Who was Henry Dundas? A Speech by Alistair McConnachie

Who Was Henry Dundas graphic. Our 2nd Speech of the Day

Here is our second Speech delivered by Alistair McConnachie at AFFG's "Dundas Will Stand" event, in St Andrew Sq, Edinburgh, at the foot of the monument to Henry Dundas, on Saturday 20 June 2020, at 12.30pm.

There were 40 supporters of AFFG present, and around 150 protestors on the other side of the Square who called themselves "BLM" and who were opposed to the presence of the statue of Henry Dundas.

We gave 3 separate Speeches. Our first was "The Dundas Declaration" and our third was on "Britain's War Against the Slave Trade". Speech begins...

I'm going to talk about the man up there at the top of the 150 foot statue, which was paid for by Royal Navy personnel, officers and seamen. (1)

As well as being Lord Advocate of Scotland, he was also Home Secretary for the United Kingdom, Secretary for War, and also First Lord of the Admiralty.

In that latter capacity he built up the British Royal Navy so that it went on to defeat the French at the Battle of Trafalgar.

He was born in Dalkeith in 1742 and died in 1811, and he had a very wide political career.

And he had a lot of ideas.

He very much supported the Scottish Highlands and he advocated that only Gaelic-speaking Sheriffs should be appointed in the Highlands. (2)

He also wrote a paper suggesting that lands that Jacobites had forfeited should be returned to them. (3)

Such was his influence when he was in Parliament that he became known as "the uncrowned King of Scotland". (4)

It has been written that "no one did more" to promote the interests of Scots in the British Empire during that period as Dundas. (5)

So he was a big mover and shaker in the British Empire and he also helped to solidify the Union of 1707, through his diplomacy and his economic efforts.

And you know, the reason why some people misguidedly are attacking him is because they claim he delayed the abolition of slavery for 15 years. Well, that's one way of looking at it, but you could just as easily look at it and say that he speeded it up. He hastened it.

And I'll get to that in a moment.

But first I want to go back to 1778 when he was Lord Advocate in Scotland; which is to say when he was the Chief Legal Officer for the Crown in Scotland.

He took upon himself the case of a Joseph Knight, who had been a slave who had been brought back to Perthshire from the West Indies.

Joseph Knight wanted to leave the person who had brought him back, and it went to court. And it eventually went right up to the highest Civil Court in Scotland and Dundas as Lord Advocate stood for Knight and made the case for Knight, and it was this 1778 case which established that slavery was illegal in Scotland. (6)

So Ladies and Gentlemen, slavery was established as illegal in Scotland by Henry Dundas, the man you are claiming was "for slavery".

So do you realise how wrong you've got that?

It was Henry Dundas, the Chief Legal Officer for the Crown in Scotland who won the case which established that slavery was illegal in Scotland.

And that's why we're here to bring that out! Because it doesn't seem like you're going to hear that from the people who have got it in for him!

So, moving forward a few years to 1792, Dundas stated in Parliament, "That the slave trade ought to be abolished, I have already declared." (7)

What he wanted to do was to convince the powerful interests that it was in their interests to abolish slavery.

That was the only way it was going to be done in the British Parliament. That was the only way he would get it through the House of Lords.

So he inserted the word "gradual" into the legal terminology. And that was to ensure that it speeded-up the end of slavery. Because in 1807 the British passed The Slave Trade Act which abolished the trading of slaves in the British Empire.

Then in 1833, 22 years after Dundas had died, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed which abolished the practice of it in the British Empire.

So he has a strong role to play in standing against slavery and he was always open about standing against slavery.

So it is an injustice for you to imagine anything other than that!

[You can watch the Speech on our YouTube channel here.]


1) BBC News, "Henry Dundas descendant defends ancestor's record", 14-6-20.

2) Michael Fry, Wild Scots: Four Hundred Years of Highland History, (John Murray Publishers, 2005), at 149.

3) Ibid, at 111.

4) Jeremy Paxman, Empire, (Penquin paperback, 2011), at 52.