A REPORT into Inverclyde’s historical connections to slavery recommends removing Gourock’s Coat of Arms from display where practical.
Councillors will consider the proposal at a meeting next week. The coat of arms features a figure widely considered to be that of an enslaved man.
An online survey regarding the issue was held involving Gourock councillors, Gourock community councils, the Gourock Regeneration Forum, other community groups in the Gourock area, and the two local secondary schools
Of the 205 respondents, 50 felt that the coat of arms should be retained (although a great majority of them were in favour of information boards to explain them); 77 felt the coat of arms should be changed or removed; and 23 didn’t know or weren’t clear about their views.
There were 29 comments left as part of the survey; 11 of these were strongly negative about the coat of arms (some respondents were ‘shocked’ and ‘horrified’ upon seeing the coat of arms for the first time), five were of the view that it is history and therefore cannot be changed, and two believed it to be inaccurate to describe the man as enslaved.
A report states: “Having regard to the views expressed in the Gourock coat of arms consultation, where both the online survey and the listening events were strongly in favour of its removal, the Working Group recommends that officers carry out further work to investigate the removal of the coat of arms from display where practicable, and produce additional information on the coat of arms in any place where removal may prove problematic.
“In each individual case, officers will have to consider: practical and cost implications for any action; any listed building or other planning implications; and any title or other legal constraints that may apply.
“Actions with budget implications may require to be remitted to the appropriate service committee. If there is a desire to carry out action on property outwith the ownership or control of the Council, agreement would need to be reached with the owner or owners of the property in question.”
Gourock Burgh Coat of Arms is an amalgamation of the crest of the Stewarts of Castlemilk — who held the lands of Gourock until 1784 when they were sold to Duncan Darroch, a merchant who made his fortune in the West Indies — and the Darroch crest.
The report explains: “The Darroch crest bears a ship in full sail, with two oak trees above and one beneath. Above is a ‘demi-negro’ or ‘demi-man, sable’ – these are heraldic terms, ‘demi’ because only the head and torso are shown, and ‘negro’ or ‘sable’ because the man is black. He also holds a dagger in his right hand.
“The oak trees show the fertility of the Darroch estate and the other devices bear witness to the fact that Duncan Darroch spent many years of his life in Jamaica.
“The ship indicates his voyages, and the ‘demi-negro’, likely to be an enslaved black man, is emblematic of the slavery which at that time was common on the American continent and in the West Indies, and which was the basis on which the Darroch fortune was built.
“The Darroch crest on the Gourock coat of arms could therefore be considered to be an outward depiction of slavery, and the money to be made from it. It should be noted that the enslavement (or otherwise) of the man has not been ascertained beyond doubt, nevertheless the visual is an arresting one on first sight.
“The Gourock Coat of Arms is currently displayed in various places in Inverclyde including the Gamble Halls, the Provost’s Lamp at Shore Street, and alongside other local Burgh coats of arms on a stained glass window in the Watt Institution.”
The report gives the main locations in which a representation of the coat of arms can currently be found and an indication regarding possible removal:
Gourock Municipal Buildings, Shore Street — Coat of arms carved in stone above the entrance. (Sable man and hand holding dagger sit separately from shield and could be easily removed.)
Provost lamp post, Shore Street — Coat of arms on the glass part of the lamp. (Sable man sits separately from shield and a glazier could remove.)
Gamble Halls, Shore Street — Coat of arms above side door [on King Street]. (Easily removed. A coat of arms used to hang inside the building but this has already been removed from view by persons unknown and is stored in a cupboard.)
Pavilion, Gourock Park — Coat of arms on front of building facing George Road has been removed by persons unknown. Coat of arms on top of pavilion facing into the park features the sable man. (Could be easily removed).
Dardanelles Memorial Window, Watt Institution, Greenock — Coat of arms featuring the sable man on a section of the window featuring Gourock, Greenock and Port Glasgow burgh coats of arms. (The artist or a glazier could remove.)
Other proposals from the report include:
— A heritage trail across Inverclyde highlighting key aspects linked to the slave trade.
— Further research on Inverclyde’s historical links to slavery to be carried out.
— Proposed new plaque dedicated to the many abolitionists who spoke in Greenock
— Celebration of Black History Month
— New interpretation around James Watt and family’s links to slavery be included within the Watt Institution.
— Online information available about Inverclyde’s links to the slavery to be improved.