St Andrews and Empire: Large Print Exhibition Text

St Andrews & Empire

In 2021, museum staff worked with a Museum & Heritage Studies Post-Graduate student at the University of St Andrews to research colonial links in our collection to begin the process of decolonising the collection.

But what does this mean?

To decolonise a museum collection means to recognise the role that Imperialism played in the creation of British museums, and to re-examine whether the stories being told by objects acknowledge that history. Our collection has been developed with a focus on local history. However, as you will see throughout this exhibition, local history collections are not immune from the web of colonialism and empire.

This exhibition centres museum objects that have links to the British Empire due to most objects in our collection dating from the peak of empire in the early 20th century. Examining our collection through the lens of empire has provided new perspectives on the origin of objects, and the impact on people across the world. These objects are a snapshot of the hundreds of objects in our collection linked to colonialism and empire. Yet, they represent our first steps in exploring the wider, and perhaps more complex, narratives that our collection holds.


Empire: a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.

Imperialism: the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas.

Colonialism: domination of a people or area by a foreign state or nation : the practice of extending and maintaining a nation’s political and economic control over another people or area

British Empire Facts

  • The British Empire existed for almost 400 years.
  • The first colony was established on Roanoke Island, now part of the USA, in 1585. The colony failed and was abandoned in 1590.
  • The first successful colony was established in 1607 in Jamestown, now part of the state of Virginia, USA.
  • In total, 13 Colonies were established in North America by the British. The American Colonies went to war with Britain and declared themselves independent in 1776.
  • In the mid-18th century, Britain focused on building its empire to the east.
  • From 1757, the British East India Company began to exert control over India.
  • In 1858, India became an official colony and was considered the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire.
  • In the 1880s, Britain competed with other European countries in what is known as ‘the scramble for Africa’. Britain controlled 30% of the African population by the end of the 19th century.
  • At its peak in 1922, the British Empire covered around a quarter of the Earth’s land surface and ruled over 458 million people.


Local Legacies

General Robert Melville (1723-1809)

A direct connection between slavery and St Andrews can be drawn from the legacy of General Robert Melville. General Melville was born into an aristocratic Fife family. He spent a decade of his military career governing islands in the Carribean and established several personal estates. This includes 1037 acres at the Melville Hall estate in Dominica, 200 acres on the Carnbee estate in Tobago, as well as land in Granada. Slaves were used to run these estates. 128 slaves operated the sugar and rum plantation at the Melville Hall estate in 1770. The estates were valued at a combined £45,160 in 1770, £6,643,685 in current money.

General Melville also had a daughter with a slave. His daughter, Charlotte Melville, was provided for on the condition she did not leave the Carribean.

General Melville returned to Britain in 1771 and used his wealth from the Carribean to develop Fife land that he inherited from relatives. One such estate was Mount Melville, which had been established at Craigtoun in 1698 and is the site of Craigtoun Country Park. Melville built a new mansion house at Mount Melville and landscaped the grounds, purchasing 230 trees in 1790.

Local Legacies

John Whyte-Melville (1797-1883)

General Robert Melville’s estates passed through several male relatives before being inherited by John Whyte-Melville in 1818. John Whyte-Melville retained ownership of the Melville Hall plantation, which reached its peak slave population of 189 in 1820. The profits from the plantation continued to be part of the Melville fortune.

Whyte-Melville rebuilt the Mount Melville mansion again by 1821. He was a prominent local figure, becoming County Convenor, a member of the University of St Andrews court and Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. He also gave land for the Parish Church and manse in Strathkinness and was involved in the construction of the Episcopal Church on Queens Terrace in St Andrews. Two stained glass windows in the church depict him and his wife.

Whyte Melville received compensation worth £2,781 in 1835 for 135 enslaved people on Melville Hall in Dominica. This converts to £285,008 today.

John Whyte-Melville of Bennochy and Strathkinness (1797 – 1883)

Sir Francis Grant (1803 – 1878)

Kindly reproduced from an original painting held by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club St Andrews


The transatlantic sugar trade was key to economic growth in the British Empire between the 17th and 19th centuries, enriching colonial planters and British sugar refiners. Sugarcane plantations were established in Barbados in the 1640s and spread to each new British Carribean colony. Raw sugar became a high value import to Europe, driven by growing sugar consumption in the 18th century.

The demand for plantation labour resulted in 2.3 million enslaved Africans being transported to the British Carribean. Slave labour was integral to sugar estates until the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in the 1830s. Cuba and Brazil, states where slavery was not abolished until the late 1880s, continued to trade in sugar with Britain.

Fairrie Small Cube Sugar

Circa 1920s

Ref: TN416

This box of sugar cubes was sold at local grocer Aikman and Terras. The box dates to after the amalgamation of Fairrie and Co. with Tate and Lyle in 1929. All three firms were founded as sugar refineries in the mid to late 19th century.

Tate, Lyle, and Fairrie were all established after the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire. None of them have proven links to slave plantations in Cuba or Brazil. However, Tate and Lyle profited from legacies of exploitation. Their Carribean supplies of raw sugar were from estates built by slaves and an industry run on exploited workers. Even after the abolishment of slavery, indentured labour was used in Trinidad and British Guiana up until the early 20th century.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup

Circa 1960s

Ref: SAAPT 1991.178

Lyle’s Golden Syrup is one of the oldest unchanged brand packagings in the world. This tin from the 1960s is very similar to both a tin today and a tin from 1883. The depiction of the lion surrounded by bees references a passage from the Old Testament, reflecting founder Abram Lyle’s devout faith.

Abram Lyle was a Scottish businessman from Greenock. He entered a refinery partnership in Greenock in 1865 and later founded his own refinery in London in 1883 as Lyle and Sons. This company amalgamated with Tate and Sons in 1921 to form Tate and Lyle.

Tate and Lyle expanded its access to colonial supplies of cane sugar in Jamaica and Trinidad in the mid-20th century. It became the dominant British sugar refining corporation by 1949. It bought 25 sugar farms in Jamaica in 1937 and built a refinery in 1938. This first year of production saw violent labour disputes over low wages and poor conditions. The newly independent Jamaican government purchased Tate and Lyle’s local premises in the late 1960s.


Tea has been a staple of the British diet for over 350 years. What started out as a luxury good reserved for the wealthier classes, with the continued growth of the British Empire in the 19th century, quickly expanded to all classes. Tea fast became a ‘fruit of empire’, a symbol of British culture and imperialism.

Wooden Tea Caddy

Early 19th Century

Ref: SAAPT 001

Tea was an important colonial commodity as it reflected the status of its consumer. Wealthy tea-drinkers commissioned craftsmen to create ornate tea caddies (often made from wood such as mahogany and teak) to protect the tea.

The household tea caddy became a status symbol. They were highly valuable to their owners, and many caddies (like the one on display) had a lock so that they could be kept safe. Normally the lady of the house retained the key so that she could keep its contents secure.

Tea pot and teacup

Mid-19th Century

Ref: SAAPT 001

China tea pots and teacups became essential, everyday items of tableware in homes across Britain from the 19th century. The use of these everyday items, and the alignment of tea with British culture more generally, protected consumers from the harsh production practices of forced labour and poor working conditions that existed to get the tea to the consumers’ cup.

Darjeeling Tea packet

Circa 1900

Ref: SAAPT 2007.216

To compete with China and meet growing demand from British consumers, the East India Company introduced commercial tea growing in India in the 1840s. Large areas of land, like that of Darjeeling, were converted for mass tea production using Chinese seeds and cultivating techniques. Once a sparsely populated area of jungle, Darjeeling’s population grew rapidly from less than 100 people in the 1830s to 95,000 people by 1885, with 100 tea gardens in operation. Simultaneously, with the discovery of indigenous tea plants in Assam, tea production began to spread across India.

Darjeeling tea was one of the first tea plants to be commercially grown in India. Coined the ‘Champagne of tea’, it was a luxury blend that would have only been afforded by the wealthy of St Andrews. This packet was sold in local grocers Aikman and Terras.

While huge profits were being made from Indian tea, many plantation workers suffered under an abusive indenture system that bound them to the plantations until the early 20th century.

