Historical Antique Collection Leaves Dominica
-Authorities did not respond to offer of donation of artifacts of Dominican history.By Fitz Shillingford
I got interested in collecting antiques at the age of 14. My first piece was a coin of Queen Victoria I received in change from Ma King, an old lady who had a little shop opposite the Newtown savannah. In 1955 from that day anything old fascinated me. When I left for England in 1957, my collection went with me including a stamp collection I had started a little later. I continued collecting in England and would go into old buildings which were earmarked for demolition. When I returned to Dominica in 1983, my collection came with me. After Hurricane Maria I left again for England and left my collection for safe keeping and took with me six pictures of old Dominica for my children.
I was looking at the pictures one Sunday morning and a thought came to me: why not organize a pictorial history of Dominica in England? Something I had done on a small scale at the Emerald Pool Tourist Facility when I operated it. I discussed the idea with my daughters who thought it was a good idea. I immediately started doing some research among the Dominicans population in the Hackney area who were excited about the idea and looked forward to it…
So, after my success with the pictorial exhibition in London, another idea developed. Since the idea in London was a pictorial exhibition, why not photograph all my Dominican exhibits for London and the official exhibits, I donate them to the people of Dominica, killing two birds with one stone.
I returned to Dominica in April of 2018 and immediately started doing research on the Dominican part of the exhibition. After about six inquiries I was finally told which Ministry my idea was connected with. I approached the relevant people concerned and told them of my plan. I have to say the enthusiasm I received in London was lacking in Dominica.
I, however, continued putting things in place and feeling very optimistic. I was wrong. I spoke to Dr. Lennox Honychurch about it, he thought it was a good idea and promised to help me with my British end with some pictures. After three weeks I expected some feedback. None. I made some inquires as to what was the holdup. No explanation. I spoke to chief technical officers, permanent secretaries, still nothing. Up and down Ministry steps, still nothing. Five weeks, nothing. I began to get annoyed. Two months, still nothing.
I then decided to bring some of the exhibits to the Dominica Museum, hoping it would prove how serious I was. Two months, nothing. When I mentioned the lack of interest to some people I got the same comment: Fitz, sell your things and enjoy your money. But I could not bring myself to sell my country's history.
Here's are some of the items in the collection:
The plaque. In 2010 I sent the plaque of the Dominica Militia to London to be investigated and Sotheby's, the British Auction House, sent me a letter that whenever I was ready they would be happy to handle the auction. This plaque I have had in my possession for about 26 years. The only one in the world as far as I know and it is the only physical evidence to connect the Dominican Militia to Great Britain who reigned from 1830 to 1837 and King William the III.
Other parts of the collection included coins of King George III, George IV, Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V, George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The Dominican coins totaled 42. I also had a collection of world coins totaling 262.
There was also a diner set commissioned by an Indian prince comprising seven plates, one of which I gave to a friend who gave me courage by telling me to give the authorities another chance. Including in the set were four wine handmade gobblers and a handmade tray entrusted with about 500 hand graved leaves. Also, a pair of handmade Chinese candle holders with dragon heads, two carvings of Maya kings, one spoon from the Nina Maria, the second ship of Columbus. This spoon was engraved on the back, Nina Maria and because of its length and the size of its holding area I supposed it was used to administer medicine. I am still researching if the Nina Maria was indeed the ship of Columbus who carried the medical personnel and their equipment on their voyage.
There was cooking utensils which I discovered a mile or so below the Emerald Pool leading towards an estate now owned by Flossi Joseph. I am not 100% sure but given their location and age I might not be wrong if I suggested that they were in some way connected to the slaves who lived in that part of Dominica years ago.
There's a carving of a Kalinago fisherman about to cast his net (Lebouve), a French sword with a brass head of an eagle. Its blade was iron, not steel, which gives you an idea of its age. This I also gave to a friend who gave me courage through my stressful times with the authorities and many more artifacts, as they say, too numerous to mention.
After a collection which started with one Victoria penny in 1955 and lasted for over 40 years has finally left Dominica. I did not keep anything for myself. To have done so I would consider selfish. All is gone, some to the USA and some to England. I sincerely am sorry that it had to be this way but I tried and did not get the help I needed to keep them here.
Just before the plaque of the Dominica Militia left I read an article in the Sun by Dr. Para Riviere entitled "Neg Maroon" in which he wrote about the Militia. I made inquires of his location and was told that he had relocated to Portsmouth, but I could contact him through another attorney. I immediately rushed over to his office and with the kind help of his secretary, I had her take a picture of the plaque to send to him. Para, I am sorry I could not have shown you the real thing. I hope the picture will be of some satisfaction.
Again, Dear Reader, I am sorry but I did try.