There was a time on this rock when governments, both colonial and post-independence, did everything they could to erase every vestige of our origins. It was almost as if some people thought we could progress only if we forgot about the past. What foolishness!
Our government left gorgeous plantation houses and noble public buildings to rot – forgetting (or maybe not forgetting) just who built these structures: slaves and the children of slaves. Not satisfied with destroying historical buildings, they also let the humidity, salt air and rot take care of books, letters and historical objects. The destruction was so long term and widespread that it simply must have been deliberate.
It is true to say that much of Barbados history has faded away irrecoverably – gone forever.
So it is that when I see a tangible bit of Bajan history I get excited, because I know that with a little bit of work on the internet I will discover so much more about this piece of soil where my navel string is buried.
Today’s discovery is offered by Scotia Philately – a letter to Medical Doctor W. W. Somerville of the 69th Regiment in Barbados, West Indies postmarked September 2, 1855 at Plymouth and stamped received in Barbados on September 21, 1855. That’s nineteen days from England to Barbados, a distance of 3504 nautical miles for an average speed of 7.5 knots postal stamp to postal stamp. Meaning that the Royal Mail sailing vessel probably averaged over 10 knots on the journey. Clippers (fast sailing vessels on the mail and opium runs) could easily make 13 or 14 knots and maintain that speed in all but the worst weather.
Who was Doctor Somerville and why was the 69th Regiment of Foot in Barbados? (or “Barbadoes” as it was then called.)
See what I mean about history? I never heard of the 69th Regiment of Foot before, but a little digging on the internet shows that this British infantry unit is forever tied to Barbados and also fought in some notable Caribbean actions including the 1778 invasion and capture of St. Lucia where the French surrendered to the Brits.
The 69th Regiment of Foot of South Lincolnshire (Wikipedia entry here) also served directly under Admiral Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar when members were assigned as marines on HMS Victory. An excellent history of the regiment written in 1870 is online here. The history tells of the regiment’s care of yellow fever patients in Barbados in 1851. Perhaps Dr. Somerville was part of that crisis.
According to the Royal Welsh website, the 69th Regiment of Foot served in Barbados in 1761-1762, 1781-1782, 1838, and lastly in 1851-1857. (69th Regiment deployments 1756 – 1879 here)
Here’s the back of the letter…
(click photo for larger)