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George Kinloch – Slave Owner and Anti-Slavery Campaigner

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

The statue of George Kinloch by John Steell, 1872 (photo by Jimmy Brown, courtesy of Public Art Dundee)

The Kinloch family have a strong association with Dundee. George’s fourth great grandfather William was one of a number of Dundee Burgesses in the family and his third great grandfather, Dr David Kinloch (physician to King James) also lived in Dundee and was buried in the Howff Cemetery. William owned land next to Gray Friars, which became known as Kinloch’s meadow. It seems appropriate that the statue of George Kinloch MP which was erected in 1872 outside the Albert Institute (now The McManus), is on that land.

Political life

The statue to George Kinloch was erected nearly 40 years after his death, a symbol of the esteem he was held in by Dundonians as well as those beyond the city, who recognised his role in political reform and his efforts for Dundee. His involvement with public affairs seems to have begun around 1814 as he became aware of the need for improvements to the harbour at Dundee. The Town Council was not acting and the many merchants in Dundee were losing trade as a result. Kinloch, at his own expense, was instrumental in getting a Bill passed in Parliament which gave the management of the harbour to the Guildry of Dundee rather than the Town Council. He was subsequently appointed to the new Harbour Board.

The 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester and the subsequent actions of the Government proved a turning point for George Kinloch. The Government wanted to suppress public meetings, but across the country they increased in demand. Kinloch was asked to address such a meeting at Magdalen Green on 10 November 1819. In this address he stated:

“I am decidedly an advocate for ‘Radical Reform’, on the base of first Annual Elections, secondly Universal Suffrage, and thirdly, Political voting by Ballot. […] We want no revolution; on the contrary, we want a Reform to prevent a revolution. We want nothing but what is contained within the British Constitution, freed, indeed, from those abominable corruptions which have nearly converted it into a code of despotism and us into a set of slaves.”

As a result of addressing this meeting, George was charged with sedition and summoned to appear in court in Edinburgh on 22nd December 1819. He would probably have been transported, if he had not escaped to France, where he lived until his pardon and return in 1822.

In 1831 Kinloch was elected as a candidate for Dundee and won the election to become the first MP for Dundee in the 1832 Reformed Parliament. He did not remain in office for long, dying two months later on28 March 1833.

Notably, the first of Kinloch’s list of election promises was the gradual abolition of slavery. On the subject of reform, he advised that “to go further with reform would have been impolitic, considering the powerful enemies who are opposed to all reform.” In terms of slavery and political reform the most powerful enemy would have been King William IV.

The reform of suffrage was indeed gradual – by the Third Reform Act of 1884, 40% of men still didn’t have the right to vote and it would take until 1928 for Universal Suffrage to mean men and women of 21 or older. The abolition of slavery took a tortuous path too. The 1833 Act gave all enslaved people in the Caribbean their freedom, although some other British territories had to wait longer. However, ex-slaves in the Caribbean were forced to undertake a period of ‘apprenticeship’, which meant working for former masters for a low wage. In many instances, this was just slavery by another name. Some slave owners made it impossible for enslaved people to buy their manumission.

Early life

George certainly didn’t have an easy early life, but his experiences may have led him on the path to becoming radical in his political views. His opinions were certainly not those expected at that time of a wealthy landowner.

He was born in Dundee in 1775 to George Oliphant Kinloch and Ann Balneavis. The family were living at Bellevue House (now the site of the Dundee University Students Association building). This was because their usual residence in Perthshire was being restored. His father died in 1775 very soon after George’s birth and his mother died seven years later from TB. In 1780 his mother had remarried to Lieutenant Colonel William Calderwood, but George and his older brother John were placed in the care of their mother’s sister, Jane Pringle, until she died five years later, also from TB. In 1788 they were sent to France with a tutor. The move was hoped to benefit John, who suffered from ill health but, unfortunately, he too died there in 1789. During his time in France, George would have been aware of the conditions which led to the French Revolution; he and his tutor moved to Florence because of concerns for their safety. George eventually returned to Scotland and in 1791 matriculated at Edinburgh University.

The Grange Plantation, Jamaica

Although George put the abolition of slavery as the very first item on his 1831 election manifesto, he neglected to tell the voters that his family (like so many other wealthy families at that time) had been slave-owners in Jamaica. The Grange plantation in Westmoreland, Jamaica, was originally acquired by George’s uncle, John Kinloch. He was born somewhere in Angus (probably in Dundee) in 1723, the second son of John Kinloch senior and Jean Oliphant.

John Kinloch emigrated to Jamaica in 1747 and acted as attorney to a number of plantation owners. One of these, Sir John Wedderburn (later infamous as the owner of Joseph Knight), introduced him to a Dr Patterson who advised him about acquiring a sugar plantation of his own. As a result, he purchased The Grange (exact date unknown). By the time of his death in 1770, it was worth over £10,000 (the equivalent of well over £1 million today). According to Charles Tennant, John had three mixed-race children in Jamaica, but there is no record of their names or their mother’s name, or whether they benefitted from his will. He bequeathed both The Grange in Jamaica and the Kinloch Estate in Perthshire to his brother George Oliphant Kinloch, George Kinloch’s father.

George Oliphant Kinloch was born in Dundee on 14 April 1720. There is a record of him travelling to Jamaica in 1770, the year his brother died, but no further record of him returning to manage the estate personally. This would have been done by resident overseers and attorneys. George Oliphant Kinloch died aged 55 in 1775, shortly after his son was born. He was interred in the Kinloch Chapel Mausoleum on the Kinloch Estate in Perthshire. Following his death, the plantation was managed by Sir John Wedderburn until his son George Kinloch came of age in 1795, whereupon he assumed ownership.

There is no evidence that George ever visited the plantation and saw the slaves that he now owned. Charles Tennant’s biography, The Radical Laird, details his travels in the UK and Europe but makes no mention of him travelling to Jamaica. It is interesting to note however, that in a letter to John Smyth of Balhary in 1790, he writes about the weather in Florence then enquires, “I should like to know how it is in Jamaica.” Perhaps Smyth, who was managing his affairs, had visited his father’s plantation.

Whether or not George ever saw The Grange, he would undoubtedly have benefitted from its income for nine years, until he sold it in 1804 to John Wedderburn of Spring Garden and Marylebone (first cousin of Sir John Wedderburn, mentioned above). At the around the time of the sale, a Government inventory showed that The Grange had 189 slaves (33 more than at the previous inventory in 1771). There had been 28 deaths recorded between 1796-98. Whether Kinloch was aware of this (and whether this knowledge may have helped to influence his later anti-slavery stance) is unknown.

Inventory of plantations requested by Parliament respecting the slave trade and deaths for 1796-98, from Papers Presented to the House of Commons on the 7th May 1804, Respecting the Slave Trade

Written by Laura Mowbray


David Dobson, Directory of Scottish Settlers in North America 1625-1825 Vol IV, Genealogical Publishing Company, 1984

Alexander Maxwell, The History of Old Dundee, 1884

Charles Tennant, The Radical Laird, The Roundwood Press, 1970

Dundee Courier & Argus, 5/2/1872

Papers Presented to the House of Commons on the 7th May 1804, Respecting the Slave Trade

The Legacies of British Slavery website,

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