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Act of kindness robbed family of land, inquiry hears

Paper trail: Craig Lightbourne gives evidence at yesterday’s hearing (Image supplied)

An illiterate former slave who became an ocean navigator and bought 20 acres of land in Paget in the 1800s wanted the poor to benefit from his success.

But the act of generosity by James Richardson meant that his descendants never got to inherit the property, the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses heard yesterday.

Craig Lightbourne told the commission that his ancestor, who died in 1876, set up a charitable trust in order for poor people to live on his property after his death.

But Mr Lightbourne testified that the arrangement was meant to be temporary – “for two lives” – before it was returned to the family.

The land was made of two plots straddling South Road in Paget.

The southern plot is to the west of the Coral Beach and Tennis Club, and the land north of the road covers an area now known as Honey Hill.

Mr Lightbourne told the commission that the property was still under the control of the trust more than 50 years after Mr Richardson’s death.

One of Mr Richardson’s daughters – Catherine Williams – took the matter to court in 1932.

Mr Lightbourne said: “Catherine pursued legal action against Sir Reginald Gray, Joseph Gilbert, and Edmund Gosling Gray – trustees of the estate of James Richardson.”

Mr Lightbourne was able to provide the commission with a copy of the judgment in that case.

The presiding judge ruled in Catherine Williams’ favour and Mr Richardson’s arrangement with the trust was “an absurdity“, “a farce“, and ”unworkable“.

Mr Lightbourne revealed that Catherine Williams died just after the ruling was handed down “and never took possession of the land and therefore never received any documents for the land”.

The family made a second attempt to resolve the dispute in another court case in 2010.

But the case did not proceed after questions were raised over Mr Lightbourne’s lineage.

He said that, because of “a clerical error”, his family surname was spelled with an “e“ in recent generations.

Earlier generations had omitted the “e”.

Mr Lighbourne added: “My uncle did approach the courts and I think the lineage came up as well – they questioned that we were related.

“My understanding of the 2010 Supreme Court matter is the courts were merely concerned with lineage – to my knowledge the Supreme Court did not award anything at the time.”

Mr Lightbourne admitted that the trust maintained the property and paid land taxes.

But he said this was probably funded by rental income obtained from buildings on the land.

He said that, as far as he was aware, the Richardson Trust was still in existence and managed the property.

The commission hearing continues today.

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Published January 22, 2021 at 9:04 am (Updated January 22, 2021 at 9:04 am)

Act of kindness robbed family of land, inquiry hears

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