The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “May, 2019”



By. Will Johnson


Dudley Johnson and Al Hassell here checking the hot springs at Great Hole.

In the month of May 2002, I wrote an article for The Daily Herald. I was in Florida and had a dream in the early morning hours of May 8th. I was in the middle of a volcanic eruption and a silent scream went up towards the heavens. The scream was from at least twenty-eight thousand people being consumed by Mount Pelee, and the lovely city of St. Pierre on Martinique forever to be remembered for her destruction by the angry volcano.

It took me nearly all day before I realized what the dream was all about. It was one hundred years after the destruction. Living for centuries on an active volcano must have seasoned my genes to worry about an eruption.

I was busy writing an article updating the general public as  to what if anything is being done to monitor the volcanoes of Saba and Statia. I was quoting from the report of Elske de Zeeuw-van Dalfsen and Reinoud Sleeman which gives a good idea as to what is being done by the Royal Institute of The Netherlands concerned with monitoring weather, and now also volcanoes. It is quite detailed but for the layman it is quite readable. And then just a few days ago there was an article from the Saba Government Information service about a visit from the Institute and giving an update on the equipment they are using and so forth. Given the circumstances and the fact that we are still in the month of May I will incorporate some of the technical details as well as memories of the devastation caused on May 8th, 1902 by the Mt. Pelee on Martinique.

The report made by the Department of Seismology and Acoustics of the Royal Meteorological Institute (KNMI) at the Bilt in The Netherlands reminded me of an incident years ago.



Saint Pierre, had an appeal of a flower that blossomed  once only, in one place: that no eye will ever see again.

“Early seismic monitoring on the islands of Saba and St. Eustatius was carried out by the Lamont –Doherty Geological Observatory (U.S.A.) who operated a single one-component seismometer on Saba from 1978 to 1983.”

I remember this site well. It was situated on a then vacant lot next to my house at the edge of the cliff. One afternoon I got a phone call and the man at the other end was out of breath. Practically screaming into the phone asking me:” How are you coping? Is there anyone alive besides you? “Turns out he was calling from the Colombia University in New York City. Somehow they were monitoring this seismometer next to my house. When he told me that there had been a 9 plus magnitude earthquake right under Saba, I assured him that all was well and to hold on a while and I would check the antenna. I checked and came right back and reassured him that indeed all was well and that one of my neighbours had tied his cow to the antenna. So, each time when the cow walked around in search of grass and pulled on the antenna, the equipment was registering earthquakes of more than 9 points magnitude on the Richter scale.”

The extensive report which I was quoiting from for this article has this to say: “As of 1 January 2017, the population of the island of Saba reached 2010 people, and the population of St. Eustatius totaled 3250 people. The expansion of the population at the islands observed over the past decade is expected to continue, implying that the number of people at risk, and the complexity of evacuation in case of volcanic unrest will also increase. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) is responsible for the observations of geophysical phenomena at the islands. In acute potential hazardous situations, KNMI informs local authorities at the islands as well as the departmental crisis coordination center of the Ministry as soon as possible. Responsible agencies on the islands can take further action if needed, assisted by the crisis coordination center. Apart from these potential urgent warnings, KNMI sends the local government a status report 1-2 times a year.

A report from the government information service of Saba of this past week reports the following.


Around 8am Mt. Pelee erupted with such force that the beautiful city of St. Pierre was totally destroyed in a matter of forty five seconds.

“The Department of Seismology and Acoustics of the Royal Netherlands Metrological Institute (KNMI) has been working on Saba for several years to monitor the dormant volcano Mount Scenery. The monitoring of a volcano is best done using multiple techniques to access the state of activity.

One way to monitor is through a so-called Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). In January 2018, the KNMI installed the first GNSS at St. John’s, followed by a second installation at the Juancho Irausquin Airport in February 2019. Both instruments are operating as expected and data are operating as expected and sent automatically to the KNMI in The Netherlands every hour, using a transmission facilitated by SATEL.

The GNSS instruments have to be regularly maintained to ensure their continued operation. The instruments are subject to harsh environmental conditions: the chloride ions in the air from the evaporated sea salt in ocean spray and the high temperatures speed up the reaction time, corroding even stainless steel. A GNSS instrument measures the distortion of the earth’s surface, making it possible to see whether the surface swells or deflates.

794_001_ak-saint-pierre-la-martinique-une-rue-principale.jpgA second way to monitor is through temperature sensors. In January 2018, a temperature sensor was installed at the hot spring opposite Green Island. This sensor takes a measurement every 20 minutes and stores the data locally. The measurements form a time series and stores the data locally. They give more detailed information about temperature changes of the hot spring and is compared to the single measurements that have already been taken.

If the volcanic activity changes, the temperature of the hot spring can increase. There will also be more fumes. The population is asked when they see fumes or indications of any other possible volcanic activity, to inform the safety coordinator of the Public Entity.

The last visit of the KNMI to the hot spring was in February 2019. Improvements were made to the installation, which includes temperature probes that are buried in the ocean bed and covered with rocks to keep them in place, and data loggers, small yellow cases mounted on the rock above the spring and housed in a black case to protect it against the elements. Due to the high surf activity, it remains to be seen how long the temperature probes and their cables will survive. A more rugged installation is planned for the future.

