Even in the Beginning

The water in Carlisle Bay is butterfly blue. From its deep water to the turquoise shallows, the white beach stretches from the centre of Bridgetown into a long, easy arch. The beach’s sand is softer on our feet than memory foam. As we stood on it last Saturday, two ladies came along and used our dinghy as a photo prop.

We watched, bemused as one of them sat on Edna’s tubes. The woman threw her head back. Her pretty sarong fluttered in the breeze.

‘Have you seen that that before?’ I asked Jack.

‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘Shall I ask them if they need a lift?’

I smacked him on the arm. Ha!

Still, there’s no denying that Carlisle Bay is popular. From the tourists to the locals, jet skiis, swimming race horses and water jet packs, this beach buzzes. Even its name has a story. In the 1620s, while the surrounding jungles of native hardwood were being cleared for its first plantations, Barbados was busy being carved up in the UK. One of the first to get in line was James Hay, the Earl of Carlisle. He’d been a favourite of James Stuart’s royal circle, moving down with him from Scotland to London. Once there, Carlisle, a man of enormously lavish living, had built up huge debts even his royal hobnobbing couldn’t protect him from. For potential salvation, he turned his attention to the newly-discovered West Indies.

Knowing that James’ successor, King Charles I had an unfortunate tendency to sign anything put in front of him, Carlisle procured a decree from Charles I giving himself all the ‘Caribee Islands’. Cheeky or what. Step one – head for Barbados. Carlisle sent a party of sixty-four men, led by Captain Wolverston, arriving in Barbados in 1628. Needless to say, it didn’t go down too well with the men who’d been living in spartan tropical conditions for a year, trying just to build a log house in the thick, insect-covered jungle. Captain Wolverston promptly arrested the leader of the party, Governor John Powell and started clearing people off the area called ‘the bridge’, nowadays Bridgetown.

The story wasn’t over for the original settlers. Six months later, John Powell returned to Barbados with a hundred men. He persuaded Wolverston into meeting him and had him arrested and manacled. Wolverston also had a large tobacco crop which was seized. Things were looking up for Powell and his men.. until May of the same year, when royal instructions arrived confirming that Carlisle was the rightful proprietor of Barbados. The investors behind Powell, the Courteen family, who’d already sunk ten thousand pounds of their money into this venture were understandably furious. Still, in the world of bribery and who-you-know, Carlisle proved the more skilled royal courtier.

With Wolverston gone, another Carlisle-backed governor, Henry Hawley stepped in. A particularly cunning man, he tricked both the Powell brothers into getting on his boat and immediately arrested them. This trick was getting a little old by now. Some men managed to jump ashore and escape but Governor John Powell and his brother, William were stripped and chained to the ship’s mast. They remained chained for over a month, before being shipped north to St. Kitts. They arrived there just in time to be taken prisoner by the invading Spanish. Just couldn’t get a break! Back in Barbados, Governor Henry Hawley led a fantastically corrupt regime for the next ten years, pinching land like a greedy crab.

Standing on Carlisle’s beach, the whole historical tale sounds almost mythical with the good bits both juicy and terrible, a homage to our never-ending human capacity for endeavour, cruelty and manipulation. And all on this little coral rock in the Atlantic Ocean, 21 miles long by 14 wide.

Meanwhile, the women finished their photo shoot with Edna and continued strolling down the sand. The late afternoon sun followed them as if curious to listen to their laughing conversation. Oh Barbados; what a stage you are.

 

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