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Carnival – the time Vincentians stood up for their right to masquerade (Part 2)

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(This is a continuation of last week’s Official Report on the Carnival Riots of February 1879 – the traditional Carnival that preceded Lent)

9. I suggested to the Council, as a first step, that I should request Your Excellency to send down H.M.S “Blanche”, which ship, I believed to be in Barbados and I proposed to transmit to you a telegram in the following words “Can ‘Blanche’ steam down at once? Serious row in Town last night – her presence may prevent threatened recurrence this night.” {{more}}The Council were of opinion that these words did not sufficiently show the urgency for the presence of the Ship of War and they suggested that instead of the words “her presence may prevent threatened recurrences this night” I should say “Police beaten – dangerous placards with threats to fire town.” The telegram so amended was accordingly despatched to Your Excellency in cipher.

10. The Council then consulted as to the measures to be taken, with the means at their disposal, for the preservation of the peace, for putting a stop to the masquerading and for checking the lawless disposition of the populace. It was decided that a Proclamation should be at once issued setting forth the provisions of the law respecting the wearing of masks and the unlawful assemblage of persons in the Streets and warning the people against infringing the law. It was then decided that a notice should be issued calling on all loyal subjects of the Queen to come forward and be sworn as Special Constables. I enclose copies of these papers. The Council then adjourned at 2 o’clock to 6 p.m.

11. Printed copies of the Proclamation and notice having been freely posted and circulated about the Town I was engaged all the afternoon in receiving and appointing as Special Constables, the persons who came forward in response to the notice. One hundred and twenty one Special Constables were sworn in by Mr William E Hughes who in his capacity of Justice of the Peace attended for the purpose at my request. On Thursday morning three more Constables were sworn in. I enclose a copy of the list of Constables. It is gratifying to observe that in this list are the names of men of wealth and position and the names of hard working clerks and native artisans.

12. I addressed the Special Constables, explaining that I did not desire them to take active measures against the masqueraders or for dispersing any mob, but that I wished them to patrol the Streets and to observe and take quiet note of what was going on and of the persons whom they recognised in the mob. I told them it was particularly desired that they should avoid any collision with the mob, except such became absolutely necessary to protect life and property by reason of any unprovoked action of the mob.

13. I gave these directions because I knew that unless I had armed the Police and Special Constables they could not have effected any repressive measures against the populace; and I could not recognize occasion for resorting to the use of arms. I hoped that the “Blanche” would arrive, and, that her mere presence in the bay would have had such an effect that the Police would without any difficulty or resistance have been able to arrest the principal ringleaders in the disturbance and have brought them before the Police Court on the following morning.

14. The Council again met, according to adjournment at 6 p.m. It was reported that a large mob was collected at the lower end of the Town; but, having given the instructions above mentioned to the Chief of Police and to the Special Constables, there seemed to be nothing further that the Council could do, and the members left. I directed the Chief of Police to keep me informed of all occurrences during the night and I told him I would come to Town at any moment my presence might be required. I then left Town for Government House. Before leaving I was warned that the Mob proposed attacking me, and I was recommended not to travel in my own carriage, which would be easily recognised.

15. True enough the mob – some 300 or 400 persons headed by the Masqueraders did attack me, pelting the carriage for some distance with stones. Although the carriage was repeatedly struck, I received only two blows not causing injury and the Coachman also escaped with only a cut on his cheek.

16. The mob continued about the Town, now and again pelting with stones any person in the Street who was or whom they took for a Special Constable, until about 11 pm when the streets became deserted and perfect quiet ensued.

17. On Wednesday night at 8 pm I received the following telegram in cipher form. Your Excellency “Ship will arrive Saturday – Telegraph whether my presence necessary. To this I replied, in cipher, as follows. “Special Constables, one hundred twenty one sworn – Town still disquiet. Hope to control people – Your presence not necessary “as yet”. My telegram was not, however, in time for despatch until 7.15 am on Thursday. On Friday morning I was able to telegraph (in cipher) “All quiet last night” and today to add “Quiet continues – no further apprehension.”

(To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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