The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

A.K.A (Also Known as) In celebration of the Nickname.

"Mother-in-Trouble" 1963

“Mother-in-Trouble” 1963

I wrote this in the days when the world waited with much anticipation on the naming of the Royal baby in England and I  was reminded about how names come about in the islands of our beloved West Indies.

We come from a region where the nickname reigns supreme. Parents in the West Indies who so loving take time out  to pick out a name for their child, must also be prepared that  the chances of this name  surviving the child into adulthood is practically zero.

We come from a region of drama, highlighters and exclamation marks! It is not enough to explain action or inaction, it must be dramatized and exaggerated and twice repeated.

We come from a region where the dance is just another form of sexual expression taken to the extreme as the music gets louder and louder as the evening wears on. Never mind the pretentions we put on during working hours. Let the band break loose and it shakes our moral fiber so loose that it rolls all over the floor. We have no control over ourselves and it is like trying to nail jello to the wall.

The famous West Indian author V.S. Naipaul gives us an idea with his book “Miguel Street” how we West Indians live and deal with one another. Also Paul Keens Douglas, in his many presentations throughout the region  has introduced us to a host of characters with nicknames, who in some ways remind you of people you happen to know on your own island.

My father’s nickname was “Johnson”. Even my mother called him Johnson. Many will say;” But wasn’t that his name anyway?” Not really. In the society I grew up in, only shopkeepers, and a few government officials were called Mr. Peterson, or Mr. Hassell. Sometimes one would suffice with calling the gentleman Mr. Carl, Mr. Chester, Mr. Bloomy and so on.

My father was a mason and later on he became a government foreman on the famous motor vehicle road. So he did not merit a “Mister” in front of his name. I asked him once how come people called him Johnson and he informed me that ever since he was a boy people had started calling him Johnson. It could have been worse, they could had started calling him “Piccadilly Square” or something like that. People would usually send his bills addressed to Mr. Johnson-Johnson. They had no idea that his full name was Daniel Thomas Johnson. He went through life being called Johnson and I never heard my mother calling him anything else but that.

In the case of the Royal baby the name turned out to be based on historical characters among his ancestors and depending on the times in which he lives, his constituents (if he has any left) may end up calling him “Georgie Boy” or something of sorts.

Here by us no matter how carefully the couple will plan  on what name to give the child sooner or later a nickname will be tagged on him. This he will carry for the rest of his life and his real name will be forgotten. On the other hand nowadays in many cases there need not be much fear of the baby acquiring a nickname like “Teeth” or “Sleepy”. Many names being given nowadays, are so difficult to pronounce or to remember that there is no need for a nickname. People pronounce it in a way that someone corrects them in the process of pronunciation and they succumb with “whatever”.

I usually read the death announcements in the newspapers. Not so much to find out details on the persons life, but to check on a.k.a. (also known as) and lately I also see b.k.a. (better known as). What a treasure trove of nicknames I have found there. And in our society West Indians have unusual talents  in coming up with nicknames like “Pork Chop”, “Spare Parts” and a host of other exceptional names.

Take for instance “Spare Parts”. Whoever gave him that name must have imagined someone thrown together from leftover bits and pieces and started calling him that. Someone in the genius category of pegging nicknames to people had a great deal of inspiration when he came up with that name.

Back to “Pork Chop”. An American magazine once carried an interview with someone by that name. And guess what he was eating while giving an assessment of world affairs to the interviewer? A pork chop of course. A friend of mine once burned down the government administration building and the governors house on St. Maarten. As a boy in a Chinese restaurant on Aruba while eating a pork chop he saw a police officer at another table doing the same thing. After finishing his pork chop he went across to the police officer stuck the pork chop bone in his back, told him to put up his hands and proceeded to parade the policeman down the street. The policeman only caught on after he noticed how much bystanders were laughing. You would think that one of them or both would have gotten labeled with the name “Pork Chop” but no,it was another friend on St. Maarten who got the name “Pork Chop”.

Once during Carnival somehow he ended up on Saba. He called me the following morning to let me know that the police had “put him up” for the night and to ask if I could pay his passage back to St. Maarten. My first inclination was to think, how nice of the police until I realized that “putting up” actually meant that he had been jailed. When I got the bill from my brother Freddie at the end of the month it read: “Passage to St. Maarten for Mr. Pork Chop.” I am pretty sure that I have that receipt somewhere in one of my boxes.

On St.Maarten I knew people like “Mother-in-Trouble” and her brother “Appetite”. It is claimed that she gave herself this nickname. She would come daily to see me at the Post office and to mail letters from friends at the “Sweet Repose” on the Back Street. For some reason very few women carry nicknames. A few mind you but nothing compared to the men.

On some islands like Curacao you have nicknames like “Papa”, “Shon”, “Boy” and so on. One of our Prime Ministers, Silvio Rozendaal was proud of his nickname “Boy”. In the United States however it is a big insult to call a man of colour “Boy”. I remember in the sixties a young tourist who looked white with a white wife and children, went berserk and had to be restrained when another male tourist called him “Boy.” He later explained how the term was used and why the other tourist had called him “Boy.” It is good to know these things because the United States believes that the whole world thinks and acts like them. In the West Indies we call every male Boy. From a toddler to a ninety year old, it is “boy come here”, “boy do that”, and even the Prime Minister we called him “Boy” and he really appreciated that.

One of the disadvantages, especially to politicians was that after a while the nickname reigns supreme and the real name of the person is lost. No nicknames were allowed on the voters list. I once tried to make a case to those responsible for the voters list to allow nicknames to be added to the real names. It was not to be and now the Dutch don’t allow voters lists to be issued any more. For privacy reasons they claim. They don’t hesitate from making all your other business public though.

If my suggestion had gone through, the voters list would have looked something like this: Thomas Hassell a.k.a. “Clorox”, Winston Johnson also known as “Toothpick”, Leroy Wilson also known as “Rum Belly”, Daniel Peterson also known as “Slimy”. There is virtually not one male in the entire West Indies who does not now have or at least at one time have had a nickname. A friend of mine in the Boys town Christian Zagers used to call me “Duffy” for a while. Perhaps because I was short. But after a sudden growth spurt  even he did not call me that anymore. Recently my fruit supplier Cisco, via a Medical Student, sent to inform me not to call him by that name anymore and that his new name was “Scooby- Doo”. So there you have it. A case where people even peg a nickname on themselves.

As I write this it is getting late and I am getting “Sleepy”, but before I go to bed I want to put my “Teeth” into a “Pork Chop” and then dream of the “Hard Times” people go through when they have to survive in a world addicted to nicknames. People in these islands organize contests of all kinds. It is truly amazing that no one has yet come up with a contest for the most unusual nickname. Perhaps after reading this someone will think that this is a wonderful idea. After all if one can organize “I love my ram goat” contest, then why not a contest for the most unique nickname. I can think of a few from the past like “Glass Bottle”, “After Effects” “Droopsy” “Squeaky” “Shady” “Darkie” “Whitey” “Brownie” and so on.

So in future when you meet someone from the islands, write down his name as you might never hear it again until on his demise you read in the paper that Melvin Rodgers a.ka. “Smelly” has passed away and you will say to yourself “I knew him once”. The nickname takes over, buries your true identity, puts you in a safe house like the C.I.A. does with informants, and the nickname takes you to the grave, when friends and even members of your family only then find out what your real name was.

The last time I saw “Pork Chop” was when I was a member of the board of the electricity company on St. Maarten. It was a hot and muggy July day and I was in a rush to get inside the building for a meeting. Then I saw him coming. Dressed he was in a Santa Claus suit with cap and all and ringing a large bell coming down backstreet and wishing one and all a Merry Christmas. I am still grateful that he was headed in another direction than I was and I could escape into the building. And be careful. If you do not have a nickname yet it is an ever present menace in the West Indies. Get caught up in a stupid or funny situation and there you go with a nickname pegged to you until people forget who you really were. Like the man in the iron mask your entire past will be lost and absorbed into a nickname like “Left Overs” or “Cotton Cloth” and the song and dance around you goes on until the last day when your real name will once again be revealed to the general public a.k.a. (also known as).

Uncle Reuben’s Alphabeth lesson.

Capt. Charles Reuben Simmons on his wedding day in 1919 to Sylvia Otillia Johnson.

Capt. Charles Reuben Simmons on his wedding day in 1919 to Sylvia Otillia Johnson.

When he was around 93 (yes ninety three) I asked him to recite for me the alphabet he used to teach us when we were children.