The third monitoring instrument is the seismometer. The KNMI has installed has installed three seismometers on Saba; in The Bottom, St. John’s and Windward Side. A fourth seismometer will be reinstalled shortly at the airport after the instrument has been repaired. Seismic instruments are important because they record the vibrations of the earth. If a volcano becomes active, the seismic vibrations will intensify, explained De Zeeuw-van Dalfsen. KNMI representatives now visit Saba on a regular basis.


The seismic network is designed to monitor the seismicity in the Caribbean Netherlands region and the seismic signals preceding or accompanying the earthquakes in the region, which may generate tidal waves. The seismic network has been gradually expanded since 2006.

The current monitoring network of Saba is in development. The goal is to enhance the monitoring capability. Future improvements include 1) the installation of a seismic station in the north west area of Saba, 2) the placing of another GNSS station on the island and, 3) installing a more durable temperature sensor which transmits data in real-time to monitor the hot spring on Saba.

So far, this excellent report on the activities of the KNMI.

“My grandmother Agnes Simmons born Johnson (born 1880) told me stories of the morning of May 8th, 1902. They heard two explosions coming from the South. They thought it must be a Dutch man-of-war visiting Statia .



1948. Lt. Governor Max Huith and Police Chief Bernard Halley here checking the hot springs between Tent Bay and the Ladder. They were covered up by a large land slide in recent years, but can still be experienced on the sea bed in the same area.

Captain Irvin Holm (born 1890) who lived on the road to Booby Hill also heard the explosions. He and his brother Captain Ralph as boys were curious to know what was taking place. They walked to the edge of Booby Hill and saw that it was getting dark to the South where the explosions had come from. It got darker as the day went on and ash started to fall on the island. They realized that something had happened but could not imagine how terrible it was. It took almost a week before the news came in. And in that news was included the death of Roland Hassell a mate on a schooner in the harbour of St. Pierre. He was the father of the well-known ‘Bungy’ Hassell from Under the Hill.

I am busy reading for the second time the book ‘The Coloured Countries’ by Alec Waugh. In 1928 he spent several months on the island of Martinique. One day he and his friend Eldred Curwin decided to visit of St. Pierre.

“Once we went to St. Pierre.

From Ford Lahaye it is a three hours’ sail in a canoe, along a coast indented with green valleys that run climbing back climbing through fields of sugar cane.

589_001_depts-divers-martinique-ref-d925-saint-pierre-st-pierre.jpg‘Nor, as you approach Saint Pierre, would you suspect that in that semi-circle of hills under the cloud-hung shadow of Mont Pele, are hidden the ruins of a city for which history can find no parallel.”

“ But it is not till you have left the town and have climbed  to the top of one of the hills, you look down into the basin of Saint Pierre, and, looking down, see through the screen of foliage the outline of house after ruined house, that you realize the extent and nature of the disaster. No place that I have ever seen has moved me in quite that way. At the corners of these streets, men had stood gossiping on summer evenings, watching the sky darken over the unchanging hills, musing on the permanence, the unhurrying continuity of the life they were a part of. It is not that sentiment that makes the sight of Saint Pierre so profoundly solemn. It is the knowledge rather that here existed a life that should be existing still, that existed nowhere else, that was the outcome of a combination of circumstances that now have vanished from the world forever. Even Pompeii cannot give you quite that feeling. It has not that personal, that localized appeal of a flower that has blossomed once only, in one place: that no eye will ever see again.

448_001_cpa-saint-pierre-la-martinique-la-rade.jpgSaint Pierre was the loveliest city in the West Indies. The loveliest and the gayest. All day its narrow streets were bright with colour; in sharp anglings of light the amber sunshine streamed over the red tiled roofs, the lemon covered walls, the green shutters, the green verandahs. The streets ran steeply, “breaking into steps as streams break into waterfalls.” Moss grew between the stones. In the runnel was the sound of water. There was no such thing as silence in Saint Pierre. There was always the sound of water, of fountains in the hidden gardens, of rain water in the runnels, and through the music of that water, the water that kept the town cool during the long noon heat, came ceaselessly from the hills beyond the murmur of the lizard and the cricket. A lovely city, with its theatre, its lamplit avenues, its’ jardin des plants’, its schooners drawn circle wise along the harbour. Life was comely there; the life that had been built up by the old French emigres. It was a city of carnival. There was a culture there, a love of art among those people who had made their home there, who had not come to Martinique to make money that they could spend in Paris.

234_001_depts-divers-martinique-ref-d916-saint-pierre-la-martinique-st-pierre-la-martinique-avant-la-catastropheThe culture of Versailles was transposed here to mingle with the Carib stock and the dark mysteries of imported Africa. Saint Pierre was never seen without emotion. It laid hold of the imagination. It had something to say, not only to the romantic intellectual like Hearn or Stacpool, but to the sailors and the traders, to all those whom the routine of livelihood brought within the limit of its sway. “Incomparable,” they would say as they waved farewell to the Pays des Revenants, knowing that if they did not return, they would carry all their lives a regret for it in their hearts. And within forty-five seconds the stir and colour of that life had been wiped out. History has no parallel for Saint Pierre.

Sitting on the walls as a boy and listening to the old captains and sailors who had known and loved this magic city, I became entranced with the Pays des Revenants and have had a lifelong regret that the city was forever lost. Living on a dormant volcano it makes sense to monitor what is going on and glad to share this with the people who have

Saint Eustatius Island was once an active volcano.

As can be seen in this photo St. Eustatius and St. Kitts are also dormant volcanoes and for the past years the island of Montserrat has been erupting, cause for alarm on the Dutch Islands as to what is being done about monitoring these volcanoes.

been wondering if anything is being done to monitor our volcano.





