Blow for Blow
By: Will Johnson
On December 22nd, 1934 the newspaper “De Slag-om-Slag” saw the light of day at the home of the Editor on Frontstreet No. 61, Philipsburg, St. Martin. This newspaper was started by Anthony Reynier Waters Gravenhorst Brouwer who was born on Saba on Wednesday October 19th, 1892. The other newspaper at the time was “De Bovenwindse Stemmen” of which the Editor was Wilhelm Frederick Carel Ludwig August Netherwood who was born on St. Barths in 1870. I guess with those long names the newspaper business must have served some purpose to them.
Brouwer was known to his family as “Broertje” or little brother, although there was nothing little about him. He was some 6 feet and 7 inches tall. He was the son of the famous A.J.C. Brouwer who had been Lt. Governor on all three Windward Islands for a total of thirty years. Although the family was a Dutch family they integrated so much in the local society that no one at the time had any doubt that “Broertje” Brouwer was a true St. Martiner even though he was born on Saba of Dutch parents. He grew up on St. Martin. In those days the dominant family on St. Maarten was the Van Romondts and both Brouwer as well as Netherwood were married to van Romondt ladies.
Remarkable is that both newspapers with a Dutch language masthead were published in the English language. The only exception were Government Notices which were in Dutch but translated by the papers so that the reading public would know what message the colonial masters were trying to convey to them.
Brouwer’s paper was the more radical of the two and projected itself as being the voice of the perennial “small man”. The “small man” of the nineteen thirties seems to have gotten no bigger as politicians now still carry the “small man” around in their baggage of folk vocabulary around election time. Bread and butter issues, so to speak.
In the nineteen sixties I became friends with “Broertje’s” son A.J.C. “Jan” Brouwer an engineer who was the Inspector of Government buildings for the Netherlands Antilles. Jan had most copies of his father’s papers and my friend Clark Gomez Casseres on Curacao took on the task of making photo copies of all the papers for me. I only have one copy of “De Bovenwindse Stemmen” but so many times “De Slag om Slag” refers to articles written by “De Bovenwindse Stemmen” that I have the whole history of that paper as well and those who wrote for the paper. I will do a separate article on that paper as well when I get a chance.
It is remarkable how similar the news was back then to now. Brouwer was involved in politics. In those days two local councilors were elected by the moneyed class to advise the Lt. Governor on local matters. Brouwer ran amuck with the elections and brought out the voters who in the past had shown lukewarm interest in voting. As few as four people would take part in the election before Brouwers time. He also ran for the position of representative in the parliament. Rufus Plantz was the favoured candidate of the Amigoe the newspaper on Curacao owned by the Catholic Church. Brouwer dug up Plantz birth certificate, proving that Plantz’ mother was a De Geneste from St. Eustatius and his father was a German, and Plantz had been born on St.Thomas and baptized a Protestant. Nevertheless Plantz won that election in 1936. Brouwer had a field day in throwing out for public review gossip about Plantz and the fact that technically he was a foreigner.
In going through the paper there is much concern with the schedule of the SS.”Baralt”, so much so that the Captain refused to accept packages or mail from St. Kitts or Curacao for Brouwer. There is also much concern about the digging of wells for the water supply, the droughts, and the amount of salt being reaped and shipped out. In the paper of October 29th, 1939, there is the following item under the heading SALT:
“Salt reaping continued this week by the small concessions of D.C. van Romondt & Co., and Mr. W. Netherwood. Still only four captains working. We omitted to mention that the sloop “Bernadette” took 189 barrels of salt from this port last week. The schooner “Nina II” took more or less 500 barrels this week.”
The paper pays a lot of attention to the state of agriculture and cattle raising and what could be done to improve these sectors of the economy. Every new agriculturist had to bear the brunt of Brouwers anger and he frequently pointed out what was wrong with their plans and the way in which the agricultural station was being run. Brouwer was also a sort of “bush lawyer’ and an elected member of the Court of Policy. The newspaper also carried commentary on the “melee” around town in its weekly column “Sambo and Buddy Jep.” Nothing was sacred to these two characters, but in order to read it you need a good command of the local slang. The “Bovenwindse Stemmen” had an Uncle Ramus and Anus character to counteract “Sambo and Buddy Jep.” In the # 83 edition of the “Bovenwindse Stemmen” it is revealed that the Rev. Charles MacIntosh Darrell was the originator of Uncle Remus and the “Slag om Slag” took umbrage with that in vol. 101 of January 23rd, 1937 in which it stated;”We had not thought that so highly cultured and intellectual a person would have stooped to an Uncle Ramus creation.”
There were also news items about natural phenomena like the hurricanes and other bad weather. However I found two items which will be interesting to readers now looking back on those days. In the paper # 124 of July 3rd, 1937 we read: “Freak Meteor.”
“On Friday June 25th at about 10.30 p.m. a bright and sudden flash across the Western sky followed by a deep detonation told us that a meteor had struck the earth’s atmosphere. The entire South Western Sky was illuminated by this glorious phenomenon. On the following evening however (June 26th) a phenomenon of very rare occurrence took place at about 7.20. A fairly large meteor shot from out the zenith in a North Westerly direction. After having struck the earth’s atmosphere and exploded it left in its wake a luminous trail, resembling the glow of a phosphorescent body. This luminous vapour, or whatever it might have been, remained suspended in the Western sky in the form of an inverted question mark for more than 15 minutes, after which time it began to dissipate and finally vanished.”