This is what he told me. He had it all in his head and needed no prodding to remember it.

A, was an archer who shot at a frog.

B, was a butcher who had a great dog.

C, was a Captain who felt very big.

D, was a doctor who rode on a gig.

E, was an engineer lever at hand.

F, was a farmer who ploughed in his land.

G, was a gurgler like a pig in his habits.

H, was a hunter who goes after rabbits.

I, was an Indian fond of the chase.

J, was a jockey who rode in a race.

K, for a King mighty and grand.

L, was a lady with her white gloved hand.

M, was a miser who hoards up his gold.

N, was a newsboy who wore an extra sole.

O, was an organ the largest in town

P, was a parson who wore a black gown.

Q, for a quarrel silly boy on the spot.

R, was a racket used as a bat.

S, was a sailor who long been afloat.

T, for a tailor who mended a coat.

U, was an umbrella rather spoiled by the breeze.

V, for a vase missing valise.

W, was a watchman who came on the spot.

X, was a ten dollar bill which he got.

Y, was a yacht with her white sail spread over.

Z, was a zanny without brains in his head.

      This must have been the way to teach sailors the alphabet when Capt. Charles Reuben Simmons sailed the ocean seas.

Passing Big Shot

Image (1357)When the Dutch owned Indonesia, which was not that long ago, they established a series of Passangrahan, or “government stations” along the road to Lahat and then on to the West Coast port of Bencoolen. In local parlance they were referred to as “passing big shot” as they were primarily intended to house colonial officials. Each was about ten to twelve miles distant which enabled pedestrians/riders to easily attain them in a day. At each there were accommodations, a cook-house and stables. In the colonial Dutch West Indies each island had a Passangrahan. The smallest island of all, Saba, even had two. One in The Bottom, now the Dutch government’s colonial headquarters and one in Windwardside which for a number of years has been a guesthouse “Scout’s Place.”

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Pasangrahan seen from the beach 1951

I was no “passing big shot” but I have many fond memories of hanging out at the Passangrahan Hotel on St. Maarten. I remember once reading an interview in a Dutch Magazine with an artist who was a member of the Van Romondt family of Aruba. They asked him if he was homesick for Aruba. He answered that “you are not homesick for a place. What is referred to as homesickness is a longing for a period in your life when you were most carefree and thought you were happy as a consequence.”

Recently I had the opportunity to stay at the Pasangrahan Hotel and it brought back a flood of memories from that period in my life when I was carefree and hanging out there. From late nineteen fifty nine on I lived just up the road at Captain Hodge’s guesthouse which was practically next door to the Passangrahan.

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Tony Gumbs and his steel-band which used to play at Passangrahan hotel.

When I first knew the hotel it was still run by the government. Shortly after that Mr. Eric Lawaetz made a deal with the government to take over the hotel and add on ten guest rooms to it. The alley which led to the sea was closed off in order to accommodate that. He made the agreement in 1955 and two years later it was ready to receive guests. The ruins of the former D.C. van Romondt mansion were also included in the deal and the Windward Islander Store was established there. In the late nineteen fifties the island of St. Thomas was getting a bit too crowded for certain genteel folk and they started an exodus to St. Martin. Among them were Peter Byram and Kit Osborne. I was told that Peter had worked for Eric Lawaetz in his hotel on St. Croix. Kit Osborne came to St. Martin on a boat. I was only lately told by someone on Saba that Peter was Kit’s half brother. I don’t know that for sure. I had always heard that Kit had been an actress when she was young. They ran the Passangrahan Hotel for a while, and then started the Windward Islander Store. By that time I was living just up the street and working in the Post Office. Kit took a motherly fancy to me and supplied me with shirts which had been on the shelves too long. The hotel back then served as the preferred place to have dinner by the folks who were building their dream vacation homes in the Lowlands. The cook was Maisie Lake and could turn out a great meal even though supplies were limited and nothing available to make a gourmet meal. People like the Fawcett’s, John Goodwin and so on could be seen having dinner there. When Bud Vaz ran the place he had stacks of long play records of Johnny Mathis and Kate Smith especially, which would start being played at 6pm in the bar next to the restaurant which was on the verandah facing the sea. These records would continue playing until after nine. Back then I hated that type of music but had to suffer through it. But as with everything else in life things grow on you. Now when I hear a song by either one of those singers it brings back wonderful memories of the years I spent around the Passangrahan Hotel.

Charles "Scout" Thirkield and Albert Warner in the bar at the Passangrahan

Charles “Scout” Thirkield and Albert Warner in the bar at the Passangrahan

Charles Thirkield better known as “Scout” took over from Bud Vaz who went over to Saba to manage the newly built Captain’s Quarters Hotel. Scout had previously worked for the Windward Islander Store. I can even remember his father. He lived with Scout in the two storeys yellow building on the other side of the street from the store which belonged to a Scot. I remember together with the other Saba boys helping Frederick Froston bring the old man down the stairs on a stretcher and walking with him to the hospital. A few days later he passed away and we buried him in the big cemetery in Cul-de-Sac.

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Lithograph of Passangrahan 1960’s

Bud Vaz had his own way of running the Passangrahan. A temperamental man he sure was. Once I had run up a sizeable bill at the bar. He insisted I pay it right away. The bill was well over two hundred dollars and at the time I was surviving off $15.—per month after paying room and board. No sense for Bud to threaten me. Anyway Mr. Burcher a handicapped lawyer who stayed at Capt. Hodge’s along with everyone else got fish poisoned with a cuvaly fish and needed to go to Puerto Rico. I was the only one from Up Street who had a visa. When the United States Consul visited St. Maarten my boss Alphonse O’Connor had asked me to assist the Consul upstairs in the old Courthouse. Fons did not see the Consul go upstairs. But boy when I went upstairs and saw the Consul, oh glory day. The second night Fons a famous bachelor then visited the Passangrahan and saw the Consul. He called me aside and what a barrage of bad words and threats he heaped on me. I figured my job was lost. But that was how I got my visa after beating off a host of potential suitors. Still have the name after all these years. Needles to say the Consul was young, vivacious, curvy and a redhead at that. Fons was particularly fond of redheads and would always be reminding me that I was lucky to still have a job after not telling him who the Consul really was. He reminded me with the necessary expletive delitives that he was my boss and my ignoring him would have consequences. No budging on my part. I had learned by then that Fons only put up a big mouth when he had up a few. Fons is the same one who had a heated discussion with an American tourist at the bar about the proper way to shoot ducks. Back then in the winter month’s scores of Canadian ducks would pass through St. Maarten. Fons even invited me once to go hunting ducks with him in the Lowlands and I can assure you that Fons knew how to shoot ducks. Fons decided to show the tourist that he knew a thing or two about shooting ducks and when we thought he had left returned with a double barreled shotgun from his car (always a Buick in his choice of cars and in his choice of the female of the species he preferred red heads, so you can see why he was so mad with me). Fons let go with the shotgun at the ceiling. What a commotion that followed. Tables overturned, plates flying on the ground and breaking, guests running towards the beach. Anything to escape Fons and his duck shooting demonstration. That shot was not heard around the world but it could have bankrupted the hotel.  Anyway in Puerto Rico Mr. Burcher’s secretary joined us and one night we all went to the casino. Mr. Burcher gave each of us a stack of coins. Turns out he did not realize that it was a one hundred dollar stack which we thought was five dollars. Threw a lot of those chips on number 22 and before you can realize it, I had over 900 dollars. Paid off Mr. Burcher and came back to St. Maarten fully flushed with money. First thing I did was go to Passangrahan to pay my bar bill.

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November 1955. Boys Scouts lined up to greet Her Majesty Queen Juliana at Passangrahan

My bartender friend Albert Warner who had fought with the French in Algeria and used to tell me stories about that,  together with Mr. “Waas” as Albert called him looked all over the hotel, but no bill for me. They may have even checked under the hotel beds for all I know. Finally Albert in a moment of inspiration remembered where the bill had gone. “Mr. Waas,” he said;” You remember that man Mr. Johnson who quarreled so much about his bar bill? Well I must o’ put Will’s bill on his.” After winning that second lottery in the space of a week, the casino winnings went like oil on a hotplate, but at least my hotel bill was paid. Mr. “Waas” was not pleased even though most if not all of my Puerto Rico winnings were thrown behind the Passangrahan bar treating friends (besides redheads) like Evans Deher, Brother Joe Matthew, Lanman Webster, the boys from Saba and so on. No “Mr. Waas” was not pleased at all that I had got away so easy.

