The British Colonial Office in London saw the sugar cane industry in Saint Lucia in serious decline when the Vieux Fort Sugar Development Scheme had fallen into abeyance. This was due to its leasing of the lands to provide for an American Army Base in Vieux Fort. The Colonial Office probably felt a sense of guilt that agriculture was on the decline and that its mainstay, sugar cane, had not achieved its potential due to the withdrawal of its programme in Vieux Fort. The Colonial Office decided that it was time to do something about the development of agriculture on the island. It therefore employed a graduate from Cornell University with a Master’s Degree in Agriculture named Swithen Schouten, an Anguillan by birth, to take charge of the Agriculture Department. Schouten had worked in St. Vincent prior to his appointment in Saint Lucia. He immediately turned to the Jamaica School of Agriculture, which was the only institution in the Caribbean offering practical courses in Agriculture, from which he wished to recruit persons to help in his task. The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) in Trinidad produced graduates who were more inclined to agricultural research.
Harry Vivian Atkinson was the first of a number of young Jamaicans who were recruited and came to Saint Lucia from the mid-1940s at the behest of the Colonial Office. Stanley Mullings, Sammy Gage, Ronald ‘Speedy’ Miller and Victor Stewart were soon to follow. Elon Campbell, another Jamaican, also served in the sugar cane industry here, before its collapse. Elon, like Schouten, had previously worked in St. Vincent. These men served agriculture long and creditably from the late 40s to the early 70s.
Harry disclosed to this writer that at the time of his selection, it was discreetly suggested to him that it would greatly facilitate his stay in his new home if he was accompanied by a wife. On hearing this, the young Harry promptly telephoned his girlfriend of four years, who lived some hours away by train, and asked her to purchase a new dress and to join him in Kingston as soon as possible the next day.
Harry himself had left Westmorland, where he then worked, and had travelled to Kingston by bus for the interview with the Colonial Office. Of course, Miss Dolores Greaves, as any intelligent young woman of the day would have done, asked why she should leave her job and come to Kingston, for an undisclosed mission. Harry’s reply to her was somewhat vague, saying only that it was for a good cause and that she would get the answer when she arrived in Kingston. As often happens with people smitten by love, she did as Harry had suggested and duly arrived in Kingston by train the next morning.
When they met at the train station in Kingston he told her that he had just accepted a job in Saint Lucia and that he had to leave within seven days to take up the new assignment and so he wanted her to marry him right away since he wished her to travel to Saint Lucia with him. After he had explained himself and had softly spoken a few more pleasantries into her loving ears, Dolores replied that she felt like telling him two bad words. But being the exemplary daughter of a strict Methodist Minister, as she then was, she held her tongue.
Harry had painted a far more pleasing picture of a life together in a new land and, after more convincing pleasantries, they left the train station in search of a Methodist Minister to perform the wedding ceremony. It was not long before they found such a Minister of their church. That Methodist Minister, like Dolores’ father, was born in Panama, and of Jamaican parents. He therefore willingly agreed to do the honours after further explanations from Harry that the wedding would facilitate the new life in Saint Lucia that had been assigned to him.
There was some drama and travelling around Kingston in order to procure the required birth and baptismal documents before the young couple could finally marry. The following morning they both completed the signing of the other necessary forms and required travel documents. Immediately afterwards Harry duly escorted his brand new wife, of less then twenty four hours, back on to a train to Williamsville, and her job. Soon afterwards Harry Atkinson and wife left Jamaica for Saint Lucia. Harry was to take up a new job with the Colonial Welfare and Development Scheme in Vieux Fort, and Dolores was uncertain of her own future employment.
However, Dolores was an expert stenographer and soon found work at the Colonial Administrator’s office on the island. She served diligently for many years. She also played the role in Harry’s life of private counsellor, inspirer and partner. She did so masterfully for the next fifty-plus years. She predeceased Harry by some twenty years.
Harry Atkinson may have had a hand in recruiting his fellows and brethren from the Jamaica School of Agriculture who followed him to Saint Lucia. He, however, prefers to give the credit to the Colonial Office for the sourcing of those trained Agriculturists, with Swithen Schouten the head of Agriculture at the time. A Saint Lucian of comparable stature to the early Jamaicans, and who worked equally hard in developing agriculture, was Leon Beaubrun. Horace ‘Cocoa’ Williams of St. Vincent and Aidan Pemberton of Dominica (plus one Isaac from Dominica), also gave many years of useful service to Saint Lucia in the field of agriculture.
Growing up in Vieux Fort, I recall a popular little fish called ‘Atkinson’. It was in fact tilapia which was brought to the island under the directive of Swithen Schouten who had dispatched Harry to procure the fish from Malaya. In Saint Lucia tilapia breeding was done at Beausejour farm and it was Harry who successfully promoted and distributed the little fish. This explains the reason the locals called tilapia ‘Atkinson’. Schouten was also responsible for introducing farm machinery and heavy road-building equipment into the island to help develop farm feeder roads.
Harry worked hard in carrying out his mandate for Agricultural Development and had a good relationship with his fellow Jamaican colleagues who together more or less transformed the agriculture base in Saint Lucia under the direction of Swithen Schouten. Harry was also a lucky man. He soon became the manager of Marquis Estate which was purchased from the Devaux family by Lord Walston from England who was himself a farmer of a large portion of land in Cambridge, England. At the time of the sale Marquis Estate was managed by Guy Purchase, a Jamaican who had married into the Devaux family.
Harry’s luck was that Lord Walston trusted him implicitly and gave him full authority to administer and control the estate as if he were personally present. At his arrival at Marquis Estate the entity produced a large quantity of milk which was sold fresh in Castries. The estate also produced butter, cheese and bacon for export. It was not long, however, before the banana industry completely overtook every aspect of agriculture enterprise on the island. By 1957, therefore, Harry was in a position to promote the banana industry island-wide. He was joined by other large producers such as Grace Augustin, Ralph Giraudy, Shanks Moffat and Denis Barnard. This enabled Harry to take a leading role in the banana industry which was encouraged by Lord Walston, himself a politician/farmer and a member of the Labour party of England.
Harry took advantage of the circumstances and position by purchasing his own estate named Beauchamps, in the quarter of Micoud. He introduced the ‘Jamaican Achee’ at Beauchamps which, in the 80s, was the largest achee estate in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, and he exported canned achee to Jamaica.
To be continued . . .