MUCH as one might want to approve Michael Fry’s dour defence of Henry Dundas as a pragmatist who defied principle in favour of practicality, there is evidence regarding this historic high-level person that shows him in a less kindly light (Dundas helped to end slavery – he should be honoured not condemned, July 7).

For example, his ex-wife, who lived to just short of 100 years, never saw again the prodigy of her marriage to Dundas due to his bitterness over their matrimonial break-up. Dundas was a person who carried considerable power in his home country, Scotland, but is not much renowned for effecting much good for the people of Scotland.

He was no fan or friend of Robert Burns and is reported as detesting the open-house hospitality accorded Burns by the gentry of Edinburgh on the publication of the Ayrshire poet’s works.

However, it is a mixed moral bag that emerges from any exploration as to the character of Henry Dundas and what his place in British history should be. He was a prisoner of his birth and the social and political circumstances of his day, as are we all.

The issue of abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade has topicalised this powerful Scottish personage, and evidence of that late 18th- and early 19th-century time when Dundas was an active figure at the hub of British politics is supportive of contrary assessment as to his role, influence, and whatever genuine commitment was his.

But in reciting a very long practice of slavery in the affairs of humankind – as Michael Fry does in his National article, even bringing Aristotle to the podium as a witness for the prosecution so to say – exonerates nobody in what was, has always been and still is unacceptable and unnecessary behaviour. His article admits as much.

And of course Michael does not endorse slavery but simply pleads mercy for a man with apparently great power but yet, as is often the case, more helpless than common opinion will have it.

The only trouble with this is that in studying slavery, the temptation to accord mercy to the enslaved is hopefully greater than to the enslavers, and that one of the most repugnant aspects of the abolition of this ghastly trade between Africa and America was the obscene amount of cash compensation bestowed on the enslaver plantation owners while the real victims, the survivors of this terrible crime, received not one teeny ha’penny in acknowledgement of the unspeakable horrors inflicted on them.

The slave trade was only matched in its scope of callousness by the remedial measures deemed fit for its ending. Statues in commemoration of those more associated with the enslavers than the enslaved are as crudely inappropriate as was the compensation so erroneously bestowed in the aftermath of abolition.

Ian Johnstone

NO matter what Dundas’s involvement in slavery was, he does not merit a place of honour anywhere or in any form. Elizabeth Rannie, at the age of 14 years old, was forced into marriage with Dundas and they had five children. She had to stay in their country home while he lived the high life in Edinburgh.

She eventually, not surprisingly, committed adultery, to which she confessed. Within a month she was banished from her children for the rest of her life. Dundas took control of all her money and property. She died in 1843 never having seen her children again.

Dundas was a cruel, bullying greedy tyrant and deserves no place of honour for treating the mother of his children in this terrible, heartbreaking manner. Shame on him.

R West
via email

HAMISH MacPherson’s article on William McGonagall was as usual an excellent, well-researched and enjoyable read (The story of our best worst poet, McGonagall, July 7). Like Dr Norman Watson’s fascinating biography, it looked well beyond the usual simplistic and unkind cliches mocking the man and his life. Professor Bill Herbert Dundee’s makar described McGonagall as a journalist of his day in that he could be inspired by absolutely anything. And for what it’s worth there is also a theory that today McGonagall would be classified somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

John Quinn

I DO not question the figures quoted by Clark Cross (Letters, July 6) on the huge cost of switching off wind turbines, but the reason for this, I understand, is not as straightforward as it seems.

Switching off does indeed occur to prevent over-capacity, but this problem is not caused by the wind turbines. It is only necessary to reduce the output of these because it is not possible to reduce or cut off nuclear output as required.

If the latter could be temporarily switched off, we could continue using the full potential of wind turbines supported by other renewables, such as wave, tidal, pumped storage, standard hydro and perhaps even carbon capture.

So it is our continuing use of nuclear within the system which is actually preventing us from increasing our use of green energy. Maximising the renewables potential therefore depends on reducing nuclear dependence. Unfortunately, the planned restarting of the problem hit Hunterston reactor will only exacerbate this situation.

Surely time to look beyond nuclear and use renewables of every kind as fully as possible.

L McGregor