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Passangrahan from the Frontstreet before the alley was closed off 1951

When Scout took over the management it was a relaxed form of management. That is I had the run of the place during his reign. And then suddenly everything changed. Scout went over to Saba and two young men, Rush Little and Ray Pointer came in and introduced the Rooster as the new Passangrahan emblem. Evans smelled trouble from day one. Took one look at the rooster and in unprintable language for a respectable paper like the Herald wondered aloud what was going on. Have you ever read:”Don’t stop the carnival?” The author must have been staying at the Passangrahan hotel when the rooster bearing crowd moved in. Within a week Evans stopped doing all the plumbing, changing gas tanks, you name it. Maisie the cook moved on and a regular source of revenue was nearly lost when the rooster prominently placed in the bar would give us an evil look when we entered.   Suddenly there was a decline in the supply of redheads or anyone else of the female of the species. We were like lost sailors on a remote island longing for the return of the redheads. Even Johnny Mathis and Kate Smith whom we had grown accustomed to were thrown out and replaced with some new weird form of music. The hotel went in the direction of what was later termed as “gay”. All of that we survived though. No one could discourage us from coming around. All sorts of important people we met during the years of hanging out. There was a Judge who would have Tony Gumbs put a stick with a string on an old wash tub which he would play for the full months of February and March to the annoyance of the other guests. His mission always was that his bar bill had to be more than his room bill. He welcomed any help he could get and boy did we make his stay worthwhile. Like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, Judge Whitegrave or Gravestones would be pulling the string on the old washtub while we were drinking our way through the family fortune. It was much later that we learned we would have had to drink a lot more than we did to put a dent in the Judge’s fortune. It was at the Passangrahan too where on that flat cement terrace under the sea grape trees to the steel pan of Tony Gumbs and his boys that the Lt. Governor came to a decision that I had overreached his patience with me, by dancing not once but twice with Princess Irene. But I have told that one before and because of space I have to leave many interesting stories behind.

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View of Passangrahan on the beach early 1970s

On leaving I noticed that on the building prominently displayed was the year 1905. Not in my book. When Governor Helfrick visited in November 1919 with some high officials, including the Administrator of Finance there were no hotel facilities on the island. Lt. Governor Tymstra’s wife was ill, so Governor Helfrick slept in the Roman Catholic Presbytery. Helfrick had prior experienced the Passangrahans in the Dutch East Indies. Orders were given to start a similar facility which was ready on March 28th, 1922. This is stated in the Journal of the Lt. Governor at the time. In 1938 a new building was erected, and in 1955 the Passangrahan was closed in order to facilitate the transfer to Mr. Eric Lawaetz who then expanded it with ten rooms and it remained that way for a number of years before any additional construction took place.  Before ending, this final story which Eric told me when I stayed with at his hotel St. Croix by the Sea. Dr. Levendag and the teacher Ann Lichtveld had gone sailing on his yacht parked in front of the Pasangrahan Hotel. We sometimes used it without his permission as well. The next morning the yacht had slipped the moorings and was gone. A few days later Eric and his wife saw a familiar boat heading towards the reef close to their hotel on St.Croix. They sent out one of the workers who came back towing their yacht from their hotel on St. Maarten. Eric wrote a long history of St. Croix, and called me occasionally to find out about George Seaman and to discuss history. He lived to be ninety five and made an enormous difference in the history of St. Maarten with his purchase and development of the Lowlands. Sweet memories of my days of hanging out at the Passangrahan, I still carry with me as you can read.

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The terrace at Passangrahan facing the beach

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Praise for Saba’s Government

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Rutte to seek end to over-legislation

Saba — For the first time since 2007, a Dutch Prime Minister set foot on Saba. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and a Dutch trade mission that travelled with him arrived Friday (July 19th, 2013) for a brief visit here.

Commissioner Chris Johnson extended the Island Government’s “heartfelt welcome” to the Prime Minister during a joint press conference at Queen’s Garden Resort.

Commissioner Johnson pointed out that the 2015 evaluation would be an opportunity to review legislation.

Rutte stressed that he and the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk were both very committed to sitting down and cutting all the red tape on legislation. We have endless laws in Bonaire, Statia and Saba, as if they were Amsterdam or The Hague. We have to cut back on all this typically detailed legislation.

“I, for one think that we’ve had enough. So when new laws come up I will be very, very critical with colleagues in the cabinet from health to education or whatever portfolio holder who thinks we should have specialized laws for Saba, Statia and Bonaire. I will ask very difficult questions and try to get that off the table, because I think we’ve done enough in terms of getting these islands legislated on a European Dutch level,” Rutte said.

Commissioner Johnson fully agreed. “We’re fully legislated,” he said.

As for business opportunities, the Prime Minister visited the Saba University School of Medicine (SUSOM) campus and Fort Bay harbor. Commissioner Johnson said the medical school was the most important investor in Saba’s economy and a model for sustainable development.

During his visit, the Prime Minister personally handed over the accreditation documents to university officials on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Students and faculty were present to welcome the Prime Minister and his delegation.

The harbor showcased the island’s challenges concerning further development. Prime Minister Rutte also met local businesspeople there.

He also met with the Executive Council, during which inequality in social security between the Netherlands and Saba, and the evaluation of the constitutional process were discussed.

Rutte thanked Saba for a warm welcome and said he was impressed, calling the island “literally the high point of the Kingdom.” He said the visit to the medical school had been particularly enlightening. They are highly professional.

He agreed that much still had to be done concerning harbor development and said the remarks made by the local business community had been “insightful”. He said he was content with the progress made in the public entities, adding that pertaining to remaining challenges decisions would have to be made based on consultations.

Overall, he said he had been impressed by Saba’s economic performance and development, adding that there was still room for growth where the medical school was concerned. Rutte agreed that the harbor needed to be brought into shape, as it was the entry point to the island and therefore of “paramount importance”.

Asked what the Dutch cabinet was willing to do for the overall wellbeing of the population, Rutte explained that the transitional process involved the dollarization of the local economy, which had driven up inflation and ultimately translated into lower purchasing power for the local population, dynamics that were “impossible for me to correct.”

He added that the economic crisis and the Dutch government’s large-scale struggle with reining in public finances left “very little room in terms of money. What we can do is offer expertise.”

Commissioner Johnson pointed out that a tax structure that would make the island competitive was vital, as “we have to compete with small, independent nations that can quickly adjust laws, making it very attractive for businesses to come in.” He pointed out the island’s safe environment, which could attract educational institutions and research centers.

Asked whether Saba was seeking tax-have status, Commissioner Johnson denied that this was the goal. Looking at the scale of the local economy, some tax provisions need to be tailor-made to address local specificities.

Prime Minister Rutte concluded the press conference by saying he had enjoyed his visit and pledged to return to the island, which he described as “BEAUTIFUL, WELL-GOVERNED, WITH A CLEAR VISION WHERE YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR SELLING POINTS ARE.”

” IN TERMS OF ALL THAT, YOU ARE AN EXAMPLE TO ALL OF US IN THE NETHERLANDS AND IN THE WIDER KINGDOM ABOUT HOW GOOD GOVERNANCE SHOULD WORK. YOU MAY BE SMALL, BUT IN ALL THESE ASPECTS YOU ARE BIG AND I REALLY APPLAUD THAT.’ he said.

This article taken from The Daily Herald of Friday July 19th, 2013.

Coming from the Prime Minister of Holland the Island Government can feel proud. These statements are only made after the Prime Minister has been appraised of our history and the history behind those young people now running the island. Also in view of the negative statements made to and about the other islands it is even more of a compliment to the local authorities. The W.I.P.M. party since it was founded in November 1970 has advocated integrity in government and working for the welfare of Saba and at the same time participating in issues pertaining to other islands and to the West Indies in general. As party president I want to congratulate those of the WIPM party in government on Saba. Prime Minister Rutte comes from the party of business people and his thinking about social issues is completely different to how I think governments should function, but that is something different. A subject that we already deal with time to time, so here we will suffice with passing on the praise he had for the hard working, educated young people who are  now running the Saba Government.

P.S. The attached photo of part of the gold stock of Holland goes to show that Holland isn’t broke and the words of Prime Minister Mark Rutte are worth their weight in gold.

Memories shared

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   Over the years I have enjoyed a lively correspondence with friends and family from all over the world. Starting with my mother who could barely read and write yet had a wonderful way with words. In the boys town where I stayed on Curacao I used to treasure the only link I had with home and that was the letters I would receive.

   I would like to share with you a letter from my late cousin Carl Lester Johnson in New York, dated March 17th, 2005 (written 2.58 Am). Written on one of those nights when he could not sleep and all sorts of memories were going through his mind.

    ” On May 11, 1902, Alice Eliza Simmons-Johnson came on this earth in a place called Saba. Like, John Cameron Swayze’s Timex there were times she took a licking, but she went on ticking for the next 97 years.

    I just re-read your e-mail about the boys. I am so happy that they are doing well, because if our legacy is nothing but good children then we have done our best. I often think of the day you and Lynne married, but what I remember best is your sister-in-law Enid. If she can dance today as she did that day then she is doing well. Please remember me to her.

    Many thanks for your good advice. Old trees die quickly when transplanted in the fall of life. We never know how many springs remain to grow fresh roots. Sabeans had to do too much of that when they were young. The life was never easy, but the love was always there. What I will remember most until I die are the tears of my beloved old Pa, James Horton Simmons on the day he told me goodbye behind Mrs. Mara Hassell’s house.

    The things I remember best about home are the rocks along the paths we travelled smoothed like Italian marble by naked feet. These stones left behind are the monuments in Saba’s lost cemeteries. Saba is among the longest occupied islands of the Lesser Antilles for she is really the Rock of Ages. My father went home in 1938 and he came to love Rupert Hassell. The older he became the more he spoke of home and how Rupert could “pull the middle oar,” on Uncle Jim’s boat that he named the “Setback”. Shortly after Rupert died, I had a dream. My father and I were standing on a riverbank with all our people. In the dream, he nudged and said, “Look Les there is Rupert coming across the river in a two-oar boat. He is coming to carry us home.” I came awake early this morning with that dream repeated as freshly as the first time I dreamt.

    With seven hundred cars a’ rolling like the chariots of Rome, the place may soon need street signs and traffic lights. I would love for something permanent along the roads and paths named for people such as you. However, I would love to know that we remember Gosta Simmons, El Primo (Raymond S.Simmons), Henry Hassell, and Dr. Eric Leverock Simmons. I lost Henry’s e-mail address. If anyone has it please forward this to him. These four wonderful people and you have done more to keep the memories of those who passed our way before than anyone I know.

   Hang in there Will and do not go near the “Clapper Cliff” because I do not want anyone to drown in the sweet tears of my memories of home. Before Louise ever visited home and I referred to Saba as home, she would say, “Shut up, this is your home.’ When we went home in 1970, it was the saddest of times. When we went back in 1986 as the plane took off from Flat Point she had tears in her eyes as I do now. She looked at me and said, “Such a nice little home.” We had planned to go back for our winters when we retired, but she died a few days before Christmas 1989.”

Les.

Interview with Margareth Hassell from Statia

To view and hear the interview, please follow this link:
www.mediaplayback.net/gh/margaretspence.wmv

It is a large file so please be patient; how well the file plays will depend on the speed of your internet connection.

Yesterday I had some interesting visitors from New York who were here on Saba and St. Eustatius looking up their roots. they gave me permission to share this very interesting interview with Margareth a grandmother of the husband who did the interview years ago.

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Margareth May Hassell-Spence and her children. She was a daughter of Israel John Hassell and Renette Serene Hassell, both from Saba.

Sister Arcadia

By Will johnson

I could have entitled this “The St. Martin woman who loved Saba” as her love for Saba, primitive as it was when she lived here, knew no bounds.

She was born in Philipsburg on May 20th, 1902 as Amaria Wilhelmina O’Connor. Her parents were William Frederick O’Connor and Katheline Elizabeth Marie Nadal. She was the last of eight children. Her mother died at the age of 42 in the year 1904. In 1905 her father married Margaret Maria Williams (43). With all those small children you can understand that he needed help to raise them. And so Sister Arcadia was raised by her step mother.

I do my family research on the website genlias.nl. You have to know how to deal with the site. I had a hard time finding anything under O’Connor, so I looked up Conner and Connor and found the information I needed. I later worked under Sister Arcadia’s nephew Alphonse O’Connor. If you were to believe Fons wars had been fought over lesser offenses than the misspelling of the name O’Connor. However other Conners who I was friends with would forcefully claim that the family who used the O’Connor version of the name was just playing big shot and had themselves changed the name of Connor to O’Connor. In any event the family of Sister Arcadia was the only one which used the authentic Irish version of the name.

She was one of several St. Martin young ladies who at the time decided to join the Dominican Nuns who were active on these islands at the time. The others were Sister Modesta Conner and Sister Patienca Houtman. On April 30th 1924 she became a nun in the Congregation of the Holy Catharina of Siena in  Voorschoten. The first Dominican nuns under the leadership of Sister Eugenie Elegie arrived on St. Martin in 1890 and started teaching immediately and then later on started taking care of the sick and the elderly. This resulted in the St. Rose Hospital and in the Sweet Repose being started on the Backstreet in 1909.

Sister Arcadia went to school to Mother Regina the founder of the first mission of Dominican nuns on St. Martin. It is possible that already then she had plans of becoming a nun. After her vows she returned to the islands and served for 46 years in the schools on Saba and St. Eustatius. For the greater part , some forty years she taught school on Saba. She lived together with two or three other nuns. She mostly taught the first class. In this capacity she had the responsibility of preparing her students for their First Holy Communion.

Dominican Nuns residence in The Bottom

Besides the school she also filled different functions in the church. Especially the choir would have her full attention. She also played the organ and directed the choir. With her musical talent she never rested until she considered everything to be perfectly in order.

Around 100 years ago there was no shortage of St. Martin men and women who were willing to work on Saba, as teachers, police officers, radio operators and Administrators.

Among those who served as police officers were police chief Bernard Halley who married Sydney Dowling and they had twelve children. Other Police officers of former times were people like George Halley (1920,’s), Elias Richardson, Roger Cannegieter and others. As for teachers there were THE Buncamper sisters Elize and Coralie. Miss Sue Waymouth while teaching here  fell in love with one of her students René Johnson, and they later married  moved to Aruba and then to Saudi Arabia etc. Among the Conner family we had Julian Conner, his brother Hyacinth and maybe one or more of their sisters. One of the well known St. Martin teachers and uncle of the Conners was Mr. Steve Kruythoff who married Helen Crossley of Saba. He wrote a history and guidebook of the Dutch Windward Islands of which I have two original copies in my book collection.

Radio operators were also from St. Maarten like Mr. Percy Labega, Mr. Raymond de Weever, Mr. Arno Peterson. Agriculturists also like Mr. Clive Peterson. And at the top of the civil servants pile we had Administrators like Max Huith, Charles Ernest Voges, Reginald  Carty , Mr. Carol Labega and Mr. Walter Buncamper.

So as you can see Sister Arcadia was not alone in coming to Saba. When she came here in the nineteen twenties the island was the same as it had been since it’s settlement in the early sixteen hundreds. There was no electricity, no harbor facilities or airport and just goat paths which were given the glorified name of roads. Saba did have lots of captains and sailors and owned many of the large schooners which plied the trade between many of the West Indian islands. There we’re two homes used by the Dominican nuns, one in The Bottom and one in Windwardside . During her long sojourn on Saba, she lived in both of these houses. Because of the altitude and as a consequence the cool climate she loved to live in the Windwardside and spent many of her years on Saba, teaching and living in Windwardside.

It is here that I met Sister Arcadia with much regret until later years when I came to appreciate the work and the frustrating circumstances under which the Nuns were expected to give service to the community. I can assure you that Sister Arcadia was not easy. Her favorite warning was that ” If you are not careful I going to hit you a Peter Sailie. I still have not found out who Peter Salie was. I did experience her rage on more than one occasion. I remember once when the class was misbehaving I saw he digging under the desk. Next thing was her shoe coming in my direction. Like George Bush, I was able to duck the oncoming shoe missile and it hit Alton Johnson sitting behind me. Now you have to know that Sister Arcadia was no small woman. Tall and with pounds to match you had to be constantly on guard for a Peter Sailie shoe missile coming in your direction. I was blamed for ducking the shoe and Alton stayed away from school for awhile. Good thing I was not in politics at the time or I might have been sued for ducking the shoe. For the rest of the time I was in Sister Arcadia’s class I was very attentive to her every move. Any move to go under her desk and I was out of there, which brought on a set of licks. You were instructed to go cut a tamarind branch for her to lick you with. She had figured out that a tamarind branch was limber enough to want you never to have to deal with Sister Arcadia again. And you know what I have still not found out who or what was a “Peter Sailie”. Who knows the course of history. Perhaps the shoe throwing gentleman in Iraq had heard about Sister Arcadia’s ability to throw a shoe like a missile. I don’t remember learning too much in Sister Arcadia’s class because of the constant monitoring of her every move. Even if she moved her hand in the direction of under her desk to scratch her knee I was on the move at the same time in the direction of the door. I guess George Bush has a hang up from that disciple of Sister Arcadia’s in Bagdhad. The reason you don,t see him in public is not because there are those who want to make away with him. No it is because every time he sees someone in a crowd stooping he takes off as if he is about to be tarred and feathered.