Advertising Sign for Choice Packet Teas

Circa 1900

Ref: SAAPT 2313

Britannia metal teapot

Early 20th century

On loan from Anne Morris

Wooden tea caddy with puzzle lock

Early 20th century

On loan from Anne Morris


Sir Walter Raleigh is cited as having brought tobacco to England from Virginia in 1586. Tobacco smoking and snuff-taking gradually grew in popularity throughout the 17th century in Britain, and by the 1680s 25 million pounds of tobacco was being produced in Jamestown, Virginia for export to Europe. Tobacco cultivation and export became an essential element of the North American colonial economy.

This ever-increasing demand saw plantation owners in North America turn to a system of indentured workers and slavery to supply them with a cheap labour force, maximising their profits. As tobacco exports boomed, the number of African slaves increased.

Macdonald’s Cut Golden Bar Tobacco Tin

Circa 1900

Ref: SAAPT 2361

Glasgow became a centre for the processing of tobacco in the 18th and 19th century. The tobacco would arrive as dried leaves and be processed into smoking tobacco or snuff, ready to be sold to British consumers. With Glasgow’s involvement in the tobacco trade, the image of the Scottish soldier, alongside that of the Native American, became synonymous with smoking, and was used widely as a marketing tool.

Macdonald’s was one of the well-known tobacco and snuff manufacturers in Glasgow in the 19th century. By the late 19th century, they employed over 150 people and had one of the largest factories in the tobacco trade in Britain.

Lambert & Butler Tobacco Tin

Circa 1930s

Ref: TN002

Gallaher Tobacco Tin

Circa 1930s

Ref: TN002

Murray’s Dark Virginia Cloud Tobacco Tin

Mid-20th century

Ref: SAAPT 2377

Paisley Pattern

The Paisley motif is called Buta or Kairi in the subcontinental textile traditions, with Kairi translating to raw mango, reflecting the shape of the tear-drop shaped motif. The motif, and its westernised equivalent, known as Paisley, has become one of the most recognisable patterns in history.

Shawls carrying the motif reached Europe in the late 18th century from Kashmir, India. The shawls were an exotic, yet practical, luxury item that became highly sought after thanks to the patronage of Empress Josephine of France, and later Queen Victoria. By the end of the 19th century, a European industry based on copying Indian originals thrived.

In Paisley, these shawls were woven on Jacquard looms, unlike the simple looms used by weavers in India. This loom increased production, however, unlike the tapestry twill weave of traditional Kashmir shawls, Jacquard loom shawls had one inferior side which is visible on the reverse of the Paisley Wool Shawl on display.

Paisley Wool Shawl


Ref: SAAPT 2389

Made in Paisley, Scotland, this shawl is reputedly one of 12 commissioned by Queen Victoria to choose as a gift for her wedding to Albert, Prince of Saxe Coburg Gotha, in 1840. After selecting a shawl, the Queen asked that the remaining eleven shawls be sold to other brides that year.

This shawl is reputed to be one of the 12. It was subsequently sold and taken to America. A Mrs Capitol-Hammack received it as a gift from her husband, who purchased the shawl from the personal effects of Charles George Gordon (1833 – 1885). The family of Mrs Capitol-Hammack donated the shawl following a visit to our Museum in 1984.



SAAPT 1999.113a

This sari was worn by Miss Jessie Tulloch Williamson during her time in Bengal with the London Missionary Society from the early to mid-20th century. Jessie worked as a Headmistress at a local girls’ school and was fluent in Bengali. She remained at the school throughout the Second World War (1939 – 1945), retiring to Scotland in 1945.

Organisations like the London Missionary Society, whilst charitable in their aims, were important in spreading Christianity and western values across the British Empire.


Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map

MacDonald Gill, 1945

Ref: SAAPT 2015.001

The Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map shows telegram lines across the British Empire in 1945. Britain is at the centre of the world, in red, as are her Colonies. Various technological imagery is depicted to emphasize Britain’s place in the world as a modern hub of communications.

The S.S Great Eastern, depicted bottom left, represents the ambitious steamship project undertaken in 1866 which saw the laying of the first operational telegraph cable to America. Since then, there has been a permanent cable connection between the continents, making communications that had previously taken months happen instantaneously.

