The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “May, 2016”


I find scraps of paper lying around at times all over the house and my office. When I came back from Bermuda I found such a scrap of paper based on a story which Richard Austin Johnson  once told me.

According to Austin he and my father (Daniel Thomas Johnson) went to Bermuda together in 1929. My father had been there before. They worked at the Bermuda Dockyard which took care of the British West PhotoScan 743 Lady Hawkins. fleet. Great Britain was still ‘Great’ at the time until World War II broke the back of the ‘British’ Empire.

Austin only stayed for one year because he contracted typhoid fever but my father stayed on for a few more years and one of the things I remember was that my father brought back the first oleander slips to Saba and planted them at the gate of our house at ‘Behind-The-Ridge’. Austin also told me that my father was the boxing champion of Bermuda. He was a stocky man and could hold his own in a fight. Austin and the many Saban young men who worked in Bermuda at the time heard about a fight fore the championship. The fellow who had the title was a skinny Britisher and the Sabans were sure that my father could knock him down. S o they went down to wherever the fight was taking place and my father managed to hit him a knockout punch and for a day was the champion boxer of Bermuda. There are none of the old guard left who would remember that far back so I cannot verify that other than what Austin told me.

He said the two of them left Saba in 1929 and to St. Kitts where they took the Canadian Maple Line on the S.S.Hawkins and in three days time they were in Bermuda.

The dry dock they worked at employed around five thousand people back then. There were many Sabans living in Bermuda in those days and many of them remained there and their descendants are still there.

On my most recent trip to Bermuda the ship docked up at the Dry Dock and I recalled many stories told to me by Austin and others about those days. One of them was that he and my father were painting one of the large buildings. The side of the roof they were painting was facing the sea and it had a large slope. One afternoon they decided to take a siesta and fell into a sound sleep. Austin woke up first and looked over the cap of the roof, woke my father and told him  ‘Johnson’ we are in trouble ;”The last ferry to Hamilton has left, and we will have to walk.’ Although Bermuda is only twenty one square miles it seems a lot longer as it is stretched out. It is supposed to consist of 181 islands many of which are not big enough for a fowl to make a decent nest on.It would have been a long walk,  but A ustin told me that he was only teasing my father and they were able to get the ferry.

Richard Austin Johnson

Richard Austin Honson returned to Saba and later became a policeman.

What is remarkable though that only yesterday I found this note again. I thought to myself let me look on the Internet and see if I can find anything on the ‘S.S.Hawkins’.

And behold I was able to find the information I wanted and even a photograph of her. The ‘Lady Hawkins’ was 7,988 tons and was pretty new when Austin and my father travelled on her. She was completed in  1928 and was owned by Canadian National Steamships Ltd. Montreal and her homeport was Halifax. On January 19th, 1942 she was attacked by a German U-boat the U-66 with Captain Richard Zapp. Her position was 35 00,N and 30 W-.

Her compliment was 322 (251 dead and 71 survivors). NOtes on the event: At 07.43 hours on 19 January 1942 the unescorted Lady Hawkins (Master Huntly Osborne Giffen) was hit by two stern torpedoes from U-66 and sank after 30 minutes about 150 miles from Cape Hatteras. The Master, 85 crew members, one gunner and 164 passengers (including two DBS) were lost. The chief officer, 21 crew members and 49 passengers were picked up after five days by the Coamo and landed on Puerto Rico on 28 January. The chief Officer Percy A. Kelly was awarded the MBE and the Lloyds War Medal for bravery at sea.


The Lady Hawkins would normally carry 2908 tons of general cargo and 213 passengers. The  Lady boats gave good service to the West Indies back in the day.


Here I am sitting in the Drydock where my father and Austin took their siesta on one of the roofs in the background in 1929.





The Bush Lawyer

By: Will Johnson

Frontstreet Philipsburg nineteen thirties.

Wallace’s father Alfred lived in the house on the left and had his grocery on the right when I first met him in 1955.

I started to work in the old Courthouse in Philipsburg on October 10th. 1960. I worked in the Post office, but also did work for the Receivers Office, the Curacao Bank, and the Notary and even assisted the Court when needed. As I was fluent in both Dutch and Papiamento and had a smattering of French and Spanish as well this was considered an asset to those who paid me fls. 192.50 Per month. Among the small staff was Miss Laurel Peterson a lifelong friend who is married to Cor Eybrechts and has lived these many years on Curacao.

