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THE MITCHELL LIBRARY’S BLACK BENEFACTOR: The brief life of Louis Edward Campbell

Morag Cross tells the story of how the son of a Glaswegian merchant, born to an African mother on a Caribbean island just after the abolition of slavery, went on to become one of the benefactors of Glasgow’s Mitchell library
The island of Martinique, where Louis was born
Louis’ memorial cross

The unexpected tragedy of Louis Edward Campbell was revealed while researching the histories of various tradesmen and commercial firms for the website ‘Mackintosh architecture: context, making and meaning’. Many personal tales had to be omitted, but Campbell’s is especially poignant. It includes architects Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, and the diverse human and financial legacies of Glasgow’s Caribbean trading links.

Louis was born in St Pierre, on the Caribbean island of Martinique, in 1851, the son of Glaswegian Alexander Campbell, a West India merchant ‘of large means’, and ‘a coloured French mother’, whose name is unrecorded. Martinique was a French colony which had only abolished black slavery in 1848, and both Campbell and his mother were described as ‘French subjects’. A few Indian (Asian) indentured labourers arrived after Campbell’s birth, so she was almost certainly of African descent.

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About History Scotland

After the Great War: Rebuilding a nation Five great reasons to read History Scotland this month * New research on what life was like between the World Wars * Exploring the link between crime and military service * Special report on underwater archaeology at the German High Seas fleet scuttle site in Orkney * The women registrars who broke into an all-male profession * A new study of the controverial marriage of Queen Victoria's daughter Louise BONUS DIGITAL-ONLY CONTENT: Video report on a forgotten treasure trove of Victorian photos Exhibition preview: Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs Video: living history food & drink experience