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Remembering and Forgetting the Scottish Highlands: Sir James Mackintosh and the Forging of a British Imperial Identity

  • Onni Gust


This article explores the formation of British imperial identity through a focus on the career of Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832), a well-known Whig intellectual and imperial careerist who originally hailed from the Highlands of Scotland. Using Mackintosh's unpublished letters and autobiography, the article shows how he imagined and narrated his relationship to the Scottish Highlands from the vantage points of Bombay and London. In contrast to recent historiography that has focused on the translation of Scottish society, culture, and identity in British imperial spaces, this article argues that disidentification from the Highlands of Scotland and the erasure of different peoples, cultures, and textures of life was integral to Mackintosh's configuration of a British imperial identity.



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1 Mackintosh, Robert James, ed., Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir James Mackintosh, 2 vols. (London, 1835), 1:169.

2 See Mackillop, Andrew, “The Highlands and the Returning Nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar, 1760–1807,” in Emigrant Homecomings: The Return Movement of Emigrants, 1600–2000, ed. Harper, Marjory (Manchester, 2005), 233–61. Charles Grant (1746–1832), a member of the East India Company's Court of Directors between 1794 and 1799, provides another example of a Highlander who returned from the colonies with considerable wealth. Unlike Munro, and perhaps more like Mackintosh, Grant showed little enthusiasm for returning home or for the Highland estate that he bought for the purposes of election. See Morris, Henry, The Life of Charles Grant sometime member of Parliament for Inverness-shire and director of the East India Company (London, 1904).

3 James Mackintosh to Mrs. MacGillivray, Bath, 15 June 1789, British Library (BL), Add. MS 78768, f. 2.

4 Landsman, Ned C., Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas (Cranbury, 2001); Devine, T. M., Scotland's Empire, 1600–1815 (London, 2003); Plank, Geoffrey, Rebellion and Savagery: The Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the British Empire (Philadelphia, 2006); Livesey, James, Civil Society and Empire: Ireland and Scotland in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (New Haven and London, 2009); Womack, Peter, Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands (Basingstoke, 1989); Gottlieb, Evan, Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing, 1707–1832 (Cranbury, 2007); McNeil, Kenneth, Scotland, Britain, Empire: Writing the Highlands, 1760–1860 (Columbus, 2007).

5 Armitage, David, “Making the Empire British: Scotland in the Atlantic World, 1542–1707,” Past & Present 155, no. 1 (1997): 63.

6 Mackillop, Andrew, “Fashioning a ‘British’ Empire: Sir Archibald Campbell of Inverneil and Madras, 1785–9,” in Military Governors and Imperial Frontiers, c.1600–1800: A Study of Scotland and Empires, ed. MacKillop, Andrew and Murdoch, Steve (Leiden, 2003), 205–31.

7 Powell, Avril, Scottish Orientalists and India: The Muir Brothers, Religion, Education and Empire (Woodbridge, 2011); McLaren, Martha, British India and British Scotland: Career Building, Empire Building and a Scottish School of Thought on Indian Governance(Akron, 2001).

8 Mackenzie, John, “Scotland and Empire: Ethnicity, Environment and Identity,” Northern Scotland 1 (2010): 24.

9 Mackenzie, John and Devine, T. M., eds., Scotland and the British Empire (Oxford, 2011).

10 Andrew MacKillop, “Locality, Nation and Empire,” in Mackenzie and Devine, Scotland and the British Empire, 72–73.

11 Stoler, Ann Laura and Cooper, Frederick, “Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda,” in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Cooper, Frederick and Stoler, Ann Laura (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997), 23; Stoler, Ann Laura, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 2002); Catherine Hall, “Introduction: Thinking the Postcolonial, Thinking Empire,” and Burton, Antoinette, “Who Needs the Nation? Interrogating ‘British’ History,” in Cultures of Empire, ed. Hall, Catherine (Manchester, 2000), 34, 137–53; Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Oxford and Cambridge, 2002); Sinha, Mrinalini, “Britishness, Clubbability, and the Colonial Public Sphere: The Genealogy of an Imperial Institution in Colonial India,” Journal of British Studies 40, no. 4 (2001): 498521; Sinha, Mrinalini, “Mapping the Imperial Social Formation: A Modest Proposal for Feminist History,” Signs 24, no. 7 (2000): 1077–82; Wilson, Kathleen, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (London and New York, 2003).

