STORIES OF OUR FAMILIES
To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.
My father wrote this entertaining little story at his home in Barbados on 2nd April, 1989, roughly a decade before there was the internet and ways to do any serious genealogy research. Other than entries in family Bibles, family genealogies were passed down through the generations as oral history. Often the stories were only partly correct, yet gave important clues upon which to find out more. My father's story was written from the heart, in the early hours of the morning when his pen would flow with memories from his youth and family background of which he was very proud. He has woven a much-told family tale into this sweet, romantic story.
The basic thread of immigrants arriving on the shores of Trinidad from Madeira is factual, as are some other parts of the story. Certain names and dates are accurate and I have provided links to to pages on this site about them; others I now know to be incorrect, and others are still being researched. However, I have chosen to leave his story unedited and authentic as written in his own handwriting. I feel that this, too, forms history for Andrew's family. To me it shows a generational striving for identity that exists in the psyche of immigrants who never wish to forget their roots.
Historian Jo-Anne Ferreira has pointed out to me that Dom is Portuguese for Don, and do Rei for de Roy. I therefore consider the following story to be mostly fiction, combined with oral tradition.
In Lisbon, Portugal, during the early years of the 19th Century, there lived a very wealthy man who owned and resided in one of his large mansions with his wife and daughter. His name was Don Pedro de Roy; de Roy signified that he was a close relative of the King of Portugal. “Don” is the Portuguese equivalent of Lord or Sir. In any event, he was a Knight of the Court of the King. Don Pedro was a first cousin to the King.
His wife gave birth to an attractive black haired, blue-eyed daughter who was educated in all the arts and graces appropriate for a lady of such high stature in the society. Her name was Antoinette and she was particularly keen on horticulture, spending a great deal of time in the beautiful gardens surrounding their palatial residence. These extensive gardens were superbly maintained and improved by the gardener who was a Scotsman who hailed from the highlands of Scotland. Religious persecution had driven his parents and himself as well as hundreds of other faithful subjects of the United Kingdom to seek refuge in nearby Europe. Many of these refuges sought residence and employment in Portugal and Spain. Alexander was one of these unfortunate people.
Alexander was in his mid-twenties when he obtained employment with Don Pedro. He was tall, 6’3”, and possessed a fine physique. He was also ruggedly handsome, with dark curly hair and green eyes, sheltered by bushy eyebrows. The very moment that Antoinette and Alexander saw each other, it was a biological fusion of looks of love at first sight. Yes, the daughter of the King’s cousin had fallen in love with the family’s gardener.
As expected, Don Pedro was horrified that his only child and daughter had chosen as her lover a person of such low degree - a gardener - and a Scotsman to boot. Her mother, Maria, was also very disappointed in Antoinette's choice. All the dreams of her daughter being married to a Duke of the Realm were now shattered. The social status of Don Pedro was now in the balance. Either Antoinette give up this "infatuation" or she would be placed in a convent in France, there to languish indefinitely, for her folly.
Rather than face such a fate, Alexander and Antoinette eloped and stayed in Madeira. Alexander, who carried the family name of McClean, had his name changed to Perreira, which name was rare in Madeira and which indicated that he was of good stock. Alex and Antoinette soon became parents of a beautiful daughter, whom they named Virginia. At that time, many Portuguese were leaving to reside in distant Brazil which was encouraging the emigration of Portuguese families to develop that vast country. Interested parties pooled their resources and obtained small ships and their crews to convey these adventurous people to the new land of promise in the West. Among the adventurers were Alex and Antoinette McClean Perreira and their baby daughter Virginia. They were accompanied by Alex's brother Luis, who was part-owner of the brig, a three-masted schooner measuring 98 feet, 26 feet wide. The "Santa Lucia" had a crew of eleven, including the Captain, Vernal de Silva, an old seafarer of some 25 years. He knew where Brazil was and let it be known to all 132 passengers on this small, frail craft that they need not fear. He would get them there.
The prevailing winds carried their tight little schooner at a fair clip, until they encountered their first tropical storm, of such intensity that it ripped the mainsail and broke the aft mast which crushed two young sailors and injured a pregnant passenger. When the storm subsided, the crew were able to repair the mainsail but they were sailing without the rear mast and sails. This slowed their progress, apart from the inevitable shortages of food and water which were becoming apparent.
Despite their privations and the heat which was oppressive in their confined quarters (basic sanitation was a constant problem) the optimism and natural cheerfulness of these new-world aspirants sustained them. They were all very religious people and were victims of religious persecution. The were Presbyterians of the Scottish following, their ancestors having flown from the tyranny of Oliver Cromwell and his intolerant regime and settled in Portugal and Madeira.
