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The University of Dundee Founders Report


two students in the University grounds
University College Dundee by C G L Phillips, c.1914 (courtesy of University of Dundee Museums)

of the University of Dundee…

In 2021 the University of Dundee employed a post-doctoral researcher, Dr Cassandra Gooptar, to prepare a report investigating the early founders of the University and their links to slavery and colonialism. Dr Gooptar was assisted by a steering group comprising Professor Graham Fagen (convenor), Caroline Brown, Matthew Jarron, Dr Susan Mains, Dr Michael Morris, Ajit Trivedi and Professor Christopher Whatley. The report was launched during Black History Month in October 2022.

The key findings of the Founders Report are as follows:

  • The University of Dundee was founded as University College, Dundee in 1881. Its principal benefactor was Mary Ann Baxter, whose wealth was derived mainly from the success of the family linen business, Baxter Brothers & Co.

  • Through an extensive network of commission agents, Baxter Brothers sold their goods to transatlantic markets in the US, West Indies and Latin America. Most of these markets depended on enslaved or indentured labour.

  • The Baxters owned shares in other companies, such as Dundee, Perth & London Shipping Company Co Ltd (DP&L) and Turnbull & Co, which were also involved in the transatlantic slavery economy, contributing to their overall wealth.

  • Slavery economics thus formed the foundation of the Baxter family’s fortune.

  • As Mary Ann was the direct recipient of funds from the company and from inheritances left by her father and siblings, a large portion of her wealth came from these sources. It can thus be said that the University of Dundee was partially founded on slavery-derived wealth.

  • Several other early benefactors of the University also had links with colonialism and/or slavery, including George Armitstead and Stephen Williamson.

A summary of the report can be read on this webpage, which also contains a link to the full report. Further research is needed to explore other early benefactors, particularly of those institutions separate from University College Dundee which later became part of the University. We hope to commence phase 2 in 2024.

Written by Matthew Jarron, University of Dundee Museums, based on the report authored by Dr Cassandra Gooptar.

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