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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 11:38 GMT
Court query over opium portraits
Dingwall Sheriff Court
The portraits form a backdrop to proceedings at the sheriff court
A Highland councillor has raised questions about the portraits of two prominent members of the opium trade which hang in Dingwall Sheriff Court.

Sir James Matheson and Sir Alexander Matheson made their fortunes in opium in the 19th Century before returning to Scotland, becoming MPs and landowners.

David Alston said it was this respectability at the time which led to their portraits ending up in the court.

But he wants some acknowledgement that the men were also drug barons.

Opium was an important part of British trade in the 19th Century and led to the country going to war with China when the Chinese tried to ban it.

What is really odd is that contrast between these two drug barons and what goes on in the day-to-day business of the court
David Alston
Highland councillor

Sir James Matheson set up a trading company and promoted the trade along with his nephew Sir Alexander, making large amounts of money.

On returning to Scotland they acquired land, titles and became MPs, buying estates, including the Isle of Lewis, and building castles across the Highlands.

Mr Alston said it was this respectability that led to them being painted and ending up on the walls of Dingwall Sheriff Court.

He said: "It was the family who, a couple of generations later, presented them to the county council and at that point it was the county council who were responsible for the court and decided they would hang there.

"What is really odd is that contrast between these two drug barons and what goes on in the day-to-day business of the court.

"If they do stay there I think we should be identifying that these are not respectable gentlemen and politicians, or if they are they are also drug dealers."

Mr Alston admitted that people have been slightly amused by the issue, but said there was a serious point in not sending the wrong message.

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