BEFORE THEY GO
BY: Will Johnson
There are dire predictions that newspapers are about to disappear. This is based on the advent of the Internet and to the phenomenal rise of Social Media. And so it is important to document the role of newspapers on our Dutch Windward Islands.
In the past in order to call oneself a journalist it was necessary to attend a school of journalism. Many journalists went on to become famous authors.
Nowadays any semi-literate can bring down institutions and governments by making all sorts of accusations, many times without any basis of truth to them, on social media. This has put enormous pressure on the mainstream media and the printed press. Some large newspapers are now under serious threat of extinction.
On our islands many newspapers have been founded by and bound to one individual.
I recently posted a copy of The St. Eustatius Gazette from August 17th, 1792 on Facebook. Many of my friends had never heard about this newspaper and some were amazed that it was an English language newspaper.
In his book “A Lee Chip” my son Ted has the following to say about the fact that most people outside of these islands have no idea that the Dutch Windward islands have ALWAYS been English speaking.
There is much more and I will only quote a small part from the book:
English Language Usage on Saba
“As we have seen in the previous section, Saban English has been the only language used by the inhabitants of Saba since the late 17th century. English language instruction through the educational system in Saba will be discussed in the following section.
“Besides the origins of Saba’s first European settlers, other factors contributed to the use of standard and non-standard English, often in its dialectal form, as the language of communication in all levels of society, including government and the judiciary. The Netherlands took a very “hands=off” administrative approach during the 18th and 19th centuries. Very little Dutch was used in Saba during the Dutch administrative period. This boiled down to Saba being virtually self-governing in certain respects, often by local born administrators or ‘Commanders’. Saba was also surrounded by other islands using their own varieties of creole English. There was little need to communicate with any other island in the vicinity of other than English.
Services at the three major churches that were established on Saba by the late 1800’s (the Anglican, Catholic and Wesleyan Holiness Church) were all conducted in English. Local government ordinances and decrees were more often than not published in English or translated into English throughout the colonial period in Saba. Court verdicts were also issued into the English language well into the 20th century.
“Only in the 1950’s did the official language on Saba become Dutch. This had little effect on most correspondence and ordinances issued by the local government. Other official documents, like deeds to transfer title and the few wills that were made during the colonial period, were also all in English.
“In 1968 Saba’s first newspaper, the ‘Saba Herald’, was published by Mr. Will Johnson, a native Saban, who started the newspaper while living on St.; Martin. The Saba Herald was published monthly for twenty-five years and often inadvertently included many phrases and words from the local dialect of Saba, as illustrated in the dictionary section of this book. From 1986 until 1990 another monthly newspaper entitled Saba Unspoiled Queen was published by another local Saban, Mr. Roddy Heyliger. Both newspapers were published in English.
“English was also confirmed as an official language of the now defunct Netherlands Antilles in 2007, which includes Saba. Since 2010 Saba has been a public entity of the Netherlands. Legislation introduced in Saba on January 1, 2011 confirmed that the English is an officially recognized language in the so-called BES islands of Saba and St. Eustatius.’
In a letter from 1736 which is attached to this article the last line reads: “but all Eustatia speaks English.”
Also in a report of the situation on Saba and St. Eustatius for the year 1847 it is stated in the part about education on St. Eustatius:” The youth here enjoy normal English education from local teachers. Because of the lack of a Dutch school the knowledge of the Dutch language is completely unknown by the inhabitants.”
And so it should not be surprising that The St. Eustatius Gazette was an English language newspaper though it carried sometimes advertisements in Dutch.
This newspaper is the oldest known weekly paper published in the Dutch West Indian colonies. We do not know if it existed for a long time. In any event we are certain that it existed from 1789 to 1793, so several years after February 3rd 1782 when the English Admiral Sir George Bridges Rodney captured the island because the North Americans via St. Eustatius had acquired the weapons they needed in their struggle for political freedom from England.
A year after Rodney’s attack on St. Eustatius the island was captured by the French and returned to the Netherlands.
A pity that so few of these papers survived. Much could be learned today about life on St. Eustatius back then.
In 1905 there were three copies of this paper which belonged to Father Jan Paulus Delgeur O.P. Those were the issues on June 23 1790, December 28th, 1792 and January 25th 1793. Father Delgeur wrote about this in the Amigoe di Curacao newspaper of July 22, 1905. He describes them as three musty smelling, thumb marked, weather beaten, yes something appetite spoiling sheets of paper.’
What happened to them after this is a mystery. The present Officer of Justice (1944) Willem F. M. Lampe who was Lt. Governor of the Windward Islands from 1927 to 1930, in his day found one copy. Whether it was one of these or another one is no longer known and to great damage of the history of the colony Curacao was sent to an exhibition in Holland in 1928 and returned to Curacao but disappeared after that. Years later this copy was found in the University library on Curacao. What happened to those of Father Delgeur is unknown and years later some copies were found in someone’s loft in London. I cannot put my hands on it now but I know that Dr. Johan Hartog wrote an updated article on this find.
The St. Eustatius Gazette was a weekly paper and was published by Edward Luther Low, at his office, next to Mr. Henry H. Haffey’s and nearly opposite Messrs. Hardmah and Clarkson’s where all manner of printing is done with ease and dispatch. In the last issue in possession of Father Delgeur a change was made in the name in the sense that ‘and Company’ was added to the name.
