Generations of Grahams of Gartmore have been laid to rest in the small burial enclosure a short distance from Gartmore House where they lived. Nowadays this magical little lair is enveloped in vegetation – snowdrops and daffodils at this time of year – and it feels like a long time since anyone came here to mourn the dead.
Inside the enclosure seven mural tablets are set into the walls, inscribed with the names of the many generations of people thought to be buried there. The central, and most elaborate tablet, which spans the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, immortalises the names of some key people in the history of the Graham family. More importantly perhaps, it lists the key individuals through whom the Graham family traced its succession to property:
Sir William Graham of Gartmore who died in 1680 (and who may thus have been the first Graham of Gartmore to be buried on this spot);
Isobella Bontine through whom the Grahams inherited the estate of Ardoch in Dunbartonshire, and
William Cunninghame, 12th Earl of Glencairn, through whom they succeeded to the estate of Finlaystone in Renfrewshire (now Inverclyde).
In this respect, the tablet is far more than just a memorial to dead ancestors; it is a material expression of the family’s hereditary claim to the three estates it owned when it was at its wealthiest. Their rights to property set in stone, quite literally.
At the centre of this extraordinary accruing of land, wealth and influence sits Robert Graham of Gartmore (1735-1797), whose name is inscribed on the tablet among those of his parents, his grandparents, his son and many others.
By the time he died Robert Graham had increased his family’s possessions far beyond that which any ancestor had done before him. His lands extended from Finlaystone in Renfrewshire across the Clyde to Ardoch near Cardross, to Gallangad on the Dumbarton Muir, to Gartmore and Kippen, in addition to his lands at Lochwood in Lanarkshire, and of course the property that initially set him on the road to serious wealth – his two Jamaican sugar plantations, Roaring River and Lucky Hill.
Having inherited multiple estates Robert was confident that he would have sufficient ‘to enable me to support that rank and fashion to which I am entitled’. For Robert Graham his ownership of property, his personal wealth and his lifestyle were clearly a matter of entitlement.
He carried out costly agricultural improvements, enlarged and embellished his country mansions at Ardoch and Gartmore and laid out the planned estate village of Gartmore. He even had a ‘Pinery’ where he experimented with growing grapes and pineapples…. Yet, for much of his adult life his attention was firmly fixed on a place far far away from his ancestral home – that place was Jamaica.
Like many younger sons of the Scottish gentry, who had no immediate prospects of inheriting the family estate, Robert Graham had looked to the British colonies for career opportunities. Aged 17 he left Scotland for Jamaica where a relative of his father’s, Mr Bontein, at that time held the lucrative position of clerk of the Court in Kingston. Within a year Robert had secured the position of Receiver-General of Taxes in Jamaica.
His marriage to Anne Taylor, the daughter of a Kingston merchant, and sister to Simon Taylor, Jamaica’s richest and most influential planter-merchant, further guaranteed Robert’s position among the elite of Jamaican colonial society. Generations later, his Great Great Grandson and biographer, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, speculated that Anne may have been a ‘Creole’ (a term often applied to a white person born in the colonies) as she is likely to have been born in Jamaica. Robert Graham and his brother-in-law Simon became business partners and over the years the two became the closest of confidantes, looking after each other’s financial interests as well as those of each other’s children and heirs. The expression ‘thick as thieves’ spring to mind…..
Simon Taylor remained a bachelor all his life, but like many plantation-owners, he famously fathered a number of mixed-race children with enslaved women - ‘some almost on every one of his estates’. It was not unusual. And Robert Graham, who would go on to marry Simon’s sister, was no different. In 1760 he wrote ‘[…] I was not remarkable for that cold Virtue, Chastity, but indiscriminately found my sentiments agreeable to my desires and gave rather too great a latitude to a dissipated train of whoring, the consequence of which I now dayly see before me in a motely variegated race of different complexions’.
What happened to Robert Graham’s offspring ‘of different complexions’ and their mothers I do not know. Perhaps a closer examination of his will might tell us whether he intended to provide for them in some way, like Simon did for some of his ‘West Indian families’. Robert did make arrangements for his illegitimate (white) son to be sent to Britain for education, as was common for many white colonial settlers, but little is known about him.
The Roaring River estate was a slave plantation that produced sugar, rum and molasses. The produce was shipped to Greenock to be sold and the ships would return to Jamaica loaded with fresh supplies and goods for the estate. It is not known how many slaves Robert Graham owned but it is clear that he was involved with the trading of slaves within the colonies and regularly purchased new slaves to replace ones that had been worked to death at Roaring River.
Simon Taylor’s letters show that he was painfully aware of the fact that the only reason his estates were making a profit was ‘because he put negroes on them […]’ and he continually worried about the future of the West Indies in the event of the abolition of slavery. However, for now, emancipation was a long way away, and for Simon and Robert keeping and trading enslaved Africans was business as usual.
The slaves that lived on Robert Graham’s estate were his private property and individual slaves were occasionally sold on to new masters. In 1760 Graham sold a slave woman to a man on the Musquito Coast in Central America. Graham wrote: ‘At the Recomendation of my friend Mr. McLean, I use the freedom of consigning to you a Negroe Woman named Mary who washes extremely well and has severall other Qualifications which the Purchaser will be soon able to discover, but is endowed with such a surprizing facility of speech that I found it impossible to put up with it any longer […] You will please dispose of her to the best advantage and remit me the proceeds […]’
Around 1770-1, when Graham left Jamaica to return to Scotland, he sold a slave called Jack whom he shipped to a merchant in South Carolina, America. Graham stated that Jack was ‘a very valuable fellow’, well qualified to wait at table and ‘worth One hundred Pistols’.
However, he did not part with all his slaves when he returned to Scotland. He brought at least two with him, one named Martin and one named Tom. Martin was sent back to Jamaica in 1773, as he was ‘too lively and sprightly to accommodate his disposition to the sedate Gravity of this Climate – dispose of him to the best advantage. I was offered £100 for him before I left Jamaica, and I think he is now worth a good deal more’, Graham wrote.
Tom, however, remained with the Graham family. Before leaving Jamaica Tom was valued at £100, a price which Robert Graham thought was exaggerated, and instead chose to bring him to Scotland. Tradition has it that Tom was buried in the burial enclosure at Gartmore House. Unsurprisingly, there is no mural tablet in the burial lair with Tom’s name on it. Nevertheless, we may imagine that Graham felt some appreciation for Tom, and if he is indeed buried in the family burial enclosure, that this was a sort of final act of kindness extended to him. Or perhaps a final act of domination.
I am grateful to Peter Sunderland and staff at Gartmore House for permission to visit and photograph the Cunninghame Graham burial enclosure.
Cunninghame Graham R.B. 1925. Doughty Deeds : an account of the life of Robert Graham of Gartmore, poet & politician, 1735-1797
Brown, Vincent 2008. The reaper's garden: death and power in the world of Atlantic slavery.
Daniel Livesay: Extended Families: Mixed-Race Children and Scottish Experience, 1770-1820
National Library of Scotland: Inventory, Acc. 11335 , Cunninghame Graham
The Taylor and Vanneck-Arcedekne Papers from Cambridge University Library and the Institue of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
Katinka Dalglish, museum curator, Strathard Community Trust member, Scandi immigrant, beginner blogger.
Me at Blipfoto