The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Captain Thomas Charles Barnes


The town of Gustavia on St. Barth’s as it looked in the late nineteen fifties. Photo Father Bruno Boradori.

His father “Buddy” Barnes  ( Richard Thomas Barnes Sr.) was a Captain and owner of schooners, as well as his brothers Chandlis should be( Chandos Augustin Barnes born 21.07.1889), Robert,(Robert Carlton Barnes born 08.02.1901) Willie (lost at sea in a hurricane) and “Buddy Jr.”  ( should be Richard Thomas Barnes born 28.11.1885) who died at sea while second mate on a six master schooner.’

Charles known to all as “Charlie” cut his teeth sailing the high seas with his seafaring family. I had a difficult time finding him in the site

until I realized that Dutch officials and even local ones registered names as they heard them pronounced. So I decided to look under Barns and there I found him registered as Thomas Charles Barns born 02.07.1894.  I also cannot yet find name and date of his wife’s  Nina (daughter of Johanna Lovelace Dowling ) birth. The Dowlings are largely registered under the surname Dowlin. I seem to remember that his wife was a sister of Viva Dowling married to Ralph Hasssell. Her parents were Peter John Hassell Dowling  and Joanna Lovelace Hassell, but I still could not find Thomas Charles Barnes’ wife in the records nor when and where they married. I did read somewhere that the ancestral home of the Barnes family on St. Barth’s was actually purchased by Johanna Lovelace Dowling in 1912.

netherwoodCaptain Charlie according to my research also had three sisters (Aramenta Barnes born 17.02.1891) who moved to Barbados as so many of the St. John’s people did.

, Estelle Barnes born 10.12.1896,  ( married in Barbados to Raymond Seale)and Elizabeth Ethel born 28.12.1899. (Married in Barbados to Clifford Mayhew).

As Sabans expanded their fleet of schooners many of them emigrated to other islands where there were better opportunities for business and safe anchorage for their schooners something which Saba did not have to offer.

Many Sabans moved to the island of Barbados and carried on the better part of trade between that island and the rest of the West Indies. Others from Saba and especially the white schooner owners from The Bottom and St. John’s also moved to Barbados but some also moved to St. Kitts, Trinidad, Guyana, Bermuda, and in the early part of the twentieth Century to work in the oil refineries of Aruba and Curacao.


Captain Barnes was in to everything. He even bottled rum under this brand name and it was then popular in the islands.

In my book ‘Tales from my Grandmother’s Pipe’ I found some more information connected with Capt. Thomas Charles Barnes.:” Others who went to Barbados were Chandlis Barnes and his cousin Robert Barnes who owned the schooner “Diamond M. Ruby,” built in Barbados, also the three masted “Russel M. Zink”. They traded between  Barbados and Demerara.

” Pennyson’s daughter Winnie married Captain Donny Hassell, who was a steamship captain . He also owned the two-masted schooner “Horniest” which had been purchased in Nova Scotia and ran gasoline between Trinidad and Barbados. He also owned the large two-masted schooner the “Minnie M. Mosher”. He and his wife Aramintha (Minty) a daughter of old Captain “Buddy” Barnes,lived at Belville, St. Michael’s, Barbados. Although they had nine children, still their home was a haven for Sabans just the same as Kaliski’s in New York. People stayed with them until they could find work.


The St, Barth’s captains were traders and had many schooners. This photo is from the collection of Carl Buncamper whose wife Anastacia was a native of St. Barth’s.

During the period in which St. Barth’s belonged to Sweden a number of Sabans moved there to live, and one Saban Richard Dinzey was even Knighted by the King of Sweden. After the economic decline of St. Eustatius mostly due to the independence of the United States being recognized by European powers. They could trade directly with that island. The Jewish merchants who had been expelled by Admiral George Rodney also did not return. They mostly moved to St. Thomas, Curacao and Barbados where they found new business opportunities. So a number of the old prominent families from “Statia” also moved to the island of St. Barth’s.. People like Vaucrosson who I have already written about. He was originally from Martinique and owned a very large house and business complex on the Bay. And a number of others moved to St. Barth’s and started businesses there.

Schooner Roma with Charles Thomas Barnes' home in background.

This schooner seems to be the “Roma” which belonged to Captain Barnes and the two story building with the red roof is his home.