The St. Maarten community was quite small back then, and so by the time Christmas rolled around, I got to know everyone on the island, and had renewed acquaintances with those I had met on my yearly trips back and forth to Curacao starting in 1955.

One of the important people, at the time, undoubtedly was Laurel’s father Mr. Wallace Bradford Peterson. He was born on September 3rd, 1912 and died March 20th, 1981. On August 22nd, 1934 he married Margaret Sophia Peterson born October 30th, 1916 and together they had six children. His parents were Daniel Alfred Peterson (born August 25th, 1875 and died December 5th, 1968) and Ann Elizabeth Albertha Vlaun (born October 31st 1878 and died June 26th, 1954). My paternal great grandmother was Sarah Elizabeth Vlaun. The Vlaun’s are all descended from one Jean Valaen who lived on St. Eustatius already in 1680. Descended from the so-called “Courlanders”, mercenary soldiers brought out from Latvia and Estonia by the Dutch West India Company. The bastion of the Peterson family was Simpson bay of course, though Wallace used to tell me that there was an Anguilla connection as well. Simpson bay was cut off from the rest of Dutch St. Martin in the great hurricane of 1819 for over one hundred years and it was easier to trade with Marigot by boat. And so, many of the leading families in Marigot were connected with families from Simpson bay as well.

Image (132)

Wallace Bradford Peterson, detective, writer, and known to all as “The Bush Lawyer’.

Wallace had served as a member of the police force and had been a detective. He had gone to work on Aruba in 1939, then to Curacao in 1945 and on August 17th, 1956 returned to St. Maarten. Having served as a detective on the police force brought with it an aura of distinction, and the detective part brought with it a great deal of respect. A people who did not know the workings of the law would stay well clear of a detective, even a retired one, for fear that for any silly reason “he might lock me to hell up.” Better safe than sorry. And so Wallace after his retirement stuck with the legal profession and became known to all as the “bush-lawyer”. Those whom he opposed meant it in a derogatory way to imply that he knew nothing of the law. However by the time he passed away many lawyers with diploma’s and big law firms were singing his praises and wondering how he had won certain cases. He was eulogized at his funeral as a “raconteur par excellence” by Richard Gibson, a leading St. Martin attorney. Twelve years later, another lawyer, Roland Duncan, recalled how Peterson confounded visiting Dutch Judges and lawyers in the courtroom with his knowledge of the law, though he had no formal training or degrees in jurisprudence. Gibson at his funeral stated:” Pete’s linguistic ability was put to excellent use during the past 20 years in exercising his profession as a “legal practitioner.’ His years in exercising his services were virtually rendered Pro Deo for humanitarian reasons. The unfortunate could always count on Pete to champion its cause. Pete was known by his colleagues as the ‘walking encyclopedia.’ Call a name of a person on St. Maarten, and Pete would be able to recite that person’s whole family tree. Ask Pete about a piece of land, and Pete could give you, ‘stante pede’, a complete history of that land, going back to its original owner. Indeed, he was a Census Office and a Cadastre Office all in one.”

Image (133)

Map of Simpson Bay village and the area known as ‘The Corner’ with a listing of the popular names of the families who lived there.

Mr. Leo Chance told me recently that he stuck the label on him at a political rally on the square in Philipsburg. However already at a young age Wallace was defending cases before the Court. In the newspaper “De Slag-om-Slag” in its edition of April 17th, 1937 which mentions several cases brought before the Court, we read the following: “Mr. G. Katsaras spouse of Marie E.Vlaun, Mr. L.A. O’Connor spouse of Lolita W. Vlaun and Mr. C.V. Vlaun are suing Mr. J. Vlaun for fls.950.—being for 3/7ths of rents collected from a property which Mr. Vlaun bought from the mother of the plaintiffs 15 years ago. Mr. Wallace B. Peterson, mandatory for the plaintiffs; Mr. A.R. Brouwer mandatory for the defendant.”

Back then already in the column “Sambo and Buddy Jep” the phrase “bush lawyer” was being used for anyone who was defending cases before the COURTS as a legal practitioner and even as early as Mr. Josiah Charles Waymouth’s time when he defended cases for people.

Image (140)

Wallace loved to write and in hi9s time he wrote for De Slag om Slag and The Windward Islands opinion.