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Young Jan Philipszoon in front of the home of his grandfather Albert Buncamper to the head of Front Street in Philipsburg


By: Will Johnson

Some years past Ms. Bernadette (“Bunchie”) Buncamper shared with me a batch of old documents belonging to her grandfather Mr. Albert Buncamper. All yellowed and brittle and mostly written with pencil. It took me some time to discover that the old documents were actually a diary recording all that was taking place in the year 1927. These documents were the foundation for my book “The Diary of a St. Martin Salt Checker’.

Last year Mrs. Carolyn McIllroy-Buncamper after hurricane Irma gave me access to some equally old documents which turned out to be account books of her great grandfather. I refer to them as that as they contained hand written copies of all correspondence between Mr. Albert and his children mostly, as well as his friend C.B. Romondt whose home he took care of.


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Mr. Albert Buncamper here with his grandson Jan whom he raised. Mr. Buncamper intrigues me with his letters to his son Carl on St.Eustatius a teacher and later Administrator there. His son Walter worked with the Courts and later was Administrator of Saba. His daughter Coralie was a teacher on Saba and Elize stayed on St. Maarten. A very responsible family man who led his children to great heights.

Long before Xerox came into being Mr. Buncamper, who loved to write, came up with the idea to copy by hand each letter which he sent out via the post. Just imagine writing each and every letter twice! For me they are a treasure trove of information of the nineteen thirties. He would send his children and his friend an update on all that which was taking place ‘Up Street’ and on St. Martin in general. I am thinking of making another book called “The Letters’. This will require time and I will need help.

In the mean time I will quote from some of the letters so as to give an idea of life on St. Martin as documented from his home in ‘Up-Street” so as to give some idea of life in the nineteen thirties. Mr. Albert Buncamper died in 1941 the same year in which I was born’.

The setting from which he wrote his letters became a familiar and much loved one for me. Between 1955 and 1960 when I started living right across the street from his residence, I visited St. Martin twice yearly on my way to and from Curacao where I went to school. Little if anything had changed from the days of the nineteen thirties. The Great Patriotic War as the Russians call World War 11, had taken place and in 1944 St. Martin had gotten a moderate airport.


Pasangrahan  on the frontstreet 1951.jpg

Mr. Albert Buncamper refers to the start of this Government Building in 1937. It is built on land formerly belonging to the Buncamper family. This building became the Pasangrahan Hotel and when Eric Lawetz took it over in the nineteen fifties the alley was taken out in order to extend the hotel to the neighbouring property.

After the A.C.Wathey  pier was built in 1962 and a runway able to accommodate jet traffic in the mid nineteen sixties, the once unspoiled island went into a period of rapid development. Few people today remember how precious it was to have lived through the unspoiled existence of St. Martin and its people before 1965. The Second World War was fading into history and the island was mostly dependent on its own resources. The salt harvesting and export had ceased. People had left for Curacao, Aruba and the United States or had died out. The economy had changed hands from the powerful van Romondt family to Mr. Cyrus Wathey on the Dutch side and Constant Fleming on the French side and they controlled the political life of the island as well, for several decades.



Me [Will Johnson] here in 1960 coming from work. The house was then rented to Mr. Stetson Risdon. I would at times be called on to serve drinks at a poker game between Chester Wathey, Emile ‘Lil Dan” Beauperthuy, Alphonse O’Connor and Stetson Risdon.

  In general, though the island was at peace with the world and itself, allowing Mr. Buncamper to enjoy the quiet life he led in his home in ‘Up-Street’ while copying all his letters by hand. Letters which are scattered before me today (May 2019), as I write this. In this article I am presenting just a sample of the many letters for you to enjoy and to cherish the memories today, which he shared with us as he dutifully copied these letters in his diaries for all of us to enjoy.

St. Martin Feby.8th -1936

Mr. C.R. Romondt,

Dear friend,

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Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse where I lived was directly across the Street from the Buncamper home.

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find you and the family all well. We are having some deaths here lately. Our ‘landraad’ [local councilor] Jacob A. Richardson who was ‘landraad’ for many years has retired in the middle of last year and between the month of October, November or December received a gold medal of honor from the Government (Queen) he is now dead. He died Friday January foreday half past twelve o’clock. He is well known by all classes. He is 84 years old. He will be a great missing in the Methodist church. He was circuit steward, in the absence of Mr. Darrell and when he is on the Island, he bury any one, when Mr. Darrel was so much persecuted he was a great friend at his side now as a great friend to him in his troubles and stood to his side.


A sample of one of the letters. He wrote a separate copy of the letters he sent out and they now form an interesting chapter of life on St. Martin in the nineteen thirties.

There was a funeral. They came from all over the island, people from Marigot etc. Between sixteen to twenty cars were there.

We have it very hot up here now heavy drought. The earth is terrible dry. Water getting scarce. Cistern getting short of water. Hoping to get heavy showers. We all send howdy to you and all the others hoping you all are well and hope that your eyes are not troubling you. Jantje is O.K.  and he send howdy to you. Norma, Margaret and Helena ask to be remembered to you hopes you is well.

I must now close hoping you is well and all the families.

I remain your true friend.


St. Martin, April 28th, 1937


We had a lot of fun with Mr. Joe from Simpsons Bay and would help him pull in his nets right in front of the Pasangrahan Hotel. He lived with his wife down the alley and she was a member of the Buncamper family.