When Captain Thomas Charles Barnes moved to St. Barth’s, Sweden had already returned the island to France.  The island was Swedish from March 7th, 1758. After a referendum, with only ONE vote against, the decision was to return the Swedish colony back to France which took place on May 16th, 1878. One vote! Sweden must have neglected the island very much at the end. One vote only in favour of remaining Swedish. Captain Barnes however established a relationship with Miss Julia Dinzey one of the descendants of Sir Richard Dinzey. When she passed away she left the Dinzey mansion to her neighbours Charlie and his wife. This lovely building was used over periods of time as a Guesthouse and now it belongs to the Swedish Government and is used as a historic and cultural center. When it was a guesthouse a number of boys from Saba worked there. I remember Alvin Every  (Bobby) and I being there at the sqme time once. His son Kenneth was working there at the time. I have covered that story in another article which I wrote on St. Barth’s. Foe the present generation of S Swedish nationals it is a great source of pride that St. Barth’s is the only colony which they ever owned outside of Sweden proper. Their blood relatives the Danes did own the islands which they sold to the United States in 1917 namely the United States Virgin Islands, of St. Thomas , St. Croix and St. John.

IMG_0009 - copie

Captain Ramon Beale  here on the schooner the “Roma” which he bought from Captain Barnes. The Beale family on St. Barth’s   also have roots on Saba from the village of Middle Island.

Captain Barnes was a trader. He bought and sold items to the islands surrounding St. Barth’s. In the newspaper “De Slag om Slag” of St. Maarten there are several news items of him having been there to carry salt to other territories. He also carried cattle. St. Barth’s people were traders and enjoyed a safe anchorage for their schooners and they remained on their island. They traded in cattle from St. Maarten and as far away as the Dominican Republic to supply the markets on Guadeloupe and Martinique. There was no refrigeration back then so the trade was in live cattle.  Also they transported sugar and of course salt which was produced on some islands, from one island to the next.


The Roma at the shipyard being outfitted for the transfer to Ramon Beale

With so many schooners Captain “Charlie” saw an opportunity for repairing schooners in the bay right across from his home and business. Even some of the sloops from Saba like those of Captain Randolph Dunkin would go there to repair their sloops.


From  left to right> Barney Gibbs my host on Barbados, Peter Bourne of Collins Lt.  Michael Stoute, me Will Johnson and Michael’s wife from Bolivia.

Taken from my diary of Tuesday November 20th, 2018:” Went to a coffee place with Peter Bourne and Barney Gibbs. there we met Michael Stoute and his wife from Bolivia. His grandmother was Elizabeth Barnes from Saba (sister of Captain Charlie Barnes). She was a sister of Minty Hassell-Barnes. He called an uncle of his who is 90 years old and we spoke. That uncle recalled visiting with Captain Charlie on St. Barth’s.

Captain Charlie acquired quite some land which in today’s world would be valued in the tens of millions. However no one ever imagined that land on St. Barth’s would be so valuable in the future. George Greaux my friend of many years told me that every billionaire on earth wants to be able to tell his friends “I have a piece of land on St. Barth’s you know.” And the St. Barth’s people know that as well. So a small country house which would have brought in to the owner a couple of hundred dollars back less than one hundred years ago will set you back nowadays from six to eight million dollars. That same George Greaux walked into a conversation I was having with a group at the Juliana Airport back around 1972. I was telling the group that Neville Lejuez and I had the opportunity to buy a considerable swath of land on the beach next to Remi de Haenen’s  Eden Rock Hotel. The old couple wanted twelve hundred dollars for it. Living off a salary of just around one hundred dollars a month there was no way that we could buy the land. When George walked into the conversation he let me finish my story and then he said: “Will is not lying. My story is much worse. I had the money and I went to my father for advice. My father told me “George put your money on the bank in St. Thomas. St. Barth’s has no future and will never amount to anything.” Well his father and all of that George decided to put his money on the bank in St. Thomas instead.

Dinzey Mansion

The historic home of Sir Richard Dinzey of Saba. He also built the Anglican church. His remaining heir Julia Dinzey willed it to Captain Barnes. It was later a guesthouse where I stayed. Here is my son Peter then age 15 when we were visiting my friend George Greaux for the weekend in 2004. The Swedish flag on the pole.

Telling this part of the story to introduce David Rockefeller. He had been to Saba and was interested in buying something here. The people here used to curse then Administrator of Saba Walter Buncamper of not wanting to see Rockefeller as he was too busy. There must have been some truth to it Allan Busby is always telling me that story, so just passing it on.