At the time Wallace lived in Cole Bay and was an all rounder. In an advertisement in the same newspaper in 1936 we read: “Fresh Beef and Mutton. Saturdays and Tuesdays, respectively. Young animals butchered. Delivered at any address in town. Cheaper than anywhere else. Order your meat from; Wallace B. Peterson, Cole Bay.”

I knew Wallace from the political world of course. In 1963 Wallace took on the task of opposing Claude Wathey in the Island Council elections and in 1966 in the Federal elections, and then in 1979 after putting down his sword he ran on the same list with Claude for the Island Council elections. From an early age Wallace was interested in politics. He used to contribute articles to “Broertje” Brouwer’s newspaper “De Slag om Slag”.In this newspaper of October 17th, 1936 No. 87 we read the following:”

During the meeting of the Court of Policy held on Monday 5h inst., His Honour the Gezaghebber (J.D.Meiners) said that the St. Martin people did not give him the impression of being in need. The people, it appears, of whom there were between 50 and 60 present in the Court-hall, immediately decided to give a demonstration and prove to His Honour their poverty. On Friday 9th instant, both Local Councillors were asked by Mr. Wallace B. Peterson, who undertook to conduct the demonstration, to join the people and act as spokesmen for them.” The demonstration took place on Monday October 12th, 1936 starting at the bridge by the Long wall and the 150 people present marched silently around the town.

Laurel Peterson

Mr. Wallace Peterson here with his wife Rita Peterson and their six children.

I have a notice from the “Slag om Slag” which reads as follows: “The undersigned hereby wishes to sincerely thank all those who voted for him at the last election for Local Councilor. Also all those who sent Bouquets and congratulations, and especially Messrs. Wallace B. Peterson and Andries Vlaun who stuck to him so devotedly through the whole campaign. St. Martin N.P. July 22nd, 1936. A.R. Brouwer.”

The other newspaper was “De Bovenwindse Stemmen”, edited by Mr. W. Netherwood. These two papers were constantly at each others throats. Many times Wallace would recite from memory a poem which he had written in the “Slag-om-Slag”. When Mr. Netherwoods first wife (a van Romondt) died, he married a young lady, daughter of the well-known Methodist Minister Charles McIntosh Darrell.  The poem was a ribald commentary, done in West Indian calypso style questioning Mr. Netherwoods ability to consummate the marriage. And believe me if Mr. Netherwood had any doubts, and if he read that poem before the honeymoon, it would have put him in such a frame of mind as to further weaken his ability to consummate the marriage. But then who knows. Back then everything eaten was fresh from the land or the sea. And so you wonder if Wallace’s poem had the intended effect.

In the “Slag-om-Slag” there was a column entitled “Sambo and Buddy Jep,” to which Wallace also contributed his share. Later when Mr. Joseph H. Lake Sr. started the Windward Islands Opinion (July 1st, 1959) a column was started under the title “Wally and Joe.” You need not guess who the “Wally” was. When I had my own newspaper I resisted the temptation to have such a column. There was no need for it. Four of the five “Letters to the Editor”, from “a concerned citizen”, “an angry voter” etc. would take care of the need to teach an opponent a lesson.

I learned many lessons from Wallace including who fathered whom. And so I too got to know of many of the skeletons in people’s closets thanks to Wallace. Politics on St. Maarten were rough back then. Lots of name calling at public rallies. Wallace could hold his own when it came time for him to defend himself.

Once I recall an incident which took place in which I was supposedly a key witness. I was at the Little Bay Hotel. It must have been around 1966 or so. My boss Fons 0’Connor was in his cups and in the casino. I was trying to avoid him. Just like the general public was of the opinion that Wallace once having been a detective could at his discretion “lock you to hell up,” for me too a boss in his cups formed an imminent and present danger so that I might end up without a job. And so I tried to avoid my boss. But it was not to be. Wallace was out on the town that night. He was not a drinker as far as I can recall. Anyway an exchange of words took place, a scuffle broke out and a few blows were passed. Not the Mohammed Ali – George Foreman type of blows. No. No. It was just a few pushes and shoves that was all. The casino people quickly intervened and I thought that was the end of the story.