12 Bhabha, Homi K., “Introduction: Narrating the Nation,” in Nation and Narration (London, 1990), 17; Chatterjee, Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London, 1986); Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?Representations 37 (1992): 126; Kaviraj, Sudipta, “The Imaginary Institution of India,” in Subaltern Studies VII, ed. Chaterjee, Patha and Pandey, Gyenandra (Delhi, 1992), 139.

13 Hall, Catherine, “At Home with History: Macaulay and the History of England,” in At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World, ed. Hall, Catherine and Rose, Sonya (Cambridge, 2006), 3252.

14 Wilson, Kathleen, “Introduction: Histories, Empires, Modernities,” in A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and Empire, 1660–1840, ed. Wilson, Kathleen (Cambridge, 2004), 127.

15 Pittock, Murray G. H., The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present (London and New York, 1991); Trevor-Roper, Hugh, The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History (New Haven and London, 2008).

16 Streets, Heather, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857–1914 (Manchester, 2004); Rendall, Jane, “Bluestockings and Reviewers: Gender, Power and Culture in Britain, c.1800–1830,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 26, no. 4 (2004): 355–74; Kiernan, V. G., “Noble and Ignoble Savages,” in Exoticism in the Enlightenment, ed. Rousseau, G. S. and Porter, Roy (Manchester, 1990), 8116.

17 I draw on Judith Butler's notion of performativity, which sees the configuration of hegemonic identities as taking place through the reiteration of particular discourses. Her recent work has explored the ways in which these discourses render “unliveable” the lives of those it marginalizes. See Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990), chap. 1, and Butler, Judith, Undoing Gender (New York and London, 2004).

18 McNeil, Scotland, Britain, Empire; Davis, Leith, Duncan, Ian, and Sorensen, Janet, Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism (Cambridge, 2004); Trumpener, Katie, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton, 1997); Duff, David and Jones, Catherine, eds., Scotland, Ireland and the Romantic Aesthetic (Lewisburg, 2007); Pittock, The Invention of Scotland.

19 McNeil, Scotland, Britain, Empire, 3–4.

20 Boswell's Journal of A Tour of the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, L.L.D., ed. Bennett, Charles and Pottle, Frederick (New York and London, 1936, 1st published 1785), 3.

21 Jane Rendall, “The Political Ideas and Activities of Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832): A Study in Whiggism between 1789 and 1832” (PhD diss., University College London, 1972), ii; “Mackintosh, Sir James,” in The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1820–1832, vol. VI, Members L–R, ed. Fisher, David (Cambridge, 2009), 258–81; O'Leary, Patrick, Sir James Mackintosh: The Whig Cicero (Aberdeen, 1989); Finlay, Christopher, “Mackintosh, Sir James of Kyllachy (1765–1832),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, Brian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), (accessed 26 April 2012).

22 Mackintosh, James, “Vindiciae Gallicae: Defence of the French Revolution and Its English Admirers Against the Accusations of the Right Honorable William Edmund Burke; Including Some Strictures on the Late Production of Mons. De Calonne,” in Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution, ed. Winch, Donald (Indianapolis, 2006); Haakonssen, Knud, Natural Law and Moral Philosophy (Cambridge, 1996); Isnard, Marcel, “Vindiciae Gallicae Revisited,” Yearbook of English Studies 19, The French Revolution in English Literature and Art, special number (1989): 219–30; Christian, William, “James Mackintosh, Edmund Burke and the Cause of Reform,” Eighteenth Century Studies 7, no. 2 (Winter 1973–74): 193206; McKenzie, Lionel, “The French Revolution and English Parliamentary Reform: James Mackintosh and the Viniciae Gallicae,” Eighteenth Century Studies 14, no. 3 (1981): 264–82.

23 See Rendall, Jane, “Scottish Citizens of London: Whigs, Radicals, and the French Revolution, 1788–1795,” in Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century: Patronage, Culture and Identity, ed. Nenadic, Stana (Lewisburg, 2010), 272–99.

24 James Mackintosh, “Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations” (1799), in Winch, Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings, 203–58.

25 Sir James Mackintosh to Robert Sharp, Bombay, 14 August 1804, Add. MS 52451a, f. 9, BL.

26 “Mackintosh, Sir James,” The History of Parliament, 258.

27 Teltscher, Kate, “The Sentimental Ambassador: The Letters of George Bogle from Bengal, Bhutan and Tibet, 1770–1781,” in Epistolary Selves: Letters and Letter-Writers, 1600–1945, ed. Earle, Rebecca (Aldershot, 1999), 93; Laidlaw, Zoe, Colonial Connections, 1815–45: Patronage, the Information Revolution and Colonial Government (Manchester and New York, 2005), 17.

28 Rebecca Earle, “Introduction: Letters, Writers and the Historian,” in Epistolary Selves, 7.

29 Sharp to Mackintosh, London, 18 January 1805, BL, Add. MS 78764, f. 23.

30 Pearsall, Sarah, Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2008), 5.

31 Earle, Epistolary Selves, 2.

32 Denis-Constant, Martin, “The Choices of Identity,” Social Identities 1, no. 1 (1995): 714.

33 Fraser-Mackintosh, Charles of Drummond, Letters of Two Centuries Chiefly Connected with Inverness and the Highlands from 1616 to 1815 (Inverness, 1890), 317.

34 Mackintosh, Margaret, The Clan Mackintosh and the Clan Chattan (Edinburgh and London, 1948), 2.

35 Dodgshon, Robert, From Chiefs to Landlords: Social and Economic Change in the Western Highlands and Islands, c.1493–1820 (Edinburgh, 1998), 3337; Lenman, Bruce, The Jacobite Clans of the Great Glen, 1650–1784 (Aberdeen, 1995), 67; Devine, T. M., Clanship to Crofters' War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands (Manchester, 1994).

36 Patrick O'Leary, Sir James Mackintosh; Mackintosh to Mrs. MacGillivray, Bath, 15 June 1789, Add. MS 78768, f. 2, BL.

37 John Wilde to James Mackintosh, Edinburgh, 3 April 1799, Add. MS 78765, f. 19, BL.

38 Wood, Denis, Benjamin Constant: A Biography (Cambridge, 1987), 5159.

39 Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France (New York, 2006, based on the “Seventh Edition,” 1790), 31.

40 John Wilde to James Mackintosh, Edinburgh, 3 April 1799, Add. MS 78765, f. 19, BL.

41 Mackintosh, “Vindiciae Gallicae,” 150.

42 James Mackintosh to Mrs. MacGillivray, Bath, 15 June 1789, Add. MS 78768, f. 2, BL.

43 Letter of Recommendation by Dugald Stewart, London, 4 June 1788, Add. MS 52451b, f. 10, BL.

44 James Mackintosh to Mrs. Macgillivray, 14 Serle Street, Lincoln's Inn, London, 16 November 1796, Add. MS 78768, f. 4, BL.

45 D. M.(?) Campbell to James Mackintosh, Charlotte Street, Portland Place, 8 April 1795, Add. MS 78765, f. 1, BL.

46 Mackillop, Andrew, “The Political Culture of the Scottish Highlands from Culloden to Waterloo,” Historical Journal 46, no. 3 (2003): 515; see also, Epperson, Amanda, “‘It would be my earnest desire that you all would come’: Networks, the Migration Process and Highland Emigration,” Scottish Historical Review 88, no. 2 (2009): 313–31.

47 Inglis-Jones, Elisabeth, “A Pembrokeshire County Family in the Eighteenth Century, Part I,” National Library of Wales Journal 15, no. 2 (1971): 136–60.

48 O'Leary, Sir James Mackintosh, 54.

49 Fraser-Mackintosh, Letters of Two Centuries, 318.

50 Withers, Charles, Gaelic Scotland: The Transformation of a Culture Region (London and New York, 1988), 7.

51 Dodgshon, From Chiefs to Landlords, 57.

52 Rendall, The Political Ideas, 25; O'Leary, Sir James Mackintosh, 52.

53 Macaulay, Thomas Babington, The History of England from the Accession of James II, 5 vols. (Philadelphia, 1871, 1st published 1848), 3:239.

54 Hall, Catherine, Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain (New Haven, 2012), 305–08.

55 See Devine, Scotland and Empire, 347–60; Womack, Peter, Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands(Basingstoke, 1989).

56 Journal, Bombay 1811, Add. MS 52438a, f. 29, BL.

57 Ibid.

58 An Account of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. From its Commencement in 1709. In which is Included, the Present State of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with Regard to Religion (Edinburgh, 1774), 1–2.

59 McNeil, Scotland, Britain, Empire, 4.

60 Anne Grant to John Hatsell, London, Stirling, 27 November 1806, in Memoir and Correspondence of Mrs Grant of Laggan author of Letters from the Mountains, Memoirs of an American Lady, 3 vols., ed. Grant, J. P. (London, 1844), 1:8182.

61 T. M. Devine, Clanship to Crofters' War, 32–34.

62 Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite Clans, 213–14; Nenadic, Stana, Lairds and Luxury: The Highland Gentry in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (East Linton, 2007), 56; Robert Dodgshon, From Chiefs to Landlords, 243; MacKillop, Andrew, “Highland Estate Change and Tenant Emigration,” in Eighteenth Century Scotland: New Perspectives, ed. Devine, T. M. and Young, J. R. (East Linton, 1999), 247.

63 A Bill Intitled, An Act for Annexing Certain Forfeited Estates in Scotland to the Crown Unalienably; and for Making Satisfaction to the Lawful Creditors thereupon; and to Establish a Method of Managing the Same; and applying the Rents and Profits thereof, for the Better Civilising and Improving the Highlands of Scotland; and Preventing Disorders there for the Future (1752).

64 Womack, Peter, Improvement and Romance: Constructing the Myth of the Highlands (Basingstoke, 1989), 4.

65 Shaw, Alexander Mackintosh, Historical memoirs of the House and Clan of Mackintosh and of the Clan Chattan (London, 1880), 497.

66 Devine, Clanship to Crofter's War, 30–32.

67 T. M. Devine, “Soldiers of Empire, 1750–1914,” in Scotland and the British Empire, 180–81.

68 Nenadic, Lairds and Luxury, 8; Lenman, Jacobite Clans, 214; Withers, Charles, Gaelic Scotland: The Transformation of a Culture Region (London and New York, 1988), 79; Nenadic, Stana, “The Impact of the Military Profession on Highland Gentry Families,” Scottish Historical Review 85, no. 219 (2006): 7599.

69 Nenadic, Lairds and Luxury, 91.

70 Nenadic, “The Impact of the Military,” 93.

71 Ibid., 93–94.

72 O'Leary, Sir James Mackintosh, 1–2.

73 Autobiography, Bombay 1804, Add. MS 52436b, f.1, BL. (Henceforth “Autobiography.”)

74 Mrs. MacGillivray to Bailie John, Inverness, February 1774, Add. MS 78771a, f. 1–2, BL.

75 O'Leary, Sir James Mackintosh, 9.

76 James Mackintosh to John Mackintosh, 29 December 1782, Add. MS 52451b, f. 6, BL.

77 Ibid., 6.

78 Autobiography, 14.

79 Lenman, Jacobite Clans, 199.

80 Letters of Two Centuries, appendix 6, 386; M. Mackintosh, The Clan Mackintosh, 50.

81 The most famous example being Alexander MacGillivray. See Caughey, John Walton, MacGillivray of the Creeks (Norman, 1938), 911; Cashin, Edward, “MacGillivray, Alexander,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, Brian (Oxford, 2004), (accessed 10 April 2013).

82 Cashin, Edward, “MacGillivray, Lachlan,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, Brian (Oxford, 2004),,68622 (accessed 10 April 2013).