Anyway David Rockefeller fell in love with a beautiful bay and a sizable plot of land and was told it belonged t Captain Barnes. In his old age he was hard of hearing. Rumor would have it that when Mr. Rockefeller asked to buy the property Mr. Barnes asked for forty thousand dollars. Mr. Rockefeller thinking that the price, for the time, was ridiculous said he did not hear him.  Mr. Barnes then turned his good ear to him and said :” Son what did you say your name was? The answer was “David Rockefeller.” Mr. Barnes then said: “Well since you did not hear me, let me tell you that the price of the land is four hundred thousand dollars.” Mr. Rockefeller then asked Mr. Barnes, “Can we continue the discussion through your forty thousand dollar ear?” “I didn’t hear you”, said Mr. Barnes and the deal was closed.

In the period from after the elections in 1971 to 1973 I worked at the Post Office at the Juliana Airport.  The late Janchi Vanterpool who was a porter and a great friend of mine knew everybody including  David Rockefeller. He would park up his jet at Juliana and Janchi would handle the rest. One day while I was sitting in the restaurant area I was introduced to Mr. Rockefeller and we had a nice chat while he was waiting on his charter flight to St. Barth’s. About a year later I was sitting there in the same area with Claude Wathey, Clem Labega, Sam Hazel and Allen Richardson. Who shows up but Mr. David Rockefeller himself. He says to me.: Will are you still here since I last saw you?” Anyway I introduced him to the group and especially my friend Allen Richardson. After Mr. Rockefeller left Allen said “There won’t be holding you anymore. Man how did you get to know Mr. Rockefeller? ” So I embellished the first meeting and Allen would often bring it up when we were at drinking sessions: “This man here is a Personal friend of David Rockefeller, mind you.”

Gustavia back in the fifties.

On the right hand side you can clearly see Captain Thomas Charles Barnes’ home and ship yard.

And back to  Mr. Barnes.As I wrote earlier Mr. Barnes was a trader. I remember once asking him where he had bought his straw hat from. He said “I paid five dollars for it. If you want it I can sell it to you for ten dollars.”

When I first wrote a much smaller version of this story, Captain Charlie’s grandson also named Charles was living in the grandfather’s house. He was a son of Charlie, the only child of Captain Charlie I believe but not so sure. He went to Aruba and worked for the ESSO oil refinery there. When he retired he came to St. Maarten with his family and started a business there. His son, the third generation Charles was married to a Greaux I believe and worked with his grandfather to keep the business going. The Charles, the grandson that is, which I am talking about died young. I believe he had a problem with diabetes and must not have been more than fifty years old. He and his wife had four daughters who in one way or the other are still involved with the business in other forms. I have to be careful here as I will be sure to be corrected on some details. One of the daughters is married to Jerome Montoya who hails from the South of France but carries a Spanish surname. Crossing borders was a tradition back in the day as well.

Anyway Jerome and I became great friends through having mutual interests. I met him here on Saba with his wife some years ago. I advised him to look up the Dinzey archives which I thought Captain Charlie would have kept. Well he found a treasure trove of those old documents when he went back to St. Barth’s. He later on started The St. Barth’s Islander and keeps himself busy with fantastic stories of St. Barth’s past. He is also is in the shipping business representing cruise ships and ferries from St.Maarten and so on.


St. Barth’s very much undeveloped in the  1950’s. Photo by Father Bruno Boradori who was a Roman Catholic priest on St. Barth’s for several years.

The night Captain Charlie died I was in St. Barth’s on a small boat with friends from St. Maarten and the Ukraine. I passed by to say hello to Charles and he said that I could sleep upstairs as his grandfather was in the hospital on St. Maarten and was close to deaths door.  I was sleeping in the old four poster bed upstairs. Downstairs was the business. At 2 am or so his black cat which had been sleeping on top of an old mahogany  armoire let out s scream and made an all claws landing on my stomach. There was no central electricity back then. After hearing that the old man might be going into his last hours I took no chances and kept the old oil lamp on next to the bed. In the scurry with the cat I nearly knocked over the oil lamp. What a thing that would have been as the upstairs was a made from wood.

After recovering from the fright I decided to open the front door to the verandah, which there was none, I nearly dropped to the street below. held on for dear life till I could get my footing back on the floor and haul myself  up and close back the door which led to a none existing  verandah.

Early the next morning Charles came around. He asked me :” How did you sleep last night?” Before I could answer he said; “You know the old man died at the hospital on St. Maarten around 2 am this morning.” How could I forget  Captain Charlie. And may his memory continue to be blessed.


The man himself Captain Thomas Charles Barnes. Dressed in the hat I admired and in the background his house and business. I have a few more photo’s which I will add to the article but will have to still look for them.



Single Post Navigation

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: