TagCitizens

Then & Now – Remembering Sir Alan

 

Each time I interview one of our seniors or just in everyday conversation, the name Sir Alan Cobham continues to pop-up in the conversation so I have decided to take a look at how he influenced change in the Virgin Islands.

Joseph Reynold O’Neal (JR), whom I have written about before, wrote in “Life Notes” that Sir Alan Cobham, an Englishman and WW1 pilot with the Royal Air Force, arrived in the Virgin Islands in 1952 “brimming with ideas for the islands’ development.” (p.72) At that time there was no airport in the Virgin Islands so Sir Alan Cobham came up with the idea of how one could be developed and made a proposal to the Government, which was accepted – according to JR, “Sir Alan went to Beef Island and hacked about the underbrush figuring out the alignment and so on.” (p72) Sir Alan made a huge impact on the development of the territory – he bought a shipyard in Road Town (the capital) and “set it up with a rail for hauling boats, he established the Land Rover and Sea Gull Outboard Motors dealership (taking JR on as his local partner and transferring his portion over to his son Geoffrey) and later started a ferry service with the Youth of Tortola” (p73) a passenger boat which ferried people between St. Thomas in the USVI and Tortola in the Virgin Islands, captained by Peter Haycraft whom I have also written about prior. The Land Rover business was called J.R. O’Neal G. A. Cobham, Ltd., and was later sold to Leando Nibbs of Nibbs Auto Sales and Parts.

During his life in the Virgin Islands, Sir Alan acquired a wealth of land throughout the territory including the “eastern part of Peter Island” from JR. This land on Peter Island was later sold to Peder Smedvig shipowners from Norway who developed the Peter Island Resort, which later changed hands to the Amway Corporation and several more changes subsequently.

As a note of interest, Sir Alan also bought Necker Island, one of the islands in the Virgin Islands archipelago, and which was later sold to Sir Richard Branson.

Then & Now in Virgin Gorda

 

 

In July we spent some time in Virgin Gorda interviewing a few of the people who live there about the past and present (Then and Now), it was a series of very informative interviews, however, we hope to do a few more interviews on that sister island.

Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the Virgin Islands, although Anegada the second largest contains vast salt ponds and with a much lower population than Virgin Gorda. Two of the ladies that were interviewed, Ms. Rose Gardener and Ms. Grace Waters reflected on the days of growing up in Virgin Gorda fondly – even though times were hard their sentiments were that it was rich with family values and community spirit – children had respect for their elders and everyone supported each other in every sense of the word – something that is not so prevalent now-a-days. These ladies spoke frankly about their earlier years, from parents, families, community customs, pregnancy, medical services, first jobs, feeding a family to giving girls a bath in an outdoor tub every Saturday so that she could be inspected for signs of purity. This interview can be seen on local TV Ch51 at 8PM Sunday and Wednesday evening and 8AM Saturday morning.

A BIT ABOUT THE VIRGIN ISLANDS

The Virgin Islands was a presidency of the Leeward Islands from 1872 until 1956 and the Governor resided in Antigua from where governance and education was administered until 1940. Rev. John Haddock was one of the first teachers in Virgin Gorda. A Mr.Semper from St. Kitts is credited with building the first school in the Valley, Virgin Gorda and Mr. Simon, an Antiguan was the first headmaster of that school (Anglican) – During the 1920’s and 1930’s just about all of the headmasters came from one of the Leeward Islands and not much attempt was made to train anyone local (p.13).                (150 Years of Achievement, 1834 – 1984)

Then & Now with Eugenia O’Neal

 

After reading FROM THE FIELD TO THE LEGISLATURE: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands  By Eugenia O’Neal, I had a sense and a better understanding of women in the Virgin Islands and their struggles to make an impact in the future of their lives and that of their beloved Virgin Islands – “during slavery, planters manipulated gender ideology to argue that black women were more like men and not at all like the women of Europe.” (Introduction) No doubt, “slaveowners in the West Indies were familiar with the gender tradition of agriculture in West Africa. They understood at once that black women could be thrown into the deep end of the labour regime, and be productive. This explains in large measure their refusal to shelter these women from the most arduous physical task, as well as the suggestion that productivity differentials did not exist between the sexes.” (Centering Woman: Gender Discourses in Caribbean Slave Society by Hilary McD Beckles, Pg9) In my interview with Ms. O’Neal she spoke of her annoyance when she hears people referring to Virgin Islanders as lazy and unwilling to work – a sentiment I endorse.

Women toiled the soil, took care of their families, and yet found time to contribute to the well-being of their communities – because “even when they have entered into the paid labour force, women have neither structurally nor ideologically been allowed to leave the family” (Citizenship & Identity by Engin F. Isin & Patricia K. Wood).  And when women could not find work at home in the Virgin Islands , “many were able to enter and find work in the USVI” (p92) And in the “Moyne Commission report it was noted that the inhabitants….show a most praiseworthy and attractive spirit of enterprise, independence and resource.” (p93) – it is even more so today – I guess a trait from the ancestors.

Virgin Island women have struggled, and yes, FROM THE FIELD TO THE LEGISLATURE, and though they are not yet free from struggling they understand and appreciate the harshness of plantation life that their ancestors endured and they have reached a place of understanding that as black women they must now work to overcome the socio-economic and political stereotype of competing masculinities and continue to develop their role in society and not be slighted by race or sex.

NOTE from UNDERSTANDING SLAVERY INITIATIVE  ‘The transatlantic slave trade was responsible for the forced migration of between 12 – 15 million people from Africa to the Western Hemisphere from the middle of the 15th century to the end of the 19th century. The trafficking of Africans by the major European countries during this period is sometimes referred to by African scholars as the Maafa (‘great disaster’ in Swahili). It’s now considered a crime against humanity. The slave trade not only led to the violent transportation overseas of millions of Africans but also to the deaths of many millions more. Nobody knows the total number of people who died during slave raiding and wars in Africa, during transportation and imprisonment, or in horrendous conditions during the so-called Middle Passage, the voyage from Africa to the Americas.”

Then & Now – VI early years revisited

Peter and Penny Haycraft came to the Virgin Islands in December 1959 from London,  after Peter answered an Ad in the UK Daily Telegraph, to be the skipper of the Youth of Tortola, “the first modern passenger boat that went between Tortola and St. Thomas.”  Peter recounted how he had a choice of going to Port Sudan or coming to Tortola and he took the latter and has been here ever since.

This was at a time when the Virgin Islands were still in its growing phase – and Penny tells how they first lived at Treasure Isle hotel, which was then owned by Charles and Betty Roy), they then stayed for a short time in Kingstown where she would “light a lantern and take to the dock so that Peter could see to come to port.” The Haycrafts later moved into a four-room house in Lower Estate, which was built and owned by Mose Malone, with a bathroom (a novelty in those early days) – Penny took one of the rooms and converted it into the “first private fee paying school in the territory for children ages 6-8 years.” Although they lived in Road Town (the capital) this was at a time when there was no electricity any where on any of the islands owned by Her Majesty’s Government. Their three children were born at the Peebles Hospital, one just ten months after arriving in the territory.

Years later, Peter not wanting to be a “bus driver” (thats what ferrying a boat back and forth to St. Thomas in the USVI felt like) became an entrepreneur when he opened his first business, Road Town Wholesale, in 1961 – his other business Rite Way Supermarket was not opened until 1968 and was located slightly down from the where it is at present on Flemming Street. The wholesale store occupied one room  behind Little Denmark (at that time the sea ran through what is now called Wickhams Cay, which was a small island in the harbour – It later moved to main street on the other side of the road to what is now the sporting goods store next to what is now McKellys. Before Rite Way there were two small local grocers on main street – Carlton DeCastro and J. W. Georges where Peter got his St. Bruno tobacco, which he still uses, and which was being imported from England by Mr. Georges.

In those days all shipments coming to the island first had to get here via St. Thomas, USVI and often cargo services could not be relied upon so Peter imported his first vessel, which had been registered in Ireland, inorder to bring his own goods to Tortola on a timely basis – He was able to arrange with S. R. Mendes in Antigua for Booker Lines and Atlantic Lines to deliver directly to Tortola and for this he brought in a series of lighters (barges) onto which the cargo could be placed and pulled to shore by his vessel “The Kilross,” which commenced Island Shipping and Trading.

The Haycrafts, who still live in Road Town, reminisced about a quieter time when children could walk about unsupervised and without fear of them being run-over by traffic and when there was more of a community spirit. They are much older now and have acquired much success through hard work, can live anywhere they choose but still prefer the Virgin Islands – they leave a couple of times each year to visit with two of their children and grandchildren who live abroad.

