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NEWSLETTER April 2010

Dear Members and Friends,

Please remember the Luncheon/Fashion Show at the Yacht Club on 22nd April and the Annual General Meeting on 29th April.

This week a photo of Commander Crawford drilling the local police force inspired me to research and write a little piece about:

The early days of The Bahamas Police Force

In Nassau, the Bahamas Argus of June 1832 carried a letter claiming that

The deplorable state into which our police has fallen is the ever day discussion of almost every inhabitants of the town……Rarely does a day pass, but maybe seen from many of the houses on the bay, persons of all ages and all colours, not only bathing but positively parading the wharves as naked as when they were born..the spaces around the Vendue House are now daily occupied by men and boys playing different games – gambling, swearing, and fighting. Every seat inside of the building is commonly filled by basket women, as they are called; attended on whom are a number of idle vagabonds, whose conduct and conversation are a most intolerable nuisance to those respectable inhabitants who reside in the neighbourhood [along with] a certain class of notorious females, who, at all hours of the day, parade the most public part of the the town, and outrage all decency.

The English seaports were no different and the industrial towns were experiencing similar growths of population. The situation needed a new way to bring law and order to the rising mass of people many from other locations.

The modern police force was developed in Britain by Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, founder of the Conservative Party, and Prime Minister from 1834-35 and 1841-1846. He was considered incorruptible, and was well known for his great capacity for work. Peel had already established the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1812, and it had proved to be a great success. It became obvious that something similar to the Irish force was needed in London. In 1829 he brought about the Metropolitan Police Act and with it the first disciplined police force for Greater London. They soon became known as “Peelers”, “Bobby's boys” or "bobbies".

In the Bahamas it was felt that the consolidation of various magistrates, watchmen and parochial constables was outdated and Robert Peel’s idea of a central police force crossed the Atlantic resulting in the Police Act of 1833 to appoint salaried constables responsible to the Police Magistrate. Six ‘able bodied men’ were appointed for New Providence and JPs in the Out Islands could appoint up to a further dozen.

By 1845 the Police Force consisted of the Inspector General, two sergeants, two corporals and twenty six constables. The 1860 Act “To Consolidate the Stipiendary Police Force of the Colony” raised the force to an inspector, two corporals, twenty eight first, six second and thirty three third class constables.

The withdrawal of the troops in 1888 removed their support and the need to double the Police Force. This was done by recruiting Barbadian blacks because of their reliability during the Ashanti war. The Police Act of July 1891 stipulated that the additional police unit was to consist of a commandant, inspector, sub-inspector, sergeant, two corporals and forty constables (later increased to seventy five). In that same year the new police force consisted almost entirely of West Indians under white European officers – a custom that remained in effect until the Bahamianisation policy of the late 1960s.

For further reading:
Islanders in the Stream Vol 2 by Michael Craton and Gail Saunders page 20ff
The Harbour Island Story by Anne and Jim Lawlor page 195ff


I wish to highlight a little nostalgia with two treasures from our as yet undisplayed pictures.

This Silk Cotton tree was situated on the old site of the present police station – The Secretariat at the right and the Post Office at the centre. This tree is said to have been the ancestor of all Silk Cotton trees on New Providence. It was 200 years old when destroyed by disease in 1950.

(The tree was between the present Senate Building and Supreme Court building and may be the same tree as the picture of the tree below)

This picture was taken about the year 1900. This Silk Cotton tree was situated in front of the first Telegraph/Telephone Exchange in the Bahamas. The photo was donated to The Bahamas Historical Society by Mr Owen B Jones and with the compliments of Mrs Higgs.

The lines below are an excerpt from Reflections on ‘Over-The-Hill’ by Sir Orville A Turnquest (A Grant’s Town boy from “Ova da hill”) at our February meeting. The full text of the speech will appear in the 2010 edition of the Journal of The Bahamas Historical Society.

