A new book about Orkney, will be available from the beginning of October. In My Right Place: The Life and Times of Joseph Clouston, Gold Coast Merchant and Harray Laird is a biography of Joseph Clouston, of Nisthouse in Harray. It tells the story of how 19-year-old Joseph went out to West Africa to assist an established merchant, returned home 11 years later a rich man and what he did next.
Born in Orkney in 1816, to a father who subsequently lost all his money, Joseph was just 19 years-old when he sailed out to the Gold Coast, West Africa. This region, now part of Ghana, notorious both for its involvement in slavery and as ‘The White Man’s Grave’ was his making. For 11 years, he sold the goods that Africans wanted, such as fabrics, alcohol and guns, in exchange for gold dust which he shipped back to London. When he returned home to Orkney, he was a wealthy man. He redeemed the family fortunes, built a fine house and became a respected local figure.
But after so vivid and arduous beginning, could the life of a ‘Harray laird’ be enough for Joseph?
As well as being the story of one man, it is also the story of two places – the infamous former centre of the British slave trade, populated by a tiny band of Europeans of somewhat shady nature, and the islands of Orkney, just at the point of their transformation into a recognisably modern world.
Author, Virginia Schroder, says that the starting point for the book was coming across the few ‘sea letters’ that Joseph wrote to his father from the Gold Coast and sent back by visiting sailing ships. These and other of Joseph’s documents are in the Orkney Archive. The dry-seeming account ledgers and invoices revealed a much richer story: one of personal ambition, political intrigues and public scandals, of vivid characters and of networks of mutual aid reaching from the far north of Scotland to the tropics. The process of uncovering this story involved research in a several libraries and from many sources, including family papers and objects owned by present-day relations.
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