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Legacy of slave owner's daughter inspires Black History Month honour from her former school


By Hector MacKenzie

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S1 pupil Millie Conroy front with the runners-up.
S1 pupil Millie Conroy front with the runners-up.

The memory of a girl brought to the Black Isle by her slave owning father has been honoured by the school she attended more than 200 years ago.

Eliza Junor was born in 1804 in Demerara (now Guyana) on the Caribbean coast of South America.

Her father Hugh Junor was a slave owner and her unknown mother may have been a slave.

She was brought to the Black Isle with her brother, William, by their father and attended Fortrose Academy where she won a prize for penmanship in 1818. Eliza became a dressmaker, bore a daughter of her own and is buried in Rosemarkie churchyard.

The first Eliza Junor Penmanship competition was held at Fortrose Academy to mark Black History Month, prompting 96 entries. The winner, S1 pupil Millie Conroy, won £30 and a signed copy of Gerda Stevenson's poetry book.

Five runners-up also received prizes donated by the Parent Council and by local company, TEFL.org.

English teacher Rona Mackintosh said the school was very pleased by the enthusiastic response. She said: "Pupils engaged really well with the competition, taking care with punctuation, capitals and spelling. They responded well to the local connection and it was brilliant to be able to make that bridge between the present and our links to slavery."

The judge, local author Anne MacLeod, said: "It was a pleasure reading all these careful entries, such good writing on every page. Well done all!" She said Gerda Stevenson's work, Demerara, as "such a fine poem, asking so many relevant questions, and your transcriptions did it justice".

The competition has also won praise from legendary musician, producer and artist, Brian Eno.

Eno, who came to fame as part of Roxy Music, believes it’s important to value handwriting. He said: "I do most of my writing on my computer, but when I want to REALLY think something out, I often move away from the keyboard. Why? It isn’t just sentimentality: when I’m writing by hand I actually think differently. You tend to sort out your thoughts in advance. You can make some thoughts bigger and some smaller.

"You can enjoy the look of what you’re doing, so the writing itself becomes a sort of craft, something you can take pride in, and every document is unique. It’s a good exercise in mind-body coordination. For all these reasons I encourage writing by hand. It uses more of your brain, and that can’t be bad."

Local historian David Alston uncovered the details of Eliza’s life and has published research on the connections between the Highlands and the slave trade. His work inspired Scottish poet Gerda Stevenson to feature Eliza in her book Quines – poems in tribute to women in Scotland.

Jo-Anne Pugh from Fortrose Parent Council said: “We were delighted to sponsor a competition that teaches children about black history and local history, encourages a love of poetry and helps them practise their handwriting, which is something of a dying art. The school is now working on holding an annual Eliza Junor competition to raise awareness that black and mixed race people have a long and complicated association with Fortrose Academy but that all are welcome now.”



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