Also pictured are radio towers and telegraph workers – all of which were crucial for communications during the Second World War (1939 – 1945). The network was also essential for a closed loop of communications across Britain’s Colonies, strengthening Britain’s authority across the empire.



Underwater telegram cables were insulated with gutta-percha, a natural rubber obtained from Palaquium trees native to South-east Asia. The material was also used to make a variety of items, including furniture and golf balls. Demand for gutta-percha resulted in unsustainable harvesting which often killed the trees. This natural resource was exploited to the extent that it was near extinction by the end of the 19th century.

Luxury Goods

Raw materials such as crocodile leather, ivory and tortoiseshell were imported into Britain from the Colonies to be manufactured into luxury goods. Colonial trade normally involved the importation of raw materials from the Colonies to Britain, and the exportation of manufactured goods back to the Colonies.

Exports of manufactured goods from British Colonies was banned. This was largely due to British manufacturers being deemed by the British to be more skilled in manufacturing. This policy was detrimental to local production in the Colonies. It suppressed local industry and the livelihoods of skilled craftsmen, while allowing British products to dominate the market. The employment arising in Britain accelerated industrialisation, resulting in a move from agriculture to urban living in rapidly growing cities.

Crocodile Leather Purse

Circa 1930s

Ref: SAAPT 197

In Britain, crocodile leather was an exotic, luxury item, with the silver embellishments made to be functional. In contrast, people of colonised countries would view silver as the more exotic item. Silver would be the centrepiece of manufactured goods by being made highly decorative.

Crocodile Leather Handbag

Circa 1970s

On loan courtesy of Marjorie Dickens

Tortoiseshell Comb

Circa 1930s

Ref: SAAPT 204

Tortoiseshell began to arrive in Britain in the mid-17th century when the English took control of Jamaica. British sugar plantation owners and slave traders often commissioned luxury objects, as they reflected their wealth and status. Items made from tortoiseshell were particularly prized owing to its translucency and colour, and for being versatile in making a variety of items, such as furniture and jewellery.

Over 200 years of the hunting of hawksbill turtles has driven the turtles to the brink of extinction. In 1977, international trade of the hawksbill turtle became illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The hawksbill turtle is still a critically endangered species today.

Ivory Glove Stretchers

Circa 1860s

Ref: SAAPT 207

By the mid-19th century, a highly profitable and commercial ivory trade opened in central and east Africa to meet growing consumer demand across Europe for ivory goods. The resultant ‘scramble for Africa’ saw European countries attempt to establish control and expand their empires, exploiting both local populations and valuable resources including gold, diamonds, and ivory.

In Britain, ivory was used to manufacture a variety of items including piano keys, combs, and cutlery. These everyday items were transformed into luxury goods, signifying the owners’ social standing.

Gloves were a social necessity in the Victorian period. At this time, having the appearance of small hands was fashionable, so gloves were very tight-fitting. Glove stretchers, therefore, were an important tool in the wearing of these must-have accessories.

Staffordshire China Figures

Circa 1850s

SAAPT 032 / SAAPT 034

Affordable china figures were being sold to consumers across social classes by the mid-19th century. These figures were produced as part of a series of military and naval figures in the mid-1850s in response to the rise of patriotism prompted by the Crimean War (1853 – 1856). ‘Britain’s Glory’ and ‘Scotland’s Pride’ celebrate both the sailor and the soldier as symbols of nationhood and empire-building.

Ivory Brooch

Mid-20th century

On loan from Irene Bennett

Portrait of Lieut-Colonel D.O.W Lamb OBE

Circa early 1930s


Lieutenant Colonel David Ogilvy Wright Lamb, O.B.E, was from an old St Andrews family that had links with India for over 100 years. Generations of the family served with the British Army in India throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The family resided at The Hirsel, The Scores, which they had commissioned in 1880 from local architects Jesse Hall and David Henry.

