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Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

19 July 2018

From Neptune to Trident: How the Colonial Deputed Seal for Barbados evolved into a national symbol

Seals, coins, stamps and paper money share a much closer relationship than first meets the eye. This can be illustrated by the first ever colonial deputed seal made for Barbados.

Figure 1

It was engraved in June 1663 by the famous medallist, coin and seal engraver Thomas Simon.

Figure 2

The obverse face depicting: ‘His Majesty’s Royal Effigies, representing Neptune in a Chariot drawn by two sea horses, and robed with his royal robes and crowned with a trident in his left hand’ with the inscribed motto ‘ET PENITUS TOTO REGNANTES ORBE BRITANNOS.’

As demonstrated by William and Mary’s later seal for Barbados engraved c.1690, although depictions of the Monarch changed from reign to reign, the basic design remained unaltered until the island gained independence in 1966.

Figure 3

Being the legal instrument of Barbados colonial governance and authority, the seal would have been used to authenticate a wide range of official documentation. Its imagery was also adopted across various formats as is demonstrated by George III’s Seal for Barbados engraved c.1760.

Figure 4

The design of this particular seal formed the basis of the Reverse Face designs for Barbados’ 1792 Copper Half Penny and Penny coinage.

Figure 5

Likewise Victoria’s Barbados Seal engraved by Benjamin Wyon in 1837 was used on the island’s most iconic postage and revenue stamps all typo or recess printed by Thomas De La Rue & Company in London.

Figure 6

This design first appears without the inscription upon Barbados’ 1892-1903 Colonial Badge Definitive Issue.

Figure 7

It was also used on the Barbados 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria Issue.

Figure 8

In fact representations of Victoria’s seal appear upon the definitive stamps of Barbados throughout the reign of Edward VII and the 23 July 1912 definitive stamps of George V.

Figure 9

For the Barbados 16 June 1916 Definitive Issue, Victoria’s Seal was replaced by that of George V’s and the seal’s motto appears upon the stamp for the first time.

Figure 10

The motto then disappears on the Barbados 1921-1924 Definitive Issue stamps,

Figure 11

before reappearing on the Barbados 1925-1935 Definitive Issue stamps.

Figure 12

The Barbados 3 January 1938 Definitive Issue then adopts the seal of King George VI with the motto.

Figure 13

Once the security printing firm Bradbury Wilkinson and Company Limited take over the printed contracts for the island’s stamps, this longstanding design tradition is abandoned. Their recess printed Barbados 1 May 1950 Definitive Issue $2.40 stamp is the only one depicting a seal, Simon’s original seal for Charles II.

Figure 14

This design is repeated again on the $2.40 stamp of Elizabeth II’s Barbados 13 April 1953 Definitive Issue. After this the seal theme disappears from the stamp design altogether.

In addition to stamps, a number of the colonial seals have also been depicted on the successive paper money issues circulating on the Island during the first half of the twentieth century. George VI’s seal first appears on the obverse face of the Government of Barbados 1938-1949 Currency Note Issues printed by Bradbury Wilkinson.

Figure 15

Later it appears on the reverse face of the British Caribbean Territories 1950-1951 Currency Note Issue

Figure 16

printed by the same company before eventually being replaced by Elizabeth II’s on the reverse face of the 1953-1964 Issue.

Figure 17

Likewise, the seal design was also reproduced upon Police Uniform Cap Badges, during the reign of Elizabeth II.

Figure 18

Colonial Flags and even buildings such as the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Building on Broad Street in Bridgetown constructed c. 1895 also carried imagery based upon the seal design.

Figure 20
Figure 20

In 1966, during the build up to Independence, the Government of Barbados arranged an open competition to design a new national flag. Grantley W. Prescod’s globally recognised winning design comprises a vertical triband of ultramarine and gold with a black trident-head centred upon the gold band.

Image 21

The blue represents the sea and sky of Barbados, whilst the gold represents the sand of the Island’s beaches. The Trident represents the mythical sea god, Neptune who was depicted by successive monarch on all of the colonial seals. In effect Prescod reclaimed the old colonial imagery, before reshaping and transformed it into a new postcolonial National Symbol. Following independence in 1966, this trident-design has in turn been mass reproduced by the Government of Barbados across a wide range of mediums. Notable examples include, the Barbados 17 August 2016 $2.20 stamp printed by BDT International depicting the national flag.

Figure 22

Likewise the reverse face of the Barbados 1997 1 cent coin depicts a Trident.

Figure 23

The Central Bank of Barbados 2013 Issue banknotes also depict the Tridents within their designs,

Figure 24

and finally the Trident can be found on monuments including the Independence Arch on Chamberlain Bridge and Independence Square both located in Bridgetown.