A couple of days later a Dutch police officer came to fetch me at Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse with a long “proces- verbal”  in which document I was the key witness to an incident whereby “lawyer” Peterson had mishandled the “local Judge”, the latter believe it or not was one of the many functions assigned to my boss Fons. The police officer a friend of the established order informed me that at long last they had enough evidence to put the bush lawyer behind bars where he belonged and to disqualify him as a lawyer. I said to the Police Officer “And you expect me to sign that?” “Of course,” he said. And he went on to inform me as to what risks I ran as the established order was depending on me to get the case started. Of course I did not sign it and told him in front of witnesses what use he could put that paper to and if he wanted to lock me up for not signing he could take me to jail right away rather than wait.

Word got around and that evening I found myself in a hornet’s nest at the bar of Sea View Hotel. Nel Bergland, a friend, and considered as Claude’s bodyguard came to my rescue by telling the angry crowd that they could curse me all they wanted, but if they laid a hand on me that they would have him to deal with, and that kept the belligerents at bay, but scarcely so.

I don’t know if the case of the judge versus the lawyer made it to the bar. But it was without my signature and Wallace appreciated that. Fons was relieved as he got caught up in a political current pushed by others and I don’t think he ever wanted the matter to go to Court.

And believe it or not when I ran for office on Saba in 1971, I was officially still a civil servant on St. Maarten but registered as a voter on Saba. Wallace was sent to Saba by the Democrat Party to make a case to have me removed from the voters list. “No hard feelings, Will”, he said, “but I have a job to do.” Luckily for me there was an Old Dutch lawyer who I had brought in to defend a case for a young lady, so I engaged him there and then to defend me. Anyway the Judge ruled that I could take part in the election.

Wallace and I remained friends nevertheless and he still would tell me who fathered who. Wallace was honoured later in life by having a street in Ebenezer named after him. During his years of appearing before the court, Peterson was the “zaakwaarnemer” for four hundred and fifty nine cases. His first and last court appearances involved rent issues. In his eulogy attorney Richard Gibson concluded with the following statement “On Friday, March 20th, 1981, the Court, under case Nr. 5, had scheduled Marianna Peterson, represented by Wallace Bradford Peterson, against the Rent Commission. Pete appeared and pleaded his case as he had done so often in the past. In the evening, at home with his wife and family, Pete rehearsed, as he so loved to do, the fine points of that case against the Rent Commission. Immediately thereafter, Pete was no more. He had pleaded and rehearsed his last earthly case.”

He was good friends with the poet Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. who had high praise for the times he spent with Wallace discussing events of the day. I have a fourteen page letter written to me by Borromeo from New York in which he comments on his friends on St. Maarten including Wallace. And I am certain that Wallace, “Broertje” Brouwer and Wilhelm Netherwood are still slugging it out beyond those pearly gates while I am here on earth still trying to find that poem which Wallace wrote back in the nineteen thirties.

May their work here on earth be remembered and placed in the context of the time in which they lived.

.Image (1357)

The St. Martin he loved.





Eulogy James Anthony Dunlock


May 16, 2016

Theodore R. Johnson


James Anthony Dunlock, who went by his second name “Anthony” like many of his generation, was born in Saba on June 30, 1928 in the village of Hell’s Gate in an area known as The Alley.

Anthony was also known in Saba when growing up by his nickname “Dunny”, “Dipper” and “Anta” and was known later in Aruba by his friends as “Uncle Pepe”.

He was the son of Evangeline Dunlock and Donald Dunlock, who carried the nicknames Bum and Brody.

The Saba in which our friend Anthony grew up in was so different to the Saba of today.

Saba then was dependent on agriculture and fishing for its survival and people had to struggle to make ends meet. There was no electricity, no airport, no harbour, no motor vehicles or good roads between the villages. Anthony was already living on Aruba when the first Motor Vehicle a Jeep was brought to Saba in 1947, and electricity only came in 1970, the airport in 1963 and the harbor in 1972, so one can imagine how isolated and undeveloped Saba was and this isolation also existed between the villages as well.

Anthony grew up as a Hell’s Gate man who learned to fish and farm from a young age. Anthony always recalled once when he was a little boy when he slipped off a cliff in an area of Saba known as Great Hole and was badly injured. He carried the scars of that fall for the rest of his life.


Main entrance to LAGO oil refinery where Anthony worked for many years.

Anthony’s father passed away at a young age of 32 in Curacao, when Anthony was only 2 years old. As a young boy he had to work hard to provide for his mother and his sister and had a job with the Public Works department helping to build the road in Saba. His mother got married later on to Eddie Hassell who was affectionately known as “Chex” and who helped to raise Anthony and who had 3 sons with his mother.

