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Golf club urged to halt plan to demolish building with ties to Mary Prince

Watlington House at the Ocean View Golf Course (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Historians and a Government Ministry have urged the Ocean View Golf Course to reconsider plans to demolish a historic building where, as a slave, Mary Prince was prepared for sale.

According to a planning application, the club intends to tear down an “existing warehouse building” on the Devonshire property and replace it with a new warehouse on the same site.

But Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, of the University of Prince Edward Island said on Wednesday the building earmarked for demolition was the historic Watlington House, which was the location of a key moment in Mary Prince’s life.

Dr Maddison-MacFadyen said: “I really think that Ocean View didn’t know and I really do think that when they find out, they will make the right decision and get it into the right hands so it can be preserved.”

She said that early in The History of Mary Prince, the landmark autobiography that contributed to the end of slavery in the British Empire, Mary Prince recalled being told by her young owner, Betsy Williams, that she would be sold.

Miss Prince wrote that she was then taken to Betsy’s “father’s sister” to be prepared for sale by her own mother.

An exert from

Oh dear! I cannot bear to think of that day, – it is too much. – It recalls the great grief that filled my heart, and the woeful thoughts that passed to and fro through my mind, whilst listening to the pitiful words of my poor mother, weeping for the loss of her children.

I wish I could find words to tell you all I then felt and suffered. The great God above alone knows the thoughts of the poor slave's heart, and the bitter pains which follow such separations as these.

All that we love taken away from us – Oh, it is sad, sad! and sore to be borne! – I got no sleep that night for thinking of the morrow; and dear Miss Betsey was scarcely less distressed.

She could not bear to part with her old playmates, and she cried sore and would not be pacified.

The black morning at length came; it came too soon for my poor mother and us.

Whilst she was putting on us the new osnaburgs in which we were to be sold, she said, in a sorrowful voice, (I shall never forget it!) "See, I am shrouding my poor children; what a task for a mother!"

She then called Miss Betsey to take leave of us. "I am going to carry my little chickens to market," (these were her very words,) "take your last look of them; may be you will see them no more."

She described the “sorrowful meeting” at the home and recalled her mother telling her: “I am shrouding my poor children; what a task for a mother!"

The next day she and her siblings were walked to Hamilton, where Prince was sold to Captain John Ingham for £57.

Dr Maddison-MacFadyen said that Betsy's father, Captain John Williams, only had only one sister and she lived at Watlington House, which suggested that the emotional meeting happened there.

She said that many of the sites linked to Miss Prince had been lost to time and that it was important to preserve those that remain.

“By remembering the past, even if they are difficult memories, we can better understand what’s happening in the present and can look towards a better future,” she said.

She said she hoped the property could be donated to the Bermuda National Trust or otherwise preserved with a plaque to signify the site’s history.

Dr Maddison-MacFadyen added: “While she is certainly a Bermuda National Hero, Mary Prince is also an international hero. She really has an important place in history.”

Her letter of objection was one of several received by the Department of Planning earlier this week, including letters from the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport, the Mary Prince Historical Trust and celebrated local historian Clarence Maxwell.

Dr Maxwell said the property was the location of a significant moment in the National Hero’s life and should be preserved.

“Unlike many historical figures, Mary Prince has a large number of sites still existing that are connected to her memory, both foreign and domestic, each telling the story of her life and the importance of her contribution,” he said.

“It was from this site that she, her mother and her sisters walked to Hamilton where Prince and her sisters were sold.

“The maintenance of the buildings on this site, especially as it is included in historical tours chronicling the life of this Bermudian National Hero, is essential to the preservation of her memory.”

The Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport, also filed an objection to the plan, calling for the proposal to be “suspended to allow a fulsome discussion in relation to the building's connection to our national history”.

LeYoni Junos of the Mary Prince Historical Trust called on the building to be preserved because of its rich history and connection to the National Hero.

“The Mary Prince Historical Trust along with other interested parties hope to save this historic building and surrounding area in the interest of the rich community history it embodies,” she wrote.

The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce meanwhile said in a letter of concern that if the property was linked to Ms Prince, a plaque should be erected on the site.

Kim Swan, Government MP and the chairman of the Board of Trustees for the island’s public golf courses, said on Wednesday night: “The board of trustees are now consulting with our substantive Ministry and other government departments on the matter.”

Watlington House was a family home until 1867, when it was one of several compulsory purchases made under the Bermuda Defence Act 1865 which led to the creation of Fort Prospect and the establishment of the British garrison.

The southern façade of the building was modified by the British War Department, but much of the northern section of the property still carries the features of an old Bermuda home.

When the surrounding property became the Ocean View golf course – the first Black golf course on the island – the building was converted to serve as the clubhouse.

The building was also used by the Black community for funerals, weddings and other social events until it became a storage area for the golf course.

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Published July 23, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated July 23, 2021 at 7:25 am)

Golf club urged to halt plan to demolish building with ties to Mary Prince

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