The Earthquake

by Cynthia Costain

Carol stood on the verandah looking down the narrow dusty road which led to the town, hoping for the sight of the maid coming back from market. If she didn’t come soon dinner would be late and her husband would be cross. He’d had a long ride this morning to the Leper Asylum and he would be hot and tired when he arrived home, not inclined to be tolerant of her poor housekeeping.

Being married to the “young Doctor” with a house of her own in town and a new baby was really quite fun but it was difficult to remember all the things that had to be done. The servants were new and had to be told everything; what to cook for dinner, how much to buy, how long it would take to cook, and how did she know? Thank goodness that Mary Sam was a good nurse and when the baby cried took care to carry her out of earshot when the master was at home. Perhaps if Cook got ready a cold rum punch to serve before dinner it would help.

Her neighbour came out into her garden and Carol waved.

“Isn’t it hot?” she called. “There isn’t a breath of air.”

“Yes, and so still,” said her friend. “I don’t know what has got into this dog today. He keeps following me around and whining- go on Robbie – lie down and behave yourself.”

They strolled to meet each other at the low fence to continue their conversation and at that moment there was a terrible loud thunderous noise like a hundred great trucks roaring down the hillside, rushing past them and down to the sea. The earth heaved and Carol staggered and would have fallen if she hadn’t clung to the fence. Mabel Sprott stood trembling on the other side, her eyes wide with horror. Suddenly she turned and ran back to the house shouting “Wake up, Carol! Get the baby and servants out!”

Cynthia Ewing

Carol turned and ran across the garden calling to the maids while she stumbled up the steps and into the baby’s room. Cynthia was awake in her crib and began to cry as soon as she saw her mother, while Carol picked her up and dashed outside. The servants came crying and panic-stricken as another shudder shook the house and one of the tall palm trees by the gate wavered and fell. Cries and shouts came from all around as people scrambled to safety. A man called out, “Don’t stand under the trees!” As they huddled in the garden another voice screamed, “Fire!” and towards the town they saw flame and smoke coming from behind one house.

“Cook, did you light the coal pot?” asked Carol. “Yes’m, I had it all ready for master’s dinner.”

“Then run and see if it’s fallen over. Call the gardener to bring water from the cistern and make sure that every cinder is put out.”

Confused cries and shouts continued, but from the road Carol heard the sound of sobbing and through the gate came running the maid Francey. They called to her and Carol said, “Come on Francey, we’re all here and you are safely back.”

But her market basket still clutched in one hand she broke into more sobs and panted out, “Missus, Missus, I hurried – I really hurried – never stopped to talk to nobody – but there was a great noise and the houses were falling down and the mountain was falling down and I fell down and cried! But I got up and ran down the road and then in front of me the road cracked right across! I like to die! But I just give one big jump over in case the devil come out and ran all the way back!”

The cook patted her and consoled her until she calmed down and Carol said “You were a brave girl, Francey.”

Nothing more seemed to be happening so gradually they ventured back to the house. It seemed that no great harm had been done as far as Carol could see: pictures fallen and broken; vases of flowers spilt and one cupboard overturned; and cooking bowls broken. As they found later many houses had much more damage with walls cracked, or ceilings and roofs fallen. Stores in town had their big windows shattered, and many people had been cut with broken glass and hurt with falling debris and trees. In this catastrophe the natives’ little palm-roofed houses survived better than some of the bigger stone buildings and there were not many serious casualties or fires.

The Doctor was very late for dinner that day. He had been riding along the road to town and his horse had become very restive and unmanageable, so he had dismounted and was trying to calm the nervous animal when the earthquake occurred. His impression as he looked along the road in front of him was that it was undulating and rippling like water. As he led the horse back home he found rocks and earth still tumbling down the mountainside, trees across the road in places, and water pipes fractured, with water was gushing into pools everywhere. As he came in sight of the harbour he was just in time to see a towering tidal wave sweep across the bay and into the town carrying boats, cargoes and bodies up onto the land.

The aftershocks were not severe but St. Vincent had suffered another natural disaster.

Wedding Announcements

Transcriptions of the newspaper clippings above, June 1914:


The marriage of Dr. J.M.G. Ewing, a Government District Medical Officer, to the youngest daughter of the Hon’ble J.G.W Hazell of this island, which was solemnized at St George’s Cathedral yesterday, caused a flutter of delightful excitement among their immediate relatives and friends who constitute the leading social circle in the colony. The wedding party was comparatively small, but a large and fashionable gathering in the sacred edifice witnessed the entry of the happy young couple into the joys of married life; and this afforded ample testimony of the goodwill entertained among various sections of the community, towards Mr. J.G.W. Hazell and his family.

The Bride, charmingly attired in a lovely robe of white bijou satin and carrying a bouquet of chicken daisies and tube roses, was escorted by her father, and had, as her bridesmaids, the Misses Mildred Hazell, Joyce Hutchinson, and Millicent Simmons who wore very pretty dresses of mauve silk crepe de chine. The mother, Mrs. Hazell, wore an elegant black silk dress and bonnet, and the other ladies who were guests were equally representative of fashion’s artistic features.

The bridegroom, also a centre of attraction and the happy recipient of sincere congratulations, was accompanied by Mr. F Birkinshaw who filled the favoured office of bestman.

After the service, which was fully choral, the party drove off to Windsor House where the reception was held, and subsequently went away to Grand Sable for the Honeymoon, carrying with them many greetings and good wishes, which we heartily echo, for their future happiness.

