JA­MAICANS WHO PRO­VIDED STER­LING SER­VICE TO SAINT LU­CIA

HARRY VIVIAN ATKIN­SON – OBE

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Peter Josie

The Bri­tish Colo­nial Of­fice in Lon­don saw the su­gar cane in­dus­try in Saint Lu­cia in se­ri­ous de­cline when the Vieux Fort Su­gar De­vel­op­ment Scheme had fallen into abeyance. This was due to its leas­ing of the lands to pro­vide for an Amer­i­can Army Base in Vieux Fort. The Colo­nial Of­fice prob­a­bly felt a sense of guilt that agri­cul­ture was on the de­cline and that its main­stay, su­gar cane, had not achieved its po­ten­tial due to the with­drawal of its pro­gramme in Vieux Fort. The Colo­nial Of­fice de­cided that it was time to do some­thing about the de­vel­op­ment of agri­cul­ture on the is­land. It there­fore em­ployed a grad­u­ate from Cor­nell Univer­sity with a Mas­ter's De­gree in Agri­cul­ture named Swithen Schouten, an An­guil­lan by birth, to take charge of the Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment.

Schouten had worked in St. Vin­cent prior to his ap­point­ment in Saint Lu­cia. He im­me­di­ately turned to the Ja­maica School of Agri­cul­ture, which was the only in­sti­tu­tion in the Caribbean of­fer­ing prac­ti­cal cour­ses in Agri­cul­ture, from which he wished to re­cruit per­sons to help in his task. The Im­pe­rial Col­lege of Trop­i­cal Agri­cul­ture (ICTA) in Trinidad pro­duced grad­u­ates who were more in­clined to agri­cul­tural re­search.

Harry Vivian Atkin­son was the first of a num­ber of young Ja­maicans who were re­cruited and came to Saint Lu­cia from the mid-1940s at the be­hest of the Colo­nial Of­fice. Stan­ley Mullings, Sammy Gage, Ron­ald 'Speedy' Miller and Vic­tor Ste­wart were soon to fol­low. Elon Campbell, an­other Ja­maican, also served in the su­gar cane in­dus­try here, be­fore its col­lapse. Elon, like Schouten, had pre­vi­ously worked in St. Vin­cent. These men served agri­cul­ture long and cred­itably from the late 40s to the early 70s. Harry dis­closed to this writer that at the time of his selec­tion, it was dis­creetly sug­gested to him that it would greatly fa­cil­i­tate his stay in his new home if he was ac­com­pa­nied by a wife. On hear­ing this, the young Harry promptly tele­phoned his girl­friend of four years, who lived some hours away by train, and asked her to pur­chase a new dress and to join him in Kingston as soon as pos­si­ble the next day.

Harry him­self had left West­mor­land, where he then worked, and had trav­elled to Kingston by bus for the in­ter­view with the Colo­nial Of­fice. Of course, Miss Dolores Greaves, as any in­tel­li­gent young woman of the day would have done, asked why she should leave her job and come to Kingston, for an undis­closed mis­sion. Harry's re­ply to her was some­what vague, say­ing only that it was for a good cause and that she would get the an­swer when she ar­rived in Kingston. As of­ten hap­pens with peo­ple smit­ten by love, she did as Harry had sug­gested and duly ar­rived in Kingston by train the next morn­ing.

When they met at the train sta­tion in Kingston he told her that he had just ac­cepted a job in Saint Lu­cia and that he had to leave within seven days to take up the new as­sign­ment and so he wanted her to marry him right away since he wished her to travel to Saint Lu­cia with him. After he had ex­plained him­self and had softly spo­ken a few more pleas­antries into her lov­ing ears, Dolores replied that she felt like telling him two bad words. But be­ing the ex­em­plary daugh­ter of a strict Methodist Min­is­ter, as she then was, she held her tongue.

Harry had painted a far more pleas­ing pic­ture of a life to­gether in a new land and, after more con­vinc­ing pleas­antries, they left the train sta­tion in search of a Methodist Min­is­ter to per­form the wed­ding cer­e­mony. It was not long be­fore they found such a Min­is­ter of their church. That Methodist Min­is­ter, like Dolores' father, was born in Panama, and of Ja­maican par­ents. He there­fore will­ingly agreed to do the hon­ours after fur­ther ex­pla­na­tions from Harry that the wed­ding would fa­cil­i­tate the new life in Saint Lu­cia that had been as­signed to him.

There was some drama and trav­el­ling around Kingston in or­der to pro­cure the re­quired birth and bap­tismal doc­u­ments be­fore the young cou­ple could fi­nally marry. The fol­low­ing morn­ing they both com­pleted the sign­ing of the other nec­es­sary forms and re­quired travel doc­u­ments. Im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards Harry duly es­corted his brand new wife, of less then twenty four hours, back on to a train to Wil­liamsville, and her job. Soon af­ter­wards Harry Atkin­son and wife left Ja­maica for Saint Lu­cia. Harry was to take up a new job with the Colo­nial Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment Scheme in Vieux Fort, and Dolores was un­cer­tain of her own fu­ture em­ploy­ment. How­ever, Dolores was an ex­pert stenog­ra­pher and soon found work at the Colo­nial Ad­min­is­tra­tor's of­fice on the is­land. She served dili­gently for many years. She also played the role in Harry's life of pri­vate coun­sel­lor, in­spirer and part­ner. She did so mas­ter­fully for the next fifty-plus years. She pre­de­ceased Harry by some twenty years.

Harry Atkin­son may have had a hand in re­cruit­ing his fel­lows and brethren from the Ja­maica School of Agri­cul­ture who fol­lowed him to Saint Lu­cia. He, how­ever, prefers to give the credit to the Colo­nial Of­fice for the sourc­ing of those trained Agri­cul­tur­ists, with Swithen Schouten the head of Agri­cul­ture at the time. A Saint Lu­cian of com­pa­ra­ble stature to the early Ja­maicans, and who worked equally hard in de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­ture, was Leon Beaubrun. Ho­race ‘Co­coa' Wil­liams of St. Vin­cent and Aidan Pem­ber­ton of Do­minica (plus one Isaac from Do­minica), also gave many years of use­ful ser­vice to Saint Lu­cia in the field of agri­cul­ture.

Grow­ing up in Vieux Fort, I re­call a pop­u­lar lit­tle fish called ‘Atkin­son'. It was in fact tilapia which was brought to the is­land un­der the di­rec­tive of Swithen Schouten who had dis­patched Harry to pro­cure the fish from Malaya. In Saint Lu­cia tilapia breed­ing was done at Beause­jour farm and it was Harry who suc­cess­fully pro­moted and dis­trib­uted the lit­tle fish. This ex­plains the rea­son the lo­cals called tilapia 'Atkin­son'. Schouten was also re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing farm machinery and heavy road-build­ing equip­ment into the is­land to help de­velop farm feeder roads.

Harry worked hard in car­ry­ing out his man­date for Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment and had a good re­la­tion­ship with his fel­low Ja­maican col­leagues who to­gether more or less trans­formed the agri­cul­ture base in Saint Lu­cia un­der the di­rec­tion of Swithen Schouten. Harry was also a lucky man. He soon be­came the man­ager of Mar­quis Es­tate which was pur­chased from the De­vaux fam­ily by Lord Wal­ston from Eng­land who was him­self a farmer of a large por­tion of land in Cam­bridge, Eng­land. At the time of the sale Mar­quis Es­tate was man­aged by Guy Pur­chase, a Ja­maican who had mar­ried into the De­vaux fam­ily.

Harry's luck was that Lord Wal­ston trusted him im­plic­itly and gave him full au­thor­ity to ad­min­is­ter and con­trol the es­tate as if he were per­son­ally present. At his ar­rival at Mar­quis Es­tate the en­tity pro­duced a large quan­tity of milk which was sold fresh in Cas­tries. The es­tate also pro­duced but­ter, cheese and ba­con for ex­port. It was not long, how­ever, be­fore the ba­nana in­dus­try com­pletely over­took ev­ery aspect of agri­cul­ture en­ter­prise on the is­land. By 1957, there­fore, Harry was in a po­si­tion to pro­mote the ba­nana in­dus­try is­land­wide. He was joined by other large pro­duc­ers such as Grace Au­gustin, Ralph Gi­raudy, Shanks Mof­fat and De­nis Barnard. This en­abled Harry to take a lead­ing role in the ba­nana in­dus­try which was en­cour­aged by Lord Wal­ston, him­self a politi­cian/ farmer and a mem­ber of the Labour party of Eng­land.

Harry took ad­van­tage of the cir­cum­stances and po­si­tion by pur­chas­ing his own es­tate named Beauchamps, in the quar­ter of Mi­coud. He in­tro­duced the ‘Ja­maican Achee' at Beauchamps which, in the 80s, was the largest achee es­tate in the Caribbean, in­clud­ing Ja­maica, and he ex­ported canned achee to Ja­maica. To be con­tin­ued . . .

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