Tagculture tradition

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 – Pleasant Encounter

 

 

This week, I interviewed Mrs. Ellen Skelton – a very beautiful and charming elderly lady. It was a very emotional interview for me as Ms. Ellen reminded me so much of my mother (deceased) – it turned out that Ms. Ellen is a close relative and went to school with my mom and they were good friends – I cannot believe that we now live so close and I am only now meeting her – I guess, everything in its own time.

The interview will be written about later but it was informative and gave much insight into the village in the Virgin Islands where I was born and grew up for the earlier part of my life – I truly give God thanks for this wonderful encounter. No matter how long we live, I am convinced that there will always be things to learn and surprises in store, some pleasant – like this one, and some not so pleasant, but we must be open to receive and embrace those, which are blessings.

Our Virgin Islands have seen many changes over the years; families have moved from place to place and sadly many of our elders have passed on without us having an opportunity to capture their experiences for us and others to learn from – it is now imperative for us to do so!! My parents have passed on and so have my grandparents, both maternal and paternal and I cannot recall anything from any of them about our historical background, but I am on a quest to find some – meeting Ms. Ellen and spending some time, albeit short, with her was like finding a treasure trove.

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 – Recounting the Earlier years

My husband, Robin, came to the Virgin Islands forty eight (48) years ago and often recalls how things were in those earlier days.

He first flew out from the UK via New York, San Juan and St. Thomas USVI, where he was met by Captain “Fishy” (Roderick Soares) and brought across on the “MV Sunshine” and was taken to Stephen Dickinson’s office (The first accounting firm in the territory) by the same “Fishy,” where he was shown to a desk and put to work – all in one day, and he only found out where he would be living later that night – the house immediately next to the office, which was located in Road Town – he had no excuse not to be on time!

The movie theatre was in the same building as his office and naturally as a young man in a strange new place and unable to sleep while the movie was in progress he quickly found his way into the projection booth with two local young men, Marshall Davies (deceased) and Ickford (Dandy) Scatliffe – the three soon became fast friends. The cinema was owned by an Englishman by the name of Douglas Williams (Deceased) who had bought the building from Norman Fowler (an American). Douglas had been a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in the UK and did a lot to promote the Virgin Islands (British) in the UK – he visited here occasionally and converted the ground floor of his building into two apartments so that he could have a place to stay when in the territory – the ground floor of that building, Robin believes, was the location of the “Tortola Times Newspaper,” the first in the territory before Carlos Downing started the “Island Sun.” In those days the phone system was by “party line” and it was necessary to listen to the number of rings to determine who the call was for – “often when you picked up the phone to make a call you would find someone else speaking so you would wait a while before trying again” – the line was shared with Virgin Islands National Bank (which went through various progressions to become Banco Popular today – it was also known as the First Pennsylvania Bank, NA), J. R. O’Neal – G. A. Cobham (the Landrover and Seagull Engine agency), Jackson’s Insurance Agency Ltd. (now Creques Insurance),  J. A. Storey & Partners (Land surveyors) and surprisingly, Treasure Isle Hotel, which was the other side of town. Just down the road from his office was the premises of Ruth C. Anthony and her husband Alban Anthony (both deceased), with whom he became very friendly, and across the street was the booking office of the Sunshine,  Clarisa’s Beauty Salon and a few small stores – further down the street was J. R. O’Neal Ltd., and Government offices, which included the Post Office.

Back then, the airport, which is on Beef Island, was undeveloped – it consisted of a sandy strip and the weekly flight from Antigua was met by a short wheel based (SWB) Landrover, which was a combination of immigration, customs, fire brigade and baggage handler. Passengers off the flight would walk behind the vehicle to where the bridge connecting to the main island of Tortola is now  to get on a pontoon upon which passengers and luggage were placed – the pontoon would then be pulled across the channel using a “wet slippery rope” in the sea and would be met by the police LWB Landrover, which would take you into town – obviously the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, which was opened in 1966, was a great boom to simplifying travel into and out of the territory by air and getting to the few businesses that were on that end of the territory – one of these was Marina Cay, a small hotel, which was run by Allan and Jean Batham (who left the territory many years ago, returning to New Zealand), another was a Slip-way on Beef Island and a miniscule hotel on Bellamy Cay (now called the Last Resort).

Robin’s account will continue next week….stay tuned…..

 

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 Historical Information

“In 1823 a Commission of Enquiry was appointed to research into the state of captured Negroes in the West Indies. These were not ostensibly slaves, although in effect they must have been much the same; instead they were called ‘African Apprentices’ but, even so, many of them appear to get little or no wages..The enquiry which was recorded was titled ‘Tortola Schedules,’ and gives dozens of stories of individuals, including their African names, their tribes, and the history of what happened to them since they arrived in Tortola.

One case study from the ‘Tortola Schedules’ reads: One case was that of George and William, cartwhipped by their master J.P. Doan….the doctor who examined them stated ‘I examined the Apprentices the day they were punished; I saw that the flesh was torn from their posteriors in many places, and bore evident marks of the Cartwhip — the blood on their dinner was fresh.'” (Early History of the British Virgin Islands, From Columbus to Emancipation – By: Vernon W. Pickering) 

Evidently, life was not easy for those who came before, even when they were not referred to as slaves, but their treatment at the hands of those whom they called “Masters” left little to the imagination of their true position in that society.

Then & Now interactive and informative

Did you know that the first guest of this talk documentary, Mrs. Eugenie Todman-Smith was the Community Development Officer of the Virgin Islands in 1966 and one of only two women (the other one being, Ms. Pearl Varlack)  out of a total of twenty four people who met with Dr. Mary Proudfoot, the constitutional commissioner appointed by the United Kingdom in 1966, to look into political conditions in the territory of the Virgin Islands. From the Proudfoot report a new constitution for the Virgin Islands was introduced. (Eugenia O’Neal) It was this constitution that in effect gave the territory full self governance.

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