Wedding Bells

St George’s Cathedral was today the scene of a fashionable wedding, the contracting parties being Dr. J.M.G. Ewing, the popular medical officer of No. 1 District and Miss Enid Carol youngest daughter of the Hon’ble J.G.W. Hazell and Mrs. Hazel of Windsor. The Sacred Edifice was tastefully decorated for the occasion, and long before the wedding party arrived, the church was filled with the friends and well wishers of the bride and bridegroom. Punctually at the hour fixed for the ceremony the Bride who looked charming in a dress of white satin Charmeuse trimmed with Lace and Orange Blossoms, arrived leaning on the arm of her Father. She was attended by Miss Millie Hazell (cousin of the bride) Miss Joyce Hutchinson, and Miss Millie Simmons (nieces of the bride) tastefully dressed in mauve crepe de chine trimmed with Lace and Orange Blossoms each carrying a bouquet of white lilies. The Service was fully Choral, Appropriate Hymns being rendered, The Nuptial knot being tied by the Venerable Archdeacon Turpin. Mr. F. Birkinshaw performed the duties of Groomsman. The party consisting of members of the Bride’s family, Mr. P. Verrol, the Archdeacon Turpin, and Rev. Dr. McPhail, after the function, drove to Windsor and was entertained at a recherch√© luncheon by Mrs, Hazell, The presents were costly and numerous, Dr. and Mrs. Ewing left later in the afternoon for Grand Sable House, the Country seat of the Hazell. We wish the happy pair long life and prosperity.

Home Again 1912

Carol stood at the ship’s rail peering into the dimness of early dawn. The Captain had told her that they would be arriving in St. Vincent in the morning and she wanted to be ready for the first sight of the island. All the goodbyes were behind her; Miss Lefroy and the other teachers back in England were already fading into the memory of another life. Before her was the homecoming she had looked forward to for nearly three years.

“Well, Miss Carol, you are up early,” said the First Officer’s hearty voice. “You’re going to have to wait another hour or so to see that island of yours. We’ll not be arriving until about ten o’clock.”

“I’m longing to see it,” said Carol.

“Well, you still have time to go down and have some breakfast. I’ll call you when the sun comes up and you can watch for the volcano on the horizon.”

Carol felt that she couldn’t eat a bite, but as she sipped her tea and found hot toast and a boiled egg very acceptable she thought how nice it was to be treated as a grown-up.

She had thoroughly enjoyed the ocean voyage with a friendly group of passengers and ship’s officers, and found herself involved in musical evenings and small impromptu dances. She was no more the shy little schoolgirl, but a young lady holding her own in society.

The sky brightened and Carol watched faint outline of the island appear on the horizon, then grow more distinct until suddenly it was daylight and in no time the ship was sailing into the sunlit arms of Kingstown harbour. There was the familiar little town (was it smaller than she remembered?) and the green surrounding mountains, and yes, she could see the red roofs of Windsor halfway up the hillside. She was excited and scared and happy all at once and afterwards could never remember the morning clearly. Dad and Willie and Fred on the jetty; the carriage waiting to drive her home with old Leo grinning as he helped her in with her smaller bags. People in the crowd calling out, “Hello, here you are home again!” and “Nice to see you back, Carol” “Welcome home!” until at last they were up the steep hill, into the driveway, with Mother and the girls waiting on the verandah.

All that first day was laughing, crying confusion. Everyone remarking on how much she had grown, how they liked her dress and her hairstyle; Willie teasing her that she was even pretty now; and the servants giggling at her English accent. She was hugging brothers and sisters: some who had grown older, some who had grown fatter, others who were handsome, and some who looked thin and tired, but Mother was just the same. Later came the married sisters with their families. First was Georgina with the girls growing up and even Basil, the baby, a sturdy boy firmly held by father Carden who had visited her at school and had so kindly taken her to the theatre. Ethel was there with her three girls, Mona still a baby, and Trixie with her husband John and handsome little Jack, all living nearby and welcoming Carol home. As she lay in bed that night, tired out but too excited to sleep she thought, “They all still call me Monks but I’m no longer the baby, I’m a real person and everyone treats me as if I’m new and interesting!”

Carol at the piano

It was a happy carefree time. After all her trunks were unpacked and her new clothes admired by her sisters, the presents distributed to everyone with squeals of joy from the little nieces and nephews, she soon fell into the easygoing pleasant routine of home, with few duties and plenty of leisure time.

After the structured hours of school the casual social life of the young people delighted Carol. She was a lively good-natured girl with dark hair and big brown eyes and before long she was a popular member of a congenial group of young people with Doris and Fred, as well as other local families. They went riding and visited Willie on the estate where he was manager; took picnics to the beach for bathing; enjoyed sailing parties up Leeward to see the waterfalls at Baleine or to Bequia to spend a weekend with friends. There were small dances at home; or dinners where married sisters enjoyed playing hostess and introducing their young sister just home from England. Visitors from the various ships were entertained and visits from British warships always produced a spate of parties and dances. Some times the officers would give a dance on board ship with fairy lights decorating the rigging and under the huge tropical moon nothing could be more romantic! To one of these Carol wore her most beautiful white satin balldress embroidered with pearl beads, only to find the heat of her partners’ hands melted the beads and quite ruined the dress. It was a big joke in the family that all Carol’s partners stuck to her!

Group on Rutland cliffs, Mustique

One day at lunch Fred said, “I met the new young doctor today. He’s from England and is working with Dr. Durrant. He’s called Gordon Ewing.”

“What is he like?” asked Blanche.

“Oh, quite a little fellow- not much to look at, but very pleasant. I suggested he might drop in one evening but he said hewould call first.”

Call he did, with the required number of engraved calling cards, and before long he became a much sought after member of the island society. He was charming and polite, very neat and immaculate in dress, with blue eves in a fair-complexioned face. He was older than the young group to which Carol belonged but he enjoyed joining in some of their outings although his work was demanding. Before long it became obvious that he was one of her admirers.