The Sabans were accustomed to sail the oceans and would go to sea as cabin boys with Saba captains as early as thirteen years of age. When Anthony was a boy most of the men from the village of Hell’s Gate who were fishermen and farmers would go to Bermuda for work in the British dockyards. When the LAGO oil refinery started up and they required English speaking workers which lead to many Sabans coming to Aruba in search of work and a large number of them remained here for the rest of their lives.


Anthony here with his wife Ceela after she had an operation at Dr. Taams Clinic on Curacao.

Anthony came to Aruba early on with his mother and his sister Maisie. He started working at the Manhattan Store in San Nicolas. He went back with his mother to Saba for a while and after the Second World War at the tender age of 17 he got a job for LAGO as a sailor on the oil tankers between Aruba and Maracaibo.

While working as a sailor he went on a vacation in 1947 to Saba where he fell in love with his future wife Norma, with whom he married in Aruba on June 20th, 1951.

From this union, which lasted 64 years, 2 children were born, his son Steve and his daughter, Browlia.

scan0003 1 (3)

Anthony Dunlock third from left as a groomsman for the wedding of his sister-in-law Tency to Bertrand Rogers.

After several years of sailing, he got an opportunity to work as a LAGO security officer until his retirement after 38 years. He was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant before he retired.

Anthony loved to dance and dress up, or as we say in the Caribbean “dress down”. The farming boy also remained with him. When visiting his home at the Palisiaweg here in Aruba there were many large pots with plants in them and even banana trees producing large bunches of bananas as well as a number of fruit trees. Anthony was always lamenting the lack of rain and the difference in climate between Saba and Aruba.

Although Anthony made his home in Aruba and was very happy with his life on this island, he always had stories of his youth in Saba. When Anthony would tell stories of his youth he would get emotional as he would discuss the lives of people he had grown up with in the village of Hell’s Gate.


Anthony here with his friend Teddy who was a frequent visitor to his home and who did the final eulogy for him.

Just like Anthony, his father was a giant of a man. Anthony liked to tell the story of the sons of a man with the nickname ‘Peter Parrot’. One of the boys had been rude to Anthony’s mother Evangeline, also known as ‘Bum’ as she passed in the road by their house in the English Quarter where they lived. When she told her husband, he decided to come over to the English Quarter from Hell’s Gate to set things straight. When he came opposite the house the six sons of Peter Parrot were hiding in the house. Anthony’s father told them that he did not want to take advantage of the situation so he suggested that instead of beating them up one by one for all six of them come out together so that he could give them all some licks together and he could be back on his way to Hell’s Gate to continue his farming. Anthony would tell that story with relish and would end it with: “my father would be waiting in the hot sun until today for them boys to come out, so afraid of him they were.”

Another story Anthony joked about was the advice he got from his grandfather Anthony Granger known as ‘Lee Tinnie.’ From Hell’s Gate. In those days there were no roads for cars on Saba so each village lived in isolation.

Anthony’s grandfather’s advice to his many children was to never marry a woman from the other side of the island. They speak different to we, they cook different, and they dress different. So better marry someone from your own village and you will be happy that way.’ Anthony would always get a good laugh when he told that story. It’s a good thing Anthony didn’t take this advice to heart, since he married Norma from the village of Windwardside.

Anthony was very fond of his 5 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. When speaking to his grandchildren in Holland he would always like to say “zeg me maar”. His granddaughter Rachel built a tile pathway in his garden which he was very proud of and never let anyone remove it.

Though he visited Saba occasionally throughout the years Aruba had become his new homeland and he was very happy here.


LAGO oil refinery on Aruba

He kept in contact with his friends on Saba. My uncle Guy Johnson on Saba told me that just a few hours before Anthony passed away that he felt a strong need to call Anthony and the two of them had a wonderful conversation. Little did he know that within a few hours Anthony would no longer be in the land of the living.

Anthony is survived by his loving wife Norma, his son Steve and daughter Browlia and his 5 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

He will be missed by all. May his soul rest in peace.

  • My son Theodore Reuben Johnson of Johnson’s Notary Services on Aruba gave me permission to post this eulogy. I added the necessary photo’s to suit from my archives. He was laid to rest today May 16th, 2016. Will miss him on my trips to Aruba. His memory will live on with his family and friends.
  • Will Johnson


Post Navigation