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A response to Jomo – My Take on the 1935 Riots (Part 4)


Continued from last week

This will be my last article on this issue. My focus here will be on what happened at Campden Park on October 22. I will end with a few brief comments on related matters.

On October 22, a day after the rioting in Kingstown, news was received that there was looting in Campden Park directed at the home and shop of a person of European descent.{{more}} A patrol was sent from Kingstown at about 8:30 am. News had also been received that the morning bread van travelling in that area had been attacked and one person in the van injured. The first sign of trouble encountered by the 20-man patrol was at “the top of Campden Park Hill” where they found a telephone pole thrown across the road, with some telephone wires cut. After clearing the spot they proceeded to Campden Park, where all of the activity centred at the home and shop of John Da Souza.

Da Souza, who was of Portuguese extract, later described himself as a man who lived at Campden Park and studied poultry. His shop was looted and window panes of the house in which he lived were broken. The official report said “Mr. Da Souza had run away to hide.” Why was all the attention focused on the home and shop of Da Souza? It was understood that Da Souza had, on the Monday, lent bullets to a member of the Volunteer force. This angered the Campden Park people who accused him of sending bullets “to kill black people.” Da Souza was taken to the back of his home and went down through the river where he caught a boat belonging to the manager of the estate. The fact that he was of Portuguese extract was also an issue, because the Vincentian population, or at least sections of the population, had become sensitized to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. T. Albert Marryshow of Grenada who was among the leadership in the Caribbean mobilising people on that issue, visited St Vincent, where he collaborated with George McIntosh. In fact, it was at one of these meetings when there was a call for volunteers to go to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) that Sheriff volunteered and got the name “Haile Selassie.”

So, the focus of attention was on Da Souza’s shop and home. After threatening and getting the crowd to stop attacking Da Souza’s shop, the patrol was attacked before it reached Chauncey, by people on the top of a neighbouring hill, who were throwing stones at them. The person who was in charge of the patrol appealed to the crowd to desist from stoning. He stated: “They would not listen and eventually I ordered the men to fire one round. The stoning then became worse and several rounds were fired until eventually one man was shot. I again tried to reason with them and eventually they stopped throwing stones and started to bring in their wounded which were four in number.” One of the persons shot was Osment “Mento” Williams, whom I had interviewed. “Mento” had gone to Kingstown on the Monday when he heard what was happening there, but he arrived when things had settled down. He appeared not to have been sure why the home and shop of Da Souza were targeted, except to say that he was of Portuguese descent. He followed the crowd nonetheless on Tuesday and unfortunately was one among the four who were shot, even though he appeared not to have been in the forefront.

As the patrol returned to Kingstown, they had to remove wires from the bridge at Campden Park, during which time one of the Government officials who was a member of the Volunteer force was hit by a stone. At Shop Rock at Lowman’s, another telephone pole had been cut and a culvert there destroyed. They went on to the hospital where the four wounded persons, including “Mento” were left and where a request was made to send the ambulance to collect the man who had been killed. There seemed to have been little activity in Campden Park on the Monday. The rioting was on the Tuesday and was focussed on one target. A patrol vessel was later sent along the Leeward coast, but found no signs of disturbance north of Chauncey.

My reason for writing these four pieces was to make the point that the 1935 disturbances were spontaneous. The people of the country had deep-seated grievances and took advantage of what was happening to air their grievances. In Kingstown on Monday, October 21st, they shouted “We want work! We want money!” Once the rioting had started, Sheriff along with Bertha Mutt, played a role and was among those at the forefront of things. Sheriff played a leading role in the disturbances at the prison. But to go beyond this and to show him as a figure masterminding the riots, I have difficulty accepting. Furthermore, he cannot be equated with Clement Payne in Barbados. Payne, who had gone to Barbados from Trinidad, had begun to mobilise the people there with a series of meetings and other political activity. Historian Woodville Marshall said about Payne that he and his lieutenants “…created an unprecedented popular movement… this popular movement almost certainly gave impetus and character to the island-wide revolt that began in Bridgetown on the night of 26th July, (1937)”. There was no doubt about Payne’s role. In the case of Sheriff, there was no evidence of any effort at popular organisation.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.