Years later when I became a fan of V.S. Naipual’s books I read a hilarious account of his teacher trying to sell him a goat. The teacher used to soak his correction rods steeping in a bucket of water in the front of the classroom. The first thought to enter my mind was that it was a good thing he was not writing when Sister Arcadia was around. I don,t know what the water treatment would have done to improve the licking qualities of a tamarind tree limb, but they must be considerable if you are to believe Naipaul.

Of course there will be those who will remember Sister Arcadia for other things besides the shoe throwing, the tamarind branch whippings and the ever present danger of a “Peter Sailie”, but can you blame me for my thoughts and fears going in that direction when I hear her name mentioned.

However these are reminisces of a child. I came to know her in later years as a caring person who believed in her religion and who worked well with the other nuns with whom she shared a residence.

After 53 years of service she left her beloved Saba and in July of 1977 she went to Holland. In the Catharina convent she continued doing her part. Slowly her capacity for work diminished. Her health deteriorated quickly. On December 23 rd, 1991 she died at Sambeek and on December 27th she was laid to rest in the convent burial ground. She had served a total of 67 years as a member of the congregation of Dominican nuns. People from Saba who were fortunate enough to visit her in her last years in Holland always told of her many questions as to how things were developing on her beloved Saba. The boy who had been the target of the shoe missile attack was in the meantime running the island, and as the years wore on, there are many fond memories of my old teacher Sister Arcadia. I don’t know if she went to heaven with her heavy shoes on. If she did you can be sure that somewhere in that great beyond one has to be careful not to torment her into doing a “Peter Sailie” on you. Fare thee well Sister Arcadia, fare thee well!!

St. Kitts Dominant

By: Will Johnson

Once when I was a member of parliament I received a call from Dr. Eric Kleinmoedig. At the time he was head of the department of foreign affairs for the Netherlands Antilles. At the time Mrs. Maria Liberia-Peters was our Prime minister. Dr. Kleinmoedig informed me that the Prime Minister had been invited to give a lecture on St. Kitts at the PAM party’s annual convention. He went on to say that Maria had told him that since I knew everybody’s business that perhaps I could prepare a speech for her as she knew very little about St. Kitts.

When she arrived back on Curacao she called to thank me. She having been born and grown up on Curacao had no idea of how important a role St. Kitts had played in the Eastern Caribbean and especially in the Dutch Windward Islands in the past. And what was astonishing to her was that most people in the St. Kitts audience were unaware of this as well. She told me that after her speech many people in the audience came up to thank her and bombarded her with questions about their country’s former important role. She said she told them that only recently when planning this trip, coupled with the speech I had written that she herself had become aware of this part of our interesting shared history in these islands.

The waters which separate us also bind us. This was especially so in colonial times before the advent of aviation. The island of St. Kitts had been the mother colony for both the British and the French in their first colonial adventure in the Caribbean then considered the private domain of the Spanish empire.

After one hundred years of fighting over the island the French finally left, but the names Basseterre, Dieppe Bay and so on are yet reminders of the French period when the two extremes of the island were owned by them. The troubles were so much between the British and the French that the English. Colonizer Sir Thomas Warner is quoted as saying that he “would rather have two devils for a neighbor than one Frenchman.”

St. Kitts has often been referred to as the “Mother Colony” of the former British West Indies. A little known fact to most people today is that St. Kitts up until the late nineteen fifties functioned as a mother to the Dutch Windward islands as well.

One must remember that the population of the Dutch Windward Islands up until recent times was quite small. For example the population of the three islands in 1924 was as follows: St. Maarten 2265, Saba 1615 and St. Eustatius 1103. These population figures hold true for most of the period between 1860 and 1960. During that same period the population of St. Kitts was always in excess of 20.000.

It is regrettable that the relationship which existed in colonial times between the islands suffered such a setback after St. Maarten started to rise and St. Kitts decline. Instead of moving closer together we have drifted apart. Recently though with the fiber optic cable and with a few strategic phone calls to the authorities on St. Kitts a start has been made to bind the ties between St. Kitts, St. Eustatius and Saba.

The Dutch ( and also the French) islands of the Eastern Caribbean  not only used St. Kitts as a transit point to their onward journeys to such destinations as Bermuda and the United States. Transportation in those days was provided by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company from St. Kitts. For our people the town of Baseterre was the metropolis of the Eastern Caribbean. It was the place to also visit friends and spend vacations. Old timers on our islands of Saba and Statia still reminisce about such hotels as “Shorty’s Hotel”, “Montesaires Hotel”, “Miss Ada Edmeads Guesthouse”, “Barclays hotel” and so on.

St. Kitts was also the island with the general hospital. Cunningham Hospital started in 1848 functioned as a regional hospital and doctors such as Dr. Shaw first worked on the Dutch islands before moving on to St. Kitts. My friend the Governor General Dr. Cuthbert Sebastian more than once told me the story of a young man brought to his hospital from Saba in the late nineteen forties. I later found out that it was Gerald Hassell. Dr. Sebastian told me that he had a ruptured appendix and there was no hope for him, yet he wanted assurances from the doctor that he would live as he had a wife and two small children. What could the good doctor do under the circumstances but assure him with a white lie that all would be well and Gerald died shortly thereafter. Back in the nineteen twenties my mother had a good looking cousin Joseph Simmons with whom a nurse fell in love while he was hospitalized at Cunningham Hospital. He died but she remained single and kept in contact with our family until she died in the nineteen sixties. Even after the nuns started the St. Rose hospital on St. Maarten people from Saba and Statia still continued to use the medical facilities on St. Kitts. The dentists and eye specialists were the reason also given to visit St. Kitts. These medical specialists also visited the Dutch islands from time to time. One of those dentists fondly remembered, not so much for his dental abilities but for his foul tongue is Dr. Losada. Oh but Dr. Losada could speak a bad word old timers will tell you.

Captain Ernest A. Johnson in his Memoirs speaks for many former Dutch Windward Islanders when describing his first trip to St. Kitts in 1900:

“On the 2nd May, 2 am the weather was moderate and we were close to West of Brimstone Hill. Two tacks and a hitch, and the good sloop “Lillie” was safely anchored in Basseterre, St. Kitts. There my maiden passage ended. I was stopping at the Montesaires Hotel waiting for the steamship “Tiber” to arrive, for Bermuda was the second part of my voyage. On the 15th of May the “Tiber” arrived to sail that day. There was much social interchange between the people of St. Kitts and those of the Dutch and French islands in the Eastern Caribbean as well. Leading families from the islands intermarried.

In Mr. J.C. Waymouth’s book “Memories of St. Martin (N.P.)” he mentions St. Kitts on numerous occasions, giving an indication of the importance of St. Kitts to the people of St. Martin in those days. On a more personal note he writes:

The writer, during the interval from 8th June to July 18th, 1927 was absent from the island attending the wedding at St. Kitts , of his youngest daughter Anna to Mr. C.S. Dickson of that island.”

Mr. Waymouth, in his book, dealing with the year 1915 also had the following to say: “The year saw the following events (some of them not upon our soil but still affecting it) -. The establishment of the Royal Bank of Canada at St. Kitts; The disappearance by death at St. Kitts of Mr. R. Cable, publisher of the “Daily Express and Weekly Advertiser, and the appearance of the St. Kitts-Nevis “Daily bulletin” which is still published by Losada and Uddenberg, were of this nature.”

This also indicates how important the banking system was for our people on the other islands where there were no banks. The newspapers on St. Kitts were widely read in the other islands and had correspondents on the other islands who regularly contributed articles and public notices. Up until the nineteen sixties Capt. Randolph Dunkin who traded with his sloops would be carrying money for the merchants of Saba to be deposited in the banks on St. Kitts.

