Robert Sandilands arrived in the Bahama Islands in 1830. Sandilands was a rich slave owner and plantation owner. This earned him the ubiquitous title of merchant. Sandilands was also a court judge. He was treated with the utmost deference by all on New Providence, including Governor James Carmichael Smyth. This probably gave him, as they say in The Bahamas, ‘a big head.’ Having ‘a big head’ or thinking too much of yourself can make someone, again, as they say in the islands, ‘biggety.’

In November 1831, Robert Sandilands was one big headed man. Full of self importance, he slapped a man for, quite accidentally, stepping on his toe. The man apologised profusely; but Sandilands was having none of it. He later challenged the man to a duel. The end result of Sandilands being so biggety, led to him being shot in a duel, over a slight that, he just would not let go of. Judge Robert Sandilands chose to pick a fight with a highly regarded, decorated soldier and excellent marksman of His Majesty’s 2nd West India Regiment, Major Nicholls. Major Nicholls had been in The Bahamas long before Sandilands or Governor Smyth arrived. Nicholls is mentioned in a 1828 despatch.

Liverpool Mercury, Friday, 30 May 1828


Dublin Evening Mail, Wednesday, 26 June 1833

It is perhaps interesting to note, from the account of that evening that, Governor James Carmichael Smyth’s appearance at the Naval Ball held in Nassau, was not welcomed. Smyth arrived, fashionably late around 10 pm, with an entourage (suite) befitting his position. Smyth’s appearance, it was said, brought boredom and dissatisfaction (ennui) which replaced the gaiety of the evening.

It must be said that Governor Smyth was not a well liked man in the Bahama Islands. Smyth had little regard for the members of the Assembly; and made good use of his high office by demanding his authority be heard. Smyth was an abolitionist of sorts, who fought for more liberties like education, to be afforded slaves, and free negroes. Governor Smyth apparently had a standing animosity with Major Nicholls before the incident between Major Nicholls and Robert Sandilands. Governor Smyth took the side of Judge Robert Sandilands. This did not sit well with those at the ball.

Navel Fete at the Bahamas November 1831

“At a Ball given by the officers of His Majesty’s Navy, on Thursday evening, to the ladies and gentlemen of this place, the harmony of the evening was disturbed by the appearance of his Excellency J. C. Smyth and suite, at a very late hour, (say 10 o’clock,) and, as is always the case when ever the great man shews himself, on ennui succeeded gaiety, in as quick succession, as it does in the minds of those who are subjected to the sudden influence of the sirocco: nor was this the only baleful consequence of his appearance.”—-The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

“His Excellency chose to bow to Major Nicholls, a man whom, as we already noticed, he had but very recently sought to provoke, by insult; and his bow was most coldly, but not disrespectfully, returned by the Major. The Major then advanced to shake hands with the gentleman: and having done so, in stepping back, accidentally put his foot upon the toe of Mr. Sandilands, who, flushed with the valour of the grape, struck Major Nicholls of violent blow with his clenched fist.” —-The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

After the slap, Major Nicholls grabs Sandilands by the collar to take him outside to beat him up, but is stopped by Governor Smyth and placed under arrest.

“The offender was immediately collared, and lead out of the room by the Major for the purpose of inflicting chastisement upon his miserable carcass, but his Excellency interfered, and immediately placed Major Nicholls on the close arrest, and afterwards most illegally had him bound over to keep the peace, while he remained under such arrest —-a mode of acting well suited to the keeper of the seven towers of the Grand Seignor, and only in just accordance with Sir James C. Smyth’s other acts of tyranny.”—-The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

Judge Robert Sandilands Kicked Out of the Ball

“We are glad, that although the Governor forgot the respect due to himself and the ladies and gentlemen present, the gentlemen of the Navy, when gave the entertainment, did not, and Mr Sandilands was most unceremoniously turned out of the room sans chapeau by the stewards.”—-The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

Governor Smyth tries to cool the passions of Sandilands for revenge by bounding Major Nicholls over to keep the peace. But Sandilands was having none of it. Sandilands continued the fight with a duel challenge. Sandilands was shot in the chest.

“Yesterday morning, in spite of the exertions of Sir James C. Smith and his running Police-man during the whole night to prevent it, a meeting took place between Mr Sandilands and an officer of the regiment, and the former received his adversary’s ball in the breast. The wound, however, is said not to be dangerous: but the Judge will be confined to his bed for some time.”—- The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday 03 January 1832

June 1833 – Governor Smyth persisted in his persecution of Major Nicholls. He referred him for a formal court martial. A year and a half later, Nicholls was still confined to the Nassau Prison

“Court Martial on Major Nicholls – His Majesty’s ship Racehorse was to leave Jamaica for Nassau on the 15th instant, with a number of military officers, to form a court-martial for the trial of Major Nicholls, of the 2nd. West India regiment, on charges preferred against him by Major-General Sir James Carmichael Smith. The facts out of which the charges are grown are said to be these: – At a Ball given by the offices of the Navy at Nassau, about 18 months ago, the Major accidentally trod on the foot of Judge Sandilands, who, notwithstanding an apology on the part of the Major, struck him; the blow was returned with interest, and the major has remained under arrest ever since.” —- Dublin Evening Mail, Wednesday, 26 June 1833

Dublin Evening Mail, Wednesday, 26 June 1833


“Robert Sandilands is best remembered for taking a leading role at the time of abolition by offering, in 1840, small parcels of his 1200 acres of land in the Fox Hill district to freed slaves, for £10 or the equivalent in labour, encouraging them to “work hard, be loyal, and grateful for their boon.” His scheme formed a free-slave village settlement, originally called Creek Village. Within it he created a small “village square” centered around an ancient cotton silk tree. In 1849 the recipients of the lots renamed the town Sandilands Village after their benefactor.”