Dear Walter,

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find both of you well. At present I am no worse. Wren [Ah.Ah] husband Calvin arrived this morning in the ‘Baralt’. I hope you got through well, all your work good.

Netherwood pick salt two days last week also Monday and Tuesday this week.

We had last night a couple of good showers and this morning a heavy shower. We was having it very dry. This rain is a good help to the island. I hope we will get some more.

Invitation out for Ludwig Reginald [Carrty]

To Gladys Marie Hyacinth Houtman on May 12th 1937 at 8 o’clock pm. I must now close hoping both of you are well. I remain. Yours father,

Albert Buncamper

St. Martin, June 22, 1937


Michel Deher also from “Up-Street” here looking down on Philipsburg around 1955. Few changes had taken place from the time when Mr. Albert Buncamper was writing his letters next to us. Photo Guy Hodge.

Dear Carl,

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find you well. We had the submarine here for a few days. Plenty people went on board to see how she was situated. Walter, Baby [Elize], Jan and Olga. Walter give us a good history of her. Three of them slept on shore up the ‘Vineyard.’ I suppose they must have had in Statia a good time. I could not see her as the tree in Marther yard hid her from me. The new building for the Governor of Curacao [Pasangrahan] is going ahead. It will be a fine site in the Up Street. We hope to send a box or a pan with some mangoes for you today. Just after nine o’clock while writing you we receive the letter from George Fox with the money, also a letter for Walter. I must now close.

I remain yours father A. Buncamper

St. Martin, July 21st, 1937


Big change to St. Martin when the Juliana Airport was built in 1943. Also the Philipsburg Electric Company started by Governor H. Beaujon in the nineteen twenties were the two big changes in the first half of the twentieth century.

Dear Coralie,

I am now writing you these few lines hoping they will find you well. At present I am feeling no worse. I has to go in the hospital Friday for a change and then after go in every two weeks. As usual idea I believe that the new Sister from Aruba coming head of the Hospital and our Sister going Head of the hospital in Aruba. So that this Wednesday the 21st our new Sister will be here in the ‘Baralt’ so that Friday our Sister and the Doctor will show her how to act with me. The doctor going in the middle of next month and the new Doctor will be here so that our Doctor will be present to show him he will act with me. Some days I feel good and some days I don’t feel well.

You will receive a box of fruit by the ‘Baralt’ this trip. I hope you will receive it safe.

The firm of L.A. van Romondt and sons finish. Consta Fleming take over the shop, store etc.  Seye [Cyrus] Wathey bought the store and shop for $4.000.–

Marius, Beryl and others out of it, paid them off and close the place for a week. It is expected that Marias will attend the steamer this time as the month is not up. And it has to be fixed in Curacao who will be agent for the steamer.

‘Baby’ [Elize] will write you all the news. Remember me to Dr. Chateau and wife, nothing more to say. I remain, Yours Father A. Buncamper.

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The ‘Baralt’ at the Fort Bay on Saba, the monthly steamer serving the islands from Curacao.

St. Martin, January 22nd, 1938

Mr. C.B. Romondt

Dear friend,

I am glad to write you these few lines hoping they will find you and all the families well. Also hope that your eyes are no worst but improving.

Some days I am able to go out in the yard a little and some days I feel very bad. But what must I do trust in God. I feel these couple of days pretty good.

About the house. After I turn the man out of it I had to put boards in the floor and re nail the whole floor and shingle the Northern side of the main house just East of the Ell. Also put a little paint on the windows, doors and stillings as this work cost $11.63. The woman hire the house from August 29th, 1936 at $2.25 per month and paid the first two months’ rent $2.25 a month and afterwards $2.00 a month saying she could not pay for it. I intended to turn her out. But I reflect that it would be shut up after, for there is no one to rent houses.

Houses on the Back Street today is with common people and after they hire a house you have trouble with them to get your rent from them.

May 24th, 1937, we have plenty of rain and he House leak very much on the woman and children. So, she come around and ask me to do it. The whole of the Norther side of the roof was very old. I had to patch it several times. So, I send the carpenter down and get sheets of zinc and put the zinc over the wallaba shingles. Also put to the Eastern end with zinc over the shingles. The house is in good condition now. This last fixing of the house is done May 24th, 1937. Cost $ 11.91.

House rent from August 29th, 1936 to December 29th, 1937, 2 months at $2.25. 14 months at $2.– or $32.50

House rent in full up to December 29th, 1937 $32.50.

Fixing repairs twice                                                $23.54

Balance due for Rent up to date $8.96

January 21st ship to C.B. Romondt by a Post Office Order $9.00

Remember me to all the families. Hoping you all are well.

Yours true friend.

Albert Buncamper


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The large two story home on the right was the home of Walter Buncamper and it ran to the Backstreet. Located where now the “Old Street” is situated.

Interesting for those nowadays is that some of the things needed for his kitchen would be ordered from Curacao.

St. Martin, July 24th, 1937.

De Heeren C. Winkel & Zonen

Willemstad Curacao

I am now sending you an order for groceries as follows.

1 tin Wijsman butter 5lbs.

2 tins “               “  2lbs each.

1 tin Plum butter   4lbs each

3 tins Parrot butter 4lbs each

3 tins Lard butter 5 lbs. each

6 tins ‘Boterham Worst’

4 tins Pears

4 tins Peaches (Peas) 2-Coralie

8 tins Potted meat (24 poltchen/)

2 tins Sardines in oil (4)

6 tins Salmon in oil (4).

6 tins sliced beef.