Several of the leading families on the Dutch islands also played an active role in the economy of St. Kitts as well. The largest sugar cane producing estate on St. Kitts, “Brothersons” at the turn of the last century was owned by Mr. J.G.C.  Every of Statia/Saba background. His two sons were among the 14 Windward Islanders and French St. Martinets who were lost on the schooner the “Verdun” which left Nevis harbor in a hurricane on August 24th, 1924. Among those lost were the Mayor and Judge of French St. Martin, and Mr. Gaston Chance an elder brother of Senator Leo Chance.

In the labor riots which broke out at Buckley’s estate in 1935 among those killed was a Simmons from Saba a foreman on the estate. At that time there were a number of Saba and St. Barths families who had established themselves on St. Kitts. Coming to mind is Mr. Clifford Heyliger of Heyliger’s Jewelry store and across the street from him Mr. Eric Skerrit who owned the drugstore, both of whom were from Saba, and there were the Dinzey’s and so on. Capt. Ben Hassell of Saba and his brothers had extensive schooner trade relations with St. Kitts from Barbados. Capt. Ben is the grandfather of the Goddard family who own Goddard Enterprises and they still own businesses on St. Kitts. If you see Richard Goddard you see his grandfather Capt. Ben. Also John Gumbs who had a large trading company was married to not one, not two, but three Leverock sisters from Saba. Those Leverock sisters must surely have sweetened Mr. Gumbs cup of tea.( I have been asked by a Member of the family to correct this. My stories are based on information I get from family members. There was no intent here to insult anyone. The family member who told me this is long dead, and the name should be Stanley Gumbs and not John Gumbs. There was no intent to insult.)

Capt. Edward Anslyn on the ferry between St. Kitts and Nevis.

Also Capt. Edward Anslyn was for many years the captain of the ferry between St. Kitts and Nevis. His son Capt. Arthur Anslyn known as “Brother” followed in his footsteps. We also have a number of people from St. Kitts and Nevis living here on Saba and married to Saba people. Space will not allow the full story of a Johnson relative who went to St. kitts and had dinner with the Khoury family. He came back puzzled as for desert they had served him something which according to him was jumping all over his plate and was still alive when he swallowed it. His brother brought light to the situation by informing him that what he had eaten was something new called JELLO.

It would be false and misleading to portray the relationship between the islands as always having been smooth. In World War I the Dutch government took a neutral position in the war for fear of being overrun by the Germans. The then colonial authorities at St. Kitts branded the people of the Dutch islands as followers of the German Kaiser and made trade difficult for a time. Schooner captains from Saba were accused of supplying German U-boats with food supplies. To add insult to injury these food supplies were purchased at St. Kitts at times.

In matters of trade, well into the nineteen sixties St. Kitts played a dominant role in the Eastern Caribbean. The Dutch government owned schooner the “Blue Peter” maintained a weekly scheduled service to St. Kitts and the motor vessel the “Antilia” made a monthly call. Our people continued to trade with St. Kitts to do banking transactions, to visit doctors and to just go for vacation. When I was Commissioner my assistant Dave Levenstone, who had roots in Monkey Hill , each year we would have the St. Kitts- Nevis defense force band  come to Saba and liven up the “Saba Day” celebrations and our people would love it. Every opportunity I get with Dutch officials I stress the need to open up a dialogue with the government of St. Kitts- Nevis to better our relations. On a personal level the former leaders of St. Maarten, Claude Wathey and Clem Labega enjoyed excellent relations with Chief Minister Llewelyn Bradshaw, and Claude chose as his bride Miss Eva W. Rack of St. Kitts, related to the Uddenbergs.

An attempt must be made in this part of the Caribbean archipelago to bring the islands closer. The islands, independent, British, Dutch  and French background are all in view of one another and should be tuned in to the heartbeat of each others people and the history which unites us. As an independent state St. Kitts -Nevis can start the ball rolling by appointing Honorary Consuls in the other islands, and since we are united by at least a fiber optics cable now, perhaps the television station on St. Kitts can transmit programs to Statia and Saba so that we can follow more closely developments there as starters.

…..  ……. ::::::::::: ……. ……..

Among sources consulted is “Historic Basseterre” an excellent history of not only Basseterre but St. Kitts in general by Sir Probyn Inniss.

TINTAMARRE

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In his journal entry of December 2nd, 1856, Richard Burton noted: “Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of Home, man feels once more Happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood….Afresh dawns the morn of life…

Even a journey closer to home can cause the “blood to flow with the fast circulation of childhood.”

One of St. Martin’s strong points in attracting tourists to its shores is that besides all which it has to offer at home, there are also many interesting cays and neighboring islands close by. People coming on vacation for a week or more can make a variety of excursions by boat or by plane to one of these islands or cays.

One island close to St. Martin which I particularly like is the island “Tintamarre”, or as it is locally called “Flat Island”. The name ‘tainted surf” comes from the fact that it has a pink sand beach like Bermuda where there are several.

Pink sands at Tintamarre

Pink sand beaches at Tintamarre

Although it is uninhabited now it has an interesting history. In 1764 the Knight of Fenelon, Commander of the Frigate “La Folle” captured Tintamarre from the British. It then belonged to the Knight Robert (or Ralph) Payne, Baronet. Before that time it was conceded by the Marquis de Champigny, Governor of the British Windward Islands to a Frenchman named Allaire who was married to a young lady from St. Christopher. He lived for a while on Tintamarre where he quarried limestone. He was murdered by his slaves, but his body was retrieved and he was buried in Quartier d’Orleans (French Quarter).

Allaire’s wife who lived on St. Christopher sold the concession to Baronet Payne who came to Tintamarre and had a house and cistern built there.

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Robert Payne, who became Governor of the British Leeward Islands, returned to England but never gave up his claim to Tintamarre. M. Descoudrelles, Commandant and historian of St. Martin always felt that Tintamarre legally belonged to the Payne family. Mr. August Descoudrelles was Governor of St. Martin and St. Barths from 1763 to 1785. In a letter of October 1764 he describes Tintamarre as follows:

“Situated to the East of the Orleans Quarter of St. Martin at a distance of approximately three quarters of a league it could be about two and a half leagues around; there is still woodland on this island and the land is very clean to take the air and also for cotton plants. The coastline of this island is the most abundant in fish in the surrounding area, and you can also find there many masonry stones and stones out of which lime can be made.”

Diederick Crestiaan van Romondt named after his grandfather, the first van Romondt who came out from Holland and became Governor of Sint Maarten, inherited the island from his grandfather, and lived there. He is the one whose estate “Mary’s Fancy” later on came in to the possession of Mr. Ronald Webster the now legendary man who led Anguilla away from St. Kitts and back into the arms of Mother England.

I have somewhere in my collection an original letter dated May 29th, 1914 which is as follows:

“To the Government Ontvanger

Philipsburg

Sir,

I protest paying Gebruiksbelasting as I have been absent from St. Martin N.P. for twenty one month’s viz. from August 1912 to May 1914 and the furniture that was left in my home was put away securely.

    I again give notice that I do not live in St. Martin N.P. my residence being at Isle Tintamarre since 1907 and I now inform you that I am only on a visit to St. Martin N.P. and will again within the next month be returning to my place of residence at Isle Tintamarre. Any furniture that I may possess will again be put away securely.

Yours Truly,

D.C. van RomondtImage (1899)

    T.E. Lawrence in his “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” wrote:” All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make them possible.” Mr. “DeeCee” must have been a dreamer of the latter kind for between 1902 and 1932 he left his beautiful Mary’s Fancy behind and made his home on Tintamarre. There he employed a number of Anguillans and raised Sea Island cotton. On the island were also sixty to seventy head of cattle and about five hundred and forty sheep. Mr. “DeeCee” continued to develop his little island by adding the manufacture of cheese and fresh butter to the already established industries. This so-called “Tintamarre Butter” soon acquired a West Indian wide reputation.

A French reporter once visited Tintamarre and wrote a romanticized story about life on this little island for a newspaper in France. He referred to Mr. van Romondt as the “King of Tintamarre.” (Journal de Paris, August 23rd 1913 under the heading of ‘LE ROI DE TINTAMARRE.”)

Many are the letters which Mr. “DeeCee” received from young princesses in Europe who were looking for a tropical suitor. But alas, as with so many Europeans  in the tropics he had already succumbed to the charms of yet another big beautiful black woman from St. Kitts, “Miss Josie” with whose aunt he was for years already enjoying a blissful sexual relationship.  Tintamarre was sold  in 1931 to Mr. Louis Constant Fleming the Mayor of French St. Martin. It was with his permission that during World War II an airstrip was being used there by my friend Mr. Remy de Haenen who later on became the Mayor of St. Barths. After the war he built the “Eden Rock” hotel on St. Barths. People claimed that he had found the payroll of H.M.S “Proselyte” the British man-of- war for which the shoal in front of the Great Bay harbor is named.

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Remy de Haenen in his Sikorsky S-41 flying boat

I have a copy of the Court Marshall held in Martinique in 1802 after the sinking of H.M.S. “Proselyte”, and there it is stated quite clearly that not only the payroll, but all of the ships stores had been salvaged before she eventually sank. That shoal by the way was already called “Man-of-War” shoal when it claimed H.M.S. “Proselyte” as its second such victim. The late Wallace B. Peterson once told me that it got its name when the notorious Saban pirate Hiram Beakes with his much smaller and shallower pirate ship lured a man-of-war to her death there when she was giving him chase.

But coming back to de Haenen’s “flying club”, operating out of Tintamarre, I was told by older heads on St. Martin that from there he supplied the German submarines with meat and ground vegetables. The German submarines paid with gold bars they carried on board for such emergencies. Rumor had it that although meat was scarce de Haenen supplied them with donkey-meat and anything else which he could find. The story of the gold coming from H.M.S. “Proselyte” was deliberately spread to cover the fact that it had been earned from supplying the German submarines. Others claim that the German submarines used to lie on the bottom of the sea close to the beach of Tintamarre and recharge their batteries while the crews relaxed on the island.

At the time of Mr. de Hanenen’s airline activities there were twenty people once again living on Tintamarre which was leased by de Haenen from Mayor Constant Fleming in 1945. The planes he used on the dirt landing strip were a CAA Stinson, a Sikorsky S-41 flying boat and a Stinson Detroiter. Disaster struck the airline in 1947 with no less than three accidents with fatalities. On March 22nd in a night take off the plane crashed and the pilot was killed. On May 22nd 1947 the Stinson Detroiter crashed between Tintamarre and St. Barths and two people were killed. On June 9th, 1947 in a night take-off the crash killed three people. The hurricane of September 1st 1950 was the final blow for the Tintamarre airline operations.

The Sabans during World War I were accused by Winston Churchill of doing the same thing. A Guyanese newspaper in quoting Churchill accused the Saban owners of schooners then plying the Caribbean trade of being the main suppliers of the German U-boats. Mr. Elias Richardson told me that in the 1930’s Count von Luckner visited Saba to personally thank many of the Saban captains for having supplied him with food during the war. I later was given a photo of Count von Luckner signed by him and with a message to the Saban captains so indeed he did visit the island.

I visited “Tintamarre” on several occasions. Particularly two I remember well. Once I went with “Honey Boy” Williams, his brother Walter “Plantz” Williams and Bobby Velasquez, on Bobby’s new boat for a weekend of fishing. Another time with Evans Deher and his son Lulu to remove the propeller from a plane which had crashed during de Haenen’s time, killing the pilot.

What an idyllic place Tintamarre must have been when Mister “DeeCee” lived there with his several wives. I slept one night on the verandah of his old home which was still standing in the nineteen fifties. I could not sleep on the small boat and being not afraid I slept quite comfortably. I did not dream of long journeys but rather of Kings and barons and all the other dreamers who had slept there. In my dreams I was joined during the night by Mister “DeeCee” himself and he gave me some good advice. Mister “DeeCee” was a very literate man. I have in my collection from his hand copies of manuscripts which he wrote in English and French on the early history of St. Martin. What a place Tintamarre must have been to meditate and to write. No passing motor-cars, no planes flying overhead, no rasta boxes. None of those noisy’ modern day distractions, which are to the detriment of potential great writers. Mister “DeeCee” had among his friends people like the teacher/writer Steve Kruythoff and most of the important people of the period in which he lived.

We are living in times of great historical changes, times of social and economic upheavals, times when great works of literature are produced. The century ended as it began. Upheaval in Russia, war in the Balkans, the ever present threat of famine in Africa, China and India.

Mark Twain over a century ago designed a Universal front page for a newspaper to illustrate that the more things change the more they remain the same. Lead stories dealt with a revolution in Central America, rising crime in the City, and government assurances that the economy was in good shape even though the stock market was about to crash.

It is a good thing that we dreamers of the day have places like Tintamarre to take us back in time to a more relaxed era when the news of the world was far removed from our daily life in these islands.

Mister “DeeCee” lived on Tintamarre Island for no less than thirty years looking after his estate and mostly in harmony with his workers who would come and go by boat from Quarter d’Orleans and Anguilla. Visitors included the Governor General of Curacao and other curious people who wanted to get to know him.

In 1932 he returned to his estate Mary’s Fancy in the valley of Cul-de-Sac. Mr. Aubrey Cannegieter who was his nephew told me many stories about Mister “DeeCee”. One of them was about the following; Mister “DeeCee” had all intentions of leaving the estate Mary’s Fancy to his niece Nora Rodenhuis who lived on another estate across from Mary’s Fancy. One Sunday her children came over to have lunch with their great-uncle. They told their mother later that Mister “DeeCee” had his Mistress “Miss Josie” sitting at the same table with them and having lunch. Their mother wrote an irate letter to her uncle questioning him as to how he could have her children sitting at the same table with his black Mistress. The following day when Mr. Cannegieter came to visit him, he asked to bring out the Notary as he wanted to change his last will and testament. Result was that he left the five hundred acre estate to Miss Josie, who in turn willed it to Mr. Ronald Webster who at the time worked for her on the estate. He later became the revolutionary leader of Anguilla subdivided the estate and used much of the proceeds to finance what later turned out to be a very successful revolution on Anguilla.

When Mister D.C. van Romondt died on April 16th, 1948 he was the last to carry the name of the Van Romondt family who for more than one hundred years had owned most of the island of St. Martin and had dominated the commercial and political life of the island. In 1931 he had already sold “Tintamarre” to Mister Louis Constant Fleming and much of the rest of the van Romondt businesses ended up being bought by Mr. Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey alone or in combination with Mr. Fleming. They then became the new force to be reckoned with after the demise of the van Romondt family.

Tidal Waves

Around the end of June 2013 there was a mid-Atlantic earthquake. Almost immediately there was a great deal of concern being expressed on Facebook as to whether or not a tidal wave alert had been issued for these islands. And they had a right to be concerned. Tidal waves and earthquakes are married to each other and are part of our history.

I remember once in 1961 or so sitting on the beach side of Capt. Hodge Guesthouse watching him cleaning up the patio. Suddenly we heard a loud whistling noise followed by an earthquake. I had experienced a pretty severe earthquake on Saba in 1950 but the whistling noise was new to me. I could see that the Captain looked quite concerned in the direction of the sea. He said to me that the biggest concern for people on St. Martin should always be a tidal wave though on that occasion nothing further happened.

The Atlantic Ocean has the capacity to have the same kind of subduction earthquake as was caused in the subduction zone where the Indian Ocean “plate” is “subducting”, or sinking and pushing under the Asian plate. To do this, the tectonic plate boundaries must slide past each other on a regular basis. If ruptures, hence earthquakes, do not occur regularly and the plates “lock”, then when the rupture eventually occurs even more strain energy is there to be released, the earthquake is larger in magnitude (a 9.0 on December 26, 2004), and more physical rupture of the ocean floor occurs over a wider area (on December 26th over a 1,200 km length of the fault ruptured the ocean floor) and an even bigger tidal wave can be created. In the Atlantic there is a major subduction zone to the East of the Lesser Antilles as a segment of the Atlantic plate and is subducting westward under the Caribbean plate. Subduction earthquakes in that zone are certain over time, and tidal waves are a real possibility.

