Dido Belle exhibition opens

19 May 2014

A new exhibition which tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed race daughter of a slave and a British admiral, opened to the public at Scone Palace on Friday 16th May.

The launch of the exhibition, ‘Dido Belle – Her Story’, coincides with the UK release on 13th June, of the major new feature film “Belle”.  The connection between the film and the exhibition is that the only portrait representation of Dido Belle known to exist hangs in the Ambassador’s Room at Scone Palace.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in the 18th century to Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the 1st Earl of Mansfield, and the African slave Maria Belle. She was brought up under the care and protection of the 1st Earl of Mansfield who was the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The 1st Earl’s family home was at Scone Palace.

In 1772, the Earl of Mansfield ruled that no slave could be taken from England or Wales under force, saying: “The state of slavery is of such a nature and so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it”. This judgement is now viewed as a crucial early step towards the international abolition of slavery.

The 1st Earl of Mansfield was educated at Perth Grammar School and his successors are the owners of Scone Palace and Mansfield Estates.

The exhibition at Scone will include interpretive panels which will explore Belle’s lineage and family tree, and provide background on her father Sir John Lindsay’s illustrious naval career, which saw him serve in a number of wars, campaigns and survey voyages that were crucial in the rise of the British Empire.

A central focus of the exhibition will be the1779 portrait attributed to Johann Zoffany, which depicts Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin, The Lady Elizabeth Murray.

The exhibition will also tell the story of Scotland’s connections with the slave trade, highlighting how, after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, many defeated Scots Jacobites fled to the West Indies to become slave masters in plantations.

Also on display will be costumes from the period, the only archive in the Scone Palace collection that relates to John Lindsay - a ‘very private and confidential’ letter from Lord Sandwich, Lord of the Admiralty, to the 1st Earl of Mansfield – and an inkwell which belonged to the Earl and dates from the 1700s.

The Hon William Murray, Master of Stormont, who carried out much of the historical research for the exhibition, said: “We are delighted to be launching this exciting new exhibition to coincide with the release of the film ‘Belle’. We hope the exhibition will provide fans of the film and visitors to Scone Palace with a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of Belle and her family, as well as a unique insight into the rich history of the period”.

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland added: “Film tourism is a growing trend, and it’s great news for Perthshire that Scone has such strong ties to this movie. As consumers have such a wide choice of destinations available to them, it’s important that we use every hook we can to attract visitors to Scotland, and promoting the county on the back of major movies is proving a successful means of doing just that. It’s fantastic that Scone has seized this opportunity with both hands, creating the exhibition to promote the history, heritage and real people behind the story of the movie”   Entry to the exhibition, which runs throughout the summer season, is included in the ticket price for the Palace and Grounds (Adults £10.50, children £7.60, concessions £9.80, family £33). A Dido Belle limited edition guide and other souvenirs will be available from the Palace gift shop.

A preview screening of “Belle” will be held at Perth Playhouse on Thursday 12th June, with the film on general release at the Playhouse for two weeks from 13th June.  The film is produced by Damian Jones, whose past triumphs include “The History Boys”, “The Iron Lady” and “Gridlock”.