In the paper of Saturday October 21st, 1939 we read the following; METEORITE
“ On Thursday afternoon, 19th, instant (October 19th, 1939) at 5 o’clock there was quite a lot of excitement in this little town, after a sound which resembled a clap of thunder, or an explosion was heard. The most war-scared persons declared that it was either a submarine, or a battle ship shooting or some vessel behind the hills or an airplane. Some said it was a clap of thunder, but several people saw what they described as a ball of fire falling through the sky, after they had heard the explosion. It must have been a meteorite.”
There are many other historical facts from that period. In the paper of January 21st, 1939 there is a list of electors (voters) as required in article 5, letter A of the Ordinance of November 1869, Publication Sheet No. 24. It gives a good idea as to who was who back then as only men were allowed to vote and the law required that the voter must have a certain amount of capital or the equivalent in land in order to be able to vote. There were 168 voters in total most of who had historical St. Martin names.
Besides local news there was news from the neighbouring islands, the French side and also international news. Many interesting letters to the Editor which includes one under the pseudonym of the “SUFFERER” and is dated January 23rd 1937, which starts off with:” Dear Mr. Editor. St. Eustatius is in an awful state. One little Surinam doctor is running the whole show and we have no one to take our cause. He says he is going to send all English people away from the island and he has begun already.”The letter goes on to give details of a young woman from Anguilla being deported because she did not have enough money to pay the Surinam doctor (Doctor Berkenveldt) to deliver her third baby for a Statia man.
Another news item from St. Eustatius dated March 20th, 1937 is as follows: Potatoes from St. Eustatius.
“On account of having 700 odd barrels of potatoes to load at St. Eustatius for Curacao the S/S Baralt did not arrive here until about 9 o’clock on last Saturday evening. She left about midnight for Curacao.” In that same edition is the following news item; VESSELS IN HARBOUR
“On Tuesday morning we noticed no less than 2 schooners and 5 sloops in the harbor and on Wednesday morning there were 2 steamers, 1 schooner and 4 sloops in. This reminded us of “old times” when we have seen as many as 13 schooners anchored here taking salt.”
Much attention was paid to sports, especially cricket. There is a poem of around 100 stanzas written by one of the Beuperthuys about a cricket match between St. Martin and St. Kitts. Some of the names of the cricket clubs in 1937 were; “The Rising Sun” from French Quarter, the “Philipsburg C.C.”, the “Juliana Cricket Club” and “The Sporting Club” of Marigot. Much attention was paid to cockfighting and there were long advertisements and articles with the names of famous fighting cocks and where the matches would be taking place. Also horse racing especially between horses owned by Mr. L.B. Scot and the Beauperthuy brothers were given a lot of coverage, as well as boat racing on Queens Birthday and on Bastille Day.
Brouwer was not immune from trouble with the law as is evidenced from the following two articles.
In a case brought by Governor W. J van Slobbe held on June 6th, 1936 the man-of-war H.M.S. “Johan Maurits van Nassau” was in Great Bay harbor, according to rumors to intimidate the inhabitants of the island who were in Brouwers corner. The following article covers that; OUR EDITOR’S PROSECUTION.
“ It seems to have become a ‘fait accompli’ since our Editor received this week a citation to appear before the Court on the fourth of June charged with firstly insulting His Excellency by having in a meeting with the Court of Policy, which meeting was Public, because the President J.D.Meiners, the Member A.C. Wathey and the Secretary L.C. Carty were present, uttered the following words:” It seems as if it is a habit of the Governor to make fools of people; I can prove that the Governor never keeps his promises.” Secondly for having said in this same meeting that ‘His Excellency made notes of his promises which promises were never fulfilled; I believe that His Excellency left it (aforesaid list) there (on the floor) with the hope that it would be swept up and thrown in the waste basket.” Brouwer was speaking in his capacity as elected representative of the people and for this he was condemned and transported to Curacao to spend six weeks in Curacao jail. So much for democracy back then.
Another article dated April 17th, 1937 is headlined; SLAG OM SLAG IN TROUBLE.
“Some time ago a letter was sent to the Slag om Slag for publication. As this letter was fairly well written it was taken up in the columns of this paper. The party against whom this letter was written took offense and lodged a complaint with the officer of the Public Ministry here. On being questioned our Editor, much against his will, laid over the original letter he had received, because he did not have time to communicate with the writer and find out from him, if he might be responsible for any fine which might be placed on the paper. It now appears the signature was forged and as the culprit has not yet been found, our law, we are told, will prosecute this paper or its Editor for not having given the name of the writer. Our law
it appears, holds the paper which publishes a letter responsible even if that letter is proved to have been forged.”
And with the debate raging over how the name of “Country” St. Martin should be correctly spelled, here is a news item from issue number 114 of April 24th, 1937.
“St. Martin has become Sint Maarten officially since the 1st of April, but we fear only the officials will use this way of spelling the name. All over the world people are trying to spell words with as few letters as possible, except in Holland.”
The Slag om Slag ended tragically on December 1st, 1939. When Mr. Brouwer learned that he would have to go to jail once more for insulting a friendly head of State (Hitler) in his newspaper, he took a gun and committed suicide at his home after having been seen in the Oranje Café just across the street from where he lived. He was only 47 at the time. His son Jan who was in Holland studying at the time always insisted that the authorities had nevertheless eliminated his father through their unjust application of the laws, even if he had pulled the trigger himself.