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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 10 (October 1988)

by Sir Denis Malone

I appreciate it greatly that I have been given the opportunity this evening to address so learned a body as yourselves. At the same time I am a little alarmed at the prospect, as being neither a Bahamian nor an historian, it may be thought presumptious on my part that I should address the Historical Society of the Bahamas on an historical matter. Let me say at once that I would not take issue with anyone who thought it presumptious, but I would make this plea in mitigation. It is that my profession is the law and the subject matter of my talk is an aspect of legal history. The history is really that of Barbados, but it was influenced by a Bahamian in the person of Louis de Souza leal Aranha. Ironically, Louis de Souza, as he preferred to call himself, would not have been aware in his lifetime of the influence he exercised on Barbadian law as it was in influence exercised after his death.

The events with which I shall be concerned happened in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. That was a critical period in the history of Barbados. Slavery had been abolished and the economy had crumbled. Alone of the old settlement colonies of the West Indies, Barbados had declined to surrender its settled status and accept the status of a Crown Colony. In so doing, it had resisted the attempt of the Imperial Government to make it the centre of a confederation from Tobago in the south to St. Kitts in the north. Its resistance had even spread into rioting which is why, today, the world "federation" is still sometimes used to describe a fight or disturbance as in: "There was a federation in the rum shop last night".

In fairness to my Barbadian friends I must say, however, that the historical associations which the world "federation" has in Barbados had nothing to do with the collapse in 1962 of the ill-fated West Indies Federation, for as everyone should know, Barbados did its best to make that federation work.

Louis de Souza would have known of the "Federation riots", as those disturbances came to be called. For he had come from the Bahamas to Barbados in his teens. He completed his schooling there and took his first job there before going to England to study law. So he would have known of the Governor Pope Hennessy, whom the rioters thought to be on their side in their struggle against the Plantocracy. He would have known of the brilliant Conrad Reeves, later Sir Conrad Reeves whose bust sits on a pedestal at the top of the public stairs to the Parliament. It was Reeves who more than any other resolved the impasses that had been reached between the Governor and the Imperial Government on the one hand and the Plantocracy on the other. He resolved it in 1876 by means of an Act of his devising to which the title of the Executive Committee Act was given. The relief with which this Act was received in London is implicitly expressed in the minutes exchanged between the then Acting Attorney General of Barbados and the then Secretary of State for the Colonies. The correspondence concludes with a minute from the Secretary of State directing the Acting Attorney General to convey to Conrad Reeves the Secretary of State's deep appreciation of the part he had played as a peace-maker. Then the minute brushes aside the Acting Attorney General's apologies for certain obscurities in the language of the Act with these words: "As regards the language of the Act let sleeping dogs lie". I would interpose here to say that it is all very well for the great ones to brush aside obscurities with such light words, but as a former officer of the Attorney General's Chambers in Barbados, I well remember the difficulties those obscurities caused years later. Nevertheless, the Act served Barbados well. Hoyos - the Barbadian historian-described it as:

a great triumph for the representative principle. For, by this Act, the members conducting government business in the House were not government officers responsible to the Crown but representatives of the people responsible to the electors.

I have devoted time to emphasising the part played by Conrad Reeves at that stirring period in the history of Barbados for Reeves' presence in Barbados as Chief Justice, when de Souza from the grave was influencing the law of Barbados, was a factor of very great importance.

A photograph of Louis de Souza shows him to be a handsome young man with the dark eyes and regular features of the latin. Doubtless inherited from his father Francisco who had come to the Bahamas from Brazil and was responsible for the construction in 1876 of the lighthouse at Bird Rock in the Crooked Islands passage. Without doubt Louis was intelligent. He was the prize winner of his year at Lincoln's Inn and appears to have had a bent for polemics. In England that bent was manifested by his authorship of four brochures entitled:


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