Mail and Passenger Service (Five)
MAIL SERVICE (FIVE)
By Will Johnson
Voices were once again raised to the Colonial Authorities in The Hague as a result of the reports made by Judge Mr. F.G. Schalkwijk and Lt. Governor van der Zee.
People were once again calling for better transportation between the Leeward and the Windward Islands. Bear in mind there were neither airports nor airplanes flying in those days.
In 1920, the Government owned the two schooners the “Estelle”, 105 net tons and the “Virginia”, 55 net tons. The “Estelle” made a monthly trip to Curacao, while the “Virginia” made a weekly trip through the Windward Islands to St. Kitts and back. My cousin Carl Lester Johnson who lived on St.Maarten in the nineteen thirties used to tell me stories about Captain Abraham Mardenborough who used to own the Virginia. After he retired on St.Maarten he used to take a stroll up to the square in the afternoons. Lester told me that he had a gold pocket watch on a long gold chain. The boys would ask him “Captain Mardenborough can you tell us what time it is?” He then would go through an elaborate ritual to take out the watch and in an authoritative voice announce the time of the day and allow the boys to see his precious gold watch.
The Minister of Colonies in 1921 proposed to the Governor to allow first class passengers to travel via Trinidad and St. Kitts with steam service so as to make the trip more comfortable for them and to make more room available on the schooners for second-class government travellers such as policemen, military personnel and so on.
In 1922, the government was again looking at schooners, as in a letter dated August 2nd, 1922, a Mr. Lampe on Curacao on behalf of the firm D.C. van Romondt & Co., at St. Maarten was offering the Dutch schooner the “Cyril” for rent to government at the rate of fls. 1.250.—per trip. In a telegram to His Excellency the Governor, the Lt. Governor on St. Maarten Mr. Vander Zee, recommended the schooner “Champion” (97 tons) which was three years old belonging to Mr. David Nesbeth, for eleven hundred and twenty guilders per month. The “Estelle” had been removed from service, according to a letter from ‘Herrera Hermanos’, Bonaire, dated August 14th, 1922. They offered their schooner of 160 tons, the “Reliance” for f.1.000.—per month. This was a new vessel built on Bonaire which had made its maiden voyage in July 1920 and was describer as a fast sailer.
Also a Mr. Theodore F. van der Linde Schotborgh, owner of the 85 foot schooner “Carlota” offered his schooner for sale to the government for fls.40.000.—The schooner had been built on Curacao in 1912 by his father-in-law Rene Hellmund and was built from Indjo (Cohi) and Vera wood which according to him was far superior than vessels built in the United States of Nova Scotia. He said that he was also willing to rent it to the government for fls.2.000.—per month.
To give an idea of the number of offers available, there was also a letter dated Curacao July 13th 1922; Mr. C.B. de Gorter offered the Dutch schooner “Meteor” of 143.56 gross tons for sale for a sum of seventy three thousand guilders or fls. 1.900.—rent for a once a month trip to the Windward Islands. Also Mr. Netherwood on St. Maarten offered his schooner “Cyril” at fls. 1.250.—per month. The Lt. Governor of St.Maarten however thought that the schooner was too old and unreliable. Also a Mr. Arends on Aruba offered his schooner the “Aoemoria” at fls. 2.000.—per trip, and a Mr. Boom offered the schooner “Frieda” for fls. 1.300.—per month.
The “Ina Vanterpool” belonging to Capt. T.C. Vanterpool of Saba was the successful competitor in the tender for the mail transportation. This schooner remained in service until she was wrecked in a gale in the harbour of St.Eustatius on Wednesday, September 15th, 1926. The “Ina Vanterpool” was a three master built in Barbados by Capt. Lovelock Hassell of Saba and was sold to Captain Tommy for fls. 162.500.–.
In 1927 we read in J.C. Waymouths book “Memories of St.Martin N.P.” the following; “News reached us on December 30th of the loss of two of our Island crafts – the schooners “Georgetown” and the “Express”.
The owner of the first was Captain Tommy Vanterpool of Saba who had already last year sustained the loss of the “Ina” on September 15th, while performing the same services as that of the “Georgetown”. The “Georgetown” went ashore at Nevis and the “Express” went ashore at Martinique.
My uncle Charles Herbert Simmons who was only 16 at the time was a sailor on the “Georgetown” went it went ashore on Nevis. The captain at that time was Capt. Herman Simmons. None of the crew was lost but it took several anxious days before news of his safety reached my grandparents on Saba.
The “Georgetown” was known as a fast schooner. In a race to St. Maarten from Curacao, Captain Samuel Augustus Simmons took the schooner there in forty eight hours. The schooner did not have an engine. This schooner was a 2 master Canadian schooner, around 60 to 70 tons. Capt. Randolph Dunkin told me that he had made one trip on the “Georgetown” which his uncle Capt. T.C. Vanterpool had purchased from Capt. Lovelock Hassell.
A schooner called the “Alice” which belonged to Mr. Hilivere Lawrence of Grand Case was chartered by Capt. T.C. Vanterpool to take the place of the “Georgetown” and left on January 9th, 1928 for Curacao. She made several trips but was not big enough for the trade, and then Capt. Tommy went to the United States to buy the “Mayflower.”
