Hundreds of young men from the North East went to Britain’s slaving colonies hoping to get rich. Many were skilled tradesmen or highly educated professionals who faced unemployment at home.
Jonathan Troup was one of them. A medical graduate from Marischal College, he sailed to Dominica in 1788 as an assistant to Dr Andrew Fillan. Fillan was one of many doctors from the North East working in Dominica.
These medical men were making fortunes. Eventually James Clark of Aberdeen would own Clark Hall Estate, a sugar plantation with 250 slaves. James Laing of Haddo acquired three estates and 180 slaves, while Laing’s nephew, William Bremner, bought a coffee plantation that he named Aberdeen Estate.
Saw Dr Clark’s Negro with a chain and collar of iron round his neck. Though he is strong, the weight made him bleed at nose and mouth. Dr Clark has about 50 Negroes employed – he makes very great profits by them. Jonathan Troup learns that a fellow doctor keeps an enslaved labour force, Dominica, 1789
Troup was not this successful. He was quarrelsome and proud, and overcharged planters for attending to their slaves. But he was a good observer. In his diary he described the many illnesses and poor physical condition of the slaves. Much of this, he believed, was caused by severe overwork and mental despair.
He also observed the relentless cruelty, especially beatings and floggings. He disapproved of this, but he never questioned the morality of slavery. It seemed to him a natural state of affairs. The real injustice, he thought, was his failure to make a fortune like the other North East doctors.
Out of 500, one man only makes a fortune in the West Indies. He risks so much by bad payments and loss of Negroes, that in the space of 20 years he will not be able to make more than £3–4,000. Doctors and managers of estates die more than any set of people. Jonathan Troup fears poverty and death in Dominica, 1789