Then & Now – Legislative Proces

The first Assembly or House of Representatives in the Virgin Islands, which had been asked for since 1747, became a reality by proclamation on November 30th 1773, and the Assembly met for the first time on January 27, 1774 and had eleven (11) members who represented the planters and freeholders. (Early History of the British Virgin Islands, From Columbus to Emancipation, p.75-76: By Vernon W. Pickering)

Despite that representation, the abolition of slavery in 1834 and the collapse of the planation economy saw the Virgin Islands dwindling in population making it difficult to form the rudiments of a government and as a result they were ruled from Antigua – needless to say, the subsequent process to self government was a lengthy and complex one.

The following information is taken from my interview with Mr. Elton Georges, CMG, OBE.

1943 Secondary Education was introduced in the Virgin Islands; 1956 the Federation of the Leeward Islands was broken up and became individual colonies – head of State was changed from Commissioner to Administrator who still reported to a Governor based in Antigua; 1959-60 the Administrator reported directly to London and the Virgin Islands became a Colony with direct link to Her Majesty;  1967 Ministerial Government came into being with Administrative Secretaries who were later changed to Permanent Secretaries – the Speaker was introduced and  presided over the Council rather than the Administrator and the Speaker was elected from outside the Council (2000 Constitutional change provided that the Speaker could be elected from the elected members of the house but they continued to elect from outside); 1971 – Administrator was changed to a Governor partly driven by our close proximity to the USVI and PR; 1976 the definition of a belonger was put in the Constitution and the voting process changed – to qualify to vote you now had to be a belonger. It also increased the number of seats in Council from 7 to 9; 1994 before the 1995 election Britain increased the number of seats by amendment to include 4 at large – the entire country was equal to one constituency for these at large members – this was opposed by the then government, however this is how the council is constituted today.

From 1967 until 2007 the head of Government was designated Chief Minister at which time amendments to the Constitution changed the designation to Premier. Five Virgin Islanders held the position of Chief Minister and to date two have held the position of Premier.

Chief Ministers:  1967 – 1971 Hon. H.Lavity Stoutt; 1971 – 1979 Hon. Willard Wheatley; 1979 – 1983 Hon. H. Lavity Stoutt; 1983 – 1986 Cyril B. Romney; 1986 -1995 H. Lavity Stoutt; 1995- 2003 Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal and 2003 – 2007 Dr. The Hon. D. Orlando Smith.

Premiers: 2007 -2011 Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal and 2011 to date Dr. The Hon. D. Orlando Smith.

 

 

Then & Now – Seniors Celebration

Sunday, May 6, 2012,  another great episode of Then & Now can be seen at 8p.m on CBN Ch 51 with repeat showings on Wednesday also at 8p.m and Saturday at 8a.m. This week you will see many of the Senior Citizens of the Virgin Islands celebrating the twenty third anniversary of the Senior Citizen’s Movement. There were lots of activities, local food, drinks, crafts and much more on display for everyone’s enjoyment at the historical 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum.

“The 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum was built by the slaves of the plantation owner, Mc.Cleverty. Molasses, sugar, ‘muscovado’ and rum were produced at the sugar works until the 1940s.” (Muscovado is a type of unrefined brown sugar with a strong molasses flavor – wiki – You may recall Mr. Hugo Vanterpool mentioning this in his interview). During the 19th Century the timber frame section of the building became, what is believed to have been, the first Virgin Islands guest house. The museum was acquired by the Government in the 1900 and was used for various purposes such as an “experimental agriculture station and installed a cotton ginnery. Lime juice was also produced. Until the 1940s, the High Court sat in the first floor, which was subsequently used as a butchery and the yard as a block factory. The building also housed the Government’s Community Development Office and the Town and Country Planning and Survey Department. The Royal Virgin Islands Police also kept stores in the buildings up until its restoration (2003-2007) – this restoration included replacing the main roof, chimney and timber frame.” (Museum Info.)

There are many historical artifacts and art work in the museum and it is worth a visit from everyone – The Manager, Mrs. Olive Vanterpool, will be pleased to see you any time Monday thru Friday, 9:00 a.m – 3:00 p.m

 

 

© 2020 Violet's Corner

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