This week, Belmont Estate with help from researchers from the University of Edinburgh, launched a joint community project exploring the heritage of Belmont Estate and its links to Scotland.
Following an initial visit in May 2022, the team returned on 2 December 2023 to begin the first phase of the project, which involved a detailed LiDAR and photogrammetry survey of the cultural landscape of Belmont Estate. This survey was undertaken by Tom Wade of the Airborne Research and Innovation Facility the School of Geosciences, together with Dr Jonny Geber, archaeologist, and Dr Esther Mijers, historian, of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.
The LiDAR survey, which is the first of its kind undertaken in Grenada, will help to reveal the landscape hidden under the current vegetation, to allow interpretations of how Belmont Estate was used and worked in the past. The next stage of the project will focus on the history of Belmont Estate to contextualise the data obtained during this visit. In the long-term, the project aims to continue its focus on the lived experience of the former Scottish-owned plantation, and in particular, the experience of the enslaved Africans and indentured Indians who worked the land.
Managing Director of Belmont Estate Shadel Nyack Compton stated, “Eventually we hope to build an international model for Caribbean research and heritage and a suitable environment for Grenadians, our communities, students, schools and visitors to appreciate and expand their knowledge of the Scottish part of our history and heritage. Understanding how the enslaved Africans lived and worked is an integral part of this project and important for all visitors to the estate to realise.” She also stressed the importance of reflecting a true and whole picture of Grenada’s past stating that “the aim for Belmont Estate to depict the past in its’ entirety including the many sensitive aspects of our joint history.”
Belmont Estate plans to incorporate any new knowledge gained from this research into detailed historical educational tours and programmes for local communities, students and visitors. During their stay, the University of Edinburgh team seized the opportunity to engage with students from the TAMCC agricultural department, fostering insightful discussions and knowledge exchange to enrich the interdisciplinary nature of the project.
On Monday, 11 December 2023 the team met with the local community and representatives from the Grenada National Trust (GNT), Grenada Cultural Foundation (GCF) and St Patrick Environmental and Community Tourism Organisation (SPECTO), to discuss the aims and direction of the project, and gained some valuable local input. Livingston Nelson, Chief Executive Officer of GCF expressed his excitement about the initiative both from a national and local perspective. The entire project team was very grateful for the communities’ input and continue to encourage community involvement and direction in the programme.
During the community consultation, Dr Mijers spoke about the history and connections between Grenada and Scotland, going back to the French period. Highlighting the importance of raising the profile of Belmont Estate’s and Grenadian heritage, she expressed the hope that the valuable local knowledge on Belmont Estate would be recorded through digitisation and interviews to build an archive that can be used by locals, members of the diaspora and researchers alike.
Following on, Dr Geber explained areas of archaeological interest on the estate that relate to how it was used and functioned as a plantation. This included a new exciting find, a gravestone discovered by Belmont Estate employee Criblan “Clevey” Bain, that will help to elucidate the history of the estate further.
Wade described the technologies used to explore the historical landscape of Belmont Estate. These included 2 main methods: drone-based LiDAR (laser-scanning), and drone- and ground-based photogrammetry. The LiDAR system was deployed on a DJI Matrice 300 RTK drone to systematically scan the estate, sending out 160,000 pulses of laser energy per second to detect solid surfaces and objects below the aircraft.
While many of these laser pulses are reflected from the forest canopy above the ground, some find their way through small gaps to detect the ground surface below, and computer software run after the flight can strip away the above-ground points to reveal details of the land surface. In this way features that are normally hidden from view by vegetation, such as historic pathways, levelled areas for buildings, and so on, can be identified and analysed by archaeologists.
The photogrammetry surveys involved collecting hundreds or thousands of overlapping images either by drone (DJI Mavic 3M) or by a pole-mounted camera on the ground (Sony A7RII). Specialised computer software can use these overlapping images to build 3D models of the area or item of interest that can subsequently be analysed and measured in detail. The team used photogrammetry to record an overview photomap of the estate, as well as detailed 3D models of some of Belmont Estate’s remaining historic architecture, an historic gravesite, and particular artefacts such as the estate’s iconic bell and cannon.
Limited historical documentation and knowledge of our Scottish heritage is available currently in Grenada and we hope that the valuable professional input from the team from the University of Edinburgh will enable Belmont Estate to become a comprehensive educational tool to enlighten our local community and visitors on this aspect of our history. We believe a full and true portrayal of our, sometimes dark, history and past struggles will provide the community and visitors a better understanding of our joint heritage, and demonstrate that all sections of our history need to be preserved to ensure the full picture is available to the community and visitors and show how the reformation of this former business of shame to a positive, inspiring and community-focused locally-owned business. This visit falls on the heels of Belmont Estate celebrating 80 years of local ownership in 2024.
Further historical information
A large percentage of Grenadian plantations were owned and run by Scottish people after the island was ceded to the British in 1763. Many of the Scottish migrants were victims of the Highland Clearances looking to make a new life for themselves in the New World. Today names like Moore, Mc Sween, McKenzie, Campbell, Alexander, Mc Lawrence, Stewart, and McIntosh amongst others are evidence of some Scottish influence. However, there is little information on the history and impact of the Scottish people on the island. Our hope is to establish a local and later international model for Caribbean research and heritage, fostering a space for knowledge expansion among Grenadians, communities, students, schools, and visitors. Committed to presenting a comprehensive historical narrative, Belmont Estate plans to integrate newfound knowledge into detailed educational tours and programmes for local communities, students, and visitors.
Belmont Estate’s Scottish History
Belmont Estate’s rich history began in 1763 when John Aitcheson Jr. from Scotland acquired it after the island shifted from French to British rule. Aitcheson Jr. played an active role in Grenada’s affairs, leaving a lasting impact. After his passing, the estate changed hands, surviving French control in 1779. Aitcheson Sr., an absentee landlord, leased Belmont Estate to Alexander Campbell in 1770. In 1780, Aitcheson Sr. moved from Scotland to Grenada, where he passed away, leaving Belmont Estate to his daughter Bethia. The estate, valued at £21,183.00, included assets like slaves and a sugar mill. Remnants of this era endure in the estate’s ruins. Post-Aitcheson, Belmont Estate was owned by Robert Alexander Houston and later the Houston family for over 170 years. In 1944, Norbert and Lyris Nyack acquired the estate, preserving its legacy. Today, Belmont Estate stands as a testament to Grenadian and Scottish heritage, echoing through time in the care of the Nyack family.
Call for student involvement
In closing, Belmont Estate’s journey to unearth its rich heritage, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, has illuminated the past and laid the foundation for an inclusive and enlightening future. As we stride confidently into this transformative narrative, we extend an open invitation to students passionate about history and archaeology to join us in this profound exploration. Opportunities for internships and research positions await, promising a dynamic engagement with Grenada’s history. Together, let’s forge a path of discovery, learning, and shared understanding, ensuring that the echoes of Belmont Estate’s legacy resonate for generations to come. Embrace the opportunity to be part of this narrative, where history unfolds and knowledge blossoms.