12 tins Vienna Sausages

2.tins Edam Cheese. 3 packs with Rose Tea ½ lbs each.

Yours very truly

J.C. Buncamper

This is just a small sampler of the many letters he sent out from his peaceful existence in “Up-Street” on the Front Street in Philipsburg, St. Martin where he stated in 1937 that


“No one rents houses on St. Martin anymore.”


Photo from around 1924 by Mr. Baak a former Administrator of St.Eustatius. Imagine walking up that contraption with a load of salt on your head. The Salt Checker a man of importance back then keeping an account of each load of salt delivered.





By: Will Johnson


The Vineyard in the nineteen fifties with cattle roaming on the grounds.

Obviously, looking for a house was to be my first job. While aboard our ship [schooner Estelle]  we had seen shining above the green manzanille around the eastern bay corner, a little white housetop adorned with a big yellow star, looking very inviting from a distance. The estate belonging to it bore the sonorous name of “The Vineyard”, and it proved to be untenanted – although regrettably  we  could not find any grapevines.

I had to put up with a fairly stiff rent by St. Maarten’s standard but was not sorry because it happened to be the most suitable home imaginable. Our house was situated on the face of a steep hill, richly grown and strewn with boulders. When walking home through Front Street we often fell under the spell of the spot, especially so in bright moonlight, enhanced by the mysteriousness of the sounds of the living creatures in the wild darkness of the hills.

Because of its location, slightly elevated, the house afforded a splendid and varied view from our front veranda. Both of the green-walled village streets ran between the bay, always vivid and fidgety with the wide sea looming in the background, and the darker, nearly purple, water of the large salt pond.


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Looking from the hills above to the ‘Vineyard’ and the harbor the ‘Great Bay’ beyond.

“Fort Amsterdam, situated in a narrow neck of land, manifested itself as a boundary between the Bay and the Caribbean. Casting a glance from there to the right you could follow the upward line of the hills, resting finally on the highest summits of Sentry Hills, Mont des Accords and Flagstaff Hill. Their contours were shaped like a reclining giant in the background of the salt pond and, further up north, we saw the plantation house of “Madams Estate” and the hills of Prince’s Quarter.

Imagine ‘The Vineyard’ being no less than a ten-minute walk from this cozy corner! I now shake my head at such youthful obstinacy, but at the time we, the reckless newlyweds, had no objections.

“With regrets, we left St. Maarten on the March voyage of the ‘Estelle” [schooner of Capt. Tommy Vanterpool] in 1920. My wife and also my daughter, even though she was only one year old, had made many friends. Living in such a remote spot for some years may bring on a longing to return to civilization, yet farewell seemed to be hard. There was a feeling of leaving behind something special, a fine experience never to be relived.

“Our passage to Curacao, in the company of our little daughter, went before the wind and lasted about four days. Willemstad, its capital, looked like a metropolis. The year spent there slipped by quickly. Via Trinidad and Paramaribo, the ‘Nickerie’ took us back to the port of Amsterdam on Easter Monday, 1921.

Life went on, as life does. Nevertheless, we would not have liked doing without those years in St. Maarten.”

[ Far from the World’s Turmoil, St. Maarten 1918-1920 By F.S. Langemeyer C.E.]

The most memorable story I remember about the Vineyard is the one told to me by my boss Fons O’Connor. It was the introduction of the flush toilet inside the house. Back in the day the ‘outhouse’ was located a distance from one’s home where you ate and slept. It was sanitized from time to time with coal dust to keep down the odor as much as possible. I was told by my boss that when the ‘Vineyard’ was built that Mr. L.A. van Romondt had a flush toilet installed inside the house. What a to do among the population at the time. “Who would have thought that Mr. Van Romondt was a man like that. Doing he business inside the house, where he have to cook and sleep?”

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L.A. van Romondt with his wife “Poppie” Brouwer and their children Fritz, Lewis and Kees 1929, ‘The Vineyard’ St. Martin.

In those days it was customary for those who did not have an outhouse to carry the ‘night soil’ down to the beach and throw it into the sea. The belief I heard to justify this practice was that the sea cleaned itself every twenty-four hours. No need to worry except if you were a person who liked an early morning sea bath.

From the point of ‘doing his business inside the house’ the ‘Vineyard’ was a sensation at the time.

But for those who appreciated beautiful architecture and especially the then unspoiled setting would certainly have admired the ‘Vineyard’ from the very beginning. That is why I started this article with the memories of civil engineer F.S. Langemeyer who in later years considered it to have been a great privilege for him to have lived there.

Not only the building but the entire property located at the head of town demanded respect. The land extended to the very tops of the hills while the old town of Philipsburg lay at its feet. From the veranda one could enjoy the view of the beautiful town with the Great Salt Pond then full of activity spread out before it with the hills in the distance enclosing it like the oyster holding a precious pearl in its embrace.


The ‘Vineyard’ while to the head of town was more of a country house than a town house.

The closest neighbour was the Huith family further up the dirt road on the road to Pointe Blanche which remained unspoiled until the end of 1959 when construction started in that area.

