirling-Maxwell (1710-1783) is clear. Compensation records show that the Stirling-Maxwells made numerous claims. Overall the equivalent of £17 billion (in today’s value) compensation was paid to British slave owners. At this point, a working hypothesis may be that the expansion of Pollok House and its gardens was funded in part by the profits made, not just from slavery, but also from its abolition.

Although by 1734, Alexander Pope had established a new type of garden, that had appearances of untamed nature, winding paths, grassy glades, Stirling-Maxwell preferred formal garden layouts made popular in France and Italy.[12]  Landscape historian Gordon Haynes describes the essence of French style as an obvious control and domination of nature by man’s hand.[13] At Pollok House, a series of raised terraces enabled Stirling-Maxwell and his guests to look across the estate, perhaps offering an opportunity for Stirling-Maxwell to fashion himself, like royalty, as a person of considerable wealth. Haynes argues that those who commissioned gardens such as Stirling-Maxwell’s considered them necessary to undertake social and official duties.[14] The setting-out of elite falling gardens can be viewed as forming part of the process termed ‘Georgianisation’, specifically ‘ideology of naturalising the hierarchical conditions of social life through landscape architecture’.[15]

Taming his garden, like taming African slaves, fashions Stirling-Maxwell as a man of great power and importance. Haggery & Seymour argue that concepts of property was inherently bound with issues of status, power and authority. Because the slave trade was pervasive in British economies, attitudes towards property were informed and shaped by perceptions of enslaved Africans.[16] Heath Massey agrees that the countryside reflected new social structures as capitalism supplanted older feudal social systems. Common land was kept out of view while farming and tenancy became larger.[17]

As the Empire grew, Glasgow became a vital urban, manufacturing and commercial hub for expanding colonies. The city that served these industries burgeoned too, and for those who could afford it, rural societies’ gardens were the antidote to the rapidly growing nineteenth century cities.[18] The plantation worlds of Kipling, and trading world of Conrad helped normalise the power and authority of the new bourgeoisie that gained influence in the Age of Empire.[19]

A significant part of Pollok Estate is the Walled Gardens. Susie West and Charles McKean agree that sheltered spaces were ideal for fruit trees and mixed beds of salads and flowers.[20] McKean also shows that walled enclosures were natural extensions of medieval courtyard houses and were features of geometrical gardens such as Polloks.[21] With decorative elements within, the Walled Garden is distinctly separated from outlying surrounding parks and farm pastures.[22] West claims these spaces as ‘green-rooms’, or a series of courts where authority and power was played-out to visitors. Catherine Thomson agrees adding that while there are no doubt psychological and symbolic factors, the practicality of the Walled Garden could be particularly Scottish as it protects against the climate. However, neither writer indicates that the garden and its décor was purposefully used to fashion national identity for its owner and users, prompting the question, ‘To what extent does the décor in the walled garden promote ideas of Scottishness?’

Scottishness is explored by Charles McKean who argues that the walled gardens are inner privy courts, elite spaces for householders, and their beholders. He claims them as ‘imagined-spaces’ where symbolic Scottishness could be expressed.[23] He is perhaps referring to Benedict Anderson who writes, ‘territorialisation is utterly self-conscious, and political in intent’, suggesting a research methodology be derived from academic thinking around national identity and self-fashioning.[24]

To conclude, two complementary lines of investigation would certainly be worth pursuing: first is the extent to which Caribbean interests formed part of the sculptural garden décor in terms of symbols and planting, or whether overall improvements were funded by slave reparations; second is the extent to which the walled garden fashions Stirling-Maxwell as a man of empire, but also a Scottish man keen to espouse national interests.

To what extent does the décor in the walled garden promote ideas of Scottishness?

This strategy considers two aspects of the Walled Garden in Pollok Estate, Glasgow. The estate underwent improvements throughout the nineteenth century over successive generations: Sir John Maxwell, 8th Baronet of Pollok (1791-1865), and Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, 10th Baronet (1866-1956). The strategy includes examining the garden personally, and looking at primary sources: maps; ledgers, and secondary sources derived from the academic study of nationalism and identity with emphasis given to an examination of culture and modernity. It will first examine the use of planting in the garden, assessing how non-native plants kindle nationalist ideas. Next, the decoration and recombination of older elements into the walls of the garden will be examined.

Between 1785 and 1844, Sir John Maxwell (8th Baronet) imported plants from across the British Empire.[25] At the time of writing, the glass houses in the Walled Garden were closed to the public and no-one was available to discuss the collections legacy. For future research this information would be invaluable. However, what is evident is the prolific planting of imported rhododendrons on the Rhododendron Walk, planted in two near-perfectly straight lines from the House to the North Lodge, and significantly within the Walled Garden.  From the 1812 Inventory of Timber in Pollok, Ceders from Lebanon and Birch from the Himalayas are listed among trees planted, suggesting some truth to the claim of importing plants from abroad.[26] The transformation of the estate landscape positions Maxwell as a ‘man of empire’ firstly, and also a Scottish man with cultural capital, power and taste. Maxwell is thoroughly modern, mobile and on a constant project of discovery. 

Figure 1: Andrew Welsby, Rhododendron Walk leading to Pollok House (2020), Digital Photograph. 

Although Maxwell’s project can be viewed politically, using this culture to separate his status from the rest of the community, the planting and sharing of his designs across the estate community homogenises culture, necessary for the imagination of community and nationalism. In the Walled Garden the inclusion of plants from the empire creates experiences based on difference, where they become signs for misrecognition creating a culture of opposition.[27] National identity homogenises around opposition and polarity, where demonising difference galvanises self-identity.  Moreover, evidence of foreign plants highlights native species where they would otherwise be seen as normal and usual. With the non-native planting creating a difference, Scottish, natural planting become aesthetic fetishes because they interpellate the national ‘subject’ as the subject of national culture.[28] Therefore Scottishness is artificially constructed and a product of the interplay between foreign and vernacular.

Figure 2: Andrew Welsby, Exit from the Walled Garden showing rhododendrons and other non-native plants (2020), Digital Photograph. 

From 1892 Stirling-Maxwell (10th Baronet) began remodelling the domestic gardens around the house with his architect, Robert Rowand Anderson.[29] Ledger records show that in 1892 there was  £822 was spent on planting and repairs, rising sharply to £1570 in 1893.[30] The Ordnance Survey map of 1893 shows that work had begun on creating a new arrangement of steps and terraces to the east of the house, and an extension to the Walled Garden. By applying the modern idea of society as one of perpetual growth, Anthony Smith argues that nationalism is the effect of industrial and social organisation.[31] Viewing the Walled Garden as a series of strata, built upon by successive generations become symbolic of this growth. Improvement work carried out in the 19th and early 20th centuries to the Walled Garden was on top of existing walls, and was built in stages over several centuries, in rubble, ashlar and brick. [32]

Figure 3: Andrew Welsby, Wall from the Walled Garden showing successive improvements (2020), Digital Photograph. 

The garden is partly constructed of remnants of the sixteenth century Laighe Castle incorporated in to nineteenth century improvements. The old castle wall is built of rubble with a stone beam added half way up the wall where a layers of new stone extend its height. Account books show the Stirling-Maxwells as very comfortable, so why not build the wall afresh? At the time of writing the plans for the rebuilding of the wall could not be located, although they do exist, appearing in the archive index. These plans would be invaluable for answering this question. However, on the wall’s reverse side, four worn stones from the fourteenth century arms of Sir John Maxwell are set above the garden gateway, and it is not clear when these were added. Their inclusion, contributing to the family status and myth could account for the wall not being rebuilt. The stones depict the Maxwell arms of four shields, embalms of defence creating a visual symbol of opposition. The shields, barely visible now, show top left, St Andrews cross; top right, a chequered defence; bottom left, a lion rampant suggesting strength, valour and often associated symbol of Scotland; lastly three bushels, associated with peace and plenty.  

Figure 4: Andrew Welsby, Detail from Laighe Castle (2020), Digital Photograph. 

A seventeenth century gateway was incorporated into the west side in the late 18th century. Immediately outside the garden is a twentieth century carving of a lion, holding a shield depicting the Saltire marking the Maxwell’s Scottishness. Hobsbawm’s analysis, that entirely new symbols come into existence as part of national movements, helps to explain the reimagining of the Maxwell origins as a form of cultural memory using the contemporary lion as a motif. This is especially interesting as this sculpture was fashioned after the combination of the Pollok and Keir estates, about 100 years after the Stirling’s of Keir sided with the Jacobite’s during the uprising of 1745.[33] The lion therefore fabricates a common history and shared identity around a Scottish nationalism.[34]

Figure 5: Andrew Welsby, 20th Century lion with saltire shield (2020), Digital Photograph. 