Figure 26
Figure 26

It is important to remember that these colonial and postcolonial representations first introduced by Thomas Simon’s Barbados Seal in 1663 have been reproduced millions of times across different formats. This mechanical mass reproduction has enabled them to be encountered by Barbadians on a daily basis within a wide range of social, economic and political situations for almost four hundred years.

Sociologists like Michael Billig’s contend that an underlying, non-extremist and endemic form of ‘banal nationalism’ is brought into existence by such everyday encounters with representations of authority upon official and consumable objects including coins, stamps, paper money and flags. From a colonial perspective this would have helped to shape the development of a colonial identity for Barbados, at the same time helping to facilitate a proto-national identity from which drives for independence partially formed. Nevertheless as Barthes and others readily point, out such visual representations are inherrently polysemous and unstable. This allowed the new postcolonial Barbadian ruling elite to reclaim and reappropriate an old colonial symbol. Having done this they could then use the symbol in new and different ways to signify a break from the colonial past whilst developing a new national symbol at the same time.

- Richard Scott Morel, curator, philatelic collections

17 July 2018

Seeing Blindness: The Danish West Indies

When you enter the British Library exhibition ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’, you are met by a fragment of Derek Walcott’s Nobel lecture. This fragment is about fragments: ‘Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.’  Walcott evoked these postcolonial ‘African and Asiatic fragments’ in Stockholm, delivering a riven Caribbean memory that may at first glance be thought unthreatening, perhaps exotic, to a modern literary society devoted to rewarding work of ‘greatest benefit to mankind’, and to a region that has ‘successfully maintained positions as champions of minority rights and mediators in global politics’ (Fur, 18). Look a little closer and you’ll find a long and complicated history of Scandinavian-Caribbean relations. We might stay with Walcott for another moment and his epic poetic biography of Camille Pissarro, Tiepolo’s Hound (YC.2001.a.13434), which begins:

They stroll on Sundays down Dronningens Street,

Passing the bank and the small island shops

quiet as drawings, keeping from the heat

through Danish arches until the street stops

at the blue, gusting harbour, where like commas

in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves.

Sea-light on the cod barrels writes: St. Thomas,

the salt breeze brings the sound of Mission slaves

chanting deliverance from all their sins

in tidal couplets of lament and answer,

the horizon underlines their origins—

Pissarros from the ghetto Braganza

who fled the white hoods of the Inquisition

for the bay’s whitecaps, for the folding cross

of a white herring gull over the Mission

droning its passages from Exodus.

Pissarro - St Thomas
Camille Pissarro, Deux femmes causant au bord de la mer, Saint Thomas, 1856. Wikimedia Commons

We are on St Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea, but at the same time we are not. Compressed into this dense image of island life are centuries of history and people—Danish, African, Creole, Sephardic Jew—so drenched in a rare sea-light that with each fresh and present vision history appears anew.  Indeed, Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa calls the poem a ‘sustained study of Caribbean light against History’ (p. 181), where History is a fixed discourse of the West wrought with uneven power dynamics. In contrast, Walcott’s focus on vision and a ‘blinding’ Caribbean light—hence the focus on painting—shows the ‘possibility for experiencing the Caribbean as if for the first time […] able to see otherwise, to find utter beauty, always in the present, in environments ravaged by “History”’ (p. 182).

Oldendorp view
A view on the Island of St. Thomas from the East, in C. G. A. Oldendorp’s Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (1777, BL 4745.c.10.)

It is perhaps no coincidence then that the Det Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen also chose to frame their 2017 exhibition on the centenary of the sale of the Danish West Indies to the U.S. in the language of light and vision. Blinde vinkler. Billeder af kolonien Dansk Vestindien (Blind Spots: Images of the Danish West Indies Colony) questions the neutrality of any Danish exhibition on its colonial past as the images produced and preserved in their collections ‘were [generally speaking] created by and for those in power’. A timely attempt to stage the partiality of colonial history, Blind Spots was accompanied by an online exhibition and a host of new digitized maps , images and newspapers.

Andersen sketch St Thomas
A 20th century view of colonial architecture on the island of St. Thomas, in Ib Andersen, Tegninger fra St. Thomas, St. Croix og St. Jan, LR.430.a.16

Denmark had a sustained presence in the Caribbean from the early 17th century and eventually the islands of St Thomas, St John and St Croix were colonised, the last island becoming part of the Danish realm in 1733.  A familiar story across the Caribbean, Danish profit was ‘extracted from fertile West Indian plantations of cotton and cane by the sweat of the negro’s brow’, in the words of an early 20th century historian (Westergaard, p.156). Hans West’s 1793 survey of the islands, Bidrag til beskrivelse over Ste. Croix, med en kort udsigt over St. Thomas, St. Jean, Tortola, Spanishtown og Crabeneiland (BL 979.g.28.), can be viewed online but perhaps of more interest is the report by Moravian missionary Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp originally published in 1770, Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (1777). The Moravians —otherwise known as the Evangelical Brethren amongst other names—did not view their task in the West Indies as one of enlightenment, the Black population being too “primitive” for understanding Christianity, and rather simply tried to get the Danish subjects to accept the grace of God. In this they were successful. In spite of such condescension, Oldendorp’s account contains significant “field work” including discussions with African-born slaves in order to understand the customs and traditions of the potentially convertible population.  [See A Map of the Danish Island St. Croix in the West Indies, Maps K.Top.123.74]

