Colonialism represented a type of oneness, in terms of the administration of territories. Colonialism was also a great career builder for those willing to spend a few years, in some unforgivably hot part of the world, in exchange for great pay, servants and months travelling by land, sea and horse. What this meant, in practical terms, until only relatively recently in Bahamian history, was that one didn’t necessarily need to be born in the Bahamas to become part of its Assembly or Legislative body. Consider that the last appointment of a British-born Governor General ended at midnight on 9th July, 1973. This wasn’t really that long ago.
Historically speaking, countless laws which have formed the basis of Bahamian government administration and public expenditure rules, may well have been introduced by men who had little or no familial connection to The Bahamas. They came; and they went. This kind of unemotional, unattached contribution to Bahamas government administration, by newcomers, treated the country as a kind of utilitarian experiment – and let’s be candid here – a resume filler. This may or may not have been a bad thing, considering how emotionally charged politics has become today.
William Anthony Musgrave Sheriff had only been in The Bahamas for a month or so. Sheriff arrived to take up an appointment as Acting Chief Justice in late 1879. In January 1880, an opportunity presented itself to run for the City seat in the Assembly. The City then, included Nassau, the main thoroughfare of Bay Street, as well as the area of Grant’s Town, such as it was. William Sheriff was acquainted with Rawson W. Rawson former Governor of the Bahama Islands. That is to say, Sheriff didn’t arrive in Nassau without political connections.
Musgrave Sheriff, in 1880, ran on two basic platforms. He was West Indian born of English heritage, so he could relate to the plight of small island administration and could fit in well with the social order of the day. Second, Sheriff said, he wanted to reduce the burden of taxation.
WHO WAS WILLIAM ANTHONY MUSGRAVE SHERIFF?
William Anthony Musgrave Sheriff, of Antigua, was ‘people,’ as they say in the islands. He came from an unquestionable political pedigree and social connections spanning 200 years. His daddy could trace his daddy, and that daddy could trace his daddy, and so forth. This pedigree opened doors for William. His father, James Watson Sheriff was ‘big time’- local Bahamian vernacular for anyone having one or more of the three social Ps- position, politics or power. William’s father, a lawyer, was once named president of the island of Nevis. After William A. M. Sheriff passed the bar, he was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. William’s career began shortly after being called to be a member of the Antigua bar in 1868.
1866 – Obituary of James Watson Sheriff former President of Nevis and father of William Anthony Musgrave Sheriff
William A. M. Sheriff Uses His Connections With Former Bahamas Governor Rawson William Rawson To Secure Post As Attorney General of Grenada 1872
From details given a news article in 1872, it would certainly appear that not everyone was pleased by William Sheriff’s appointment to Attorney General of Grenada. The article makes specific mention to Sheriff using his connections with Grenada’s Governor Rawson W. Rawson to obtain the job. Remember that Rawson W. Rawson was appointed the Bahama Islands’ Governor from 1864 – 1869. Governor Rawson is where Nassau gets the name for its historically famous Rawson Square, located in the heart of Bay Street. Rawson went from Governor of the Bahama Islands in 1869 to Governor of Grenada.
GRENADA – The following are the most interesting items of intelligence and are from the “Saint Georges Chronicle:” The Hon. W. A. M. Sheriff who has held the acting appointment of Attorney General since the death of the lamented A. P. Bart Esquire is confirmed in the appointment, and in due course of time his gazettement will appear. We commented upon Mr. Sheriff’s appointment in January last to the acting office, and did not think it fair his being appointed at the time over the heads of his fellow practitioners at the bar, especially as he was absent in a neighbouring colony; but as it has since appeared that the learned gentleman stood in better repute with the Governor-in-Chief than any of his conferees and Governor Rawson’s strong recommendation accompanied Mr. Sheriff’s application to Downing Street, we heartily congratulate him on coming once more to settle amongst us – not only as Attorney General: but the inhabitants generally, being “the native of a sister isle, a “quasi brother.”
The BAHAMAS in the year 1880 – WRIT OF ELECTION. PUBLISHED FOR CITY SEAT
The House of Assembly beg leave respectfully to request that your Excellency will be pleased to cause a Writ of Election to be issued for the election of one member to represent the district of the City of Nassau in the present general assembly in the room of the Hon. Bruce Lockart Burnside, QC, late Attorney General of the Colony, whose seat has been declared vacated in consequence of his acceptance of the office of Queen’s Advocate of Ceylon.
William Sheriff’s Campaign Platform
William Sheriff’s campaign platform is an interesting one. He lays palms at the feet of the powers that be. Sheriff must tread carefully and undoubtedly he must be keenly aware that he has only just arrived on the island. Therefore, he pays homage to the existing government by offering his support for what they had done thus far. Then, he a stern departure from their agenda, by stating emphatically that he intended to vote against any increases in taxation. As Grant’s Town was part of the City of Nassau area, Sheriff made an appeal to poor blacks of that area, by saying he was West Indian as well. Sheriff was white, of course, but nevertheless played on the emotive fact that he was born in Antigua. Also in an appeal for acceptance by the general public of the City area (many of whom couldn’t vote) he talked about general education and helping the plight of the poor.
Looking at the financial condition of the Colony now, and comparing it with what it was four of five years ago, I may safely say I can unhesitatingly and conscientiously give my support to Government. I shall, however, be ready to vote for the reduction of taxation when such a measure can be affected without impairing the credit of the colony or affecting the efficiency of the public service. I am an advocate for general education on a broad basis and for every measure which tends to ameliorate the condition of our poorer brethren in the social scale. Full confidence, I ask you for your suffrages. I am a West Indian myself, and shall always strive to advance the interests of those amongst whom I am for the future to reside.
New Attorney General William Sheriff Elected To Bahamas Assembly – February 1880
Remember that voting then was done in the open. Men (only men could vote) stood in the middle of the room, making a vocal announcement, as to whom they were voting for. There was so secret ballot voting. Men had to be persons holding a certain value in property and were taxpayers on some level.
As there was only one person in the running, the only person to vote for was William Anthony Musgrave Sheriff. 55 votes were cast. 55 votes were counted for Sheriff.
William Sheriff accepts his win with a brief address which includes his intention to immediately introduce new bills for government consideration.
First Bills Introduced By William Anthony Musgrave Sheriff Were Concerning Taxation and Surreptitiously His Pension
Among the first bills introduced by William Sheriff was A Bill to legalise the commutation of Fees hitherto payable to the Officers of certain Courts of the Colony. What is interesting about this bill was that Sheriff, as Attorney General, was an Officer of the Courts of the Colony. As such, this Bill directly affected his pay. Sheriff was seeking a commutation, meaning that he wanted to legalise the ability of himself and others in the position to be able to receive a lump sum of money rather than waiting years to get a pension paid in a piecemeal fashion. This was highly important to those who were transient colonial appointments like William Sheriff was. He had no plans to live in the Bahama Islands for any extended period of time. He wanted to make sure that when he left, he could take his pension with him. Sheriff wanted to make this a matter of law, rather than negotiation.
1882 – William Sheriff leaves Bahamas after just two years for a promotion to Chief Justice of Belize, Honduras
William Anthony Musgrave Sheriff dies in Middlesex, England in the year 1898. He was survived by his wife and an estate of £235 3s 6d. In today’s money, £235 in 1898 is worth about £31,332.01.