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The 81st Anniversary of the 1935 Riots (Conclusion)


the shop and premises of Portugese shopkeeper John DaSouza, which had been subjected to stoning. Word had leaked out that he had lent bullets to one of the members of the Volunteer Force. The people were angry, arguing that he had lent the bullets to kill black people. The stoning started on the Monday afternoon, presumably by persons who had, out of curiosity, gone to Kingstown. Da Souza was on Tuesday morning escorted through the river at the back of his home to the sea, where he then went to Kingstown by the estate manager’s boat. A police patrol that left Kingstown at 8 a.m {{more}}encountered telephone poles and wires on the ground at Lowmans. At Campden Park, they were greeted with a volley of stones from a neighbouring hill. While pursuing the crowd toward Chauncey, more stones were thrown. They retaliated with a salvo of rifle shots, resulting in the death of one person and injuries to four. On their return to Kingstown with the injured, they met wires strewn across the Campden Park bridge and were subjected to more stoning. At Shop Rock, Lowman’s, more telephone wires were cut and a culvert broken.

Six deaths and 37 injuries and damages estimated at £3,459.11.3 (including £2,100 for stock at Coreas) reflected the seriousness of what had happened. A State of Emergency and Censor­ship were put in place and attention focused on searching for stolen goods and persons thought to be involved in the riots. Sion Hill, Bottom Town and Murray’s Village were singled out. The colonial authorities, given their view of colonial peoples, felt that there had to be a mastermind behind the riots, that the masses were incapable of acting on their own. McIntosh was targeted as a scapegoat and arrested on November 23 at 11:30 p.m. He was defended at his December preliminary trial by LC Hannays of Trinidad and OW Forde. On day three, Hannays addressed the Court; “I do not think this should continue. I do not think that this could happen elsewhere.  Witness after witness is asked to establish the innocence of the accused, but the case is still continued and bail refused.”

Magistrate DeFreitas, two days later, brought matters to a conclusion; “This is one of the cases where a Magistrate has a very simple task. I am not confronted with any doubt, conflicting evidence or any nice points of law…I felt that if the defence has set themselves to select all the witnesses for the prosecution and asked them to say what they had said it would have been difficult for them to have done better…I have found no thread of any incriminating evidence against this man.”  The news was received enthusiastically and McIntosh was taken away on the shoulders of the crowd. The authorities were under the impression that some of the rioters had left the country, but still expressed fear that others were hiding in the hills. They therefore expected trouble during the trials. 169 persons were arrested, with some placed at the Fort and Cotton Ginnery. 114 (91 males and 23 females) were eventually tried; 13 men and one woman were acquitted; 39 men and 2 women were convicted by jury and 39 men and 20 women pleaded guilty. 45 men and five women were sentenced to terms of imprisonment and 17 women were placed on bond. Of those sentenced, four women received sentences of four and five years and 1-18 months. Of the heavy sentences, 10 years were given to Martin Durham and nine years each to Sheriff Lewis, Donald Peters, Henry McCarter, Theophilus Hackshaw, Ebenezer Jordan, Alfred French, Brisbane Samuel and Edmund Birchwood.

The causes of the riots would not form part of this article, but the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 appeared to have been a major one. The newspapers carried regular news on the event and people flocked to the Cable Office for updates. Albert T Marryshow, who was head of an international group, ‘Friends of Abyssinia’ addressed at least two meetings in St Vincent in 1935, one of them a few weeks before the riots. George McIntosh played a prominent role in the organization of those meetings. Planter, H Hayward. whose premises had been broken into at Cane Garden, reported that Martin Durham told him, “We are the Abyssinians, the white men are the Italians. We chop off the white men’s heads tonight.”

The ‘Riots’ was a major event in St Vincent’s political history. The reception given to McIntosh on his acquittal and the stark realization that there was a political vacuum existing must have influenced the formation of the Workingmen’s Cooperative Association. Additionally, it helped to lift the political consciousness of the working people who had been kept out of the formal political process. As they stood in the yard of the Court House on October 21st, they must have realized that what went on at the Legislative Chambers was important to their life. They were, therefore, ready for McIntosh when he launched his association. It is significant that our colonial and post-colonial education has not given this the attention it deserves as a critical event in our political development.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.