While Denmark passed a law to end the slave trade in 1792, it did not come into effect until 1803, and even then the end of the trade did not stop slavery itself, which continued on the islands until all unfree were emancipated in 1848. So in 1833, we still find in the Dansk vestindisk regierings avis newspaper [BL MFM.MMISC419] advertisements for the sale of slaves. A curious publication that summarised European news in English and Danish while printing the everyday activities of the island administration, the Dansk vestindisk regierings avis could for example juxtapose, as we see in our 1833 issue, the sale of ‘Mulatto Man Johannes, a good House Servant and Coachman’ and the story of a Parisian man found dead in the Canal St Martin after having been outwitted by a cat he had indeed to drown in the same canal. The full issue can be read online courtesy of the above-mentioned digitisations.

 

Dansk Vestindisk Regerings Avis 1833 selections page 4
Selections from Dansk vestindisk regierings avis, 4 November 1833, downloaded from the Royal Danish Library Mediestream service

 Peter von Scholten, Governor General of the Danish West Indies from 1827, was sympathetic to the cause of the Black population and strove for emancipation in his years in charge, although his actions were somewhat motivated by keeping the peace, caught between a ferment of slave unrest and, equally, an agitated planter class concerned for future profits in a slave-free society. The Library has an English copy of von Scholten’s ‘Orders for the regulation of labour conditions’ from 7 May 1838 [1850.d.26.(58.)], which exemplifies this balancing act on the path towards universal freedom. It contains an order to regulate the length of the working day and a reduction of discretionary punishment, although its severity hardly amounts to a reduction at all.

Scholten Order
Orders for the regulation of labour conditions, 1838

The 19th century saw the sugar trade diversify while the yield from the Caribbean suffered at various points due to adverse conditions. The benefits of the colonies were gradually outweighed and Denmark sought to sell them on, which it eventually—after many decades of trying—did in 1917 to the U.S.A for 25 million dollars. In 1917 Waldemar Westergaard also published The Danish West Indies under Company Rule [9773.ee.1.], a historical survey of the colonies before they were absorbed by the Danish state in 1755. In it he describes the slave trade as ‘loathsome to the modern mind’ (p. 137) and African slaves as ‘the chief agency that furnished the wealth, for the control of which European nations were willing to throw down the gage of conflict and usher in titanic wars’ (p. 156).

Album_worker's home
A worker’s home on St. Croix around 1900. Photo from an album digitized by the Kongelige Bibliotek [http://www.kb.dk/images/billed/2010/okt/billeder/object300088/da/], CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0

With that description in mind, we find a notable absence of such requisite condemnation in the introduction to The Danish West Indies in Old Pictures / Dansk Vestindien I gamle billeder [W55/9366], published 50 years later for the anniversary of the sale. The curator of the exhibition of the same name, which took place on the U.S. Virgin Islands in Spring 1967, writes instead:

‘It is a fact that most Danes still have a very soft spot in their hearts for the West Indies. Perhaps it is the dream, of heat and sunshine, palm trees and exotic flowers, white coral beaches, wealthy planters and a picturesque black population which appeals to our imagination. But for the most of us it will remain a dream. Very few have the chance of making their wishes come true and visiting the paradise on earth, as it seems to use dwellers in the frozen north.’

Slaves, later in the introduction, become simply part of the mechanics of island society without much lip service being paid to the idea of exploitation. Fifty years later, with last year’s Blind Spots exhibition at the KB, it might still be the same idealized vision on show but its inherent blindness and problematic perspectival gaps are simultaneously on the pedestal, to be interrogated, complicated and decimated by alternative visions in flux.

But, let’s finish where Walcott does, returning home from literal and figurative European and painterly explorations,

‘I shall finish in a place whose only power

is the exploding spray along its coast,

its rotting asphalt and cantankerous poor

numb beyond resignation and its cost,

[…]’

And,

‘Let this last page catch the last light of Becune Point,

lengthen the arched shadows of Charlotte Amalie,

[…]’

  • - Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading

Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (Barby: 1777)

Id., A Caribbean Mission (ed. Johann Jakob Bossard) (Ann Arbor: 1987) – translation of above.

