Herilton Celestin is an enigma. His name has been spelt wrongly all his life and he has never bothered to correct it. His father wanted to name him Iredon but he was absent when his son was born. “My mother was a poor woman named Doxina who worked as a servant. When she became pregnant with her first son by my father, Antonio Patrice Celestin, my father’s parents did not accept her claim that their son Antonio was responsible. They said he was too young to have a child. By the time that first child was eighteen months Doxina became pregnant again. Fortunately or otherwise, I was that second pregnancy and I came out a spitting image of my father’s father. I was born in November 1931.”
He continued: “When my grandparents were told that my mother had become pregnant again by their same Antonio, they were so disgusted that they shipped Antonio away to French Guiana (Cayenne) and, at the same time, they decided to adopt me. Perhaps I looked too much like Antonio’s father to deny me acceptance.
“By then my father was in his late teens and an apprentice plumber in the town of Vieux Fort, before he was shipped out. My father was in fact born in Colon, Panama where his parents had migrated to seek employment in the construction of the Panama Canal. He was the only son of Abella Beausoleil and Mathurin L’aurent Celestin.” He added that Abella was an older sister of Josephine Beausoleil, who was the mother of Josephat ‘Arthur’ Josie, father of Peter Josie and five others. Josephine had two other sons, Fontellio and Andrew, but no daughters.
“I attended school at Vieux Fort RC Boys’ Primary and did well enough to be recommended as a pupil teacher by the headmaster, Mr. Smith Henry. About that same time the British Government introduced a study scheme called the Intending Teachers Scheme which allowed young teachers who were considered bright prospects for the profession to attend St. Mary’s College. They created a place for these pupil teachers, entering College in form two or three,” Celestin advised.
“I first met my father face to face in Castries, the capital of Saint Lucia, on the very same day I had written my final paper for the Senior Cambridge examinations. When I first saw him he had such a strong resemblance of my older brother, Hedrick, I had no doubt he was indeed my father.”
For young Herilton Celestin, getting into St. Mary’s College was not without its share of drama. His name was not at first registered for the Intending Teachers Scheme. However, that year 1946, he placed first in the island amongst those who had sat the pupil teacher examinations. Following his performance in that examination he was immediately accepted into St. Mary’s College. “I became a pupil teacher in 1947 at age fifteen and one year later I entered St. Mary’s College and was placed in form two. I left St. Mary’s College three years later and returned to the Vieux Fort Primary School as a probationary assistant teacher. I was promoted from a pupil teacher.”
When the Senior Cambridge examination results were announced Celestin had done so well that he was invited by the then Headmaster of St. Mary’s College, Brother Canice, to teach at the College. So after only three months at the Vieux Fort Primary School, the young Celestin was off to St. Mary’s College again, this time as a teacher.
“I taught at St. Mary’s for two and a half years and there I got a scholarship to study Dairy Husbandry in England. I left Saint Lucia for England in 1953. By then the American Air Base at Vieux Fort was closed and cattle farmers began using large acreages of forage lands at Cantonment, La Tourney, Augier and Beausejour thereby increasing the yields of milk and beef. At the time the British Government began a scheme in Vieux Fort to improve the productivity of local cattle. Young local breeds of bulls were castrated and a programme of artificial insemination begun with semen from pure bred Friesian bulls from England.”
The Dairy Husbandry course was of one year duration and young Celestin spent an additional three months specializing in butter and cheese making – Dairy Technology. He returned to Saint Lucia in 1954 and was employed as Technical Assistant at the Livestock Development Centre (LDC) at Beausejour, Vieux Fort. At the time, veterinarian Dr. Greaham Louisy was temporarily in charge of the LDC. He was soon replaced by one Dr. Scoggins from England.
“At the high point of the LDC activity we branded and tagged young animals and recorded the names of mother and sire. We then tagged the ear of each calf which bore its name, date of birth and weight at birth. We also used semen from Guernsey bulls to increase milk production. Sahiwal bulls from India were used to help increase beef production and to help the progeny of European breeds adapt to the hot climate in Saint Lucia.
“It is to be noted that most of the cows which were artificially inseminated belonged to farmers and other folk in the south of the island. These animals were provided with safe pasturage at Beausejour, Vieux Fort by the British Colonial Government at a nominal fee of one dollar each month. I worked at the Beausejour animal development project for three years. I got married during that period at Vieux Fort.”
Soon after marriage, two new jobs were advertised, one for a headmaster and the other for a matron, at the newly opened Boys’ Training Centre near the village of Gros Islet. Young Celestin and his wife applied jointly for the jobs. They relocated to Gros Islet in 1959 leaving family, friends and workmates behind. “My wife and I worked at the Boys’ Training Centre until 1964. I loved teaching but I knew nothing about raising delinquent boys. My wife and I had to work night and day caring for these young boys.” The couple soon got frustrated as they realized that the island government did not quite appreciate the meaning and full extent of the couple’s workload.
Celestin and his wife returned to Vieux Fort in 1964. This time he landed a job as manager of a fertilizer plant located there. “The plant was set up to mix and blend various ingredients suited for different soil types and locations on the island for the rapidly developing banana industry. The fertilizer plant was owned by Esso, a petroleum company which, at the time, did business on the island. In a strange twist of events, it happened that the local banana growers’ association was indebted to Albatross, a fertilizer company in Europe. Albatross threatened the growers’ association and pressured them to continue purchasing fertilizers from the company rather than purchasing from the Esso plant at Vieux Fort. Without local support the Esso fertilizer mixing plant had to be shut down.”
Celestin noted that Esso had also closed down its fertilizer mixing plants in St. Vincent and Jamaica, possibly for the same reasons as in Saint Lucia. He was not dismayed. Instead, he remained optimistic and was soon offered a job as Assistant Manager of Marquis Estate in the north-east of the island. He and his wife therefore had to relocate once more.
“I spent six years at Marquis Estate. At that time Marquis Estate was made up of two separate estates, Babonneau Estate and Marquis Estate proper. I managed the Babonneau Estate. During that time, my wife took a secretarial course and afterwards got a job at the firm of Geest Industries in Castries. Harry Atkinson, a well-known and experienced Agriculturist from Jamaica, who was formerly employed by the Colonial Office in the early 1940s, was manager of Marquis Estate. Both Marquis and Babonneau Estates were owned by Lord Walston of England – a multi-millionaire.” The year was 1970.
Editor’s note: See next week’s edition of the STAR Newspaper for the continuation of this feature.