"Ova-da-hill" was the area to which the majority of the population returned at the end of their work day, to their homes and their recreation. It was the location of their Churches, their bars and rum shops (or "bar- rooms" as they were called), their petty shops, their lodge halls and, most significantly, their cotton trees. Huge silk cotton trees lined the side of the main roads leading from the northern hill range southwards to the Coconut Groves and to Big Pond; so that in Grant's Town as one proceeded southwards from the Southern Recreation Grounds at the foot of the hill, there were not less than seven or eight such giant landmarks, standing as silent sentinels at regular intervals down the eastern side of the road. The only silk cotton tree remaining along Baillou Hill Road today stands at the corner of Cockburn Street, just outside St. Agnes Church. There used to be a popular one, a regular rendezvous, just in front of the "Biltmore Shop", a general store at the comer of Cameron Street, owned by Mrs. Minna (Frances) Thompson, one of the more affluent women of substance of Grant's Town.

Indeed, "Minna" Thompson, Mrs. Letitia Curry of Hay Street, and Mrs. Lee Laing of Market Street, were the only three ladies "ova-da-hill" who owned motor cars in that era, and they were chauffeur-driven. In a sense it is a great pity that those majestic cotton trees, towering over Market Street, Baillou Hill Road, Hospital Lane and West Street, had to be taken down for road widening in later years; for these imposing giants served several purposes in addition to the stately aura which they provided to the area. They were regular assembly points for men of the district, particularly after Church, where discussions on every topic took place, and solutions were given for every current political issue or local problem.

Shoe shine boys set up their stands on Blue Hill Road, under the cotton tree outside the Biltmore Shop, to earn their livelihood. The grandeur of the cotton trees gave authority and credence to "cotton tree justice" which was dispensed from these venues, for the traditional tribal practice was still prevalent in that period whereby the respected elders of the district dealt with reported neighbourhood wrongdoing. They received the complaint, heard the evidence of the various witnesses and persons concerned, and handed down their summary judgment which
was always accepted, otherwise neighbourhood ostracism was the penalty.

There is not much heard about "cotton tree justice" these days, but it was quite a feature of "ova-da-hill" life in times past.

Young boys, in particular, who were caught, or reported, for cursing, pilfering, ill-manners to their elders, or other such bad behaviour, they were summarily dealt with under the cotton tree, receiving the appropriate number of strokes with a belt or switch. And frequently they begged their chastisers not to report the infraction to their parents, lest they afterwards receive a double dose of punishment at home.


As my first year as President comes to an end I realize what a huge debt of gratitude I owe to the Management Committee, Volunteers and the general public, who visit the museum. But I also realize that in great part the Bahamas Historical Society and Bahamians have benefitted from the generous donation of the former IODE Headquarter building that has become our home.

A Tribute to the IODE

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas and The Bahamas Historical Society owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. The IODE, formed in 1900, was a woman’s charitable organization dedicated to community service, child welfare and distressed citizens.

Besides their many works of charity I would like to highlight three instances of generous gifts that have enhanced our Bahamas.

They planted Royal Palm Trees to beautify Victoria Avenue in 1904. The street was originally named Culmer Street.

Below is a picture of the 24 mature palm trees – now only 6 remain.

On Empire day 24th May 1905, The IODE unveiled the statue of Queen Victoria in Rawson’s Square.

In October 1976 they donated their IODE Headquarters to The Bahamas Historical Society. We developed the hall into the museum it is today.

Below is a picture of IODE members (guesstimation of late 1980s). Sadly the IODE is now no longer in existence.

We thank the IODE for their many gifts in the same words of the Eleutheran Adventurers in their thanks for provisions from Boston: "... we may express how sensible we are of God's love and tender care of us manifested in yours; and avoid that foul sin of ingratitude so abhorred of God, so hateful to all men."


Bahamas Historical Society Annual General Meeting

Thursday 29th April 1, 2010 at 6pm

Agenda

Call to Order and Apologies:

Item 1 – Minutes of AGM of April 2009 by Vernita Johnson

Item 2 – Report on the state of the Bahamas Historical Society Museum and Volunteers by Mrs Joan Clarke, Corresponding Secretary and Coordinator of Volunteers

Item 3 – Report of Editorial Committee by Anne Lawlor

Item 4 – Treasurer’s Report by David Cates

Item 5 – President’s Report by Jim Lawlor

Item 6 – Nominations for Committees for 2010 – 2011

Item 7 – Any Other Business

Refreshments

Kind regards,

Jim Lawlor, President.

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