The house was imported from Baltimore between 1871 and 1873. I have heard it told that the house was prefabricated and modeled after a home on the island of Martha’s Vineyard therefore the name ‘The Vineyard’.  It was imported by Mr. L.A. van Romondt. It was built by the by now well-known wooden frame construction. For those who may not know the van Romondt  family,they practically owned the whole of St. Martin from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the waning days of the mid twentieth century when Mr. D.C. van Romondt passed away in 1948 at his estate ‘Mary’s Fancy’. In my book “For the love of St. Maarten” several chapters were dedicated to this family. After that I established relations with many of their descendants living all over the world. Just a few nights ago before writing this article I had a call from a lady in upstate New York whose mother was by me many years ago. She wanted to get information on where she should stay and how she and her husband could get together to discuss ‘family’. And you can never tell. The first van Romondt came out from Holland a bachelor and ended up marrying Ann Hassell the granddaughter of the rebel Peter Hassell from Saba. I have several Hassell ancestors so you can never tell.


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Elize Buncamper (Miss Babe), Daisy Hoven van Romondt and Coralie (Miss Coxie) Buncamper. The Vineyard 1965. I corresponded with “Miss Daisy” who lived in Alberta Canada until she passed away in her nineties.

The ‘Vineyard’ changed hands to Mayor Louis Constant Fleming, who at the time along with Mr. Cyrus W.Wathey were buying out the van Romondt family as they left the island and/or were dying out. In 1938 he sold it to Ms. J.C. Buncamper. It is still owned by a member of the Buncamper family and has been largely restored since the damage caused by hurricane Irma in 2017.

In my book ‘The Diary of a St. Martin Salt Checker’ I cover the history of the family and the Buncamper ownership of the “Vineyard’.  Regrettably people do not seem to read books anymore as I still have boxes of this book lying around. I am like the man in V.S. Naipaul’s book, ‘The Suffrage of Elvira’ I think. An illiterate man dictated his thoughts on Hinduism to a publisher and had fifteen hundred booklets printed and put on shelves in his humble abode in the countryside of Trinidad. Never sold a copy of course, but the equally illiterate country folks thought he must be brilliant to have fifteen hundred books in his house. When he thought he had enough admirers he followed the route of so many islanders today and decided to run for Senator. But that is another story. So, besides the unsold books I have written and the large collection of other books I have people must have believed me literarily equipped enough to vote for me over five decades.


Looking from another side of The Vineyard in the direction of the Great Salt Pond and beyond.

In Joan D. van Andel’s book ‘Caribbean Traditional Architecture’ published in 1985 she reports more on the structure, “The design of the outside of the large house known as the ‘Vineyard’ on the outside of Philipsburg, differs very much from the traditional domestic building. Yet there are also many similarities. Its exclusive situation on the present W.G. Buncamper Street and its glamour give the house a special place within the traditional architecture of the island.

Although nothing is certain, this house probably owes its name to the fact that grapes once surrounded the house. The Caribbean [sea] grape is a succulent {Ipomea pescaprae) growing near the sea, a salty plant with small grapes which are not edible. [ Sorry to disagree but I would have been out of here already from a boy. Love sea grapes]. From the principal entrance of the estate, a drive leads to the front staircase leading up to the house. Where today we see flat pieces of land on either side of the drive and cows grazing in the short green grass, formerly the ‘grapes’ must have been grown, or perhaps other tropical plants. Now there is some vegetation on both sides of the front stairs, close to the house in a garden surrounded by a wooden fence.



My friends the late Bernadette Buncamper of The Vineyard with Lt. Governor Theodore M. Pandt her adviser and accountant for the various Buncamper businesses and holdings.


The location of the façade on the short side is striking. The rooms are situated on the long side, round a staircase and a passage. On the upper “floor” on both sides of the passage, there are bedrooms. In most houses in Philipsburg, the façade is on the long side and the rooms are divided along the width of this façade.

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Philipsburg around 1900.

There is an outside staircase leading towards the façade. The plan of the house is more complicated than the plans of the traditional houses in town: there are more apartments, and the indoor staircase and the passages make the design more intricate.

Nowadays there is only a verandah on the side of the front façade: in former times there was another at the back of the houses. In contrast to most houses in Philipsburg, where the verandah is often part of the roof construction, the verandah of the ‘Vineyard’ is built as an independent structure onto the floor of the façade. This is evident as the verandah is built against a gable.

The book goes on to describe several aspects of the buildings design. It goes on to state:” The Vineyard has been described separately because being on the east side of the town it occupies rather an isolated position in relation to the other domestic houses in Philipsburg, which are all situated on Front or Back Street. Moreover, owing to its size, it is not a townhouse, but has more the character of a country house.”


The Vineyard was a good setting for all kinds of social events.

My first visit to The Vineyard was in 1955. I had not made 14 yet. Teacher Frank Hassell took me there to see Miss Coxie (Coralie Buncamper) who had been a teacher on Saba at one time and was friends with my mother. She would visit my mother in the St. Rose Hospital when she had breast surgery for cancer and had to stay there for quite some time. I recall seeing their mother a lady of Dutch descent. Born Johanna Christine Lemke (January 31st 1866 and died May 16th 1961). That day holds a particular memory as we went with a car to have lunch with Mr. Emilio Wilson at his estate. No traffic back then. I believe it was Miss Coxie doing the driving knocking off a speed of perhaps five miles an hour with no traffic coming or going and Miss Babe cautioning Coxie to ‘slow down’.  In 1960 when I started working and living on St. Maarten I was always in the company of the Buncamper family. In my mind’s eye now, I can see Mr. Walter Granville Buncamper, a tall stately figure walking up the street on his way to the Vineyard to visit his sisters. I remember a number of times  sitting with ‘Uncle’ Carl Buncamper and the others, on the verandah with he giving me details of the former important families in the Eastern Caribbean.

I would like to end this article as I started it with the quote from civil engineer F.S. Langemeyer . “There was a feeling of leaving behind something special “Though I spend much time on St. Maarten still, I often dream of those wonderful years I spent there with the people of St. Martin treating me as one of their own. And I regret that so much of what I loved was sacrificed in the name of prosperity.


The hills were still not developed when this photo was taken in the 1980’s.



The Saba Islander


By Will Johnson

History revisionists will try to convince you that Columbus did not discover the continent later named America. I would argue that he did. The Vikings some 400 years before him had settlements in New Found land but it took a long time and by coincidence that one of these settlements was found.

postcard-of-by-john-vanderlyn.jpg   People say that when Columbus left Spain, he did not know where he was going, when he arrived in our waters he did not know where he was and that when he re turned to Spain he did not know where he had been. I have stood on the steps in Barcelona where Columbus came to proclaim his success in discovering new lands to the West.

The same conflicts we read about now with the emergence of China as the new global superpower and the new silk road were the main cause…

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By Will Johnson

History revisionists will try to convince you that Columbus did not discover the continent later named America. I would argue that he did. The Vikings some 400 years before him had settlements in New Found land but it took a long time and by coincidence that one of these settlements was found.

postcard-of-by-john-vanderlyn.jpg   People say that when Columbus left Spain, he did not know where he was going, when he arrived in our waters he did not know where he was and that when he re turned to Spain he did not know where he had been. I have stood on the steps in Barcelona where Columbus came to proclaim his success in discovering new lands to the West.

The same conflicts we read about now with the emergence of China as the new global superpower and the new silk road were the main cause for Columbus’ trip.



When the Moors first stepped foot in Spain, they came across a rock and called it Jab al Tariq in honour of their leader Tariq Ibn Ziyad. This rock is called Gibraltar today.

Ever since the first Crusade and the visit by Marco Polo to the East, trade between Europe and China was via a land route. The Crusades caused the emerging Muslims to strengthen their bases, the same which is taking place today. After the Capture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders and later in 1454 the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire that great City of Constantinople, Europe was in need of a sea route to China. The Muslims captured the Balkans and were knocking on the gates of Vienna before they halted their conquest. They also controlled the whole of Africa north of the Sahara the same as the Romans and the Phoenicians and Greeks before them. Europe was blocked from their lucrative land trade with the East by these Muslim conquests.  When the Spanish captured the last lands of the Moors and drove them back into North Africa the King and Queen of Spain decided to finance a Columbus’ trip to the West in search of China. Neither he or those who financed him knew that there was an entire continent several times the size of Europe [which is not a continent but the Western part of Eurasia] waiting to be discovered. There were large cities in Mexico, Central America, Peru and so on indeed. These proved to be a great boon to Spain and Europe in later years. And at the same time, it proved to be a great discovery for Spain and Europe. Columbus went to his death believing that what he had discovered were islands close to Japan and by extension China. He was granted big titles and rewards from the King and Queen of Spain and he has descendants alive today who apparently still benefit from the journey of their Italian ancestor the great navigator Christopher Columbus.



Island Council Member the Hon. Eviton Heyliger in a party meeting. His mother was from St. Vincent and of Kalinago descent.

One can make sense of the European discovery of the continent originally called the Indies, at a later time known as the New World, and eventually named America, from different perspectives.

For the Europeans. The discovery represented the beginning of a new era in which novel cosmographic and philosophical conceptions were forged. Chronicler Lopes de Gomara once said that the discovery was “the greatest thing after the creation of the world.” The discovery represented the translocation of the imperial borders and economic interests of Europe. In later centuries, the struggles for power in Europe would be mirrored in America, while the colonies produced goods and services [ much of which were robbed from the aboriginals for the exclusive benefit of the metropolis.



A reconstructed Taino village in Cuba.

For the aboriginals in America, who were indeed the first true discoverers of the continent, the arrival of the Europeans meant the beginning, in the short- or long-term of the collapse of their societies, which were at different levels of development at the time of Columbus’ arrival. The inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, who believed initially, that the Spanish were celestial beings and welcomed them with legendary hospitality, drastically changed their minds and began to treat the colonizers with resolute hostility when their true intentions were revealed. It was in the Greater Antilles where the blunt first contact between the two worlds occurred and it was most likely the coveted gold the main factor that incited the beginning of the end for the Tainos.

In Old San Juan last month, I bought a book titled “Tainos and Caribs” by Sebastian Robiou. It was originally written in Spanish and published in 2003. The English translation which I have is from March 2019 so hot off the press. I will quote from this book some of the information on the Tainos and Caribs: The Aboriginal Culture of the Antilles.

Miscellaneous-artifacts-from-the-Lesser-Antilles-exhibiting-Taino-stylistic-influenceThrough this book and the many others written on this subject we know that Columbus found many people in the islands he visited. Day after day, island after island, he writes his thoughts with admiration, while at the same time assessing and glorifying everything that is revealed to him. In no time at all and as a man of his time, he projects, on the local inhabitants and the natural surroundings his European world view. It is important to know who these people were. Many archaeologists have been digging up the land of the Taino’s and the Caribs [Kalinago] and the Arawaks since Columbus’ discovery. Former French priests who were the first European historians documented the native names of the islands as well as where and when the people they interviewed had come from.



Many artifacts have been found over the years made by the former inhabitants of these islands.

