Barbados Police Commissioner sacked over Bridgetown fire, 1948: Colonel Oriel St. Arnaud Duke

Colonel Oriel St. Arnaud Duke ‘sacked’ over support for Chief Fire Officer

Was it Fair? Was it Just?

Hello everyone.

I retired from the Dorset Police in the UK in 2006. Their website can be found at Although this website might seem quite impressive, it should be remembered that the force has an equally impressive budget with which to invest in its website!

I am resident in the UK, although I am lucky enough to visit the beautiful island of Barbados once or twice a year.

I am and researching my family history, and in particular my Great Uncle, who was named Colonel Oriel St A Duke and who was Commissioner of Police in Barbados from about 1939 – 1947.

Are there any people still alive who remember him or who have heard stories about him?

I know that he was ‘retired’ following a major fire in Bridgetown. I have heard that the reason for his forced retirement was because he supported the Chief Fire Officer who had been subject to criticism by the Colonial Secretary.

Following his retirement, he worked at Harrisons in Bridgetown.

His nickname was ‘Konks’, he was member of the Yacht Club and one point joined the Black Gentleman’s Tennis Association.

Any information would be very much appreciated.

Tim Warren

BFP Editor replies:

Hello Mr. Warren,

We saw you left your request as a comment on our article Royal Barbados Police Force Website and we decided to feature the story of your Great Uncle “Konks”. Perhaps some of our readers can assist.

At BFP we love to dig around on the internet and see what we can find about our past. I wonder if your Great Uncle “Konks” was hard done by in relation to his forced retirement? Was he a principled man who stood up to be counted, was he a victim of circumstance, or was it one piece of bad judgment at the end of a distinguished career?

They say that history is written by the victors, but the internet is changing the victors’ monopoly of history. Always fun, isn’t it?

Hopefully some of our readers can assist with stories from Colonel Duke’s time.

Here are some odds and sods we found on the net. You probably know about them already, but one never knows…

We found an entry (pdf download here) for your Great Uncle in the “SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 1 JANUARY, 1932.

Oriel St. Arnaud Duke, Esq., M.M., Inspector of Police, Dominica, Leeward Islands.

along with two other Barbados notes, including the Superintendent of the Leper Asylum…

Lieutenant-Colonel Oscar Charles Heidenstam, Inspector-General of Police and Commandant of Local Forces, Barbados.

Hubert Augustus Davis, Esq., lately Superintendent, Leper Asylum, Barbados.

We found an entry online with some photos that you might already know about at

Col.Duke MM MBE 1898-1975

Oriel St. Arnaud Duke was the second son of Mansergh Pace and Emily DUKE. He was known by the family as “Konks”.

During the First World War he volunteered (although he was too young) and was a Lance Corporal in 10 Battalion Royal Fusiliers when he was awarded the M.M. & BAR. He ended the war as a sergeant.

He returned to the West Indies and joined the police in the Leeward Islands. The M.B.E. was presented by the Administration of Dominica 1st January 1932 for quelling a riot. At this time Konks was Inspector of Police Dominica, Leeward Islands. He was posted to Barbados in 1939 and as the commandant of local forces during WWII. He was retired in 1948/49 following an inquiry into a major fire in Bridgetown. Konks supported the Fire Officer against the allegations made by the Colonial Secretary (ie no 2 on the island). He then worked in a department store (Harrison’s) in Bridgetown until the 1950s (1955).



Filed under Barbados, History, Police

31 responses to “Barbados Police Commissioner sacked over Bridgetown fire, 1948: Colonel Oriel St. Arnaud Duke

  1. Plus ça change (plus c’est la même chose) – sigh! OR: S-S, D-D = (Polite) Same Story, Different Day…

  2. John

    There is a Duke’s Plantation in St. Thomas suggesting a Duke family has been here in Barbados for a while.

    See Queree Papers in Archives.

    A William Duke of St. Michael purchased it in 1746 from a Rev. Richard Hotchkiss.

    His son, also named William, sold it in 1791 to Gibbes Walker Jordan. has inscriptions for two Duke family members at St. Michaels Cathedral, earliest Thomas Duke 1697-1750, and also Oriel St. Arnaud.

    “Virtue alone makes all men truly noble In memory of THOMAS DUKE Esq Treasurer of this Island whose eminent virtues were so conspicuous that he lived without an enemy; was truly esteemed and beloved by everyone and his sudden difsclution was grievously and universally lamented the peculiar mark of respect shewn at his funeral by the incomparable Governor of this Island His Excellency the Honble HENRY GRENVILLE Esq manifested the true regard he bore to the deceased for his private virtues and his faithful upright discharge of his duty as a servant of the publick Blessed are they who honour ye virtues of Holy Men and strive to imitate their
    examples OB: April 13 An.Dom 1750 Ae 53
    Be ye also ready for the Son of Man cometh at the hour you think not St. Mat C:24V.44 ”

    “DUKE, ORIEL St.ARNAUD In memory of
    ORIEL St.ARNAUD DUKE M.B.E., M.M., and Bar
    born 1886 – died 1976 Commissioner of Police
    and Colonel Commandant of the local Forces Barbados 1939 – 1948 “A very loyal Churchman
    and a very gentle person” Dean CRICHLOW”

    Also some at St. Thomas Parish Church and Westbury Cemetery.

    Also, has 354 instances of Duke baptisms and marriages in the Caribbean up to the 1880’s or thereabouts.

  3. John

    Earliest Duke baptism in Barbados is 1658.

    Earliest Marriage is 1666.

    Duke is in Barbados from real early.

  4. Izabajan

    My father is 87 and his father was in the police force so I asked him if he knew Colonel Duke and he said “of course, he’s an englishman – was there in Pa’s time”. I asked him if he knew the story about him getting fired after a fire in Bridgetown. He said he doesn’t know anything about that but he remember the central foundry fire in 1948 and seeing him up a ladder (in a helmet) looking into the fire and he was wondering why he was up there and he’s the commissioner of police. (That’s funny hhahha) if he remembers anything else – I’ll pass it on.

  5. John

    If the Advocate had its archives still, Mr. Warren or someone else might be able to take a look at the newspapers of the time and get a bit more information.

    I know the Public Library had alot on microfilm so it might still be possible to take a look back in history to that time.

    The years seem a little off.

    The article says he was commissioner up to 1947 but the date for the Central Foundry fire is given in the above comment as 1948.

    Interesting research is possible.

  6. John

    Here is a link with a discussion of fires in Bridgetown and also a picture of the Central Foundry burning.

  7. John

    Seems the Foundry burnt on three occasions, 1938, 1948 and 1982.

    It is unlikely that 1938 was the year as this was at the start of his tenure as commissioner.

  8. what will they think of next

    I managed to track down two old Gentlemen who knew Col. Duke. One in particular is an old Military man who will be ninety four years on 9 Nov. 2010.

    He told me that he does not remember Col Duke being fired as a result of the fire. He was part of a Military detail at the Foundry Fire in 1948. There was something odd about Col. Duke’s behavior at the Fire. He said that he noticed Col Duke ask the Fire Brigade to douse him down so that he could enter the burning building, he doesn’t whether or not he was looking for clues. But after the fire a charred body was found in the burned out building.

    Col. Duke came to Barbados from St. Lucia to become Comm. Of Police here. However another interesting tidbit, Col. Duke was a very friendly, affable person who a fondness for the black population. He would pick them up in his car and visit their homes etc. This made him very unpopular with the planter class of the day. The old Gentleman told me that Col. Duke was undermined constantly by a man who would later become Comm. Of Police. His name was Ronald Stoute.

    After Col. Duke resigned he was replaced as Comm. Of Police by a Col. from Jamaica, I don’t remember what name he told me, but later that Col. had to skip the country because he stole a large sum of Police money.

  9. what will they think of next

    This old army man is treasure trove. His brain is as sharp as a tack. Even though he will be soon 94 years.

    He recalls everything. He was a part of Military units which restored calm on the Island during the 1937 riots.

    There is a book in his home with photos of Barbados from the early nineteenth century. These are some of the oldest Photos of Barbados I have ever seen.

    At 94 he is also one of three of the oldest living old scholars of St. Leonards School. He went to school at St. Leonards School when it was located in Baxters Road. Another one of the three is Moseley QC.

  10. what will they think of next

    One more thing before I forget, he told me about a Govenor who was poisoned one Sunday morning at Government house.

    Does anyone know anything of such?

    He said that the Butler confessed to the Govenor’s murder on his deathbed at the Almshouse.

    The Butler said that he had been asked to commit the crime by one “Hanschell” who had promised to pay him a sum of money but after poisoning the Govenor “Hanschell” never paid him.

    Is this information familiar to anyone?

    I have never heard this before, but I wonder who this “Hanschell” might be.

  11. Joe

    There are 2 retired Senior officers who would have worked with him and are still very sharp in their memory of police events and they are Cecil Jemmott and Ass.Commissioner Pilgrim who is the father of the boy George Pilgrim from the BLP I am sure you can get lots of information from both of them and they live not very far from each other a nice little drive in the country whilst on a short visit to Barbados.

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  13. Tim Warren

    Dear BFP Editor, John, IzaBajan, What Will They Think of Next and Joe!

    I am so grateful to you all for the information you have provided about my great uncle.

    According to the Barbados Annual Review, his resignation was in November 1948 and it is recorded that the then House of Assembly questioned the decision to forcibly retire Colonel Duke, arguing that the Governor had been ‘badly advised by persons without the requisite knowledge’. Colonel Duke was just 52 years of age and he was retired for unspecified ‘special reasons’ under the Pensions Act 1947-20. It was stated that Colonel Duke was held in high regard by ‘all ranks of the police and by the public in general’. The House requested that the Secretary of State for the Colonies be telegraphed and asked to annul the decision. It seems it did not happen.

    Interesting to read that he was perhaps not so popular with some sections of the community – and his decision to join the Black Gentlemen’s Tennis Association may perhaps evidence that displeasure.

    I am told he was modest man. He lied about his age and joined the British West Indies Regiment in WW1 and fought with the 10th Royal Fusiliers and was awarded a Military Medal and then a Bar to the MM. After the war he joined the Leeward Islands Police and was involved in quelling a riot in Dominica in 1932.

    He never married. Unfortunately, his brother in law – the Anglican Minister for Dominica – died suddenly in the mid 1930’s and his sister and her 3 children (one of whom was my mother Rosemary Bolton) moved in with him and moved around the Caribbean with him and his career ending up in Barbados. They lived in the Garrison area.

    It is sad there was no photo of him in the 175th Anniversary publication of the RBPF, but I have written to the current Commissioner and offered to send him a couple of photos I have of the Colonel.
    I would still be very interested to find out more about the reasons for his forced retirement, more on how he was seen by different sections of the community in Barbados and what he was doing up that ladder!

    On a personal note, it is so warming to read some of the lovely comments about him and I have an extract from the speech he gave at his Farewell Parade on the barrack square at Central Station which may underline the sort of man he was:

    ‘I want to thank all of you very much indeed for your loyalty and help during the time we have served together. I know I have made mistakes. I want all of you as policemen to remember that you are servants of the public and you must at all times be courteous and helpful to all classes of the community irrespective of colour, class, creed, wealth or poverty. You must be honest,truthful and upright men.

    I want you to do your duty faithfully, fairly and fearlessly and I ask you to give to your new Commissioner, whoever he may be, the same loyalty and help you have given to me.
    Finally I ask that you uphold the dignity and, although I say it myself, the efficiency of the Barbados Police Force’.

    Lovely words, with one or two clues maybe?

  14. Powerful statement and very clear what happened, it still goes on Mr Warren, sigh!

  15. Tim Warren

    Thanks Ian
    I believe that at the time of the Foundry fire in 1948, the Barbados Fire Service actually came under the jurisdiction of the police Commissioner, so the reason he was seen up a ladder may simply be that he was leading from the front!
    He started as a private in WW1 in 1915 and ended up a sergeant.
    I’d love to know more about his ‘mistakes’ and the ‘efficiency’ of the Barbados police force at that time.
    Tim Warren

  16. DOC

    The plaque to Konks was put up by family members but it had a mistake in his date of birth which should have been 22 June 1896.

    It is not clear that he was related to the other Dukes from the early history of colonial Barbados. His forbears came from Ireland settling in Dominica and Montserrat (where Oriel Duke was born).

    The UK National Archives at Kew has papers on the compulsory retirement and the debate in the Barbados House of Assembly. I will have to go there soon and look them up. Are the Assembley records available in Bridgetown?

  17. Need help

    Can any one help me, I have been reading the comments but I dont know if it pertains to my family. I live in Jamaica and the Duke here are very small because there are less than 10 and we seem to be all related. I was told by my dad that my great grand father was born in Barbados but we don have his name so I am a bit stuck. help please my Grandfather and his brother who are now dead were born in the 1930s.

  18. 157

    Colonel Duke was one of 8 brothers and sisters born in Monsterrat who moved to Antigua and other islands in the Caribbean in the late 19th and early 20th century. He lived in the Garrison area for many years with two of his sisters, including for some time at the Barbados Pavilion, but also had a lovely house at Melrose – which I was lucky enough to be invited to see a couple of years ago. I shall be returning to the island in February 2013 and staying in the Rockley area.

  19. Need help

    Do you have any information on Randolph Rawson Duke 1904-1981? I have done further research but I can not find much info on him than the basic: Rawson (“Uncle Raw”) was unmarried. He was an engineer- apprenticed in Scotland and then worked in the sugar factories in the West Indies (mostly in Trinidad and Jamaica). After he retired he lived in Cascais/Estoril near Lisbon, Portugal before returning to live in Hastings, Barbados where he died. He was buried in the Winter family plot in Westbury cemetery in Bridgetown.

