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The ‘Caribs’ and resettlement efforts after the 1902 eruption

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While we are pre-occupied with securing ourselves, homes, animals and farms at this time, the real challenge will come with resettlement and rebuilding following the eruption. In 1902 this was made difficult since the eruption lasted until March 1903 with long periods of inactivity.  In fact, people were already moving back to their communities when the last eruption occurred on 22nd March 1903. With advanced scientific knowledge, we are more likely to be better informed and to plan accordingly. In 1902, fortunately, the government had recently embarked on a land settlement scheme, so they were able to house some of the evacuees at Clare Valley and Questelles which were areas bought for land settlement. They also extended their land settlement programme  to purchase Rutland Vale and part of the Campden Park estate to resettle people who were forced from their homes.

Within four months following the eruption of 7 May the government was seriously putting in place plans to send the people of Owia and Fancy to Jamaica or failing that to Trinidad, Dominica, or Guyana. The colonial office indicated to the governor of the Windward Islands that although they could not force them to go, they could make it difficult for them to stay by making it clear that no more relief would be given to them. Captain Arthur Young who came from England to coordinate relief efforts had suggested taking advantage of the  land settlement initiative to purchase estates in the Carib Country and operate them on a cooperative basis. The government did not accept this recommendation since it had no confidence in the people’s ability to run the estate lands on a cooperative business. Despite starting a program of land settlement, they remained committed to estate production.

There was popular  agitation against the forced emigration scheme. Young argued that there were strong reasons against forcing the people to emigrate. First,  persons from Owia especially, indicated that they only left because they were forced to do so by government. The question was also raised about forcing this on ‘Carib’ descendants while persons from other villages around Richmond and Walliabo were resettled elsewhere in St. Vincent.

A protest meeting on 15 October, held at the Court House attracted persons from all over the Island, the lower room being unable to accommodate all who attended. Members of the Clergy and of the Legislative Council addressed the meeting. The Chairman Reverend Newlands was predisposed to accept the government’s position but was so moved by the strength of the Opposition that he backed away. Also addressing the gathering was a labourer Raguette, who strongly condemned the government. The petition considered it “a monstrous violation of the rights and liberties of the loyal subjects of the King and as an inequitable attempt to deprive them of their rightful share of help.”  This was a period when the fight against Crown Colony government had begun and there were calls for the resignation of the governor. A petition on behalf of the residents of Owia and Fancy was sent to the Governor on 15th  November with complaints that the people had not been settled on land or provided with shelters. They were not prepared to return under conditions as existed then, and pointed to the availability of Ottley Hall which the owner was prepared to sell. Ottley Hall was in close proximity to the main market and was suitable for their production of cocoa, coffee, vegetables, and fruits.

A deputation that included residents of Owia and Fancy made it known that they loved their country and would not leave it, they preferred to remain “in the island where they were born and bred than in plenty in a land that was strange to them and where they would be strangers.” They were prepared to risk an eruption rather than migrate. There is a widespread belief that the lands occupied beyond the Dry River were given to them by government following the 1797 exodus. This is  not so. The lands were turned into estates and they were allowed to live there (their own lands) provided they assisted with work on the estates, particularly taking sugar from land to the boats waiting outside.

After the eruption, things were made more difficult by the refusal of Porter to cultivate his estates, being dissatisfied with refusal to grant him the compensation he wanted, although they rebuilt his canal. Eventually Walter Barnard bought the estates and resumed cultivation. In 1911 government purchased an 89 acre estate at Sandy Bay and divided it into rural allotments for the people. In Owia and Fancy they were able to settle near to the estates. In 1954 the Fancy estate was bought by a local person, Basil Balcombe, who was married to a Sandy Bay ‘Carib’. Government purchased it in 1962. In 1957  the Owia estate was transferred from H. Punnett to his daughter and her husband W. J Abbott.  Further changes came with the purchase of the Orange Hill estates under the James Mitchell government.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian