By William Ysaguirre
Free Lance Reporter
British Honduras memorabilia dating back over 100 years and accumulated in the private collection of Canadian visitor James Lindsay, went on public display in an exhibition that opened at the Corozal House of culture on Monday, November 30. James Lindsay hails from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but fell in love with Belize on his first visit in 1991 and he has returned countless times. He recognized the historical value of a collection of Belizean memorabilia offered on the Internet, which he bought, and continued to add to with all sorts of old, postcard, photographs, coins, postage stamps and other memorabilia which form part of the exhibition. It’s a must-see for Belizeans seeking a positive affirmation of our cultural identity, of what it means to be a Belizean.
A star attraction of the exhibit is a Spanish coin stamped with the British seal, so it could be used as legal coin in the Belize settlement. In the early days of the settlement, before Belize was officially recognized as a British colony, the only coins in circulation were Spanish. There could be no Belizean coins struck, until we became the colony of British Honduras. The exhibit includes a collection of coins dating back to 1894. The Belizean 25 cent piece, what we call a “shilling” is the exact same size as the modern 5 pence piece, or the shilling – from a time when 12 pence equaled one shilling and 20 shillings were one pound, from a time when a common laborer’s annual salary in England was all of £6 pound sterling!
It gives modern readers a better understanding of a time when the Royal Navy ruled the world’s seas, “Rule Britannia” and when the English proud boast: “The sun never sets on the British Empire” held true. City residents may know that the Mesopotamia electoral division and streets like Euphrates, Amara, Tigris and Basra are so named for the Belizeans who fought in the Persian gulf region during World War I; but the exhibits from that period help us better understand why Belizeans in 1914 would don a British West India Regiment uniform, to go off and give military service half way around the world. And why Belizeans in the 1940’s felt moved to do the same thing; to serve and some to die in the Royal Air Force during WWII.
Modern Reporter readers may be amused to find that the front page of the Colonial Guardian newspaper published in Belize on Saturday, December 3, 1892 was given over entirely to advertisements and a steamship schedule. Newly imported goods from England and the United States were the news! The newspaper also discusses the merits of the silver standard for currency as compared to the Gold standard.
The 1892 Colonial Guardian coincidentally published a most illuminating passage written by a Portuguese boy in Malacca, in another former British colony on the coast of Malaysia! The boy wrote: “English is very proud and very white. They are mostly governors, schoolmasters, policemen, magistrates, and a few are lawyers and doctors and banks and many other things. They never work. They wear hats and boots and ride in docuts (dogcarts). Some English goes to church, but only once. They are clever tennis and ball games and drinks much brandy and other things. Some are married. They eat a much quantity of many things. One of their great delights – smoking cigars and shooting and raining coming home in it. English is very clever at all things.
“My father says Portuguese is black and ugly and catch fish, but English is white and pretty and eats fish what is caught. Father is black and ugly but making nets, English is very fierce. If anybody does something, they swear damn. English women is few. They ride and play the music and make faces. It is easy – no work nor little houses. I deny know any more English. That is all I know”.
The 1892 editor notes that the small English community in Malacca regarded the passage as a very bad joke, but that if the boy author could learn proper spelling and grammar, he might well become another Rudyard Kipling!
American flight pioneer Charles Lindbergh actually landed his “spirit of St. Louis” monoplane on the Barracks green in Belize City in 1928, prompting Belizean restaurant owner Jerry Nisbet to name his establishment “Lindbergh’s Landing”, and for Belize City mayor Darrell Bradley to create a more permanent exhibit with a model of Lindbergh’s aircraft at the BTL park. A sepia-tint photograph of Charles Lindbergh with the English governor Sir Herbert Sisnett and Sir John Burdon, and their wives, on the steps of Government House in 1928, forms a part of Lindsay’s collection.
Other photographs show logs loaded on a steamer for export to England, and in later years, how the outer bark was removed and the mahogany logs were squared, so that they might fit better into the rectangular holds of the ships taking them back to Europe. Early postcards show what the colony of British Honduras looked like at the turn of the 19th century, and more recent events such as the opening of St. Mary’s School in Belize City in 1934!
As we look to the future to chart the way forward for the proud nation of Belize, we should never forget who we are; nor deny where we come from.
Lindsay has expressed the intention to donate his collection to the Belize Museum when it is finally built, and for part of the collection to be on permanent display in Corozal. The exhibition remains open until December 11.