“Do you like him, Monks?” asked Doris one night as they were going to bed.

“Y-e-s,” said Carol. “He’s so different from the men here. He’s been to America and India and all sorts of other countries when he was ship’s doctor on the Cunard and P&O liners and he can talk about so many interesting things.”

“Well of course he’s quite a bit older than you are. Twelve years, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t seem stuffy like some older men. Anyway I like blue eyes,’ Carol giggled, “and his head is such a nice shape!”

Family Group on Young’s Island

Some months later the engagement was announced in the weekly newspaper and before long there was another engagement: Fred had asked a pretty blonde Barbadian, Mildred Ince, to marry him and there was a combined party for both couples. They enjoyed the greater freedom that engagement brought, and in the evening would stroll out into the garden and sing the songs Carol had brought home with her. Mother and Dad were not too happy- Dad felt that though Gordon had a good profession and could certainly support a wife, he seemed to move from one job to another and might not stay long in St. Vincent. Mother considered both Fred and Carol too young and she did not care for either Gordon or Mildred, but this was not unusual, she disliked all her sons and daughters-in-law!

During this time the family had a sudden and tragic blow. Doris came to breakfast one morning complaining that she was getting a stye on her eye. By evening it was larger and inflamed, but she said that she would bathe it with boracic and it would be better. However in the morning her eye was closed and the whole side of her face was swollen, so Dr. Durrant was called. Before penicillin there was not much could be done to cure an infection, and in the tropics it was said that there was not much illness, but a lot of death. In a few days pretty young Doris was dead. John Louis had died some years before of pneumonia while in the USA but this death was at home in the heart of the family.

Two years after Carol returned from school she was married to Gordon in June 1914 at the Cathedral in Kingstown. It was a happy family wedding with two young nieces, Marion and Milly, in pale lavender dresses carrying bouquets of mauve lilies and wearing big hats that looked rather like wedding cakes. The bride was in ivory satin and a veil with a wreath of orange blossom in her hair. Both hats, bouquets and the bridesmaids’ dresses were made at home but Carol’s dress was ordered from the States. The reception was at Windsor, and the bride was careful to send wedding photographs and cuttings from the newspapers to her new mother-in-law and relatives in Northern Ireland. They had received an invitation months earlier, but of course could not accept, so no member of Gordon’s family was present.

A wedding in 1914! No one could imagine how their world would change in the next few years.

Carol’s Wedding

The Eruption 1902

The year was 1902; Queen Victoria was dead, and the people in St. Vincent now had a King instead of a Queen. The Hazell children were growing up, and 8-year old Carol went to school with Miss Matthews in town. One afternoon she and Fred crept through the garden to the stable yard. A market woman had given them each a mango and they leant over a wall and enjoyed the luscious fruit, dripping juice onto the garden below. They knew what would happen if they were caught: those mangoes are green – look at the mess you have made of your clothes – you’ll get a stomach ache! It wasn’t easy being the youngest of a large family and they did love mangoes!

“We’d better go and wash,” said Carol, looking at her brother’s sticky grime-streaked face. “How did you get so dirty?”

“Your’s is just as bad,” he replied. “It’s because it’s so dusty. Look, you can’t see the sun at all- the sky looks like dirty milk.”

They looked over the garden and down the hill to the harbour and town, but the dust seemed to get into their eyes and everything was hazy. They adjourned to the pump in the stable yard.  Cleaner but damper, Carol went to join her older sisters and her Mother on the verandah. She was learning to sew and as much as she enjoyed being with “the big girls” and hearing the grown up chat and gossip, the long seams of the pillowcase she was making were very boring, and she couldn’t help pricking her finger and getting her thread dirty. Her sisters were doing beautiful embroidery and crochet, but it would be a long time before she could attempt such things. This time, however, they were all getting up and putting away their work as she arrived, shaking dust from their long skirts.

“Come on Carol,” said Ettie “We’re going inside. It’s too dusty to work out here today. Look at the dust on my blouse, and yet it isn’t very windy.”

“It’s not wind – the dust just seems to be drifting down,” said Muriel. “I wonder where it’s coming from.” 

They were to wonder more as the dust grew thicker and the sky darkened. Next morning there was no sign of sunrise and it was like a queer twilight. The gritty dust was everywhere, in the house, in the air you breathed, and floating on the morning cup of tea. The servants were very quiet, with none of the usual talk and laughter, and the children felt scared because everything was so strange.

Dad and the men and boys set off for town, but Mother told Carol she could stay at home this morning. She couldn’t even feel pleased at the unexpected holiday, especially as Trixie told her to dust all the dining room furniture- What was the point? It got dusty again as she did it. She stopped to look out at the sky and suddenly saw her brother Willie tearing up the driveway, with Fred, red-faced and puffing, not far behind.

Leaning out of the window she called “What are you doing? Didn’t you go to school?”

“There’s been a big eruption in Martinique!” yelled Willie.

“School’s closed!” shouted Fred, and as they tumbled up the steps, there was the clatter of horses’ hoofs and Dad came riding up from town and into the stable yard. Carol could hear Mother’s voice in the kitchen and the sound of Dad marching in. He was sweating and the dust stuck in the lines of his face, making him look like a stranger.

“Jack, what is the matter?” asked Mother. He sank into a chair and tried to wipe the dust and sweat from his face.

“Mount Pelee has erupted on Martinique- a really big blow! They say the town of St. Pierre has been destroyed and perhaps everyone killed.”

“How terrible,” said Mother. “The poor people in Martinique.”

“The shock must have been devastating for the whole island,” said Dad, and as he spoke they suddenly felt a reverberation like a ripple go through the floor and heard in the distance a series of dull thuds. They stayed frozen for a moment, each with the same thought: “What about the Soufriere?”

“I’m going back to town,” said Dad. “See if I can get any news from up country.”

Mother looked pale, but she said, “Come and eat your soup, Jack. You don’t know how long you will be, and the servants would like to get the meal over with.”

No one ate with much appetite as even Carol knew that the Soufriere was their volcano at the northern end of St. Vincent, and that if one volcano erupted it was quite possible for another to do the same. The Soufriere had been dormant for nearly a hundred years and it was right at the other end of the island. But St. Vincent is only 18 miles long.

The young ones crept away and gathered under the porch and the boys tried to scare the girls with horror stories of what they imagined was happening in Martinique. Of course, nothing like that would ever happen in St. Vincent! The adults were not so hopeful. They admitted to each other that a friend from an estate up there had said that the water in the crater had risen and had begun to steam, and John Louis had met George Fraser in town one day who had told him that the earth tremors had been frequent on the Leeward coast, some quite violent, but still!  It couldn’t happen here.

The island is so mountainous, and the roads were narrow and twisting, so communication was poor. While the people in Kingstown talked of the terrible news from Martinique, and the estate owners on the Windward Coast took no notice of the small tremors and could not see the mountains for the heavy clouds of dust, the people on the Leeward side of the island felt the earthquakes becoming more violent and the rumblings from the volcano more frightening and they realised that like Mount Pelee, the Soufriere was erupting. Many of the Caribs and others from the villages at the base of the mountain fled to the sea and the coastal villages of Wallabou and Chateaubelair prepared to leave.

Next day, the 7th of May, continued dark and gloomy with the dust from Mount Pelee still falling over the town. The men had gone to town but the children were at home, bored and cross. Suddenly just as it neared midday there was a terrible explosion and a huge black volcanic cloud rose in the north and spread across the sky. Everyone dashed outside to see, but there were great crashing noises and loud rumbles and explosions, so hastily the children were called in and the men servants began to put up the shutters as clouds of ashes with big stones and lumps of solidified lava poured down over the whole island. The family huddled downstairs while through the cracks in the shutters they could see constant vivid flashes of lightning and great roars of thunder. Carol clutched Ettie’s hand and tried to be brave; she wouldn’t let Willie and Fred see her cry. All the servants were huddled in with them and some of the maids were crying. Mother looked pale but Mother would never be frightened. They could hear rocks and big boulders crashing on the roof and Mother just began to say, “I think we should all go down into the cellar,” when the back door blew open and Dad and the other men burst in. They had been on their way home when they heard the first huge eruption so had struggled on, battered with stones and covered with ash but nothing more serious. Dad herded them all downstairs until the bangs and crashes became less frequent. The air in the cellar got so full of dust and smoke and the pungent smell of sulphur, that Dad finally told everyone to go upstairs, but try to keep everything closed as much as possible. Black darkness covered the town while the roar of the volcano continued.  Rocks, ash, and cinders fell to be mixed with rain into a glutinous mud. Not a living thing ventured out into the maelstrom.

Eventually the storm lessened and there were fewer falls of rocks. People crept outside and tried to see how much damage had been done. The family began to clear the dust and ash from the veranda while the men rode down to the harbour on horseback through the muddy littered streets. The young people began to shovel mud from the paths and the sky gradually became a little clearer. Down at the harbour Father and the other men saw through the dusk a small boat sailing from the Leeward and entering the harbour. It was crowded with survivors from Chateaubelair with stories of the terrible destruction which had taken place.

No telephones were working and there was no news from the Windward side of the island so next day when the light was better, Father and some of the men decided to sail up north and see what had happened there. Willie and Fred went down to the harbour to see them set sail, but it was still too dusty and grey for Carol to see them from the verandah. They were away all day and just as there was a faint rim of sunset on the horizon for the first time in a week, they slipped back into the harbour. The family waited quietly at home as one of the boys rode down with a horse for Father, and at last they came wearily up the hill. Carol took one look at Father and knew that something dreadful had happened. His face was tear-stained and dirty and he looked like a very old man.  Mother said quietly, “Come Jack, have a bath, and after you’ve had a drink and something to eat you can tell us what happened. We know it is bad news.”

After a silent supper Dad stretched out tiredly in his chair and told them. “We sailed up past Georgetown,” he said, ” and the sky was a bit clearer but we couldn’t see any people or anything going on so when we came to that little jetty at Orange Hill we decided to anchor and walk up to the Fraser’s house. Everything was quiet- not a sound of a goat or a bird or a cow, and no one in the fields that we could see. At the house I saw someone sitting on a chair and then another person on the steps. We ran up, but we need not have hurried. George and Flora – both quite dead. We went into the house – nobody there, but down in the cellar – my God! It was packed with the servants and the people from the estate and their families. All dead from gas. You could smell it still and we were glad to get out in the air again. We thought that George and Flora must have found the cellar very crowded and come upstairs to have a breath of air just as the gas rolled down the mountain. There were rocks and stones and lumps of lava everywhere but from what I could see the gas has killed every man, woman and child for miles around as well as animals. Some of the horses had been penned in the fields with the cattle and it looked as if they had been struck by lightning. I never saw more horrible sights.”

A Mr. MacDonald who had been at Richmond Vale close to the volcano was one of the people who had watched and recorded the whole terrible event from 7:30 p. m. on May 6th to 6:00 p. m. on May 7th when he had to retreat to Chateaubelair. He wrote a vivid account of the whole destruction during that time. In Martinique molten lava was the killer. In St. Vincent the eruption was quite as violent if not more so as the explosion blew the whole top of the old volcano away and made another new crater. The gas ejected from the crater and the force of the falling rocks and lava made a “vast graveyard where 2000 bodies are buried under hills of ash and rock”.  The fertile valleys and Carib villages were gone.

The young Hazells were very subdued for a while, but it wasn’t too long before Fred and Willie were arguing about how many people would have been killed in Kingstown if the Soufriere had been as close as Mount Pellee had been to St. Pierre.

“There were 40,000 killed in Martinique,” said Willie. “I bet there would have been 50,000 here!”

“More!” shouted Carol. “Fifty thousand and two counting you two horrid things!”

(Quotation: Governor’s Report to the Secretary of State for the Colonies)

After the Hurricane 1898

by Cynthia Costain


The days, weeks, and months after the hurricane dragged on with hardship, work, worry, and problems, but help continued to arrive and eventually the island itself seemed to spring back into life. Green spread over the sodden earth, skeleton trees produced small new leaves and as the sun shone and the warm breeze blew people began planting again. Grown ups were not so worried and the children relaxed into their usual routines of school and play.

One evening Dad suddenly said, “How about a picnic and some sea bathing at Villa tomorrow?”

Mother thought it over and agreed that it would be pleasant to have a change and a rest. Then the girls all exclaimed and and the boys began talking of boats and swimming, and the children poked each other and giggled. Early the next morning then, the wagon was packed with food, the children, driver, and servants set out slowly to drive the six miles to Villa. Later, the ladies in the carriage and the men on horseback followed more quickly. The meeting place was the little stone jetty opposite Young’s Island which stood about two hundred yards across the water. It was a perfect place for a picnic; a series of small bays of sand and rock, with hillsides behind curving in a great semicircle. On Young’s Island was an Isolation Hospital which Dad wanted to examine for needed repairs after the hurricane, and behind was the big rock on which Fort Duvernette had been built during the Napoleonic wars.

The children could hardly wait to tumble out of the wagon and rush down the sand to the glorious sparkling turquoise sea, but the grown-ups were already arriving and Dad soon took charge. The wagon was unloaded, the horses tethered nearby with the driver in charge, while Mother was made comfortable in a folding chair in the shade. All the men and boys went around the bay where they could swim and splash in the nude without offending the sensibilities of the ladies. Meanwhile the girls undressed modestly behind the wagon and helped the smaller ones into an assortment of old cut-down dresses and drawers, then they headed decorously to the shallow water where they bobbed up and down in the little waves. The boys were taught to swim by being thrown into deeper water from a boat and encouraged to dog paddle to shore but the girls were not expected to swim or even to float. They enjoyed the warm water and little waves, playing with the children and laughing together, revelling in the sun and freedom from corsets- what joy!

Afterwards was the picnic in the shade of the few palm trees and bushes still standing- sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, little meat pies and even a few oranges, although there was little fruit to be had this year. Tea had been brought in the big old Chinese teapot in its padded silk nest and a few small black boys appeared with green coconuts and were well rewarded. The children loved to watch the boys chop off the tops with their cutlasses and enjoyed the cool faintly sweet taste of the coconut water.

The ladies settled to rest and snooze while the older boys ran along the beach to persuade a fisherman to row them to Young’s Island where Dad and the other men could see what damage had been done while the boat took them on to Fort Duvenet. There they climbed the old crumbling stone steps to the top and mounted the abandoned cannon and the immense walls, pretending that the French ships were creeping into the bay. The little girls on shore hunted in the sand for tiny pink shells they called `Puppy Dogs’ Eyes’ while the small boys explored the wrack left by the hurricane high up on the shore and found sad remains of oars and boats, life belts, battered boxes, and debris.

Too soon the afternoon passed. The family gathered to leave and the children clutched their treasures and snuggled down on the floor of the wagon, already half asleep with the sun and the sea, while the adults took one last look at the lovely peaceful sea with the deep blue reaching out to the horizon.

Once the main problems were taken care of and the Government was functioning satisfactorily Dad and the other landowners began to travel further from Kingstown to see what had happened in outlying districts and make sure that help was available. These journeys were by horse or by boat, and as the roads were cleared, people were anxious to see how their own estates had fared.

The term plantation was not used in St. Vincent, and estates were generally quite small. One of the Hazell estates was `Grandsable’ in the north of the island near the town of Georgetown. All the family loved the beautiful old house on the hillside, with the mountains behind and the wide view of the valley and the sea from the big verandah. This might be called their holiday home as it took a whole day to get there by slow moving wagons and carriages over steep narrow roads, transporting family, food, servants, clothes, and linens, so once they arrived they stayed and enjoyed themselves. Carol loved the long drive when one of the excitements was to stop at the village of Stubbs to rest the horses. All the villagers clustered around to exchange news and the children were allowed to get out of the carriage to run around and stretch their legs. Occasionally one of the old ladies would come with a basket of Burney Sugar Cake or Coconut Candy and Mother would recognize old servants or people from the market and buy `treats’ for the children.

On this occasion there was no leisurely family visit. Father with a group of men on horseback set out early one morning to ride up north through Caliaqua, past Ratho Mill and Prospect, and on to Stubbs. A short stop, then along Argyle Beach with its black sands and the islands of Bequia, Balisoe, and Battawea plainly visible out to sea. After that they passed the estate at Spring and the arrowroot factory-washed lean by the torrential rain, it was for once without the pungent unpleasant smell of the bitty, the residue of the crushed root after the starch had been extracted, left to rot in the riverbed until the next rain washed it down to the sea. Then they rode on up the coast and finally to Georgetown. There had been landslides and in many places great trees had blown down, little houses levelled, and roads washed out but already the work of clearing had begun. At Grandsable and most of the other estates, the local people had sheltered in the cellars of the big houses and there had been no loss of life and few injuries. People were rebuilding their small houses and in the main buildings the need for galvanized iron for roofs and glass for windows were the most urgent requirements.

It would be many months before the family could spend happy carefree holidays at Grandsable, sitting on the big verandah entertaining friends and neighbours while the children played barefoot in old clothes and picked fruit. The trees were bare, the sugarcane was flattened, and the soil washed down the hillside into the sea, but Father was pleased to return home with no worse news: the house was still standing, and Mother was relieved to hear that apart from minor damage all was well- even her beautiful scarlet, blue and gold dinner service had survived!

Much as they enjoyed Grandsable, the place the children loved best for a holiday was Mustique, a little bare tropical island down the chain of the Grenadines, far away from everywhere. For the children, Mustique was an adventure. To begin with, you had to sail a long way in a big boat with every single thing you were going to need when you were there: sacks, boxes, crates, and chests packed with food, bedlinen, knives and forks, towels and pans, dolls and balls and hardly any clothes. The adults and the children perched on sacks and boxes while the boys climbed as high as they could and were pirates. All this was necessary because there was not a `proper’ house on Mustique- it was a building with big rooms and wide windows, with furniture like beds and tables and chairs, but just enough for everyday use, and it was like living in a picnic all the time. Everyone had their own favourite place on the island and did whatever they liked to do best. The boys went out with the fishermen and there was delicious redfish for dinner and sometimes even lobster; the little girls found the prettiest shells and picked flowers for the house. Everyone relaxed and enjoyed the sea and the sky and the lovely bare quiet scenery.

How could they know that many years later during the Depression the youngest of the boys, Fred, would sell Mustique for twenty-five thousand dollars? Later, the Honourable Colin Tennant, a British millionaire bought the island with the idea of creating a fabulous retreat for discriminating and wealthy friends. In a wonderful advertising gesture, he gave Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, a piece of land to build a house on Mustique as a wedding present. Before long others followed, and beautiful houses were created by the talented Oliver Messel. It remains a quiet but special place for those who can afford it.

Perhaps the Princess, resting in her lovely house, thinks Mustique a pleasant place for a holiday. To the little Hazell children long ago, it was the most beautiful place in the whole world.

January 2020:

Apparently the British Prime Minster Boris Johnson does, in spite of various crises in his own country and in the world…

The Hurricane 1898

by Cynthia Costain

Life in the family went on quietly through the years as Carol grew up from a baby to a little girl of four years old. There were occasional excitements when Father went to England taking an older brother to school, or one of the big sisters went to Barbados to visit friends. During most of the year the climate was perfect; nearly always warm and sunny with cool sea breezes and sudden short showers which kept the gardens blooming, the trees flowering and bearing fruit, and the crops growing. Cocoa was being cultivated in St. Vincent as an alternate crop to sugar and was doing well with a promise of prosperity in the island.

J.G.W.Hazell and family

It was the year 1898, and during August the weather began to get very hot. The breeze dropped and the air felt heavy and still. The heat pressed down on the island and people became tired and irritable, fanning themselves and complaining about “hurricane weather”. The heat continued and during the night of the eleventh of September the wind began to blow in sharp hard gusts and the barometer fell rapidly. (25.35 and falling). The shutters were closed and the children put to bed, but they found it hard to sleep and tossed and sweated in the darkness. The storm increased: the wind became strong with sounds of thunder in the distance and loud crashes as branches broke and rocks fell.

Carol woke up to find her nurse shaking her and shouting “Come on Miss Baba, wake up! wake up!” Pulling her out of bed, she bundled her into a little shawl and carried her downstairs, ignoring her sleepy whimper, “Whatsamatter?”

In the big hallway all the family was gathered with maids and servants. It was hard to see as the only light was a small oil lamp, but it was the incredible noise which was the most frightening. The whole house shuddered and creaked, the rain lashed against the walls and roof and there was the occasional breaking of glass or crash as something heavy fell nearby. Above all the wind screamed and howled as it swept across the island with terrific force. The children were crying and the adults looked scared but Carol saw Dad standing by the cellar stairs, fully dressed and calmly calling “Come on now, all of you- down to the cellar. You’ll be all right there, Mother is waiting for you”.

Gradually nurses with children, sisters, servants, brothers and all filtered down the steep steps. The house had a strong stone cellar built against the rocky hillside. Lit by the dim lamp carried by Father it looked very strange and eerie. One or two chairs had been brought down and Mother in her usual daytime dress was sitting at one end with the big sisters. The children ran and clustered on the floor at her feet. Carol shouted in Fred’s ear “What makes the big noise, Freddy?” and he shouted back, “It’s the hurricane, silly”.

The cellar door which gave onto the hillside at the back of the house was open, as it was sheltered from the fiercest blasts, and through it came a stream of terrified people; stumbling and limping, families with old women and babies, beaten by the wind, soaked by the drenching rain and scarred by blowing branches and debris. Carol sat against her Mother’s knee and as the cellar was lit by the sudden violent flashes of lightening saw more and more people crowding through the door and heard the great crashes of the wind. Near her was a family settling down on the floor and a man was carrying a little girl about her own age. She had a big gash on her head and there was blood on her curly hair and trickling down her face.

“Papa! Papa!” she sobbed, and her father soothed her, saying, “Hush now chile – doctor will fix yor haid later on,” but still the little girl cried.

“Poor little girl,” thought Carol and leant over and patted her hand. One of her sisters had a box of bandages and came to help, but so many people were hurt with broken bones as well as cuts that there was little that they could do. Dad helped the more seriously hurt to places against the walls and everyone did what they could without panic. At last Dad called to shut the outside door as a deluge of water began to pour over the lintel and the cellar was full, but as it was shutting there was a sudden wild banging at the door and they eased it open to a family drenched and covered with mud who had escaped from the remnants of their house and crawled up the hillside for shelter.

Carol was too young to realise that the small wooden houses and shacks of the people had been literally blown away in pieces. Some families had feared the worst when the storm began and had gathered together what they could and made their way to bigger stronger houses with hurricane cellars like ‘Windsor’, but others had cowered in their tiny homes which were no protection, until it was too late. In spite of the noise the children slept. They had no idea how long it was before they suddenly woke up in the dim breathless darkness of the crowded cellar with the stifling heat and overpowering smell of frightened people. Everything was silent. Only the occasional moan or snore, but otherwise nothing.

“What’s happening?”‘ asked Fred in a scared voice. “It’s called the eye of the hurricane,” Mother said.”It will be quiet for a while and then get noisy again, but it won’t be for so long”.

Reassured, the children dozed once more, huddled together on the hard floor.

Hours later, they became aware of a general movement, as people stood and listened and murmured to each other and on the top of the stairs stood Willie silhouetted against the grey light from the open hall door.

“Dad,” he called, “I think the wind has dropped.” Some of the men went to try to open the outside door but it would not move. Eventually they were able to force it open a bit and push aside the rocks and rubbish which had been piled against it by the storm. A faint light came in and people began to move and pick up children and bundles and try to peer outside. Mother was helped upstairs, stiff after her long ordeal, and the family followed her up into the hall. Dad went to open the front door and everyone pressed forward onto the verandah.

Carol was very frightened because no one seemed happy that the dreadful noise had stopped and she could see nothing until one of her big brothers picked her up. Nobody spoke; it was as if they all held their breaths. “Where has everything gone’?” she asked.

They looked at a scene of devastation. Down the hillside what had been the garden and the drive to the small houses and streets leading to the harbour was now a sea of mud and debris. There were no houses, no trees, retaining walls had collapsed and muddy water was pouring down the hill, carving deep clefts between rocks and fallen trees carrying stones, roof tiles and the bodies of dead animals towards the town. There were huge waves pounding the buildings still standing on Bay Street carrying broken remains of boats, the wreckage at sloops and battered steamers along the harbour. All the small houses and shelters in the town were gone as were the wooden warehouses. Those buildings still standing were roofless and they could see the Cathedral had missing tiles and broken windows. Along what had been the main street of the town the Library and most of the stores were crumbling ruins.

At last Dad said, “Mother, see that everyone has something to eat. We all have a lot to do.”

There was indeed a lot to do. The hurricane had lasted six hours with an interval of fifty-five minutes. In that time between two hundred and three hundred people had been killed, went missing, or were lost at sea. Nearly all the small boats of the island had been destroyed with their crews, ten sloops had been lost or had capsized, and three large steamers had been driven ashore and broken up.

People were homeless and helpless, hungry and hurt. From the countryside wandered scores of lost people to add to the crowds already in the town: their homes were gone, their goats and chickens lost or killed, their crops beaten into the ground.

The Government had the police set up big tents in the grounds of the hospital, which was roofless, and in open spaces nearby where the wounded could be cared for. The dead were brought to the Police Station. All the men were set to clearing the roads of debris -trees, bricks and stone from fallen houses and walls, dead animals such as, pigs, goals, sheep and chickens which had been swept down in the water and mud. In all the big houses the women prepared food for everyone and all who came were fed.

Before the day ended messages were received by telegraph from Queen Victoria and the Royal Family, and from all over the world came offers of help. Within days, ships arrived with food and supplies from other islands. The Hurricane Relief Fund sent food and medical aid while many volunteer workers came to help dig graves and clear away the remains of the ships and buildings. The children were eager to help and the boys cleared branches, rocks and stones and the girls swept and washed the verandah. Mother and the servants cooked and served big pots of cooked rice and soup with the stores they had in the house, feeding all who came but the straggle of sad hungry people seemed never ending. Finally the relief foods arrived and Fred whispered to Carol, “Thank goodness, I’m getting awfully sick of rice.”

As the immediate difficulties were being looked after, the government tried to assess the overall disaster to the island. The sugar estates were ruined, the new cocoa trees were levelled, most of the trees including fruit trees, palm trees, breadfruit and spice trees were down, or if they had survived were stripped bare and would not produce for many months. There was not a green leaf or blade of grass to be seen and all the vegetables, fruits and livestock which the people needed to survive had vanished.

St. Vincent faced a bleak future.

Long long ago

Although this site exists to cover years of letters, I am going to start with stories that fill in the background, by posting documents that were written by my mother, Cynthia, about the early life of her mother, Carol. These were written in her 70s when she took a writing class, and are fictionalized versions of the family stories that she had been told, and that she passed on to us- the fact that my grandmother had survived a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, and an earthquake seemed impossibly exotic to me, a Canadian child. Some of these are finished products, some have marks indicating editing is intended, but they all are typed and, I hope, legible, and I think she’s a good storyteller!

Baby Carol


by Cynthia Costain

Over a hundred years ago, at the end of the nineteenth century, a little girl called Carol was born on a small island, St. Vincent, in the West Indies. It was part of the British Empire, proud to be a colony under the rule of Queen Victoria. St. Vincent is one of a chain of beautiful, tropical, volcanic islands arcing through the Caribbean from North to South America. The island had one main town, Kingstown, enclosed in a great harbour. Above the town arose the mountains, dotted here and there with large sprawling houses, the red roofs showing through the palms and flowering trees. One of these houses was called `Windsor’ and was the home of the Hazell family, which had originated with two brothers who left England in 1748. They were ship-builders by trade and, having built their own ship, embarked with their wives, families, and all their goods and sailed west and south to begin a new life.

There is no record of their voyage, though it must have felt perilous to two men whose past experience had probably been confined to coastal waters, but eventually they landed in Saba in the Virgin Islands. This was not the lush tropical land they had hoped for, as it was bare and infertile, with rocky shores and little shelter, but they anchored and there they remained until a baby boy named Hercules was born in 1749. Soon afterwards they sailed south and finally settled in the island of Bequia in the Windward Islands. There they found a friendly climate and friendly people where they made their homes and founded a ship building business.

Eventually Hercules grew up and married, moving with his family after some time to the bigger island of St. Vincent where he began a trading company. Within his lifetime his grandson, John Gregg Windsor Hazell, had become one of the leading businessmen of the island. This grandson John was the father of the tiny baby at the beginning of this story.

There was not much excitement when the twelfth baby, Carol, arrived in the family and the busy but leisured life of most of the members hardly suffered a hiccup. The older daughters helped the nurse look after Mother and their new little sister, took over the housekeeping and saw that things in the house continued smoothly; the older brothers took little interest in babies. The only members of the family who were excited about Carol were `the little ones’. With Mother’s permission the nurses brought them to see the baby the next day and as they stood around the cradle looking down at the baby with the big brown eyes, Doris said, “She’s very small.” “She’s no use to play with,” said two year old Fred, who was disappointed, but Willie, aged six, looked at the baby seriously and announced, “She looks just like a monkey!” and from that time on, Carol was known as `Monks’ in the family.

The young children all had nurses and Carol called her nurse `Dada’. Dada bathed, dressed, and fed the baby; washed and ironed her clothes, and, most important, kept her quiet and amused. At teatime the children were washed and dressed in clean clothes (if company was expected the boys wore sailor suits and the girls white starched dresses) and brought to the verandah to be petted and join in the conversation with Mother, sisters and friends. At the sign of tears, spills, or noise, a nurse would appear and hastily remove the offender.

Carol grew up in a busy household. Mother was the firm disciplinarian, ruling her family and the household, while Father was the good-natured benevolent Papa. With numerous servants, nurses, cooks, grooms, and gardeners working in a slow noisy West Indian way there was plenty for Mother to do: she was a severe woman, feared by some, but there was much love and affection and the family was a closely knit, safe world. Much of the time older members of the family would be at school in Barbados, England, or Canada, or working in the U.S.A. but the young ladies and gentlemen at home all had their ‘work’ each day. The men went to the family business on the harbour with Father, or rode out to one of the estates. If it was time for the sugar crop all the estates would be busy with the cutting of the cane and the sugar mill would work day and night crushing, processing, and finally bagging the sugar to send to England. Later the molasses would go to the rum factory to be distilled into raw alcohol and then aged in barrels before it too was sent overseas.

The young ladies of the family had various jobs: they cut and arranged the flowers, such as hibiscus, lilies, ixora, and bougainvillea; shopped in town for small items not trusted to the maid who went every morning to the market; and sometimes visited the dressmaker. This was very important as the only chance of a `ready-made’ dress was to ask a friend who was visiting some larger place to bring one back for you. The girls also did a little cooking- cakes for tea or a special dessert if guests were expected for dinner. They used the woodstove and oven, but the cook preferred the charcoal `coal pot’ outside.

The whole family were expected back at noon for the main meal of the day. Having risen at six or earlier and begun work while it was still cool, everyone was hungry and sat down to what was considered in Victorian households to be a simple family meal (albeit with a West Indian twist): roast pork with crackling, or a large dish of chicken pilau, or sometimes a whole baked redfish. With this would be served rice, sweet potatoes, fried plantain, tania cakes crisp and brown, or perhaps breadfruit or pigeon peas. Beforehand would be hot pumpkin or callalou soup, and the main course would be followed by a sweet coconut pudding with stewed guavas. Business did not resume much before three o’clock.

Until they became teenagers, the children went to school in the town. The boys’ schools were run by clergy or teachers from England, while the girls attended schools run by maiden ladies in their own homes. The older daughters helped the young children but actually their social lives were fully occupied. Making calls took up many afternoons and the horse and a carriage would take two or three of the ladies to sign the Book at Government House or make other calls. They were all devoted churchwomen and much time was spent at the Cathedral doing the flowers, seeing to the vestments, or attending meetings. In the evening between five and seven when the air became cool and the sun set, friends and relatives would drop in for a cool drink and a chat. Riding parties and picnics were planned, or arrangements made to play tennis or watch a cricket match.

The arrival of one of H. M. Ships of War was a great occasion, and any ship from England or America or even the small vessels from other islands brought visitors or old friends as well as business and everything from buttons to furniture, horses, carriages and machinery. The ship’s officers were always entertained at the big houses as well as visitors, and return invitations, particularly on board ship, were looked forward to eagerly.

Carol’s childhood was a happy one. The white people were the wealthy people on the island and she accepted all the St. Vincentians of every colour and any other heritage as being `natives’. Some she loved like her old nurse Dada, and she realized that any who worked for the family had to be `looked after’ when they were ill or became old, but it was a paternalistic society that she did not question.

When Carol was very young she remembered that one of her older sisters taught her to count on her fingers. She was told, “Look, you have ten fingers and you have ten brothers and sisters.”

This seemed to her to be the most astonishing piece of news she had ever heard! She began counting: “Georgina, Arthur, Blanche, Ethel, John Louis, Muriel, Beatrice, Willie, Doris, Fred makes ten. Oh, and there was baby Cyprian, but he’s dead. And Me.”