In a correspondence with Allan Ruffman of Halifax Nova Scotia in 2005 he had the following to say of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755: “We know from rather anecdotal and often-repeated, reports that the Lisbon tidal wave which had propagated all across the Atlantic at the speed of about 700km/hr, was seen in eight of the Lesser Antilles; Grenada, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Barbados, Saba, St. Martin, Antigua, and perhaps in Southeast Cuba. In all cases, it arrived in the daylight hours of the mid-afternoon of Saturday, November 1, 1755 – All Saints Day. Via a November 26, 1756 lecture of John Winthrop II in Harvard Chapel, cited, indeed quoted, a recently-received letter from an unknown person, who was presumably on the island of St. Martin and who had witnessed the tidal wave on that island. He further stated: “An account which we have lately received from the West-Indies, This account is, that “on the 18th of November, about two o’clock in the afternoon, the sea withdrew from the harbor of St. Martin’s, leaving the vessels dry, and fish on the banks, where there used to be three to four fathoms of water; and continued out a considerable time; so that the people retired to the high land, fearing the consequence of its return; and when it came, it arose six feet higher than usual, so as to overflow the low lands.” there was no shock felt at the above time. There were those who questioned rightfully Winthrop’s date. Robert L. Rothman indicated that he had found two references that apparently contained information that indicated that the tidal wave arrived at 2.00 p.m. (1400 local time) on November 1st, 1755 on the island of St. Martin, not on November 18th, 1755. Mr. Ruffman in his letter to me further stated:” Not only did a Lisbon Earthquake cause a very serious tidal wave on November 1, 1755, but the same sort of a “subduction earthquake” as occurred off the Sumatra coast on December 26, 2004 can, and will, occur in the seduction zone (a deep ocean trench) that exists to the East of the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. It is this zone that eventually will cause a similar serious seismic event and a possible tidal wave in the Atlantic,and it would be prudent for the Caribbean to be ready for it. Suffice to say that, if you ever feel a strong earthquake on your island, think “tidal wave” and immediately go inland to high ground>20m in height, or go to the upper floors of a very strong concrete building (not wood, stone or brick).”

In 1655 the troops of Oliver Cromwell captured Jamaica from the Spaniards. The English then proceeded to build a small town named Port Royal on a spit of land jutting out from the mountains on the bay where now the City of Kingston lies.

But there were soon ominous signs that Port Royal held its own dangers. In addition to the tropical storms and hurricanes that swept over Jamaica, the English settlers reported that the ground beneath their new settlement shook regularly with tremors. The Spanish could have told them about another phenomenon that visited the coasts of the New World: the maremoto, or tsunami. The first recorded maremoto in the New World had smashed into the several towns along the shores of Venezuela, one wave surge so powerful that it demolished a naturally formed dike and severed the peninsula of Araya from the South American mainland, drowning many Indians in its wake. The Spanish heard stories of the monster wave when they conquered the area decades later. In 1530 they witnessed their own tidal wave, which struck various points along the South American coast. “The ocean rose like a miraculous thing to see,” said one report, while another spoke of a massive inflow of black, fetid salt water that smelled strongly of sulfur. The water surged twenty-four feet and destroyed a Spanish fort and may have drowned people as far away as Puerto Rico. Modern scientists could have told the English settlers that the Caribbean averaged some kind of tidal wave event once every twenty-one years. In a sense the clock on Port Royal was ticking from the moment the first cornerstone was laid.

In 1687 on February 19th, a minor earthquake struck Jamaica.”It was felt all over the island at the same time,” wrote Sloane. “Houses were near ruin with few escaping injury.” The tremors seemed to be getting more frequent. Just about a year later, Sloan reported three short shocks over the span of a minute, with the sounds of thunder that seemed to be coming from under the ground. In 1690 a quake rocked the Eastern Caribbean, with a huge chunk of rock formation on the island of Redonda splitting off and crashing into the ocean. Sugar mills were swallowed up on St. Kitts, and people died on Antigua. The Governor of the island of St. Thomas reported that the sea withdrew, and townspeople could walk out onto the seabed and collect fish flopping on the dry land. The end came for Port Royal on June 7th 1692 when the city was destroyed by an earthquake and then swallowed up by a tidal wave.

The Governor of Montserrat reported that on Christmas day, 1672 a terrible earthquake had leveled to the ground the two churches which after having been destroyed by the French had recently been rebuilt. The Governor further noted that “had the people been in the afternoon at church they would have been knocked in the head.” In some houses persons were killed, as in his own “it is beyond my purpose to express the miraculous escape of my own family and others.” On April 16th, 1732 a severe earthquake struck St. Martin. And there were many more through the centuries since Europeans settled these islands.

TW002The Oxford Journal of August 11th, 1770 states the following: By letters from Amsterdam there are accounts of an earthquake having lately been felt at the island of St. Eustatia, in the West Indies, which considerably damaged the Dutch plantations.

A strong 7.5 magnitude earthquake followed by a tidal wave was felt at St. Croix on November 18th, 1867. This occurred in an intraplate fault of the Anegada Trough separating St. Croix from the main chain of the Virgin Islands. Louis van Housel, a United States naval officer serving on the vessel “Monongahela” under Commodore Bissel’s command wrote an interesting account entitled “An Earthquake Experience” which was originally published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1878. Very interesting reading and we will only quote a small part from the eyewitness account.

“Nothing unusual attracted our attention until three o’clock in the afternoon of the 18th of November, when our vessel began to quiver and rock as if a mighty giant had laid hold of her and was trying to loosen every timber in her frame. Officers and men ran pell-mell on deck to ascertain the cause of such a phenomenon. The vibrations continued the space of perhaps a minute, accompanied by a buzzing noise somewhat like the draught of a smelting furnace, or the hum of innumerable swarms of bees. So certain were we that the cause was connected in some way with the ship that no one cast an eye on shore.  “It’s an earthquake, sir; look ashore!” shouted from the bow an old blue jacket, who had felt the peculiar sensation before. I looked toward Frederickstadt and saw a dusty atmosphere over the town. I could see men, women, and children, running hither and thither, and could catch faint cries of distress.”

Further on the account continues: “By this time the rush of waters was toward the ocean. We were carried out perhaps five hundred yards from the shore, when our vessel grounded and the water continuing its retreat, she careened over on her port beam’s ends. The bottom of the roadstead was now visible, nearly bare, for a distance of half a mile beyond us, and that immense body of water which had covered the bay and part of the town was re-forming with the whole Atlantic Ocean as an ally, for the tremendous charge upon us and the shore. This was the supreme moment of the catastrophe. As far as the eye could reach to the north and to the south was a high threatening wall of green water. It seemed to pause for a moment as if marshaling its strength, and then on it came in a majestic unbroken column, more awe-inspiring than an army with banners. The suspense was terrible! Our, noble vessel seemed as a tiny nutshell to withstand the shock of the mighty rushing Niagara that was advancing upon us. “Hold fast!” was the cry, as the tidal-wave struck the ship with gigantic force, making every timber shiver. Yet, singular enough, not a drop of water reached her decks. Being rather flat – bottomed the first effect of the blow was to send her over her starboard beam’s ends, which gave the water an opportunity of getting well under her before righting, when she was buoyed on the crest of the wave and carried broadside to the shore, finally landing on the edge of the street in a cradle of rocks that seemed prepared for her reception. Here she rested with her decks inclined at an angle of fifteen degrees. A small Spanish brig was carried bodily inland across the cane-fields and landed in the midst of the king’s highway.”

On December 31st, 1867 the Reverend Henry Warneford of the Anglican church on Anguilla who also served Saba wrote in his journal:” I spent the last Sunday in the year on Saba, on which occasion I had a full Assembly at both morning and evening services. Indeed I may say I had a Congregation all Sunday night, far into Monday Morning – for on that night at 9 we experienced a fearful shock of earthquake and in a few minutes the Governor’s house (Moses Leverock) was filled by a terrified crowd, for whom, after some order was restored, I prayed, and implored God’s merciful protection, and administered from time to time words of consolation to those ready to faint with fear, imploring them to put their trust in God. On Monday morning I proceeded to the Windwardside, and held service as usual in Capt. John Hassell’s hospitable house, to a large assembly of attentive and fear-stricken people (for the Mountains still quake).”

In his book “Memories of St. Martin N.P.” Mr. Josiah Charles Waymouth mentioned that 1867 was the year of another great tidal wave and earthquake. The sea receded an unusual distance and fishes were seen wriggling on its naked bed. According to reports of eye witnesses, given at the time, there was much consternation and some were preparing to escape to the country- then the disturbance ended with nothing more serious than the swashing of the surf up into “Miss Melia’s Alley” a cross-street later renamed Loodsteeg.”

I heard stories of this tidal wave from my grandmother and on Saba a large wave had come from the sea past where the school is now and down into the Cove Bay. Her parents had passed on information received from friends living on St. Martin about the reaction of the people there in 1867. Teacher Frank Hassell tells me that in 1950 when he lived by Miss Browlia Maillard on the Backstreet they made preparations to go to French Quarter after the earthquake, but it proved not to be necessary after all.

It would seem that earthquakes and tidal waves are in our genes and we should look for signs if living in a low lying area and if after an earthquake you see the sea receding then run as fast as possible to higher ground.

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