Hans West, Bidrag til beskrivelse over Ste. Croix, med en kort udsigt over St. Thomas, St. Jean, Tortola, Spanishtown og Crabeneiland (Copenhagen: 1793)

Dansk Vestindisk Regerings Avis (Christiansted: 1833), BL MFM.MMISC419

[Peter v. Scholten], [Orders for the regulation of labour conditions] (St. Croix: 1838)

Waldemar Westergaard, The Danish West Indies under Company Rule (New York: 1917)

The Danish West Indies in Old Pictures / Dansk Vestindien I gamle billeder (U. S. Virgin Islands: 1967)

Isaac Dookhan, A History of the Virgin Islands of the United States (St. Thomas: 1974), BL X.800/25025

Ib Andersen, Tegninger fra St. Thomas, St. Croix og St. Jan (Copenhagen: 1976)

Neville A. T. Hall, Slave Society in the Danish West Indies (Mona; Cave Hill; St. Augustine: 1992/1994), 96/16886

Derek Walcott, Tiepolo’s Hound (London: 2000)

Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa, ‘“The Island Blazed”: A Blinding Light and Tiepolo's Hound’, Journal of Latin American cultural studies, vol. 23:2, pp. 173-191, 2014

12 July 2018

Summer reading: Canada in the Frame

Above: 'The Globe Kittens' (1902), E. J. Rowley (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Those of you who have followed the Americas blog for a long time may remember the Library’s ‘Picturing Canada’ project, where the Library and Wikimedia Commons digitised and released into the public domain the photographs from the Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection. The keen eyed will also have spotted that this project has continued to evolve, as we worked on new ways to talk about the collection and won a BL Labs runner-up prize for our work in mapping the collection last year. I think, finally, we are coming to the end of our long work on this collection and that end is in the form of an open access monograph published with UCL Press.

Why open access? This seemed like the best fit for talking at length about a collection that now has such a wide-ranging life on the web, after all if the images are available to everyone then an analysis of the collection can be too. To mark the release of, Canada in the Frame: Copyright, Collections and the Image of Canada, 1895-1924 I have been going back through the images from the book to pull out a few that I have always found particularly interesting and that speak to the collection as a whole. The cats at the top did not quite make the cut but they tell us two interesting things; that much of the collection was produced and copyrighted to cater to a growing economy of frivolous photographic consumption in Canada and that cute cats predate the Internet by more than 60 years.

Above: 'Opening of the British Columbia Parliament buildings' (1898), J. W. Jones.

J. W. Jones’s photographs of the opening of the provincial parliament buildings in Victoria, British Columbia, are part of a common trope in the collection, where civic development and pride are celebrated through the work of the photographer. Jones is also one of the few photographers who we can see actively enforced the copyright he claimed on his images, taking a photographic competitor to court for copyright infringement in the early twentieth century.

 File:Canadian patriotic Indian Chiefs (HS85-10-30605).jpg

Above: Tom Longboat (1907), by C. Aylett and 'Patriotic Indian Chiefs' (1915), by R. R. Mumford.

The next two images highlight the complex ways in which individuals from First Peoples groups were photographed at this time. In both photographs the focus is on using First Peoples to perform different aspects of colonial nationalism, with Tom Longboat (Cogwagee, of the Onondaga Nation) posed and styled as ‘a Canadian’ after his victory in the 1907 Boston Marathon while the ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs’ are here framed in a piece of First World War Propaganda. In both instances, complex indigenous identities are reconfigured by White photographers to communicate patriotic messages to urban consumers. That Longboat was only regarded as Canadian in victory (when losing he became ‘an Indian’ again to press commentators) also highlights the cynicism underpinning these images.

File:The wreck of the artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, June 9, 1903 (HS85-10-14100-10).jpg

Above: The wreck of the artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, June 9, 1903' (1903), H. A. May.

Trains were a popular subject for photographers in this period and images of train wrecks had an eager market of buyers. Notable among the photographs of wrecks found in the collection are those of Harriet Amelia May who took a series of photographs of the scenes after an artillery train derailed in the small town of Enterprise. Within a set of fairly standard photographs of the scene, capturing the derailed train, men looking industrious while trying to clear up, May also produced this image of a family with the ruin of the train invading their back garden. As a result, May left us with a unique image of how modernity could disrupt people’s lives in Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Homesteaders

Above: 'Homesteaders trekking from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan' (1909), L. Rice.

Finally, the collection covers the period of ‘The Last Best West’ and Canadian photographers devoted considerable effort to documenting the settlement of Canada’s plains provinces. many, like that of Rice (above) illustrate the efforts settlers went to in order to claim land and establish a home while others focused on the many new peoples, often from eastern Europe, who were making the west their home and becoming part of Canadian society. These are just a few examples of the topics covered in the book and the over 100 images that accompany the account, if you would like to know more, you can download a copy of Canada in the Frame from UCL Press by clicking here.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies