On 22nd June, 1832, a statue of Christopher Columbus, was unveiled, at Government House for the very first time. While it stood there, some 189 years and counting… all manner of Bahamian history happened.
At that time, the Columbus statue was certainly an impressive piece of carved stone, sculpted in London, then sent on an ocean journey of several weeks, bound for New Providence. The Nassau Columbus statue, was probably made in the same manufactory as the famous Coade Westminister Lions near London’s Houses of Parliament, which have stood for more than 200 years.
The Nassau Columbus statue was made by
William Croggon. Croggon, a sculptor from Cornwall, England. He was a cousin to Miss Eleanor Coade (born 1733, died 1821) with whom he acted as partner in the Lambeth, London, England artifical stone manufactory. Coade’s giant sculptures are famous.
Eleanor ran the business from 1813 until she died in 1821. After the death of sculptor Eleanor Coade, her cousin William Croggon, took over the maufactory. Croggon purchased the business and continued producing works at Lambeth until his own death in 1835. After Croggon’s death the company was taken over by his son, Thomas John Croggon, and was refounded as Croggon and Co.
It was William Croggon whom Bahamas Governor James Carmichael Smyth, commissioned to sculpt the Nassau Columbus Statue, sometime around 1831, using the same methods and materials as the Coade stone lions of Westminister, London.
Bahamian history unfolds as a statue overlooks Nassau Town.
Nassau’s Columbus Statue, in 1832, overlooked one of the ugliest periods in Bahamian history – as a long entrenched social and political caste system – was being challenged from an entirely unexpected source.
There had been, for a long time, an unhinged brutality meted out to slaves. White overseers, and negroes, deputised with the power of free whites, to administer punishment, lashed the backs of women and children, with the same ferocity as the pain meted to men. When a new Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth, arrived in 1829, he tried to ameliorate the plight of slaves and free persons of colour, as well as, trying to put an end to the savage practice of beating female slaves.
Wildgoose beating of female slave. Ordered watcher of the goal to give slave another 39 lashes before she could be let out of jail.
When Governor Carmichael Smyth wrote to London for clarification of the law, in the Wildgoose case, where a female slave, was given a second punishment of 39 lashes, Smyth was told that the slave system may be blamed on the barbarity pirates who started it.
“I fear the truth is, that slavery had its commencement in our colonies during the period in which they were inhabited by that singular body of pirates who, under the name of Buccaneers, infested the Caribbean States. The legal maxims which they established bore the stamp of their own fears and ignorant character. The law of slavery during the 17th, and almost to the close of the 18th century, may with little inaccuracy he said to have been comprised in the single rule – that the owner had precisely the same property in the slave, and the same rights over him, as in the case of any brute animal of which he was the proprietor.”
Mr. Wildgoose is stated to have caused a female slave to be twice punished with 39 lashes, in the goal workhouse of the town Nassau, she not having been in the interval removed out of the custody of those having the charge of those establishments. The law officer said that the second punishment was illegal they’re not having been any opportunity to commit a second offence.
The Courier, England, Tuesday 5th February 1832
Black Slaves as Overseers – Jack Robinson and his son Lymas – property of Mrs. Poitier, charged in the Slave Court with beating a slave girl in public, instead of private. The pair fined Ten Pounds by the 20th section of the Consolidated Slave Law – 1833
Cases of the abuse of female slaves were rife. Overseers were white at first and then black slaves were given the power to punish in return for pay or privileges.
Jack Robinson, and Lymas (Father and son) the property of Mrs. Poitier, the former was sworn in evidence to be in the capacity and invested with the power of a free white overseer; the latter a Driver. These slaves were brought to trial in a Slave Court, on the 28th February last, before the aforesaid Magistrates, upon sundry charges; two of those charges, were clearly and fairly, proved, viz. For punishing a female Slave otherwise than in private. No discretionary power being in this case vested in the Magistrates, they sentenced the said Jack Robinson to pay the sum of £10, to the King, and to be imprisoned until such fine should be paid; this being the only penalty for such offence by the 20th section of the Consolidated Slave Law. —-The Royal Gazette, and Bahama Advertiser 13 March 1833
Such barbarities were part and parcel of the slave system. Governor Carmichael Smyth, a soldier by profession, quickly became embroiled, in a battle of ideologies, with the powerful slave owning Bahamas Assembly. Amidst this ideological battle, the Governor presented an ideological gift – a massive piece of carved stone. In 1832, it was nothing short of incredible and controversial.
The plantation, slave owning class, of Nassau, controlled the Assembly with an iron hand. They unequivocally hated Governor Carmichael Smyth. He was called a piebald and his town meetings called piebald levees because of the numbers of negroes, coloureds and whites (abolitionist leaning as well as those who just disliked the men who controlled the Assembly) came out to hear Smyth’s approach to the question of negro slavery.
Piebald, a term used to describe a spotted animal. It was used as a pejorative to suggest that Governor Carmichael Smyth was a white man with black spots.
Smyth, of course, couldn’t abolish slavery on his own, only Parliament in England could decree that. So, Carmichael Smyth did the next best thing. He turned the law against the slaveowners, and for that, they decided, Smyth had to go.
Hate poem published in Bahama Argus directed at Governor James Carmichael Smyth. Referring to him as Jamie, began a long tirade of insults.
ON BAHAMA LEVEES – Hail! Piebald pledge of mighty Jamie’s love, Descended, as he swears, from realms above… where slavery should be banished we’re told, And yet where freedom’s advocates are sold; where Rack, and black skins, on their rights persists…
Hail! glorious holder of piebald levees:- Long may the welkin ring with your renown, sung by every negro wench about the town; whose horrid noise overpowers each honest hiss… fawned on by police Charley, Jack of Clubs, A mighty chieftain only amongst your subs…
…And then discover, when it is too late, The depths of wounded feeling, deadly hate—- Which, in Bahamian breasts, doth fully flow—
… Hail! Hair brained fool, whose inetto’s Intemperanter,
Joy! When you leave us, God grant it were instanter*inetto – incompetent person (2) *intemperanter – without self-control or restraint (3) *welkin – sky or heavens (4) *piebald – spotted white and black animal.
Bahama Argus, Saturday, 7 April, 1832
Hate poem, published by George Biggs of the Bahama Argus, and directed at Governor James Carmichael Smyth, in 1832, was certainly a lengthy one.
Two days before Columbus statue is erected at Government House, Governor Carmichael Smyth tells 67 coloured residents of Turks Islands “foolish prejudices respecting Colour are daily diminishing.”
By 1832, Carmichael Smyth had to be in great personal danger. He was the most hated man, in all The Bahamas. White slaveowners were plotting against on a daily basis. Smyth must have needed round-the-clock guards, to protect himself, and his family.
The things that Smyth wrote and said and did, in favouring blacks and coloureds, was akin to setting fire to everything slaveowners held to be fact and truth.
Just two days before, the statue of Columbus was erected, Governor Carmichael Smyth publishes his letter to 67 coloured men from Turks Island. He not only writes that colour prejudice is foolish, but that soon every British subject will be on the same level as the other, in the eyes of the law. In other words, Smyth had the audacity, in the middle of slavery, to suggest that very soon, blacks and coloureds, were all going to be equal, to whites.
Carmichael Smyth uses prophetic words such as civil rights; and expresses futuristic ideas about blacks and coloureds being eligible for government office or any employment, according to one’s character and talents and not limited by skin colour.
The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Wednesday 20th June 1832.
Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth
Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth came to The Bahamas as an abolitionist. He was a soldier, accustomed to giving orders – not taking them. He wasn’t a politician. Carmichael Smyth had little patience for those who would not see his reasoning. His appointment to the Bahama Islands, was the first such high civil servant commission, given to Sir James.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Almost, from the very moment, Smyth, Lady Carmichael Smyth and their son, arrived in Nassau, the new Governor began, losing friends among the white elites in the colony. Smyth was appalled at the social conditions of Nassau. He began to openly exhibit sympathies towards negroes. While his popularity grew among the black and coloured classes, as well as, those whites who wanted to see the political stranglehold of the Assembly ended, he was hated by the plantation owners whose livelihoods depended on the continuation of slavery.
1830 – Governor’s audacity to offer substantial reward for murdered slave
In April 1830, just a few months after arriving, Governor Carmichael Smyth, posts a FIFTY DOLLARS reward, by government proclamation, for the apprehension of those who murdered a slave named Sam on Eleuthera. This was an incredibly substantial reward, for anything in The Bahamas in 1830, much less for a murdered slave in Eleuthera. It was certainly unheard of coming from a Governor.
The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Saturday 1st May 1830.
When Governor Smyth, appointed a negro woman as Head Cook at Government House, above all the other kitchen staff, the newspaper editor of the Bahama Argus, George Biggs, amplified his local and international hate campaign directed at Sir James. Biggs sought to painted him, to the Bahamas plantation owners, and slave holding South in America and Europe, as the pejorative, lover of negroes.
Biggs and the House of Assembly succeeded. Governor, James Carmichael Smyth was recalled as the Bahama Governor. Smyth was sent to British Guiana. He died there in 1838, on Sunday 4th March at ten past six, in the evening, after a short three day illness.
Pro-Slavery Newspaper, Bahamas Argus, tells Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth, to call his coloureds and negroes as such “Come yellow, come blacky, come ragged and bare; Come filthy, come lousy, come just as you are.”
Pro-slavery newspaper man, George Biggs, Editor of The Bahama Argus, hated Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth. It became Biggs’s personal mission to get rid of the new abolitionist governor.
“We are not disposed to a attribute to his Excellency any personal motive or interest in the extraordinary course he has pursued, in relation to the slaves – although we are not ignorant of the fact, that some of them are now in his employment, and one in the capacity of head cook at the government house; and that the names of these, and the rest, appear in a certain memorial to the government, humbly soliciting the continuance of his Excellency, as governor of the Bahama Islands. Is it being really true, that it has come to this, we would recommend to his Excellency a much more expeditious mode of raising such recruits for such a service. Let him, like his namesake general Smyth, during the last American war, issue a proclamation beginning in this way: – “Come yellow, come blacky, come ragged and bare; Come filthy, come lousy, come just as you are.”” —-The National Gazette, Philadelphia, Tuesday, 4th October 1831
GOVERNOR JAMES CARMICHAEL SMYTH ARRIVES IN NASSAU, MONDAY 9th November 1829 to replace President of the Bahama Islands Wm. Vesey Munnings
Until the new Governor’s arrival on Monday 9th November, 1829 on board the ship, The Blossom, the Bahama Islands had a President and Commander in Chief in the form of William Vesey Munnings. Old Vesey Munnings was enjoying the role of being called President and Commander in Chief of the Bahama Islands.
The very carriage which carried Carmichael Smyth and his family to Government House, was said to belong to Vesey Munnings, the soon to be ex-President of the Bahama Islands.
The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Wednesday 11th November 1829
Whether Carmichael Smyth’s appointment was purposefully made, by Downing Street in London, that is, intending to break the back of the merchant slaveowner class, who controlled the Assembly and Nassau, is not fully known. However, as the debate over slavery was being argued in England, pronouncements were being handed down to the West India slave colonies, which signalled, a change was at hand.
NO MORE CROWN LAND GRANTS TO SLAVEOWNERS, Downing Street, London. To Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth, Bahamas – Sir, I am to signify to you the King’s commands, that in any future grants of Land made by the Crown, a condition the inserted for the forfeiture of the grant on proof of the Land having been at any time (subsequent to the date of the grant) cultivated by the labour of Slaves. Your obedient servant, GODERICH —- The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Saturday 06th October 1832
Why a statue of Columbus? The answer is simple, who or what else could it have been? Columbus was one of the most famous historical figures, and his trek, across the Atlantic, hitting the Lucayos, or Bahama chain, first, made the New World, such as it was, possible.
Governor Carmichael Smyth, if one can make such historical leaps, intended something remarkable to happen, in giving this statue of Columbus, to the inhabitants of the Bahama Islands of 1832.
Nassau was a bloody, ugly place!
Smyth’s words were falling on the deaf ears of slaveowners. His life was being threatened. Slaves were still being brutalised. Smyth jailed very important people for not providing education materials for the negro children of liberated Africans, only to be forced to let them go. The Assembly were trying to get rid of him. He was being blackballed in local society and in London. In the midst of so much hate, division, violence, anger and vitriol – Smyth brought a statue to Nassau.
In 1832, a legal caste system and brutal slavery informed every aspect of Bahamian society. Raggedy, brutalised slaves walked the streets. Free negroes didn’t look much better. Ships were landing with emaciated blacks snatched from Africa. They would be liberated, into the bushes, on the islands or forced into indentured servitude called apprenticeships. People lived in thatched huts with dirt floors. Disease was rife. Few could read. A handful of men in the Assembly controlled all commerce. Rocks and dirt and horse manure were the streets. Nassau was still mostly swamp land. Storms. Mosquitoes. Heat. Cholera. Typhoid. Small pox. Slaves were being beaten senseless for eating or praying or not picking enough of whatever was being grown in the fields. Nassau was an ugly place.
1832 – BAHAMIANS WERE NOT IGNORANT TO THE HISTORY OF COLUMBUS
Bahamians in 1832 were not ignorant to the history and legacies of Columbus. It was noted, in the Royal Gazette of Nassau, of June 1832, that in the year 1500 Columbus was sent back to Europe in chains.
The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Saturday 30th June 1832
The statue we considered to be an impressive ornament to the town, and a triumph to the colony; and will long continue a memorial to the fine taste and exalted sentiments of the individual who conceived the idea of having it erected here.——The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Wednesday 27th June 1832
1838 – Sir James Carmichael Smyth dies as Governor, in British Guiana, on Sunday, 4th March, at ten minutes past six o’clock.
Kentish Gazette, Canterbury, England, Tuesday 24th April 1838