Golf Club Medals

1919 – 1934

Ref: SAAPT 2136 / SAAPT 2140

These golf medals were awarded to Lieutenant Colonel David Ogilvy Wright Lamb OBE at Gulmarg Golf Club, Kashmir. Located in the Himalayas, Gulmarg Golf Club has an 18 Hole Course, Par 70, and is the second highest golf course in the world behind Yak Golf Course, India. Kashmir was a British hot weather resort, and the Northern India Amateur Championship was played at Gulmarg every hot weather until the end of the Second World War (1939 – 1945).

The medals’ obverse carries a portrait which is likely to be the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh of Kashmir, whose reign lasted from 1885 to 1925.

British sports, particularly golf and cricket, were used as a means for the British colonialist to establish social relations with the colonised people of India. The rules of the game, including ways of dressing and behaving, conformed to imperialist ideas. These ideas were imposed, creating a sporting cultural legacy that still exists today.

Indian Anna


Ref: SAAPT 863

Indian Annas were coins used in India during the period of rule by the East Indian Company (1757 – 1858) and British Empire (1858 – 1947). This Indian Anna is a copper coin minted by the East India Company in 1835.

Before 1835, East India Company coins had been based on local currencies, carrying Persian lettering and the name of the Mughal emperor. The coins minted in the three presidencies – Bombay, Madras, Calcutta – were all different from each other. However, in 1835, the Company passed a law stating that newly-minted coins were to be called the Company’s Rupee. These coins carried the head and name of the British sovereign, and all silver coins in British India had a standard weight and value.

Biscuit Tin

Macfarlane Lang & Co, Circa 1935

Ref: SAAPT 2572

Macfarlane Lang & Co, a Scottish biscuit and bread manufacturer, began operations in 1817 in Glasgow. The company grew to be one of the country’s largest bread producers, merging with McVitie & Price to form United Biscuits Group in 1948, which is still in operation today.

The lid illustration is a reproduction of the painting The Fighting Temeraire by the famous British artist J. M. W Turner (1775 – 1851). The Temeraire was one of the ships that famously took part in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). The battle was crucial in establishing Britain’s naval supremacy over other European nations, and propelled the maritime expansion that would lead to further colonisation in the 19th century.

After years of disuse, the ship was decommissioned and brought to Rotherhithe shipyard, London, to be dismantled. Turner depicts the ship as it is being “tugged” to the shipyard by a steamboat, suggesting Britain’s transition to a modern industrial era. This narrative is reflected in the composition: the dark colours of the steamboat contrast with the white, ghostly colours of the battleship.

Cadbury’s Chocolate Tin


Ref: SAAPT 2338

Chocolate had become a more accessible good by 1914 and tins could be enjoyed as occasional luxuries by working class consumers. The tin illustrates popular expressions of pride in Britain and empire, through the symbols of a female “Britannia” and a lion.

Cadbury had grown to become a leading British chocolate producer by the early 20th century. Their Quaker principles prompted a commitment to workers wellbeing and an opposition to slavery.

However, these values were sometimes applied selectively. Cadbury imported cocoa harvested by indentured labourers on the Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe. Cadbury eventually changed their Cocoa suppliers by 1909, after years of investigating labour conditions.

End of Empire?

By the late 19th century, an increasing number of British Colonies sought independence from Britain. Some former Colonies became semi-independent and were called ‘Dominions’. In 1926, Britain and the Dominions became equal members within a community named the British Commonwealth of Nations. These Dominions continued to owe allegiance to the British monarch, but the United Kingdom would no longer rule over them.

Territories of the British Empire gradually became fully independent, sparking the creation of the modern Commonwealth of Nations (1949) that we know today. The handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 marked the end of the British Empire.

But was this the end of the British Empire? Some historians and social commentators argue that the Commonwealth is a vessel for the continuation of the systems of empire in terms of diplomacy and trade. With British companies continuing to control large areas of land and natural resources in former Colonies, legacies of Empire persist today.

Coronation Tea Tin

Melrose, 1953

Ref: SAAPT 2351

Queen Elizabeth II became Head of the Commonwealth upon the death of her father King George VI. Her coronation in 1953 was to signal a new era for the Commonwealth, as she declared:

‘Thus formed, the Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the Empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception, built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.’