Lady Nugent weeps

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The Nugent name is synonymous with Antigua and Barbuda. Much has been written about their involvement with the Skerretts aka Clare Hall and  Follys estates. They were connected to the Antigua Grammar School (AGS) and Archdeacon Samuel Edmund Branch who founded it in 1884, and was its headmaster from that time until 1927.  The AGS was first located at the top of St Mary’s Street, before it moved to the old treasury building near the Bryson’s Bottling Plant, across from the General Post Office at the bottom of High Street. That building also housed the Public Library upstairs. It was severely damaged in the great earthquake of 1974 and abandoned.

Anyway, AGS moved to its present location on Old Parham Road in 1910, into what was then the Poor House, a property owned by the Nugents. One of the classrooms at the AGS is still named ‘Nugent’ for the family.

In relative terms, the Nugents of the 1900’s were a beneficent sort. Yes, they were  descended from a family that had enslaved Africans from 1720, when they first arrived in Antigua, until Emancipation. For example, the record reflects that one Nicholas Nugent of Skerretts was paid 2,884.17 pounds, for 178 enslaved Africans upon their Emancipation. Sigh! The British government had the temerity to pay the estate owners for their loss of so-called ‘property’ and ‘free’ labour from enslaved Africans, but they never thought it the right and proper thing to pay the enslaved for the loss of their freedom, and the taking of that labour (blood, sweat, tears) at the point of a gun or the sting of a whip. They are only now coming to grips with the reality that their exploitation and enslavement of Africans was the greatest crime against humanity, and that it heaped untold damage on us over the centuries, and that reparations for that damage are due. True, many bodies and institutions around the world, including the Anglican church, have apologised for their abominable role in slavery, but that is hardly enough. (See the CARICOM reparations 10-point plan)

Now, perhaps, in a way, the Nugents of the 1900’s recognised that they were living lives of comfort and ease in palatial estate houses on account of the enslavement of our ancestors by their ancestors.. So they engaged in a number of charitable causes. Remember, in the period following Emancipation, the social and economic conditions under which our great, great grandparents lived were absolutely horrendous. Quality of life was downright awful. (See Papa Sammy’s TO SHOOT HARD LABOUR and Dr Natasha Lightfoot’s TROUBLING FREEDOM for the graphic accounts)

To mitigate, in some way, the harsh conditions under which Antiguans were living, the Nugents – specifically Sir Oliver and Lady Nugent, donated the land and erected the Poor House (now AGS), and a cemetery for the poor on the same grounds – Lady Nugent Cemetery (Poor black people were not buried in the Anglican church cemeteries). The premises for the Holberton Hospital, the premises upon which stand the old and new Parliament building, and a home for truant boys aka Skerrett, were also donated by the Nugents. The Nugents owned Cassada Gardens, Clare Hall, Skerrett’s Pasture, Johnson’s Village, the AGS top and bottom fields, Scott’s Hill (which they sold to Egbert Harney in the 1940’s,), the site of the current Fiennes Institute, and so on and so forth. For those too young to remember, what we now call the Boys Training School was more commonly referred to as ‘Skerrett’ on account of its first location in Skerrett’s Pasture. In the late sixties and seventies, it was moved to Grays Hill, but it retained the name ‘Skerrett.’

The Nugents were also involved in the setting up of a home for the mentally ill when they donated some more of their land – site of the current Clarevue Hospital.

Clearly, Lady Nugent was concerned about the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our fair State. So the idea to convert the National Technical Training Centre (NTTC) on Nugent Avenue into a first-rate hospital would have met with her smile of approval. Of course, she would have chortled at the fanciful declaration by Minister Weston, he of much over-the-top rhetoric, that this state-of-the-art hospital (much needed in this time of Covid) would be finished in a matter of two weeks. He spoke with  an affect of sincerity to the need of the hour. But guess what, folks. Surprise, Surprise! It’s been many months since that grandiloquent pronouncement, and the blessed hospital is not yet opened for business. To add insult to injury most foul, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), at the height of this nation’s greatest crisis (an existential war ), saw it fit to work with demon speed to meet some sort of Labour Party deadline, so that Labour Party leaders could masquerade in fascist and Nazi-style regalia. It was a desecration of those lying in repose at Lady Nugent cemetery. It was a repudiation of all that the early fathers of the Labour Party once stood for. It was a slap in the face to the exigencies of the Covid effort. And of course, the optics were exceedingly poor.

What the heck! In the middle of  a war, when all resources should be directed at the war effort, those in high places in the ABLP saw it fit to ignore the languishing state-of-the-art hospital to satisfy ABLP vanity and egomania. We suggest that Luther George and Papa Bird and Lionel and Denfield Hurst, and so on and so forth, would have frowned on this misplacement of priorities. Even if it is ABLP resources being utilised to finish the headquarters, the Founding Fathers would have suggested that the resources be handed over to the State in a spirit of solidarity and magnanimity, and in a nod to Lady Nugent. The ABLP Founding Fathers weep! As does Lady Nugent! Our ancestors, upon whose graves the Labour Party headquarters now stands, cannot rest easy!

Meanwhile, in the midst of our greatest health crisis, the polyclinics in Glanvilles and Villa lie unopened, monuments to an astonishing lack of prior proper planning. The medical director of the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre, Dr Albert Duncan, is bawling about how the facility is stretched to its maximum. Covid patients are dying  – five in the last two days, and so on and so forth. We lost Nurse Byers (RIP) last week, and schoolchildren are talking about the lack of sufficient equipment, supplies and other Covid-fighting basics. Clinics around the country are reportedly short of bleach and other cleaning agents. It is a travesty! The disorganised management (Minister Molwyn Joseph’s depiction), with one hand not knowing what the hell the other is doing.

Animals have taken over the state-of-the-art hospital on Nugent Avenue, and the blessed place is overrun with bush. All this, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COVID CRISIS when MSJMC IS MAXED OUT! Go figure!

But there is more. When recently asked why the hospital on Nugent Avenue was not yet commissioned into service, one of those in a  high place said that they are waiting on an elevator. Sigh! Don’t laugh, folks! A two-storey building. Of all the excuses that those in high places could have come up with, we believe that that one is the worst. Tell us that there aren’t enough nurses. Tell us that you’re waiting on critical equipment and supplies. Tell us the usual bs stories that you always manufacture, much like a  cheap magician, but not that elevator story. Could that facility not be opened and put into service by staff and patients who can use the stairs?

War generals have often said that you go to war with the army that you have, especially when war is thrust upon you, much like Covid’s been thrust upon us. We cannot fail to use that which is good, whilst waiting for the ideal situation. Seems, with this administration, “the elevator is not going to the top floor.” “The light is on at the state-of-the-art hospital, but nobody’s home.” Sir Oliver and Lady Nugent, they who seemed to be able  to get things done for the most vulnerable,, weep.

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