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Moray councillors to decide what to do with £1.6m education fund set up by a slave trader

Moray Council headquarters in Elgin.

Moray councillors are being asked to decide on what to do with a £1.6 million trust fund set up by a Forres slave trader.

Born in 1743, James Dick became a successful merchant in the West Indies then London in the latter half of the 18th century.

However, research carried out by historians David Alston and Donald Morrison has found that Mr Dick along with his partner Robert Milligan were involved in the sale of more than 500 slaves shipped from Africa in 1779.

Following his death in 1828 a fund of around £114,000 was established to encourage learning and efficient teaching in what is now Moray, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen.

The Dick Bequest fund now stands at more than £1.6m.

While the council has no direct control over the Dick Bequest, it is required to nominate a councillor to sit as one of 10 governors who assess applications to the fund.

Few councils have addressed the historical legacy of slavery

Members of the education, children and leisure committee on October 6 will decide what actions to take, given the potential damage to their reputation.

Options include a ‘do minimum’ approach, similar to the stance taken by Aberdeenshire Council, that would mean not applying for grants or promoting the scheme.

However, the local authority will still have to nominate a councillor to sit on the board of governors and would be unable to prevent teachers applying directly to the fund.

Further options include lobbying the Scottish Government to re-direct funds to benefit people in Jamaica, a move backed by Mr Alston and Mr Morrison, and to take a wider position on the historical legacy of slavery.

Research from Highland historian David Alston in his upcoming book showed how plantations in Guyana took the names of places in the Highlands.

In his report, head of governance, strategy and performance Alasdair McEachan said: “Very few local authorities seem to have addressed the issue of the historical legacy of slavery in their areas.

“However, Glasgow City Council have taken the step of commissioning a major academic study into historical bequests linked to transatlantic slavery.

“This will include an audit of bequests and donations, street names and built heritage, scrutiny of records, public consultation and a resulting strategy.”

Should memorial be used to educate pupils on the area’s role in slavery?

Moray schools benefit from around £5,000 of equipment and £10,000 in learning grants for teachers from the Dick Bequest per annum.

A memorial to James Dick hangs in Anderson’s Primary School in Forres.

Both Mr Alston and Mr Morrison advocate using it to educate pupils on the area’s involvement with slavery.

A statue of Robert Milligan was removed from its plinth opposite the Museum of London Docklands in June last year because of his links to colonial violence and exploitation.

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