The Bahamas and the Kirk

Today the Baton arrives in The Bahamas, a country which has many links to Glasgow and Scotland.

Matters of religion and missionary work were central to the movement of people from Scotland to the Bahamas as it was settled. Many Anglican and Scottish churches were established in the Caribbean in order satisfy the religious needs of the British. Certainly the ‘New World’ of the western hemisphere had a tradition of religious freedom which the church of the secession, Presbyterianism, seemed to benefit from.

One church in particular has a tangible link with the University of Glasgow. The Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk was founded in Nassau in 1810 by a group of Scottish settlers, many of whom were loyalists expelled from the United States after the American Revolution, in order to maintain the traditions of the Scottish Church.

John Rae, who studied Greek at the University, was the first minister employed at St. Andrews from 1810-1815. In a source dated to 1810, there is a valuable insight into his duties at the newly established kirk:

‘We trust their worthy minister, the Rev. John Rae, will long live to publish the pure unadulterated gospel of Christ to them… and to illustrate their sanctifying and ennobling influence is his own holy and useful life’.

Thus it was not just the intent of the church at this time to serve only Scottish settlers. It was also established to spread the word of God to the former slave population who were coming in increasing numbers to the British colony after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

The link between the University of Glasgow and St. Andrew’s Kirk did not end with Rae. Sometime later in 1827, William McLure, a theology graduate of the University of Glasgow, became minister at the same church where he remained until his death in 1863. In 1926 one Andrew Douglas came to the University to study medicine from the Bahamas where his father, the Reverend Andrew Douglas, was minister at St. Andrew’s in Nassau and was said to encourage Gaelic speaking there, sometimes even preaching in Gaelic.

In a wider sense, the Bahamas still bears evidence of Scottish cultural influence. Many place names still have a clear Scottish heritage, for example Dumfries (Cat Island) and Cargill Creek (Andros Island). There is even a tartan for the Bahamas commemorating the early Scottish settlers, and reflecting the impact of Scottish diaspora across the new world and the meeting of many different cultures and traditions there. It was formally approved by the Bahamas government in 1966.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk is still functioning in Nassau today but in 2010 became part of a U.S denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, when the Church of Scotland released its overseas missions. Nonetheless the Scottish heritage remains in the establishment and continuation of St. Andrew’s which has born witness to over 200 years of Bahamian history.


By Poppy Brooks, Caribbean Commonwealth, Club 21

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The Caymanas and the United Presbyterian missionaries

The Baton arrives at the Cayman Islands today (11.04.2014), as did several alumni from the University of Glasgow in the mid-nineteenth century.

William Whitecross and John Smith were early missionaries to Grand Cayman in 1857 and 1868 respectively. The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (as it is now known) began its ministry in the Cayman Islands in 1846 as the Presbyterian Church, and Whitecross was the second missionary after Rev James Elmslie to take charge of mission stations on the island.

United Church, Cayman Island Council

United Church, Cayman Island Council

Their work within the Church and promotion of education continues and is remembered today. According to the United Church in Jamaica and Grand Cayman website “The United Church is the longest established Church in the Cayman Islands. It was formerly the Presbyterian Church [...] and is found in every District of Grand Cayman, with more than one congregation in some Districts. Wherever you live or are staying on Grand Cayman, there is a United Church within easy reach of you!”


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Jamaica-inspired novels: ‘Tom Cringle’s Log’ & ‘The Cruise of the Midge’

Michael Scott (1789-1835) was the author of two popular novels, Tom Cringle’s Log and The Cruise of the Midge.

The son of a Glasgow merchant, he studied Arts at the University (1801-1805) before going to Jamaica to learn the family business. His travels to and from the island and his experiences there were the basis of his novels which were originally published in serial form in Blackwood’s Magazine.

In 1973, The Jamaica Gleaner reported that Tom Cringle’s Tree, had finally fallen. The tree had stood since Michael Scott’s time and was so called because the author had allegedly once sought rest – and perhaps inspiration – under its branches.

By Nicola Fitzhenry, MLitt Creative Writing, Caribbean Commonwealth, Jamaica 1800s, Club21

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Interesting Jamaican connections from the 18th century: Charles Henry Knowles

In the 18th century, Glasgow and its University had strong links with the Caribbean colony of Jamaica.  One of the most interesting individuals that I have come across in my project is Charles Henry Knowles,  who led a successful career which brought him into contact with the famous British admiral Horatio Nelson.

Charles Henry Knowles was born in Jamaica in 1754, the sole living son of the Governor of the island.  This privileged background gave Charles an excellent head-start in life, but it would have meant nothing had he not also possessed strength of mind and spirit.  After attending Eton, he went on to study in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  In late 1768, the year in which he had earlier matriculated at  the University of Glasgow, he enlisted in the British Royal Navy.