While news of the first voyage spread in Europe and the letter written by Columbus to the King and Queen enjoyed wide circulation thanks to the printing press, a fleet of 17 ships with more than 1200 crew members [settlers] would depart to the New World at the end of September 1493 under the command of the Admiral. If the purpose of the first voyage was to explore, the goal of the second voyage was primarily to colonize.

The second voyage was not a riddle. Columbus studies his notes and also, most likely, the reports of the indigenous seaman “Diego Colon,” and plots a new route to arrive at the islands that he could not reach on his first trip. Years later, this route would facilitate also the crossing to the Antilles of ships full of African slaves.

After sailing for 39 days the fleet arrives in Dominica. After that on Guadeloupe they found in a house and Las Casas mentions a curious detail, pieces of a shipwreck “that the sailors called ‘quodatse’, at which they marveled and could not imagine how it arrived here, It later proved to be parts of a shipwreck from a vessel that sunk Between the Canary Islands and the coasts of Africa, and that had arrived in the Antilles following the same ocean current used by the Admiral.

The chronicler Diego Alvarez Chanca describes a distinctive feature of Carib men:

“the difference from the other Indians in their custom, is that the Caribs have the hair very long, and the other [the Taino] have their hair cut in thousands of different ways, and they wear paint in their bodies in diverse ways […]”



As can be seen from this chart the Muslims had a lock down on the gateways to the East thereby forcing the Europeans to look for a sea route to China.

Continuing on their journey from island to island, the fleet arrived on November 14, 1493, on the island called Santa Cruz. It was here that the first clash between the Caribs and Spaniards took place. A canoe with “four men and two women and a boy” was chased by a boat with 25 Spaniards. When they saw themselves being attacked, “the Caribs […} daringly put their hands to the arches, the women as well as the men. Even with a capsized canon, the Caribs continued firing their arrows. One of them continued swimming despite being wounded by a spear. According to Michele de Cuneo, who claims to have been on the boat, the only option left was “to bring him to the edge of the boat and we cut off his head.”



Suleiman the great Turkish conqueror of Constantinople.

In his letter to an Italian nobleman, Cuneo narrates that he took for himself “a beautiful cannibal” who he saw naked and “I wanted to take pleasure with her.” She objected, so he whipped her and finally achieved his purpose: He claimed that she was better than any whore in Barcelona. This would be the first documented interracial sexual encounter in the New World.

“For years, scholars have used the term ‘prehistory’ to refer to events belonging to the era before recorded history. We should warn however, that the term has fallen into disuse due to its arbitrariness. In every culture, with or without recorded history, humans are the protagonists, the forgers of history. In this sense history evolves to be the social development in time and space.

Similarly, the word ‘culture,’ often used as a synonym for civilization, has been tied wrongfully to scientific and material progress. Culture is what every human group develops when they are provided with a common set of social relations, knowledge, beliefs, artistic ideas and characteristics of their own. As such, there is no such thing as a primitive culture, much less one culture that is superior or inferior to another. Rather, there are degrees in the historical development of culture.

“The history of Antillean cultures can be summarized as follows:

The first Antillean settlers; around 6,000 BC

They came probably from Central America and settled in Cuba and Hispaniola. They were mainly hunters, ettling inland and fabricating objects made of flint of flint stone. [On Saba flint objects were found while digging a cistern in the Level at about 8 feet below ground].

. The fishermen-gatherers: around 4,000 BC

They were natives of South America and became the first humans to populate the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico. They made objects using polished stones, and contrary to the previous settlers, exhibited a preference to live on the coasts.

The Agro-Ceramics: from 500 BC to 600 AD.

They were natives of the coast of South America and probably settled in the Antilles in several migration waves. Traditionally, it is believed that they were the first to introduce the manioc and the confection of cassava to the Antilles. [I bought some manioc meal in the Supermarket in Marigot recently and I intend to make my own cassava bread soon]

The precursors of the Tainos from 600 to 1,200 AD

“This group is the result of either the Agro-Ceramics adapting to the island ecosystem, or of new migrations from South America, or of the Archaic adopting the techniques of the Arawak,

The pinnacle of the Taino: from 1200 to 1500 AS.

The pinnacle of the historic process is reached before the arrival of the Europeans in the Antilles and is characterized by the formation of a more complex society.


Trevon Johnson here enjoying a swim in Anegada where his Saba family has a hotel.

Carib emigrants: from 1000 to 1500 AD.

This phase is best described by the invasion or migration by the Kalinago (the continental Caribs) to parts of the Lesser Antilles from the coats of South America. This group took possession of the Arawak women and adopted mainly their language and other cultural traits, constituting the Island-Carib culture, or simply Carib culture.”

On Saba in the nineteen seventies several Carib descended people from Dominica and St. Vincent came here to work. I was very liberal in granting them permission to settle here against the objections of one of the Administrators. I told him these people were here long before us. Who are we to deny them entry into the island?

Mr. Evition Heyliger’s mother was from St. Vincent and descended from the few Caribs left on that island. He has served two terms on the Island council of Saba and is now starting his third term.

My cousin Travis Johnson’s wife Lianna is a full-blown Carib from Dominica and they have two sons. And there are others who can claim descent from the original settlers of these islands. In this sense ‘I born here’ is not enough when you know history.

The newly translated book by Sebastian Robiou Lamarche, PH.D. [ ISBN 97817967 41.322] is a worthwhile read to those interested in the history of these islands before the Europeans came here. Not judging but it was a fatal day for those people who lived here at the time.


Columbus on his way to what would be seen as the New World.



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