Preserving our Bajan heritage
I’m very excited to have started research for my next novel Vaucluse, which will be the fictionalization of the life of Henry Peter Simmons, whose grave is in the roundabout at Countryside in Vaucluse, St Thomas. However, digging around in the Barbados Archives, and at the Shilstone Memorial Library of the Barbados Museum has given me a new appreciation of the importance of preserving our heritage and journaling events in our lives.
My research is by no means finished; so I hope to come upon something exciting like a journal kept by my intended hero Henry Peter Simmons, or some old plantation documents journaling important events. I cannot emphasize how important information like that is.
For example, Richard Ligon’s book The True And Exact History Of The Island Of Barbadoes, which gives an appreciation of life in Barbados in the 1650s, provided invaluable information for me on day-to-day living in that era. I’m hopeful of finding equal important information for the period 1776 to 1845, which was the lifespan of Henry Peter Simmons.
If anyone can help me with this, I would greatly appreciate it.
The reason why I’m so concerned with preserving our heritage is because I’m seeing first-hand how quickly heritage buildings can deteriorate if not properly maintained. This week Penelope Hynam showed me a short documentary produced by her company Sea Weaver Productions, featuring the origin of the Carnegie Free Library. It documents the beginning of the library and the need for it to be refurbished. I truly hope the public will get involved by donating to this worthy cause.
The film also presented an aerial shot of the Empire Theatre; and it was truly distressing to think of such a historic monument in its current state of disrepair.
Last weekend, I participated in the business heritage tour Business In Bim, organized by FITtrepreneur and hosted by Celia Collymore of Bajan Fusion, with Dr Henderson Carter, author and historian, as our certified tour guide. Celia is one of the participants of the WINC Acceleration Programme for growth-oriented women entrepreneurs I am facilitating. So I was very pleased to be a part of her innovative event to bring business people together.
It was a great opportunity for entrepreneurs/business professionals and their families and friends to do something different –– that is, view beautiful landscapes and heritage sites and learn more about the historic Barbadian business culture while networking, socializing and relaxing. It was truly a wonderful tour, and it gave me not only research material, but a context for my book Vaucluse.
The heritage sites we visited included Blackwoods Screw Dock, Newton Slave Burial Ground, Gun Hill Signal Station, St John’s Parish Church, Codrington College and Morgan Lewis Windmill.
I discovered that Blackwoods Screw Dock was engineered by the English. Its construction began in 1889 and it took four years to complete. According to barbadospocketguide.com, “ships coming into the Screw Dock would be guided straight into the dock. Then a process would be started to turn the wheels of the docks and slowly raise the ship completely out of the water”.
Repairs could then be carried out on it. Our Screw Dock is the only dry dock of its kind in the world, and yet it is rusting away in Cavan’s Lane in The City.
Our second stop was the Newton Slave Burial Ground, which I had read about in my previous research; so I knew a little about Newton Plantation and the famous slave Elizabeth Betsy Newton, who escaped, making her way to England to find the absentee owner to complain about the conditions on the plantation.
For those who don’t know, Newton Slave Burial Ground is the largest and earliest slave burial ground discovered in Barbados, and is believed to be the burial place of an estimated 570 slaves.
What was sad was the fact there was a lone sign to demarcate the location of the burial ground, and no signage on the highway to point to it. It would be good if the barren land could be landscaped and some plaque or marker erected to acknowledge the lives of those slaves buried there.
I was very happy to see that the rest of the sites we visited were in good repair; and I understand Morgan Lewis Mill is under refurbishment.
I was particularly impressed with the beautiful gardens and panoramic views of Gun Hill Signal Station, which, I’m ashamed to say, I had never visited before. We had a laugh when our tour guide reminded us of the time the lion was painted red, yellow and green by some members of the Rastafari community.
The standing joke is that the speed with which Government moved to repaint it the original white was the first and last time the administration had ever moved so fast.
FITtrepreneur is planning to have another tour later in the year, visiting different sites. I’m so excited by the concept, that I’ve started to talk to Celia about doing a book heritage tour, visiting all the places I refer to in my historic novels The Price Of Freedom and Free In The City, as some of the plantations and sites are still in existence today. Perhaps I will even read extracts from the books when we stop to explore. Food for thought.
The more I do research for my books, the more I am amazed at the rich heritage we have in our country. If history is supposed to teach us so we have a better future, then it is of utmost importance we safeguard that history and teach it to our children, so they will learn from it and use it to build a better Barbados.
Let’s get involved in preserving our heritage!
(Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She is also the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and the Barbados facilitator for the InfoDev WINC Acceleration Programme.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org Visit www.donnaevery.com and www.facebook.com/DonnaEvery1)