His naval career was long and illustrious, spanning the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars. He was stationed throughout the British Isles and North America during his first decade of service, and saw little in the way of excitement, but in 1777 he got his first taste of combat, in a battle with a French frigate off the coast of St Lucia.  This engagement seemed to end in a draw, but several days later Knowles and his fellow crew got a nasty shock.  The same French frigate ambushed Knowles’ ship, the Ceres, and took him and his comrades prisoner.  Knowles was still young and inexperienced, but luckily for him, his privileged background (he had become a baronet when his father died the previous year) was enough to guarantee him gentle treatment from his captors.  He was soon exchanged for a wealthy French prisoner.

Battle of Granada, 2 July 1779, Jean-François Hue

Battle of Granada, 2 July 1779, Jean-François Hue, Musée national de la Marine

In 1779 Knowles was made captain of the flagship the ‘Prince of Wales’, thus giving him a second chance to prove himself.  He did so in a battle off the coast of Grenada, where he performed well, despite being lightly wounded by enemy musket fire.  He was then promoted to a post at Gibraltar.  The next few years he spent battling pirates and enemy privateers in the Mediterranean.

Knowles spent several months in the early 1790s stationed off the North American coast, but he soon returned to the Mediterranean, and it was here that he achieved  his greatest-ever success.  In 1797 he served under Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Cape St Vincent, and distinguished himself with his skilled seamanship and bravery.  For his part in the British victory, Knowles received a gold medal and Parliamentary recognition.

Shortly after came the end of Knowles’ active service, for ill-health forced him into roles that were less physically arduous.  He continued to climb the ranks, though: Rear-Admiral in 1799, Vice-Admiral in 1804, and Admiral in 1810.  In 1820, eleven years before his death in 1831, Knowles was appointed Knight Order of the Bath (KCB), in recognition of his many years of faithful, dedicated service to the British Navy.

Patrick Goldie, MA History, Caribbean Commonwealth, Jamaica 1700s, Club21

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British Virgin Islands and the colonial medical service

The British Virgin Islands receives a visit from the Baton relay today (02.04.2014).

Despite having over sixty islands to its name, we have as yet only managed to trace one historical link with the British Virgin Islands: Mansergh Frederick Haines Griffith.

Griffith studied Medicine at the University from 1935-37 as part of an LCRP qualification. He took classes in Pathology and Radiology and graduated from Edinburgh in 1939. With him underlining his first and last names on his matriculation slip, it must have caused confusion for the administrators who have filed it under the matriculation slips for ‘M’ instead of ‘G’.

Matriculation Slip 1935-36 (R8/5/56/8)

Born at Plymouth, Monserrat, Griffith returned to the West Indies after graduation under employment of the Colonial Medical Service. He was appointed medical officer at the San Fernando Hospital, Trinidad, before embarking on several other postings, including in the British Virgin Islands.

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Anguilla slips the net

The Queen’s Baton Relay arrives today (30.03.2014) in Anguilla – a slippery subject when trying to establish our connections with that island.

An initial search into Glasgow’s historic links with ‘Anguilla’ usually bring up images such as this one: an Alciato emblem (digitised as part of the Alciato project from the Stirling Maxwell Collection held in Special Collections). The reason for this being the word ‘anguilla’ that means ‘eel’ in more languages than one.

Chapter-title page for Anguilla in “A Description of the Island of Jamaica” (Sp Coll Bm3-l.12)

So it’s back to the drawing board with our search for Anguilla country links – and we’ll start with some background reading


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Merchants & Medical Officers of St Kitts and Nevis

The Baton arrives today (27.03.2014) on the islands of St Kitts and Nevis. As other islands in the West Indies, St Kitts and Nevis were inhabited for centuries by Amerindians and later fought over by the French, Spanish and English. The islands were finally ceded to Britain in 1713, and this also seems to be the period from which the first connections to the University of Glasgow stem.

The first found connection to Glasgow is Michael Peterson who matriculated at the University in 1742. He is later followed by Frances Sherriff and William Pemberton in 1775 and John Laurence in 1780. It appears that these students from St Kitts and Nevis in the 18th and into the 19th century were mainly sons of merchants and all of them undertook Arts courses at the University. It is also most likely their families were a part of the profitable sugar industry on the islands, exporting sugar and cotton from the islands to Scotland, but finding sources to confirm this has been difficult. However, we are hopeful that more information will be uncovered with the growing acknowledgement of, and research into Glasgow’s involvement in Atlantic trade(s).

The only student to have straddled both St Kitts and Nevis was Glasgow-born Weir Burns Cunningham, who graduated MB ChB in 1909 and became Medical Officer at the Emergency Hospital and Yaws Ward with Leper Asylum in St Kitts, and later District Medical Officer in Nevis. A few of his certificates are held by Archive Services.

If you know of anymore connections with St Kitts and Nevis, please contact us!

By Jani Jarnfors, MA Digital Media & Information Studies, Caribbean Commonwealth, Club21

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