Recently on a Friday night my husband and I decided to check out the Historic Garrison Night Tour in Barbados. (See schedule in the Calendar of Events)
I diligently laced up my sneakers, searched until I found our illusive flash light (as advised by the tour) and set off to the George Washington House.
We arrived around 6:45pm and were delighted to learn that we could walk through the ground floor of the George Washington House.
This was such a treat as the outside of the building was illuminated by glowing flambos. The visual impact of the magnificent 30 seat dining room table lit solely by candlelight was stunning and instantly transported me back to the 1700’s. You could almost hear the horse and buggies in the yard and the hustle and bustle of servants as they prepared dinner. The stories that these walls could tell.
We started the walk into the dark night, which gave an eerie feeling to the tour and again the environment made you forget that we were really in the 21st Century. We were accompanied by James and Peter who narrated the tour.
How little I actually knew about the Historic Garrison.
I have always thought that the Savannah and the buildings around the race track were the entire Historic Garrison, but I quickly learnt that the area is only 39 acres of the total 159 acres that makes up the Garrison site. What was also impressive to learn is that our still used race track is the second oldest in the world second only to one in England.
We learnt about Monuments that had been repositioned repeatedly throughout their history, cricket games that were played on the Garrison, morning revelry of the troupes and many other aspects of history which took place at the Garrison.
Queen Elizabeth knighted Sir Gary there, Barbados revelry when we became Independent also took place there.
It’s been the centre of island life for many generations in the past and hopefully for the generations to come. It is part of our heritage. We must preserve what we have and refurbish the magnificent buildings that are falling into disrepair. We need to catch the vision and reawaken this area.
The night quiet was broken as Christian songs wafted from a church service held in the base of the clock tower on Friday nights, surprisingly haunting notes of music drifting over the group, which added to the atmosphere, as we were regaled with stories of the troupes and the appalling conditions that they had to endure here in the tropics.
Back in the 1700’s some of the area was swamp land and very boggy. Many of the British soldiers used to succumb to tropical illnesses like yellow fever and malaria. The Garrison was also used for revelry and you can almost hear the bugles blowing to summon the soldiers to congregate in the early mornings.
At any one time over one thousand men lived and worked in this area and sometimes when the rotation of troupes got fouled up…up to three thousand men would be stationed here…many sleeping outside on the ground as there were no more room in the barracks.
Suddenly out of the shadows came the “ghost” of O’Rourke. O’Rourke was a poor Irishman who had joined the English regiment and was assigned to Barbados. He had a very sad story. He had a hard time waking in time for revelry and his Superior in command called for him to be punished repeatedly by being struck fifty times by a cat of nine tails.
O’Rourke survived the first punishment given to the “Lazy Irishman” but he succumbed and died during his second bout of lashes. It was later discovered that he wasn’t a lazy Irish man but he had a huge cancerous tumor in his abdomen. Life was worth very little back in those days and his death was just one of those things. I can’t imagine the hoopla that would happen in this day and age if O’Rourke lived in the 21st century. This skit bought to life how difficult it was in past times.
Life in the tropics was very difficult with the heat, the humidity, the sun, the insects and rodents and the tropical diseases on the English soldiers. Throughout this experience Peter, the guide, read pieces from letters written in those days of old by Captain Bunbury.
He wrote very detailed, partial amusing accounts of life at The Garrison but you definitely get the impression of a very harsh existence. The powers at be decided to start the West Indian Regiment.
This regiment enlisted only free black men. What was surprising is that these men were not slaves and did not come from this area. They were recruited from Africa. The feeling being that if these men had no relationships with any of the black slaves on the island they would stay loyal to the Crown. This was shown when we had the riots in the 1830’s when the slaves tried to revolt and “Bussa” became a hero.
The slaves thought that their fellow black men in the West Indian Regiment would have their backs when in fact they sided with the Crown making the riot ineffective. Amazing that I have been taught history at school here, learnt about the Bussa riots but yet never knew we had a black West Indian Regiment.
We continued on and crossed the street, pass the original Army barracks and down to Graves End Beach. Here we learnt about unfinished forts, underground tunnels, the vast armory and finally the unmarked area of the beach that was a Cholera burial ground back in the 1850’s.
We continued into the pitch dark night to the Military burial ground, which was opened for us. Grave yards in the dark come with their own special spookiness. It was here beneath the boughs of a huge Silk Cotton Tree, that we were told the folk lore stories of voodoo rituals that were associated with this type of tree.
