In a number of news reports concerning our dockyard, and the proposed changes for the new sailing season, it was rather disturbing hear the dockyard being referred to as “Nelson’s Dockyard.” For shame! Especially at a time when countries all over the world are rethinking the placement of the statues and names and monuments to those who pillaged, plundered, enslaved, raped and murdered our ancestors. Seems, we are tone deaf to the temper and tenor of the times. Would to the Almighty that until its official renaming, we’d refrain from invoking the name of Lord Nelson when referring to the site where eight of our ancestors (they were skilled artisans working on the dockyard’s construction, and part of a team of about four hundred Africans over several years), were killed during a dreadful explosion on March 8, 1774.
This writer was privileged, as a boy, to visit the dockyard on school trips. We would stare transfixed at the bust of Lord Nelson that stood at the entrance to the museum. We would sneak and lay on Nelson’s four-poster bed that once stood in a place of prominence on the ground floor. We would utter Nelson’s name in hushed and reverential tones. Sigh! The folly of youth and ignorance. Little did we know then that Lord Nelson did not even like us – our ancestors, and that he despised Antigua, referring to it as that “infernal little hole.” Worse, he was a vehement proponent and defender of enslaving our people. In short, he was a horrible man whose memory ought to be cursed.
The time has come for us to officially rename the dockyard, erasing the stomach-churning name of Nelson forever. His time here in Antigua and Barbuda is a stain on our history, because he played an important part in our subjugation and exploitation, never mind death. The Bajans have made a move in the right direction, opting to take down his statue from its place of prominence in Heroes Square in Bridgetown. We hear that they plan to put it in a basement in the national museum for those who care to even bother look at it. We ought to be doing the same thing to his bust at the entrance to the dockyard museum. And yes, renaming the dockyard.
In that vein, ‘English Harbour’ ought to be renamed as well. The current name hearkens back to a time and place long gone – a time and place of English domination and bloodshed when “England ruled the waves” and “the sun never set on the British Empire.” The name is an anachronism. As was the name ‘Rhodesia,’ the nomenclature given to a white renegade minority-ruled country in Southern Africa, named for the infamous imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. The government of Robert Mugabe renamed Rhodesia, ‘Zimbabwe’ in 1979, as another step in its quest to rid itself of all the unhappy reminders of a dreadful past. As King Obstinate so nicely puts it in ANTIGUA’S TRUE HEROES: “So that is why we should now delete Hawkins, Drake and Nelson Street; these names our progress retard.”
The Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission (ABRSC) created a working group over a year ago, long before the killing of George Floyd provoked much outrage, and a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement began agitation against endemic racism. History will record that it was the Floyd killing that reawakened our consciousness to the many symbols and monuments to those with a racist, colonialist, slaver past that still occupy our places of veneration. Anyway, the thinking of the ABRSC then was that the time had come to rename our public spaces such as the Queen Victoria Park, Nelson’s Dockyard and the King George V Grounds. The chairman of the ABRSC, Mr Dorbrene O’ Marde, also weighed in with a moving piece in a DAILY OBSERVER publication in March of this year entitled, HIS NAME CAN GO, a nod to the removal of Lord Nelson’s name from the dockyard. We urge the ABRSC to continue that thrust as a matter of urgency.
Perhaps, by Independence 2021, we can have an official renaming ceremony for those three above-mentioned sites that are now so dreadfully and harmfully named. It would be another glorious step on the road to a fuller, more meaningful, independence.
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