The schooner “Virginia” in the gale of 1928 broke her moorage and was never heard of again. She was anchored in St. Kitts and did not have anyone on board.
The “Mayflower” arrived in 1929 and was also equipped with an engine. She had two masts, was 190.27 tons and was 147 feet long. She had been built in Gloucester, Massachusetts to compete in the “Bluenose” races, but was not allowed to compete because she was built in the style of a yacht. She broke her bowsprit and both masts in 1931, to the North-East of Bonaire and was later sold to a group in Jamaica.
My uncle Captain Charles Reuben Simmons who commanded the “Mayflower” for Captain Vanterpool between 1928 and 1930 used to tell me that in 1929 he left St. Kitts with 375 passengers and 48 hours later landed them at Curacao. Once he managed to carry 460 passengers with the “Mayflower” on a trip from the Windward Islands to Curacao. He also took some cattle on board at St.Eustatius in case the schooner got becalmed he would then butcher the animals to feed the passengers. On return trips to the Windward Islands he carried as many as 100 people. The least amount of passengers he ever carried to Curacao was 110 from Dominica. Every fifteen days he would make the run to carry workers for the oil refinery there.
The “Three Sisters” a three master schooner which had been purchased by Capt. William Benjamin Hassell, in 1927, and was 190.76 tons and 115 feet long, took over the mail service in 1929 and was the last of the Saba owned mail schooners to ply the trade between the Dutch islands.
The captain was Will Leverock of Windwardside. In Dr. Julia Crane’s book “Statia Silhouettes” my old friend Ralph Milburn Simmons had the following to say about his time on those schooners: “Then I got a job on the schooner that used to transport passengers to Curacao, what we call “moose boy” to attend to the passengers. Five dollars a month in those days. But five dollars was plenty money those days. There were no real tourists, just immigrants, immigrants. The schooner used to carry immigrants down to Curacao to find work, you see. So in between you might find a couple –‘cause there was no steamers those days. In between then you would find a big shot then would be traveling’. Those schooners would belong to Tommy Vanterpool. I don’t know if you heard about him. He died in St. Thomas. He died in St. Thomas.”
“And then after that I learned how to steer a ship. And then there was another schooner named the “Three Sisters”, three masts. A ship came in one day while I was down there, in Curacao and they said they wanted some men. And I asked the captain – the captain was named Will Johnson, from St. Johns –and I asked the captain to let me stay off, and he told me all right.” Ralph had been dealing with me for so long in the politics that he gave the captain my name. It should be Will Leverock.
The “Three Sisters” ran an independent service and then was followed by the K.N.S.M. steamship service with the ‘Atlas.” The “Three Sisters” was lost off St.Croix in 1932 when she struck a reef. I remember being told by one of her owners, the late Mr. Carl Hassell, that they earned back her purchase price on her first run to Curacao with passengers and freight.
After the “Virginia” was lost, the “Diamond M. Ruby” a 2 master schooner belonging to Capt. R.T. Barnes of St.John’s village came up from Barbados and ran the mails between the Dutch Windward Islands. In the 1920’s the schooner “Johanna” belonging to Mr. David Nesbith of St.Maarten ran the mailservice for awhile. The Captain was first William “Paget” Simmons of Saba and after that Captain Bremer of St.Maarten.
We have a copy of a petition dated St.Maarten, 9th July 1931, and signed by the leading citizens of that time addressed to the Honourable President and Members of the Court of Policy on St.Martin N.P. which reads as follows:
“We the undersigned long suffering islanders hereby express our hope that the Government will be convinced of the necessity of providing a subsidy to enable a line of steamers to call here fortnightly on their way from and to New York.
“We know that in the past we have been grievously neglected and our wishes disregarded; but we trust that the Government will on this occasion grant us our sincere desire.
“Steamship communication is now being maintained between Curacao and this island at great cost to the colony. This service so far as we can see could very well be dispensed with. Its tangible results consist in the transportation of a few passengers, packages and mails. The bulk of this business goes with the mail schooner “Three Sisters” and could be dealt with entirely by that vessel.
In presenting our plea for the subsidizing of a direct steamship service between New York and this place, we can confidently state that such a service would shorten by half the time now required for the transport of mails and cargo from the United States to the Netherlands Part of this island, while also serving to remove the great handicaps under which business is carried on here as compared with the French division. In fact the benefits derived would extend directly and indirectly to all sections of the community. The monthly service from New York now in operation only on a trial basis, and will doubtless in the event of a subsidy not being granted, be eventually withdrawn. We beg that the request embodied in this document be submitted to His Excellency the Governor with a plea for his favourable consideration. This petition was signed by about 75 influential citizens, many of them merchants from the Dutch side of the island.
We will continue next time with the service after 1931 and in which the K.N.S.M. played a big role and Capt. Gittens worked on some of those ships. He has promised to share his experiences with our readers on this interesting part of our history which the few old-timers would like to hear about one more time before they start their journey to the great beyond. (To be continued).