While walking recently near Crieff with Joan, Sally and Iain, we stopped briefly at the Baird Monument. The monument, in the form of an obelisk similar to Cleopatra’s Needle, was erected to his memory by his wife after his death. She seems to have been quite a formidable woman, with a quotation from him on record that ‘he could command 10,000 men but not one woman.’ Such is the nature of history, not herstory, that it is much harder, in an internet search, to find out much more about her. I was interested in her principally because of the fantastic 19th Century language in her tribute to him, inscribed on the monument. This is how the English language should be used, I thought!
He retired a General, Commander-in-Chief Ireland, having made his career as a successful commander in Imperial wars (India, South Africa) and the Napoleonic wars (Denmark, Spain). I was strongly reminded, as I stood beside the monument, of how much of the Scottish landscape and infrastructure owes its existence to our British Imperial past. She intended it as a memorial of her husband but it says so much more.
She also commissioned a posthumous portrait by the famous Scottish painter, David Wilkie. Wilkie got his likeness from a sculpture by Laurence Macdonald and painted him posed symbolically, and triumphally, above an Indian dungeon where he had been imprisoned for four years during his first tour in India. Baird returned to India and was a senior commander at the battle of Seringapatam, defeating Tipoo Saib in 1799. That extraordinary Imperial self confidence is evident in the portrait, in the monument, in the epitaph. Before this, I might just have been able to dredge up from some must lumber room of memory the battle of Seringapatam, Tipoo Saib and an approximate date, but not the link to Crieff and its landscape. The Imperial legacy is all around us in Scotland, and in the UK more widely: in the large country houses and estates, in railway infrastructure, in castles and follies, in rich town houses. Everywhere we can find the legacy of our Imperial past and of Britain’s use of violent force to conquer and subdue the peoples of the world.