83 Cashin, “MacGillivray, Alexander.”

84 Letters of Two Centuries, 317.

85 L. Mackintosh to James Mackintosh, Bombay, 25 November 1805, MS 6360, f. 94, National Library of Scotland.

86 Correspondence of L. Mackintosh, merchant in Calcutta, MS 6360, National Library of Scotland.

87 Ibid., 94.

88 Ibid.

89 Journal, 24 June 1811, Add. MS 52438b, f. 28, BL.

90 Journal, 16 February 1811, Add. MS 52438a, f. 65, BL. For a discussion of language and imperialism, see Sorensen, Janet, The Grammar of Empire in Eighteenth-Century British Writing (Cambridge, 2000).

91 Journal, 12 September 1810, Add. MS 78769, f. 66, BL.

92 Autobiography, 1.

93 Ibid.

94 Ibid.

95 James Mackintosh to Catherine Mackintosh, Bombay, Tuesday, 15 April 1810, Add. MS 78769, ff. 13–15, BL.

96 For a discussion of belonging, see Yuval-Davis, Nira, “Belonging and the Politics of Belonging,” Patterns of Prejudice 40, no. 3 (2006): 197214.

97 Autobiography, 2.

98 For a very different formulation of identity, see Brown, Matthew, “Gregor MacGregor: Clansman, Consquistador and Coloniser on the Fringes of the British Empire,” in Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering across the Nineteenth Century, ed. Lambert, David and Lester, Alan (Cambridge, 2006), 4954.

99 Autobiography, 2.

100 Ibid.

101 Ibid.

102 Ibid.

103 Ibid., 6.

104 Ibid., 3.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid.

107 Extract from the portfolio of Pryse L. Gordon, Add. MS 78771a, f. 225, BL.

108 Autobiography, 4.

109 Smith, Bonnie, The Gender of History: Men, Women and Historical Practice (Cambridge, MA, 1998), 82.

110 Autobiography, 5.

111 Graham, Henry Grey, The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1899), 443.

112 Extract from the portfolio of Pryse L. Gordon, 225.

113 Article 12: Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir James Mackintosh,” Calcutta Review 14 (1850): 481; Autobiography, 2.

114 Mackintosh to (John) Allen, Parell House Bombay, 22 February 1805, Add. MS 78768, f. 61, BL.

115 Inglis-Jones, A Pembrokeshire County Family.

116 Wedgwood, Barbara and Wedgwood, Hensleigh, The Wedgwood Circle, 1730–1897 (London, 1980), 106.

117 Catherine Mackintosh to James Mackintosh, 20 October 1810, Add. MS 78769, f. 106, BL.

118 Ibid.

119 Ibid.

120 See Colley, Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, 1992), 120–22.

121 Ibid.

122 Cote House to James Mackintosh, 28 February 1798, Add. MS 78768, f. 19, BL.

123 Captain Mackintosh to Bailie John McIntosh, Inverness, North Britain, 11 May 1783, Add. MS 7876827, f. 29, BL.

124 O'Leary, Sir James Mackintosh, 14.

125 James Mackintosh to his Grandmother, 14 Serle Street, Lincoln's Inn, London, 16 November 1796, Add. MS 78768, f. 3, BL.

126 James Mackintosh to his Grandmother, 15 November 1799, Add. MS 78768, f. 34, BL.

127 Anderson, R. D., Education and the Scottish People, 1750–1918 (Oxford, 1995), 8.

128 Nenadic, Lairds and Luxury, 55–57.

129 Phillipson, Nicholas, “Adam Smith as Civic Moralist,” in Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment, ed. Hont, Istvan and Ignatieff, Michael (Cambridge, 1983), 180.

130 See, for example, Koditschek, Theodore, “The Making of British Nationality,” Victorian Studies 44, no. 3 (2002): 389–98.

131 Proceedings at A General Meeting of the Loyal North Britons, held at the Crown and Anchor, August 8th, 1803; containing a correct copy of the celebrated Speech of James Mackintosh esq. (London, 1803), 18.

132 Kidd, Colin, Subverting Scotland's Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity, 1689–c.1830 (Cambridge, 2003), 270–74.

133 Pitts, Jennifer, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton and Oxford, 2005), 240.

134 Charles Grant would be a notable exception and a useful comparison, but the majority of his papers have been lost.

135 See Angela McCarthy, “Scottish Migrant Ethnic Identities in the British Empire Since the Nineteenth Century,” in Scotland and the British Empire, 118–46.



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