The various cultures within the garden; plants from the empire; brick building atop rubble building; the recombination of insignia and heraldry and successive improvements allude to a high culture where the walled garden is akin to that which is cultivated, and literate. Gellener, in Smith claims, ‘modern man is not loyal to a monarch or a land or a faith, whatever he may say, but to a culture.’[35] Through the reception of recombined artefacts visitors compare ancient virtue with modern counterparts, and may note the nationalist St. Andrews cross on the heraldic lions, creating political and nationalist significance. 

Eric Hobsbawm helps draw a conclusion where he observes that symbols, tradition and ritual are necessary parts of the invention of a nation. These are made visible through the repeated use of shields, lions and Saltires.[36]

In what ways can the profits of slavery be evidenced in the improvements of the Pollok Estate Walled Garden?

Allan Dreghorn (1706-1765) designed the current Pollok House and its gardens in 1737.[37] He was also a wealthy merchant, and co-founder of the Glasgow Bank, established to serve Virginia and Caribbean merchants interests.[38]  By association, this would suggest the Maxwell’s shared colonial interests, however examination of the Nether Pollok Ltd. ledgers revealed that the Maxwells were landlords, not merchants.[39]Pollok estate, before the Maxwells begun to sell land to housing developers, occupied much of what is now Glasgow’s Southside.[40] Typically, tenants paid feu duty to the Maxwells, and with the estate covering 13,000 acres, their income was considerable.[41]

Historian, Nicholas Draper argues that ineffective recording of compensation data is one of the  key challenges in tracing slavery’s physical and cultural imprint on the building or improvement of country houses.[42] This is despite knowing that slave owners in the UK were compensated £20 million. Parliamentary papers published in 1837-1838 do record some information of recipients but omit three pieces of critical data necessary for adequately tracking compensation claims and awards: the name of the estate to which the award was made; residential status of the payee; and critically the residence and identity of the awardee within larger lines of family descent.[43] University College London (UCL) Slave Compensation Records have sought to address these omissions and have created a modern, searchable database, bringing together two research projects in 2015.[44] Unfortunately the project focuses on the Caribbean and includes no records of Virginia slavery. Furthermore, inclusion in the database, although building a connection between a person or family as slave owners, could be tenuous based on the principle that occasionally plantations were financed, but not occupied or managed by those financiers; family connections made between siblings, children or cousins does not necessarily mean the name listed on the database is saturated in slavery. From the records it would seem this was not the case with the Stirling-Maxwells. 

One year prior to the combination of Maxwell and Stirling estates, in  November 1764, James Stirling, Williams uncle, wrote to his brother Archibald, Williams father, revealing that he expected to earn £2000 from the sale of slaves in Kingston.[45] A later invoice book from 1780 details 348 slaves at their Hampden plantation alone.[46] Alan Karras claims that Hampden was valued at £35,000 with 300 slaves in 1780, and the smaller Frontier plantation at £5000 with 200 slaves.[47] The Slave Compensation database supports Karras by revealing that Archibald Stirling the younger (1769-1847) claimed compensation for 690 slaves worth £12,517.[48]

UCL Compensation records show that William Stirling-Maxwell, 9th Baronet of Pollok (died 1862) built upon his father and uncle’s Caribbean interests. He was also aware and complicit in industries built on slavery, evidenced not just by his compensation of £9,591 for 453 slaves, but by his dealings across Glasgow. William was also a shareholder in Stirling, Gordon & Co. along with his brothers Charles (died 1830), John (1742-1816) and John Gordon of Aikenhead (1753-1828). Their combined wealth at the point of slave emancipation was £713,201 sterling.[49] This suggests that not only did the Stirlings command enormous wealth by exploiting enslaved Africans, but they were also paid vast sums as reparations after 1833, and profited from the sale of their Jamaican estates once they could no longer use slaves to generate income. This would suggest that expansion of Pollok House and particularly the ongoing improvement work to the Walled Gardens was funded in part by the profits made from slavery. 