In one of the papers it was announced that an estate of a certain Longbotham was being sold:
‘Three separate tenements with kitchens, negro houses, necessaries and cisterns etc. There will likewise be sold at the same time:
The S laves.
Quaco – an excellent family slave and fisherman: Jack commonly [sic] known by the name of Jack Hamm, a silver-smith by Trade, and a capital workman, Stephen a tailor by trade; Judith – a young woman, with her two mulatto children. Likewise a few articles of jewelry, etc.etc.
A Negro woman Dinah, belonging to Mr. Charles Chadwick of St. Martins, about 5 feet high, rather square over the shoulders, a remarkable hairy face and breast. A reward of eight Joes will be paid down on her delivery to Captain Chadwick at St. Martins.’
The following announcement takes the cake:
Last night my wife, Bridget Coole. She has a tight neat body, and has lost one leg. She was seen riding behind the Priest of the parish through Termoy; and we never was [sic] married. I will pay no debt that she does contract, she lisps with one tooth, and is always talking about fairies, and is of no use but to the owner. Signed with an X by Rhelim Coole. * Well she must have been of some use to the Priest.
The weekly paper also gave international news. After 28 days of sailing a schooner had arrive on St. Eustatius from London with news from the continent.
From London: ‘that the Duke of Brunswick has been burnt in effigy on Kensington common by a number of friends of the French revolution etc.
From Paris: ‘All was quiet there when the last accounts left that city; the people expressed the greatest dependence on the National convention, a severe decree had been passed confiscating all the property of the aristocrats’ etc. (in that same year King Louis XVl was decapitated).
An announcement of the following book states:
‘Manners and Customs in the West-Indies by Samuel A. Mathews.
A certain I.B. Morton’s appears to have written a pessimistic and impolite article about the West Indies. Matthews goes after him with his book, calling Morton’s a lying hero who’ indiscriminately attacks the inhabitants of all ranks and denominations. He could have pardoned anything but his [Morton’s] scurrilous invective’s leveled at the fair sex.”
As with papers after that The St. Eustatius Gazette had problems with collection of payments for subscriptions as is evidenced from this announcement.
‘The Editor will be thankful to those gentlemen who have not yet favoured him with the payment of their half year subscription to do so as soon as possible. He assured them their neglect will lay him under many inconveniences.”
I have written much about the men who started the first newspapers on St. Martin but for this article will give some brief details.
- St. Martin, Day by Day appeared every Saturday in the English language. Editor/publisher was Josiah Charles Waymouth (Wesleyan-Methodist). Especially dedicated to inter-island politics and the economy. Appeared from January 22nd, 1911 until May 1st, 1920.
Waymouth was a warrior against the misuse of the power of civil servants back in the day. An example of his criticism over the bad connections between the islands in the very first edition of his paper: Our inter-colonial dreadnought has not yet arrived from Curacao. “The schooner from Saba was named the ‘Dreadnought.”.
The Dutch Windward Islands Times. In English. Because this newspaper was printed on St. Kitts, B.W.I. it did not appear on a regular basis; sometimes every fourteen days etc. General content. Editor the Wesleyan-Methodist Minister C. McDarrell. Existed for about one year. (see Amigoe di Curacao 17 June 1922).
New Life, ‘published at such dates and as often as circumstances under God permit.’ The paper was edited by Josiah Charles Waymouth (Wesleyan-Methodist) and announced itself as “put forth for successful common service with others, in the field of objective Christianity, our great aim will be to relay the Master’s Voice’. The paper gave some foreign news, local news, criticism and such everything in very devout wording. In the first issue the editor reflects on how in ‘Day by Day’ for ten years he fought for betterment in the administration of the Windward Islands and how now that this has arrived, ‘remains for us to work for the reformation of humanity.’ The paper was issued ‘at 81 Front Street.’ First issue 1 May 1924. Only a few issues appeared. At the time Mr. Waymouth was already in his seventies and it was always difficult to get paper and so on.
Bovenwindsche Stemmen, (Windward Voices) every fortnight; except for the title everything was in English. Editor Wilhelm Netherwood (Methodist). In the beginning contributions in the area of religion, politics, the economy, late almost exclusively to agriculture and local news. ‘News bulletins’, from this paper, appeared in De Bovenwindsche Stemmen in the Amigoe di Curacao newspaper. First appearance 31 August 1933 and in the Amigoe di Curacao on September 16th, 1933.
Because the paper was stenciled and in the war it was difficult to get materials the paper came to a halt in the second half of 1942, after which C. McDarrell started writing for the Amigoe di Curacao under the Column ‘De Bovenwindsche Eilanden (see Amigoe di Curacao 21 June 1943 and following).
De Slag Om Slag (Blow for Blow), appeared every Saturday in the English language. Critical on the politics of the day, economy and government. Editor Anthony R. Waters-Gravenhorst Brouwer. He was jailed for criticizing the Governor and the paper did not appear while he was in jail. The first paper appeared on December 22, 1934 and ended in November 1939 when the Editor was about to be jailed again because he allegedly insulted a friendly head of state (Adolph Hitler), and he took his own life.
The new era of newspapers started on July 1st 1959 with the patriot Joseph H. Lake Sr. returning from Aruba and starting the weekly paper The Windward Islands Opinion. I have written extensively on his life and on the lives of those who went before him. Any new article on newspapers will have to start off with the life and times of Joseph H. Lake Sr.
Credits: Ryan Espersen materials
Dr. J. Hartog’s research on newspapers.