Sunday, 17 April 2011

Protest March on St Helena: Not a Happy Place

Michel's blog has photos of the protest march on St Helena yesterday (16th April). It has been triggered by the imposition of a new 20% tariff on all imports. This is on top of already very high freight charges, increases in electricity and water charges, and a new regressive tax system.

The St Helena Independent is always a useful source of information on such matters, and the editorial by Mike Olson, published the day before the protest march, did not disappoint:

The demonstration tomorrow will be interesting. During my 15 years on the Island, I have never before seen so many angry people. People from all walks of life are strongly reacting against the imposed ‘tax reforms’ electricity and water increases and increases in anything else the Government can come up with to take your money.

St Helena has got three full-time farmers, about eight full time fishing boats and 10 Directors in Government. Who will pay for all the new Directors? It is absolutely ridiculous that we have 100’s of people counting and writing reports about what a handful people are doing.

.. is it really fair that people on lower incomes should pay for a few high paid bureaucrats through huge increases in duty on your children’s baby milk and nappies. The unfortunate fact is that we have dozens of people from overseas making tax benefits of between £50,000 and £100,000 per year together and they never actually use their own money. They pay their living from the generous tax-free allowances. Their handsome tax-cuts YOU have to pay for. The system is despicable and is not fit for any place in the world with any social ambitions. taking the people into account.

The full editorial is well worth reading by anyone who cares about the island and its people.

A couple of letters published in the same edition of The Independent cannot help but make you wonder just what is going on.

Who Is Getting All The Subsidies?
Last week a letter was published from Cllr Buckley setting out grant expenditure for 2010/11. In order to prevent further speculation, we the undersigned wish to make it clear that none of the £6,000 apparently granted for coffee production was granted to us.

Yours faithfully
Mr Bill Bolton
Mr Stephen Biggs
Mr Brian Beard

With regards to the letter from Councillor Rodney Buckley on the amount of money that was ploughed into the farming industry in the past financial year- £204,682 to be exact! Well as one of the farmers on the Island I got nothing from this money!
But I am wondering who did?

Farmer – Western side!

Reading information like this it is difficult to feel much optimism about the future of the island, and it certainly does not inspire much confidence in the ability of the St Helena Government to manage the massive airport project.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

General Robert Meade: Another Failed Meeting with Napoleon

General Hon. Robert Meade (1772 - 1852).

He was the second son of a wealthy Northern Irish family: his father John Meade became the 1st Earl of Clanwilliam and his mother Theodosia Magill was an heiress from County Down.

He was badly wounded and lost an eye in the battle of Rosetta ( 1807) in which the British were defeated by the Turks.

He later served as Lieutenant-Governor of the Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope, 1912-1916.

On his return from the Cape in September 1816 he and his wife, as was common in those days, stopped off on St Helena. (1)

Whilst on the island the General visited Longwood with Hudson Lowe, presumably in the hope of catching a glimpse of the famous captive, and was spotted by Napoleon, always alert to the appearance of an unfamiliar senior officer. Dr O'Meara, who apparently had served under Meade in Egypt, spoke very highly of him to Napoleon. O'Meara gave a detailed account of the incident and its aftermath:

"That governor," said he [Napoleon], "was seen stopping him frequently and pointing in different directions. I suppose that he has been filling bis head with bugie about me, and has told him that I hate the sight of every Englishman, as some of his canaille have said to the officers of the 53d. I shall order a letter to be written to tell him that I will see him."

8th. -- A letter written by Count Montholon to General Meade, containing an invitation to come to Longwood, and stating that the emperor would be glad to see him. This was given to Captain Poppleton, who was also requested to inform Mrs.Meade, that Napoleon could scarcely request a lady to visit him; but that, if she came, he should be happy to see her likewise. Captain Poppleton delivered this letter open to Sir Hudson Lowe. His excellency handed the note to General Meade. On the road down to James Town, General Meade reigned back his horse, and spoke to Captain Poppleton nearly as follows, that he should have been very happy to have availed himself of the invitation, but that he understood restrictions existed, and that he must apply to the governor for permission, and in the next place, the vessel was under weigh, and he could not well detain her. This he begged of him to convey to Longwood. A written apology was afterwards sent by him to the count, expressing his thanks for the honour done to him, and excusing him self on the ground of the vessel's being under weigh. (2)

On September 10th Dr. O'Meara had an interview with Sir Hudson Lowe who asked if General Bonaparte had made any comment about General Meade turning down the invitation. On being told that Napoleon was convinced that Sir Hudson had prevented the General from accepting and that O'Meara had been asked to convey this opinion to Lowe, the latter flew into one of those rages familiar to readers of Gorrequer's diaries:
"he is a d— — d lying rascal, a d— — d black-hearted villain. I wished General Meade to accept it, and told him to do so." He then walked about for a few minutes in an agitated manner, repeating "that none but a black- hearted villain would have entertained such an idea;" then mounted his horse, and rode away. He had not proceeded more than about a hundred paces, when he wheeled round, rode back to where I was standing, and said in a very angry manner, "Tell General Bonaparte that the assertion that I prevented General Meade from going to see him, è una bugia infame, e che è un bugiardone che l' ha dette. Tell him my exact words." (3)

O'Meara commented, "It is almost unnecessary for me to say, that I did not deliver tbe message in the manner I was directed to convey it." (4)

I found this an interesting episode, indicative of the state of relations between Napoleon and Lowe only a few months after the latter had arrived on the island.

My thanks to a descendant of General Meade whose email inspired this post and kindly supplied the photo of the painting, and also yet again to Albert Benhamou for his assistance in verifying and expanding on the information I was sent.
1. Robert's wife Anne Louise was the daughter of Sir John Dalling, Governor of Jamaica and later Commander in Chief at Madras. They had eight children: two sons, Robert and John, and six daughters, Adelaide, Catherine, Anne, Theodosia, Edine and Caroline. Robert died young in a riding accident. John's son and the General's grandson John Percy Meade, later inherited the Earsham Hall Estate in Norfolk from the Dalling family. The General himself had apparently rented the Norfolk estate, although he had also inherited property in Ireland from his mother.

2. O'Meara, Napoleon In Exile or A Voice from St Helena Vol 1 (London 1822) pp 72-74

3. O'Meara translated the Italian as "is an infamous lie, and the person who said it is a great liar." A pedant might have pointed out that expressing an opinion that might have been wrong does not make a man a liar!

4. O'Meara p. 75

Friday, 8 April 2011

Maldivia Gardens

My original blog about Maldivia, St Helena, has over the years attracted a lot of interest in the Maldive Islands, but I have never before been able to provide a photograph of the location of the gardens. John Grimshaw has kindly sent this photo of the place in the upper Jamestown Valley where he thinks the Maldivian Gardens were situated: he thinks it is the area around the tree enclosed detached house. If anyone can confirm or counter this please let us know. [ Regrettably this is a photo of Palm Lodge not Maldivia Gardens! See comment below. Palm Lodge was in the nineteenth century the home of the St Helena born Governor Hudson Ralph Janisch who was not allowed to reside in Plantation House ]

In January my wife and I managed to get back to the Maldives and on our last evening were very pleased to meet up with our friend Naz. She had arranged a memorable evening for us: a private launch to Bandos island to be greeted by the proprietor;

a fine meal on Bandos with Naz and a number of her family; an exciting after dark return in the launch to Hulhule island; an interview for a local television station.

The television interview made me realise once more how little we know about those Maldivians picked up by Captain Polly in 1735. There must be some information about them hidden in the archives at Jamestown, but archives will not show us how they thought or felt about their fate. Their initial relief at being saved from death (three of their party had died before they were picked up) must surely have given way to a great sadness when they realised that they would never see home nor loved ones again. What one knows about the treatment of slaves and free blacks on St Helena does not provide much confidence in their lot, but then again perhaps the lives of ordinary people in the Maldives would have been equally hard at that time. These seem to me to be issues for the novelist rather than the historian: an authentic treatment of the experiences of the St Helena Maldivians demands the talents of a creative writer steeped in the culture of the eighteenth century Maldives, ready and able to visit St Helena and to research its very different social life and culture. Naz could do the job, but she is very busy!

Amidst these ruminations I have also come across a further couple of references to Maldivia Gardens from Janisch's records which I will now reproduce:

Feb. 25, 1745.—Gov. complains that some Melons sown in the Maldivee Garden and Mr. Dixon had appropriated them. I could enumerate many instances of his little insults and slights shewn to me which are not worth notice, but one I cannot omit because it is an act of injustice as well as an affront. A superannuated Negro Gardener belonging to the Company had sown some Melon seeds in the Maldivee Gardens where they produced in much greater perfection than any I have seen upon this Island. The Melons Mr. Dixon has taken on him to dispose of at his pleasure as his own without even ever mentioning them to me except that he was pleased in his generosity twice to send me one. At the first I could not help laughing and at the second to countenance the farce gave his servant one of Comps. blacks a piece of money. Those Melons of right belonged to the Table.

One of the issues that has been raised in the past is whether the Maldivians were slaves or free blacks. If the gardener mentioned in this passage was a Maldivian then the fact that he belonged to the Company indicates he was not free.

Sept. 22, 1794.—The Maldivia Gardens to be let—the best watered and fenced in of any on the Island,—to be subject to quit rent 5/ per an. and ground rent equivalent to the value of the Yam, Fruit and vegetables supplied from time immemorial therefrom for the Lt.-Governor.

By this date even the child who had arrived on St Helena in 1735 would if alive have been past working age. Whether he or any of the other Maldivians had any descendants is a question I have often been asked but am unable to answer.