Unearthing these slavery associations establishes the development of links through time, but arguably provides little more than a smoking gun. Evidence connecting slave profits to the garden improvements are at best circumstantial, as sources of wealth located in records are difficult to isolate and track through time; where income can be directly tracked through databases such as UCL’s, it would be foolhardy to claim it was spent on specific projects. Additionally, as Draper illustrates, ‘people were not rich because they owned slaves, but owned slaves because they were rich.’[50]

One possible reading of the Walled Garden as evidence for the use of slaves is to consider others living on the estate, where the garden was a place of toil, labour and containment. In this way it differs from the white privilege and freedom seen elsewhere in the grounds. The garden is a real place denoting labour and servitude, with only a wall separating it from the hard work of the fields and farms on the estate. Seen this way the mask hiding hierarchy and inequality slips away to reveal that the relationship between outdoors work in the garden and slavery is one based on ideology. The physical legacies of slavery in the Walled Garden are barely visible, if at all. Other than the walls themselves, the greenhouses remain, at one time nurturing plants from across the empire. It is this absence which is most visible. As the records show, slaves were property, like chickens, horses or machinery. African slaves, had no voice, were subaltern and to a large extent continue to be an unspoken, underlying theme in Scottish culture.[51] Scottish academic, Stephen Mullen claims the selective amnesia is institutional, arguing that Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade is ignored at all levels from government to schooling, and includes, as has been demonstrated, the heritage sector.

3190 words.


Primary Sources

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Figure 1: Andrew Welsby, Rhododendron Walk leading to Pollok House (2020), Digital Photograph.

Figure 2: Andrew Welsby, Exit from the Walled Garden showing rhododendrons and other non-native plants (2020), Digital Photograph.

Figure 3: Andrew Welsby, Wall from the Walled Garden showing successive improvements  (2020), Digital Photograph.

Figure 4: Andrew Welsby, Detail from Laighe Castle (2020), Digital Photograph.

Figure 5: Andrew Welsby, 20th Century lion with saltire shield (2020), Digital Photograph.

[1] Mullen, 2009: p. 8. 

[2] Ferguson, 2017: p. 4.

[3] Ferguson, 2017: p. 5.

[4] Ledgers, log books, financial records, 1765-1888: TD 503/7

[5] Unknown, 2019: p. 1.

[6] Karras, 1992: p. 70. 

[7] Keir Works at Hampden, n.d.: T-SK 22/13.

[8] Indenture, 1750: T-SK 9/8/1.

[9] Girouard, 1978: p. 2.

[10] Dresser, 2013: p. 29.

[11] Dresser, 2013: p. 29.

[12] Girouard, 1978: p. 8.

[13] Haynes, 2012: p. 14.

[14] Haynes, 2012: p. 14.

[15] Leech, 2013: p. 56

[16] Haggerty & Seymour, 2013: p. 80

[17] Massey, 2013: p. 113.

[18] Massey, 2013: p. 119.

[19] Said, 1978: p. 20.

[20] West, 2012: p. 7.

[21] McKean, 2003: p. 147.

[22] West, 2012: p. 5.

[23] McKean, 2003: p. 147.

[24] Anderson, 1991: p. 17.

[25] Haynes et al (ed), 2016: p. 29.

[26] Haynes et al (ed), 2016: p. 25.

[27] Redfield, 2003: p. 54.

[28] Redfield, 2003: p. 55.

[29] Unknown, Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 2016.

[30] Ledger, 1891-1894: T-SM 21/3.

[31] Smith, 1999: p. 47.

[32] Haynes et al (ed), 2016: p. 30.

[33] Historic Scotland, 1987.

[34] Hobsbawm, 2013: p. 23.

[35] Gellener, 1983, in Smith, 1999: p.47.

[36] Hobsbawm, 2013: p. 23.

[37] McDougal (ed), 2017: p. 5.

[38] Unknown, Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 2016.

[39] General Ledgers, 1782-1969: TD 503

[40] Ferguson, 2017: p. 4.

[41] Ferguson, 2017: p. 5.

[42] Draper, 2013: p. 18.

[43] Draper, 2013: p. 19.

[44] UCL Legacies of British Slave Ownership, 2020.

[45] Letter Book, 1764-1772: T-SK 22/2.

[46] Invoice and Sales, 1780-1784: T-SK 22/7.

[47] Karras, 1992: p. 78.

[48] UCL Legacies of British Slave Ownership, 2020: n/a.

[49] Cooke, 2012: p. 160.

[50] Draper, 2013: p. 23.

[51] Mullen, 2009: p. 9.

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