Edinburgh slavery row: New plaque installed on Melville monument to replace stolen one

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A new plaque has been installed at the base of Edinburgh's Melville Monument in St Andrew Square to replace the one stolen last year by supporters of the controversial 18th century politician accused of delaying the abolition of the slave trade.

The new plaque carries the same wording as the stolen one, dedicating the monument - completed in 1827 in honour of Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville - "to the memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas’s actions."

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The plaque describes Dundas as a "contentious figure" who was "instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade". It also notes: "Dundas also curbed democratic dissent in Scotland.  Dundas both defended and expanded the British empire, imposing colonial rule on indigenous peoples. He was impeached in the United Kingdom for misappropriation of public money and although acquitted, he never held public office again."

The new plaque has the same wording as the one stolen last yearThe new plaque has the same wording as the one stolen last year
The new plaque has the same wording as the one stolen last year | City council

The new plaque takes the place of the brass plate removed from the monument in September 2023, with a group led by a member of the Dundas family later claiming responsibility. The council issued legal letters demanding the return the plaque. But Bobby Dundas and the Melville Monument Committee claimed the council had "no authority" to install the plaque in 2020 and insisted their action in removing it was within the law.

Council leader Cammy Day said he was glad that a replacement plaque had now been installed. "Since the original plaque was stolen last September, I’ve been clear that we will not allow the actions of a minority to derail the important ongoing work to address the legacies of slavery and colonialism in our city.

"Following the refusal of the Melville Monument Committee to return the original plaque, we filed an official report with Police Scotland in October. This investigation is ongoing, and our legal team will continue to monitor the situation closely. We’ll also be seeking to recover the costs of this replacement plaque from the Melville Monument Committee.

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“We’re rightly proud of the steps we’ve taken to properly address the legacies of slavery and colonialism here in Edinburgh. From conducting an independent review chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, to carrying out the recommendations through the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Implementation Group (ESCLRIG) under the leadership of Irene Mosota, we’re committed to being a modern, inclusive and welcoming capital city."

ESCLRIG chair Irene Mosota said the new plaque was a milestone for the city. "It’s only through properly acknowledging and exploring our collective past that we can address the challenges of the present and putting ourselves in a strong position to shape a positive future.

“This is a very exciting time for ESCLRIG as we now look towards implementing the recommendations of the independent review. Together, I’m confident that we can forge the foundations for a more tolerant, just, and equal Edinburgh that we can all be proud of.“

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