Jamaican role for Sir Geoff maintains historical link

Jamaican-born scientist Sir Geoff Palmer has been made the first Honorary Consul for Scotland by the Jamaican government.

Thursday, 24th January 2019, 5:00 am

Sir Geoff, an honorary freeman of Midlothian and Scotland’s first black professor, spoke of his pride at taking on this new role.

He said: “I’m delighted, and sort of surprised. It’s a great honour. Not only for me but in terms of the history.

“I have done a lot of work on the history of Penicuik, Scotland and Jamaica. There was a historical link, and me now being appointed to this somehow seems appropriate.

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“There has been a link for over 200 years, so for this to now be recognised by the government is important.

“The position will open up better links between Jamaica and Scotland and I’m delighted to have been chosen to do that. It’s a great honour. The Jamaican government sees what we Jamaicans are doing in Scotland and has recognised that. About 70 per cent of the names in the Jamaican telephone directory are Scottish. There are more Campbells there than here.”

Sir Geoff also explained the area’s dark link with Jamaica and the slave trade, which cruelly made fortunes for businessmen and women who went on to become household names, supplying tobacco among other products.

He said: “Some readers might say what’s the links between Jamaica and Midlothian? One example is one of the most famous members of parliament for Midlothian, Henry Dundas. His family came from Arniston. He was the person who actually selected the governor for Jamaica because he was Home Secretary and a powerful politician in the Pitt government.

“He controlled slavery in the West Indies. In the 1790s he sent Lord Balcarres to Jamaica to challenge the Maroons who were rebelling against British slavery rule in Jamaica. Balcarres went as governor and transported the Maroons to Nova Scotia. The Maroons are now regarded as an important part of Jamaican history.

“There is a powerful story to be told. I’m now looking to ensure that this history is told and not forgotten. Scottish people have taken to the truth of history.

“Another important thing is that Henry Dundas is probably more famous for stopping the end of the slave trade for about 15 years. It caused some 630,000 more Africans into slavery.

“So his link is very historically powerful. Midlothian is a central part of this historical change. Henry Dundas must be turning in his grave that the present Freeman of Midlothian is Jamaican!”

Sir Geoff, who came to Scotland as a student in 1964, aged 24 and left in 1968 but returned to Penicuik in 1977.

He added: “My job is to explain and promote this historical link between the two countries. It’s also my job to ensure that relationship can be built on.”