A recurring theme throughout more than 100 commentaries I have contributed to the Beacon has been the Virgin Islands’ ties over time with Cornwall, a county in southwest England. Last week, in “Roadmap proposed for UK, VI,” I mentioned in passing that Gibraltar had been attached to the UK’s southwest England constituency of the European Parliament — the only overseas territory able to vote in the European Union elections.
The National Parks Trust’s visitor centre at the Copper Mine National Park fulfilled a dream envisioned by their Cornish consultants when it was declared a national park in 2003. The centre, they advised, should “showcase Cornwall to local people and tourists from throughout the world on cruise ships and yachts — a good way of demonstrating that we’re different.”
It should also tap new sources of income from family historians and other visitors interested in specific aspects of our heritage. Those “geneatourists,” as I have called them, would come here with a long-term interest in preserving VI culture, but might also gladly share copies of documents from our past perhaps otherwise inaccessible to us.
I considered various links between Cornwall and the VI in a July 18, 2013 Beacon commentary published under the title “Potential seen in ‘friends’ groups” — notably the history behind the construction and operation of the iconic structure of the copper mine. Since then, I was able to do some research on the VI archives for a book published in February: Sue Appleby’s The Cornish in the Caribbean: from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The book tells the stories of some of the many Cornish men and women who came to the VI as officers and crew on the ships of the Falmouth Packet Service, which took the mail to and from the Caribbean. Others were Methodist missionaries and their wives, who evangelised both the enslaved and the newly free.
As Cornish mining declined, the skills of its mining engineers, captains and miners were in demand worldwide, as evidenced in their exploitation of the copper veins on Virgin Gorda, the only copper mine in the Eastern Caribbean. In contrast with those established on Cuba, operated by black slaves in a Roman Catholic Spanish colony beset with tropical diseases, they conversed, worshipped and worked freely with local workers recruited from unemployed free blacks. Moreover, they credited their environment with being the healthiest in the Caribbean.
In a commentary titled “The British Virgin Islands in UK newspapers up until 1919” I reflected that I had used a commonly held linkage between the renaming of the Danish West Indies in 1917 to the Virgin Islands of the United States on Transfer Day and the first use of “British Virgin Islands” to distinguish our VI from the USVI. However, in 2008 I received an e-mail from a correspondent about the Copper Mine on Virgin Gorda containing this death notice from the West Briton of Aug. 7, 1857: “At the Island of Tortola, on the 13th ult., aged 39 years, Anna, wife of Thomas PRICE, Esq., President administering the Government of the British Virgin Islands, and youngest son of the late Sir Rose Price, Bart., of Trengwainton, [Cornwall].”
It had led my correspondent to wonder if Thomas Price had “left any footsteps in our part of the world.” Having confirmed for myself the accuracy of the notice’s transcription from a digitised copy of the newspaper archived online, I Googled its contents.
I found that Thomas Price’s father had made his fortune in Jamaica and then devoted his time and money to constructing in the grounds of a house near Penzance a beautiful garden, now a popular English National Trust property. I also found in the Irish Freemans Journal of May 26, 1845, that Thomas had married Anna in London the previous month after leaving the 60th Royal Rifle Regiment.
However, I was startled to discover that while Thomas Price’s name followed that of Cornelius Hendricksen Kortright (1854–1857) on lists of the presidents of the Council in the VI in Old Government House Museum and elsewhere online, that his dates in office were given as 1859-1861 with the post apparently vacant between 1857 and 1859.
‘Quirk of fate’
By a strange quirk of fate, the Hampshire Advertiser of Feb. 21, 1857 had reported Thomas Price’s claim in a magistrate’s court that he had been overcharged for his family’s overnight lodgings. However, he had come to a settlement with the boarding housekeeper rather than risk missing his ship. Thus, we know from the newspaper that he and his family then left Southampton bound for St. Thomas on the La Plata, one of the last wooden paddle steamers built for the Royal Mail Steampacket Company before the advent of metal-sided, screw-driven ships.
On a personal note, I mentioned Trengwainton Gardens to a grandniece who recently moved down to a house built in 1845 in a village near Penzance. She replied that she passes a sign to them every day.