In fact at one point in history it was very difficult to get someone to cut down these trees as they were afraid of the wrath of departed spirits that lived within them. Here once again out of the darkness came another lost soul with his story, a living skit that once again bought to life how difficult life was back then. This burial ground is still in use today for past members of the British Army and their wives.
We travelled along the road and were again regaled with stories of the old pier, the chronic damage inflicted by a Hurricane in the 1800’s, old rum bonds, passed the walls that were the entrance to the original black hospital (these buildings were destroyed sometime in the late 1900’s) but the guard walls still stand.
We walked past another building whose burglar bars are made out of the barrels of old guns as nothing ever went to waste. This building was an old store house and had gone forgotten until the Garrison Consortium started researching the area, doing the tours and it was realized it was another piece of the puzzle of our history. It stands in disrepair but hopefully in the future it will be restored to some of its former glory.
We continued walking with wonderful tales being woven about the past history of the Historic Garrison Area. Then up Bush Hill. Another voice from the past…lying dead on the ground was John Hislop. He was brutally beaten and murdered in 1809.
His murder has been unsolved for over 200 years but once again while research was being done for this tour they seem to have uncovered clues about his death….You will have to take the tour to hear what they discovered. This body was so realistic that a car drove by and reversed to inquire in a loud Bajan voice, “What happen to he? He dead?”
This tour took about ninety (90) minutes to complete and finishes back at the George Washington House. After all the tales of murder, executions, and mysterious tunnels The Coffee Café was a welcome beacon in the dark. It remains open until the tour is complete. The warm friendly staff were very willing to please and quickly served up freshly fried fish sandwiches and salads. It was delicious.
I have to say I was extremely impressed with all the knowledge the guides had, the detail in which it was presented and the enthusiasm they had towards continuing to restore and preserve this area.
They have amazing vision for the future and here’s hoping they will achieve it all.
The Historic Garrison Area has actually been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a great honour. An honour we can lose if we don’t continue to preserve the buildings, teach people about the history of this area and continue restoring the area.
This job is being well done by these men and I can only wish them continuing success in their endeavors in the future.
I can recommend this tour to both visitors and locals alike. I certainly will be returning and bringing as many souls as I can encourage to come. Well done Garrison Consortium. Well done.
Historic Garrison Night Tour
This activity takes place from 7 – 9 pm on April 18, May 02, 09 and every other Friday from June 05 2014 until further notice.
This guided walking tour takes place every other Friday, as of November 22nd 2013, from 7 pm. A bit of a thriller, this tour focuses on the macabre side of life in the Garrison.
Come and join our night of tragic tales and wonderful history in store for you and we invite you to join us and become further enraptured by the Garrison Historic Area. The voices of the past are waiting to tell you their stories.
We’ll start the tour from George Washington House at 7.pm. We invite you to gather from 6.45pm to take a look inside the majestic house, which will be illuminated by candlelight.
The tour will last approximately an hour and a half, so be sure to wear very comfortable shoes. Bring a drink or even something light to eat as we make our way through the Historic Area. Also feel free to bring a torch to make sure your path is well lit.
Engage the guides and be ready to learn about the significance of historic landmarks on our ninety minute tour.
Tour Includes tales of:
Murders, executions, crimes and punishments!
The tour will also explain:
— Details of the construction of the unfinished Garrison Fortress 1789 – 1793.
— How ‘Graves End Beach’ got its name.
You will also experience several short dramas en route including:
— A re-enactment of the execution by firing squad of a freed slave at the Military Cemetery.
— The unsolved John Hislop murder of 1809.
PRICE – Adult US$10, Child US$5
On the June 25, 2011, The Garrison became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, when it was inscribed on that prestigious list as part of ‘Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison’.
Accounting for about one third of the total area of the site, World Heritage status signifies that the historic value of the property transcends the national boundaries of its country and is of global significance. In other words, it’s loss would be a loss to human history. This leaves us with great pride and an even greater responsibility to ensure its survival.
The benefits to Barbados of such an accolade are immense, if utilised to our advantage while, at the same time, keeping to the international conservation standards which we must now apply.
The competition for these designations is stiff and UNESCO are under constant pressure to ensure that all standards are maintained. So, we should never forget that a World Heritage ‘Listing’ is never permanent, but only for as long as we continue to qualify.