The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

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.

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