  20. 157

    Yes I do!
    He was my Great Uncle, and the brother of Colonel Duke.
    He was born in Monsterrat and worked, I believe, on a sugar plantation in Trinidad.
    I am told he had a pretty amazing sense of humour.
    He did live in Portugal following retirement.
    I can access more family history if you are interested?
    Best wishes

  21. Need help

    Please, and if you have any specifics about his actions in Jamaica that would be great. He seems to have had 3 kids here that I know of which were my Grandfather and his brother. I could be wrong but that’s but do you know anyone else who visited Jamaica or spent some time

  22. 157

    I was not aware he had spent time in Jamaica, or that he had had children there, or indeed, that I might have cousins in Jamaica!
    … Hi!
    I can ask the family genealogist if he can throw some light on this

  23. Need help

    ok thanks, I got that piece of info from so you can double check that for me thanks a lot cousin:)

  24. A policy holder

    I am only 70+ but I do very clearly remember “Pat” Duke as he was known. Better known as Paddy to his wife. There is a comment that he never married – strange because he married a Joan Toppin, sister of Pat and the late Bert Toppin, whose family business was J.B. Leslie & Co. Ltd. They had a son and after he left Barbados they retired to a home in Kent.. Seven Oaks? He died not that long ago and I recall meeting his wife here after his death. He was a close friend of my late parents, but although a child I have no recollection of the nickname “Konks” and I have never heard my parents refer to him as such.

    One of the COPs that followed was a Col. Michelin (Unsure of spelling) and then there was a Douglas Holmes a Court. Had a daughter Sheilah-Loo and son Robert – they all lived in the red barracks in the Garrison. I cannot recall when Maj Ronald Stoute became COP but his 4 sons are all hail and hearty. Two on the island, one a Dean in Toronto, Canada and the other, the renowned horse trainer in the UK, Sir Michael Stoute.

  25. A policy holder

    I have reread all of the foregoing again and I think there were 2 Duke men and we are crossing information – I seem to remember and elderly grey haired man, who drove a Morris and came to the beach every day – lived in Hastings area but I dont seem able to connect him with the RBPF…. SORRY IF I HAVE CONFUSED THE ISSUE!

  26. 21

    FOOLS RUSH IN WHERE WISE MEN FEAR TO TREAD… That’s me… Yes there were 2 “Duke” men. St. Oriel was Commissioner of Police, never married and lived at District A for years with two sisters. And yes there was a Pat Duke who was in the RBPF, but never the Commissioner. Superintendant or some lesser rank. Lived in Gerrards Cross, UK and Barbadian born wife, Joan still alive, living in the UK.

    On the subject of Commissioners, there was also a man called SMITH, who had no military rank but served as Commissioner

  27. 157

    Many thanks for this. Colonel Duke did indeed live with two of his sisters, one of them being Sybil who was my grandmother. Sybil was a widow and she and her children (one of them being my mother) lived with Colonel Duke for some years, and I am told she later had an unhappy second marriage to someone called Fred Gandert that lasted about 5 years. The other sister was named Sally. Colonel Duke liked to swim, but I am not sure where he swam although he did go to the Yacht club. He also played tennis at Summerhayes and drove around in a Morris Minor and I have heard he drove very slowly, over-revved the engine and grinded the gears! He lived for a while at Melrose and sold it to the Odle family in the mid 1960’s. Although he never married, I am told he seems to have liked pretty girls and used to sing about girls he liked.

  28. 157

    Re Rawson Duke, he did live in Jamaica but we do not know where or when. We are going to check his will for beneficiaries. It’s really interesting to hear he may have had children as we thought he never married!

  29. Need help

    Re: Rawson Duke, what is said is great and all but we would really like to know the history more than anything else we feel really lonely out here and my dad is the only male left that I know of in Jamaica

  30. DOC

    Hi – 157 and I are second cousins and I am the author of the family history on the internet [site has now been moved to:

    I only know second hand about Rawson’s time in Jamaica and don’t know the period he was there. I looked up the beneficiaries of his Will and apart from Tessa in Portugal, on whom he was sweet, his Will only mentioned nephews and nieces. It seems that if he did have children in Jamaica he did not acknowledge them.

    I think Col Duke swam every day at the Yacht Club. Certainly this is where he taught me to swim when I was five and visiting my Granny in Barbados.

    There are other Dukes in Barbados who are not directly related to our Dukes as far as I know. I think Pat Duke was one of these “other Dukes”. There is a plaque in St.Michaels to this other Duke family – Thomas Duke , Treasurer of Barbados – he died in 1750..

  31. With help from the o’carroll website and David I have included the story of the early life of Oriel St Arnaud Duke in a book I am completing and which should be published in February. It deals with the story of the 10th Royal Fusiliers, the battalion with which he won his MM and Bar. If you want to see about the battalion there is a website adn I can be contacted through this