August 1st is not about celebration!
Releases last weekend indicated that we were celebrating the emancipation of the enslaved. But what is there to celebrate 183 years after? Official sources indicated that the freed people flocked to the churches and were restrained in their reaction to that momentous day.
The enslaved in their huts and yards might have had a different kind of reaction. But one cannot be sure. They were obviously disappointed when in 1834 instead of full freedom they had to undergo a period of apprenticeship. The point I want to make is that annually what is needed is a reflection on the journey that was started on that day. Moreover, we need to become more acquainted with what slavery really meant and how the enslaved responded to it. In any event it should not be a one day or one month activity.
We have not given the issue of Reparations the attention it deserves. Some of our Caribbean neighbours have put a lot of resources and time into educating their citizens about its meaning. I am not sure that our local committee is still in existence and who are its members, because we hear little about it. I have been making the point that we have perhaps a stronger case than others because of the seizure of the lands of the indigenous people. I noted too that between 1805 and 1829 St. Vincent was the second largest exporter of sugar, Jamaica being the top producer. That period from 1805 was the period when the ‘Carib’ lands were divided into plantations and the produce from that area would have added significantly to the country’s exports.
There are recent developments related to the period of slavery that should command our interest. Last week, advertisements were publicised for the award of scholarships to the University of Wales, Trinity St. David. The official announcement about these scholarships was first made in June. Now what is this all about? The University (UWTSD) in its staff bulletins in April had been updating its members on the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent and pointing to its historic connection with St.Vincent. What is that connection? In 1822 St. David’s College (now the University of Wales Trinity) was founded and one of its cofounders was Thomas Phillips, who owned the Campden Park estate between 1821 and his death in 1851. He was described as a philanthropist and surgeon. He had worked before in India and might have made his fortune there. In any event he purchased the Camden Park estate (as it was then) for £40,000. Like most owners of plantations in St. Vincent he was an absentee, the estate being managed on his behalf.
Phillips would have gained compensation in 1834 for the 167 slaves ( Females 76, Males 91) on his estate. In his will he left money for the establishment of a chair of natural science at the then St. David’s College. As the University sets about planning its bicentennial celebration next year it has seen it fit to let St. Vincent become part of that occasion. It is not reparation in a narrow sense because he had made his fortunes before purchasing the estate, but he did gain compensation money and part of it might have gone into the establishment of that chair in natural sciences. The grant of 55 scholarships is a grand gesture and we have to compliment the University for seeing it fit to make the connection with St. Vincent in this way. It is my hope and wish that a student/young person from Camden Park whose ancestors worked at some point on the estate could be identified and be one of the recipients of the scholarships. It would be even better if his/her studies will be in the natural sciences.
Although I had not known previously about the scholarships, I knew there was an interest in connecting with St. Vincent and that there are members of staff who have a particular interest in doing so. Let us hope that recipients of those scholarships do St. Vincent proud so that there will be interest in continuing to award scholarships to our students.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian