CREATIVE SPACE #18 of 2021 (uploaded September 1st 2021)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition running here on the blog. It continues to expand across other media platforms (e.g. AntiguanWriter on YouTube). CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on September 1st 2021 in the Daily Observer:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.
If you would like to be featured in a future CREATIVE SPACE or to pay for a (web only) sponsored post (on jhohadli.wordpress.com exclusively), BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
CREATIVE SPACE: CLARENCE HOUSE AND THE COMPLICATED LANDSCAPE OF OUR COLONIAL PAST
Clarence House , part of Antigua and Barbuda National Parks, overlooks Nelson’s Dockyard , a five-year World Heritage Site, and 300-plus-year colonial landscape.
“(We’re) not trying to camouflage or hide the fact that people were enslaved and things weren’t easy,” said heritage resources officer Desley Gardner, as we looked across from Clarence Hill to Middle Ground on the other side of the Dockyard. There, Black men known as the ‘King’s Negroes’, because they were ‘owned’ by the Royal Navy, were allowed to build a life while working in the Dockyard, 30-40 of them at any given time, 700 names on record. Gardner noted that runaways also made it to Middle Ground. It is believed, she said, to be the first ‘free’ community on the island.
Many enslaved people who worked in the Dockyard and its environs, were also ‘leased’ from plantations.
They provided the various shipyard services, built the buildings, and turned the hill in to a peninsula, using the debris excavated to reinforce the sea wall. “The people who really built them were the African labourers,” Gardner said. There is a thrust to reclaim their contribution. One example of this is the March 8th Project – the deaths of eight (Billy, London, James Soe, Caramantee Quamono, Dick, Joe, Scipio, and Johnno) who died on March 8th 1744 when a tent holding gunpowder exploded, now highlighted as part of the Dockyard narrative. There is an expressed sentiment (Gardner isn’t the first) that while Dockyard workers weren’t given their freedom, the relative autonomy their location (outside of the plantation system) and unique skills allowed them was perhaps the next best thing.
But that the ‘owners’ of the eight dead requested compensation for the loss of ‘property’ is a reminder that the next best thing is still not freedom.
Images from a recent showing of work by College art students (invited to interpret that history) put that into perspective after my tour of Clarence House.
(More images from the student art exhibition)
The tour provided opportunity for some interpretation of civilizations in conversation with each other, “Georgian architecture with the Caribbean vernacular”, as Gardner put it.
Gardner points out the sash windows, the discreet inside shutters, the woodwork, including interior items like the beds, accented with the pineapple motif, the stone work – volcanic sediment to marl (white stone). “Done by hand, by our stone masons.” Now, as then.
The restoration is a mix of historical accuracy and creative license; a metal-galvanize tub upgraded to “this copper fanciness”, an area of expansion where you’ll find “the only cement wall in the house”. The basement which was perhaps rum storage and servants’ quarters back in the day is today, along with the back patio, where the stables used to be, used for events. It is air-conditioned. Upstairs, the original layout is designed to aid natural airflow.
One of the more challenging aspects of the restoration was refitting Clarence House in to the foundation; local workmen did this.
And now locals and visitors alike make paid appointments to enter the expansive grounds behind the electronic gate of this pristine living museum, where stone steps lead to hardwood floors inside, where the table is set, the beds made, and the writing desks wait as though for the ‘master’s’ return. As you move through the high-ceilinged hallways, everything so carefully preserved or re-imagined, it’s not hard to sense the past in the present – the shadow beings, ancestral ghosts, attending at dinner, bath time, bedtime. You learn a lot, sometimes more than you’d like – the nightstand for face washing, drinking, and urinating, a cycle of efficiency, comes to mind.
No. Royalty never lived there. Unless one counts Princess Margaret spending the first night of her honeymoon there in 1960. It was built for the commissioner to the royal dockyard; Prince William Henry – later Duke of Clarence and later still King William IV – served here, leaving in 1787. Clarence House wasn’t completed until 1804. The House though remembers him as if he lived there. Portraits of two men hang on the walls – one is young Horatio Nelson, of course, his presence at the Dockyard named for him is inescapable; the other is the Duke of Clarence.
The Restoration of Clarence House was completed in 2016 and cost in excess of $3 million. It was funded by the Peter Harrison Foundation. Harrison was a businessman and Antigua Sailing Week regular who received a knighthood from Antigua and Barbuda in 2013.
Tours of Clarence House can be booked on Tuesdays and Thursdays and cost US$20 per person with a six person minimum. To book an appointment to tour Clarence House, call 481-5021/22.
I do have and did voice concerns about Dockyard access not (ideally) being cost prohibitive nor generally unwelcoming to locals. In fact, it was me reporting my experience trying (and failing) to see the art exhibition that sparked a conversation with management and them graciously acquiescing to my request to tour Clarence House and write about it for this column. I do think generally, the descendants of the people who built these spaces should know about and have the opportunity to explore them and learn the history – and no doubt there are initiatives to achieve this, and I do know there are operational costs that necessitate entrance fees. My instinct though as a #gyalfromOttosAntigua is to think about the people who may want to but can’t and how do we make room for that (if that’s a consideration at all). Of course, that’s one of the reasons we write, to give people access, if only remotely.
Prince William trivia (Source – Caribbean Beat) –
“Prince William Henry, later the Duke of Clarence and King William IV, sowed some of his plentiful wild oats in the West Indies in 1786-7. In Barbados, Prince William Henry Street is named after him; in Antigua, Clarence House, the staid summer residence of the Governor General, was built for him, and was used for drunken dinner parties and sexual assignations.
