Will the bones of Saint Lu­cian Free­dom Fight­ers Come Home Again?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - Clau­dia Elei­box

So weighty was Ben Bous­quet’s ac­tivism for the black and im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion in Not­ting Hill, Lon­don that some 20 years af­ter a pro­found dis­cov­ery, his­to­rian Pat Bar­row is still de­voted to keep­ing a prom­ise made to Bous­quet long be­fore his death in 2006.

Bous­quet was born in Saint Lu­cia and, in 1957, when he was eigh­teen, he moved to Eng­land where he first found paid em­ploy­ment in a BBC show that pub­li­cized racial in­jus­tices in Eng­land at the time. He later be­came a sup­porter, cam­paigner and politi­cian for the UK Labour Party. While th­ese were sig­nif­i­cant pe­ri­ods in Bous­quet’s pro­fes­sional life he was mostly known for serv­ing in var­i­ous move­ments in the fight for racial equal­ity, espe­cially in a se­ries of events that cul­mi­nated in the Not­ting Hill Car­ni­val.

Bous­quet and Pat Bar­row crossed paths in 1997 over dead slaves. The Lon­don, a ship sail­ing from the Caribbean, crashed onto rocks in Rap­pa­ree Cove, Il­fra­combe, on the north coast of Devon, caus­ing scores of Saint Lu­cian slaves to splut­ter to their deaths as they sank, shack­led. Records of the ship­wreck date back to Oc­to­ber 1796 and, decades later, Il­fra­combe lo­cals were still find­ing treasure from the only un­re­cov­ered chest, of an orig­i­nal five, on the ship.

In 1997, some­one found a bone frag­ment in­stead of a shiny coin, which led Pat Bar­row and ar­chae­ol­o­gist Mark Hor­ton to com­mis­sion a dig un­der di­rec­tion of the North Devon Dis­trict Coun­cil.

What was sup­posed to be his­tor­i­cal head­way, turned out to be a Pan­dora’s Box in­stead. What­ever was dis­cov­ered was much con­tested by the dis­trict coun­cil, Saint Lu­cians, the ar­chae­ol­o­gist and Pat Bar­row sep­a­rately be­cause they all had dif­fer­ent be­liefs about the re­mains. Some ar­gue that those im­pris­oned were not slaves but free­dom fight­ers or brig­ands in­volved in the French-Bri­tish ri­valry over Saint Lu­cia. Others claim that the bones be­longed to no-one but lost fish­er­men from Devon; or that they be­longed to slaves who were taken from Africa, and should be buried there. Bri­tish records show that the cap­tain of the Lon­don brought back gold plus French soldiers and Ne­groes who had been cap­tured in Saint Lu­cia.

Pat Bar­row told this re­porter: “The word ‘slave’ was widely dis­puted but old records seen by me used it on sev­eral oc­ca­sions . . . I know that Ben had done a lot of his­tory re­search on the island of Saint Lu­cia and fully be­lieved that the brig­ands con­cerned were free men, fight­ing for their cause, and their lives.”

But when the bones were taken by Hor­ton to be tested to con­firm their ori­gins, every­thing went quiet. There was never any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of what some Saint Lu­cians be­lieve, at least up un­til the lat­est re­ports around 2007.

Bar­row, who had pub­licly stated his mis­trust in Hor­ton for not re­veal­ing the find­ings of the tests, started a group called Friends of the Rap­pa­ree, to which Ben Bous­quet had pledged sin­cere sup­port. In 2004, Bar­row erected a me­mo­rial at Rap­pa­ree Cove us­ing funds col­lected by Friends of the Rap­pa­ree, and it states that the Lon­don was “car­ry­ing St Lu­cian pris­on­ers of war”.

Now, in 2018, the his­to­rian not only re­mains ded­i­cated to find­ing clar­ity about the Rap­pa­ree Cove re­mains, but he also wants to ad­here to Bous­quet’s wishes. He said: “I found out that Ben wished dearly that any re­mains that could be proven to be from the wreck of the ship Lon­don, should be re­turned to Saint Lu­cia. In hon­our of Ben’s memory, I would com­ply with his wishes fully if I had the proof for which we have all so long waited.”

Bar­row firmly be­lieves that the bones of Saint Lu­cians still lie at Rap­pa­ree Cove. He ex­plained that out of des­per­a­tion, a few years ago he brought his own sam­ple to a lab­o­ra­tory in Eng­land.

“The one good thing that came out of the analy­ses was that some frag­ments that looked like they came from a skull, were iden­ti­fied as be­ing from a co­conut shell . . . I sus­pect it is vin­tage Saint Lu­cia, 1796.” Bar­row rea­sons that co­conut shells, which are found in the Caribbean, to­gether with the Bri­tish records, point in the di­rec­tion of hu­man re­mains be­ing those of Saint Lu­cians.

Bar­row claims that he has been con­duct­ing re­search on Rap­pa­ree Cove for al­most 50 years, and has sent some of it to the Saint Lu­cia Na­tional Ar­chives, but as for send­ing the dis­cov­ered re­mains home, his hands are shack­led.

Mar­got Thomas, the island’s na­tional ar­chiv­ist, who was ac­tively cam­paign­ing for the case of the brig­ands, was un­avail­able for com­ment. The Saint Lu­cia Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety was also un­avail­able at press time to com­ment on their stance on the mat­ter.

The me­mo­rial states that “Saint Lu­cian pris­on­ers” were on board the ship that was wrecked on the rocks be­low Rap­pa­ree Cove. Ben Bous­quet was con­vinced of this but died not know­ing for sure.

Ben Bous­quet (left) car­ry­ing a flag bor­rowed from the Saint Lu­cian High Com­mis­sion to dis­play at Pat Bar­row’s (right) Friends of Rap­pa­ree me­mo­rial cer­e­mony in May, 2004.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.