Dr. Fraser- Point of View
August 21, 2009
Sir Rupert’s Pioneers in Nation-Building – A reprint

It is extremely good news that Pioneers in Nation -Building in a Caribbean Mini-State is once more on our bookshelves, and is available, particularly to the nation’s youth. This book, by Sir Rupert John, originally published in 1979, the year of this country’s Independence, did not get the attention and recognition it deserved then. In fact, it appears that not many Vincentians know about it.{{more}} In the Preface to the 1979 publication, Sir Rupert describes the purpose behind the writing of the book. It “is an attempt to consider in one small volume the lives of twenty-two Vincentians and the contributions they made during the earlier years of the twentieth century to the political, economic, social or cultural development of their native land. Many Vincentians, including a host of unsung heroes, have indeed struggled long and hard for some of the rights, privileges and opportunities we tend to take for granted. Their performances, characterized by perseverance, hard work and resourcefulness, hold stirring and priceless messages for the generation of today.”

At a time when the nation is embarked on a quest for rediscovering heroes, Pioneers in Nation-Building is a must read. Sir Rupert does not speak about heroes, what he concentrates on is the major contributions made by the twenty-two persons he had selected to write about. Three points have to be made about this. First is that included in his selection, in fact the first person listed, is George Augustus McIntosh, who is on the nation’s list as a possible candidate for National Hero status. The second point is that he has selected individuals based on their contributions in a number of different but important areas relevant to nation building. I make this point because we have the tendency today when we are searching for heroes or for persons who have made significant contributions to focus on the political arena. Obviously, too, the time when Sir Rupert wrote, would have made a difference, since our mindset would have been different. We were then on our last lap to Independence. The final point is for me to reinforce my call for a system of National honours. The persons in Sir Rupert’s Book all made sterling contributions but no one would argue that they should all be considered for National Hero status.

It would be remiss of me not to make special mention of the publishers, Kings-SVG, the team of Baldwin and Cheryl King, who in recent years have given us reprints of the Flambeau magazine that existed in the 1970s and a reproduction of Karl John’s work on Land Settlement, a reworking of his Master’s Thesis. The Kings have been sending out a call to Vincentian writers and are presently embarked on a venture to unearth other Vincentians who have impacted on their Country’s development. Their reprint of this forgotten book must be commended and is moreover quite timely. What is most exciting and quite appropriate about this new edition is the Foreword written by Karl John, son of Sir Rupert. The publishers in reference to what is a Biographical Foreword state: “…Coming nearly thirteen years after his death, it attests to our conviction that his own contribution to nation-building in his home-land and elsewhere deserves the telling of his own story.” Vincentians know Sir Rupert mainly as the first native Governor. Some might recall his organisation and leadership of the Association of Senior Citizens of St.Vincent and the Grenadines (ASCOVAG) and his founding of the St.Vincent’s Children Welfare Fund, but to most people he was simply the person who had the honour of being the first native governor. Karl not only provides information that is hardly known, but he places him in context, so in speaking about his early years he gives us glimpses into the life of the ‘little hamlet’ of Evesham, ‘deep in the Mesopotamia Valley’. He, therefore, tells us not only about Sir Rupert but about the times in which he lived; his role in the formation of the St.Vincent Labour Party; he was one of the many Vincentians who went to work in Grenada, then the Centre of the Government of the Windward Islands. We are allowed to reflect on the early days of Eric Gairy and of his controversy with the colonial administration. Sir Rupert was also Governor at the time of the historic tied elections in 1972 and of the constitutional ‘imbroglio’ in 1974 when the People’s Political Party had made some accommodation with the Labour Party. Mr Joshua was made Minister of Agriculture but his wife, in the same party, was placed as Leader of the Opposition. Really Karl’s piece provides us with a brief brush of significant developments between 1951 and 1980. I remember being invited by Sir Rupert in 1984 to deliver an address at a ceremony held by ASCOVAG to mark the 150th anniversary of Emancipation. I was then in Canada pursuing my doctoral studies but made the trip back and took part in that event. I was particularly interested in the section on Freemasonry and to hear about Sir Rupert’s strong involvement in it. I say this because he had made many attempts to get me to be a part of that body. He must have been truly devoted to its cause!

I am not sure how one defines Nation-Building within the context in which it is used and if a Pioneer in Nation Building is set within a specific time span. What I know is that Sir Rupert’s contribution even if given through a Foreword is a major addition to the original work. His contribution was cast in a different time span. The pioneers whom he identified never ‘pursued studies for a university degree.’ And only one received any formal secondary education. They were nevertheless giants in their fields. He benefitted from many of the pioneers in different ways, and I will single out Christopher Wilberforce Prescod, who was head teacher of the school in Georgetown during the time he served there as assistant teacher. He must have learnt a lot from him.

Pioneers in Nation-Building is divided into six different parts into which the 22 individuals identified as pioneers were divided. “The fight Against Colonialism and the Concept of Self Rule” highlighted the life and work of George McIntosh, Herbert Fitz-Allan Bryan Davis, Ebenezer Duncan and Alfred Clement De Bique. “The Efforts of Teachers to Educate the Young” lists Benjamin Nathaniel Bacchus, James Augustus Cato, Thomas Webster Clarke, Christopher Wilberforce Prescod and Darnley Egerton Williams. Persons featured in the section on the role of the Press are Robert Mowbray Anderson, Joseph Burns Bonadie and James Elliot Press, all of whom were publishers of major newspapers. “The Role of Public Spirited Merchants” featured Owen Douglas Brisbane, Walter McGregor Grant and Joseph Milton Gray. Under “the Role of Public-Spirited Planters” were Alexander Murdoch Fraser, Donald Cuthwin McIntosh and Arnold Morgan Punnett and “the Varied Labours of a Bold Peasantry” listed Simon Solomon Garrett, James Augustus Providence, Henry Crichton and Robert Timothy Samuel.

As we attempt to discover unsung heroes of the past and to identify Vincentians who have made major contributions to the development of this country in its colonial state and as an independent entity, there is no better point from which to start than Sir Rupert’s 1979 publication. What we need to do is to build on what he has done. His effort was a starting point. What he said in his 1979 Preface is significant: “It would be extremely unfortunate if the records were to be completely lost or if the trials and tribulations, the triumphs and successes of the outstanding figures of that period of our history were completely ignored, forgotten or treated with scant regard.” He made sure they are not and the Kings have assisted him.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.