“(He) joined the navy in 1779 at the age of 13. By 20, he had his first command — the frigate HMS Pegasus, of 28 guns — and sailed to the Caribbean: Jamaica, then Barbados, St Vincent, Dominica and Antigua.
(After meeting up with then Captain Horatio Nelson off the coast of Dominica, he sailed with him to Antigua) “where Nelson had recently finished a love affair with a married Englishwoman and was now wooing an elegant young widow, Fanny Nisbet of Nevis. Doting on Nelson as the model of a brave officer, William insisted on giving Fanny away at her marriage to Nelson at Montpelier House on March 11, 1787.
“Nelson wrote to Fanny about their life in Antigua. “Tonight we dine with Sir Thomas, tomorrow the Prince has a party, on Wednesday he gives a dinner at St John’s to the regiment, in the evening is a mulatto ball, on Thursday a cock fight, dine at Col. Crosbie’s brother’s and a ball on Friday somewhere.”
“Contemporary gossip credited William with a “lady of colour” as a constant companion, even on HMS Pegasus, so devoted that she sailed back to England with him.
“William married only in late middle age, spending most of his life before that with an actress, with whom he had 10 illegitimate children to add to the others he presumably fathered in the West Indies.”
I’ll admit to being curious here about if any research has been done in to whom his modern descendants may be… although said descendants if they are discovered would have the extremely dubious distinction of being related to someone who “opposed the abolition of the slave trade” and one would imagine of slavery but who, in the end, “proved a popular king” after being called to the throne in 1830, mere years before the abolition of slavery, and, in fact, “it was his hand that signed the Act which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire from August 1, 1834.”
– end Prince William trivia (Source – Caribbean Beat)
It’s worth mentioning that an article revisiting historical spaces like Clarence House and Nelson’s Dockyard raises obvious questions about which historical spaces matter – e.g. the dungeons in which enslaved people were entombed as punishment have not received the same veneration and attention,
the communities our ancestors created whether at plantations like Betty’s Hope or even pseudo-free communities like Middle Ground or relics of the island’s first post-Emancipation villages do not exist (though of course the villages themselves do). A community group has recently ramped up efforts to bring recognition to Bethesda and the school built there which is the first space where Blacks, free and enslaved, were educated formally in the British West Indies. Surely, these spaces are as much a part of our cultural heritage (and potentially “a great heritage asset”) as the carefully restored and maintained spaces within the National Parks and similarly deserve multi-million dollar investments and institutional attention.
It’s, also, worth mentioning that an article revisiting historical spaces like Clarence House and Nelson’s Dockyard at this time exists within the context of the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020 which sparked a global conversation that included statues (such as that of Horatio Nelson in Barbados moved from Heroes Square to the National Museum in 2020) being torn down or relocated.
There has even been chatter here about renaming Nelson’s Dockyard, though, as far as I could find, no real push.
Of course, BLM – which began in the US, out of the pain and fury in response to extra judicial killings or suspicious deaths of Black people (Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland to George Floyd), ongoing discrimination – systemic and individual, and the long history and impact of chattel slavery in the Americas (including North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America) didn’t so much spark a new fire as rekindle one that’s been simmering through, to quote Short Shirt (Pledge), “hundreds of years of slavery and colonialist domination”, and the decades of trying to shake the past and re-define ourselves for ourselves, and, frankly, survive – in this mishmash of Independence, post-Independence, post-colonialist, neo-colonialist, pan-Africanist, globalist, inserts other ists here, reality through which we continue to hopefully, evolve.
The Friends of English Harbour are credited for the revival of the Georgian era Dockyard in the 1960s. Today, Nelson’s Dockyard is not only a working dockyard, home to the Antigua Sailing Week, and a cornerstone of our main industry, Tourism, it is also a World Heritage site. Read what I wrote back in 2017 about Nelson’s Dockyard and how it became a World Heritage site, in 2016, over on the Wadadli Pen blog.
The 8th of March Project is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting developments of the Park in recent times, given that it is one of the developments to center the Black experience in this space. I’m interested to see how it develops, in particular the Middle Ground Heritage Management Plan, initiated in 2019, with plans for further research and something to mark the significance of the space. Read about it here.
No pictures were allowed inside of Clarence House, so you’ll have to take my word that there are some interesting lifestyle features, but the wall art, beyond the mentioned portraiture, is also of interest – e.g. the maps that are a window to boundaries and, in fact, communities that no longer exist – and a certain famous Sunday market scene.
Find out more about more about the King’s Negroes here. Also, read more about Heritage research at the Dockyard, and, of course, support if you can. Read all about the Antigua and Barbuda National Park generally here.
Thanks to Dr. Christopher Waters, director of heritage resources and assistant park manager, Andy Liburd who suggested I call him in the first place, and especially my very able guide through Dockyard history Desley Gardner.
Oh one last thing, hiking the trails around the island and in the National Parks has picked up in the past year of lockdown and curtailed activities (I don’t’ know this for a fact but it feels like it has). Longtime hikers probably know this already but newbs, please remember to not litter nor deface the natural and historical spaces while hiking (I’m looking at you, Pillars of Hercules vandals), just explore and enjoy.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing or excerpting with link and credit is okay. But for re-publication of CREATIVE SPACE or any other content on this site contact Joanne – also use this link to contact Joanne for appearances (reading, speaking, discussions), workshops/courses, writing, editing, or other offered service.