Sickness and shortages of food and water, combined with a crippled ship, influenced the Captain to alter his course and he steered his cramped vessel towards Trinidad where they landed after an arduous voyage from Madeira lasting 82 days. With great relief, passengers and crew praised God that they had arrived on "terra firma", although it was not Brazil. Fifty percent of the passengers opted to remain in Trinidad, the remainder would continue the voyage to Brazil after the necessary repairs were done to the Santa Lucia and she was revictualed So here they were in Port of Spain, which had not yet become the capital. St. Joseph, eight miles to the east, was the capital city of Trinidad. However, the settlers decided to make their home in Port of Spain. The British authorities were sympathetic to their plight and welcomed them and gave their full cooperation and support. Fortunately, among their members, there were many artisans. Excellent masons who were experienced in working with stone which was abundantly available, carpenters, joiners who would make beautiful furniture for their eventual wooden homes with substantial stone walls and steps and pathways.
Trinidad was a lush country with extensive areas of swamps, rivers and forests. The new settlers soon discovered that there were deer, manicou, agouti, wild pigs, all types of birds, etc. Food was no problem. Every plant grew healthily. Water everywhere. And the sea and rivers, fish, lobsters, shrimp in great abundance. This was indeed Paradise on earth. The population mainly comprised English military and merchants and their families, descendants of Spanish and French settlers and, of course, Caribs who chose to live in the middle of Trinidad - i.e. Arima and Couva and the negro slaves who were brought from Africa to work in the sugar cane plantations. They were liberated in 1831 and by 1836 were becoming assimilated into the commercial world in the labouring field. This newly arrived group from Madeira were the first Portuguese to settle in Trinidad.
Among the names of these new Trinidadians were Gomez, de Freitas, de Silva, Pereira, Ferreira, Gonzales, de Souza, Fernandes, etc. Their descendants mostly remained in Trinidad and inter-married, thus creating a fairly large Portuguese community. The majority of the men found themselves in the business of importing and distributing basic food supplies and became known as provision merchants. Salted cod-fish, pig-tails and other parts, rice, peas, garlic, onions, potatoes and a host of other food items were imported mainly from Madeira and Portugal and South America. These businesses thrived and their owners soon became owners of cocoa-bearing land. They also branched out into the production and for importation of rum and wines which were marketed through their own outlets known as rum-shops which proliferated. General shops offered for sale all other items of food and general merchandise for the home.
This group of Portuguese settlers quickly identified themselves as very hard workers who possessed natural ability to run their own businesses. Their contribution to the development of Trinidad was considerable. They formed their own social clubs and organised several activities to assist in the charitable work for which they became well known. Within their own society they separated the shop-keepers and provision merchants from the business executives, doctors, lawyers and other professionals by creating their own social clubs. The Portuguese Association occupied an attractive and substantial building in Richmond Street in Port of Spain, whose members were the provision traders, etc. and the other group created the Portuguese Club in St. Vincent Street, which was larger and even more posh than their counterpart, with miniature golf course, tennis courts, etc. Bridge clubs abounded and occasional balls were held. Members of both clubs did not have automatic entry to the other's dances or other festivities. invitations or membership were the only passports. Codes of behaviour and dress had to be strictly adhered to.
In all of this development the lives of young Alexander and Antoinette McClean Pereira and their daughter Virginia truly became involved with the development of their new home, Trinidad. Alexander was versatile and used his knowledge of gardening and stone-masonry to great effect. Plans were drawn for the building of a church out of concrete and stone and it was built on St. Ann's road, later known as Charlotte Street, the first Presbyterian Church, St. Ann's Church of Scotland. Alexander was the architect and builder.
All of the stone work was quarried, transported and made into this magnificent building by the Portuguese community. The woodwork was all hewed and formed by their own carpenters and the benches and other accoutrements were all fashioned from local wood. The beautiful stained glass window was installed by Scottish experts. The pipe organ was imported and installed by Scottish engineers. It was truly a work of love and dedication and even today, nearly 200 years later, St. Ann's Church of Scotland stands beautiful and proud as a symbol of faith and courage. The members of the Church were mainly Portuguese, including families like Gomez, Perreira, Ferreira, de Silva, de Freitas, Jardine, Mendes, Govia, Viera. and incongruously, the name Sheppard appeared on the list of members. How this happened is because Virginia McClean Pereira fell in love with a British Army Officer of the Royal Sussex Regiment stationed in Trinidad, Alfred James Sheppard, whose rank was Sergeant Major. This interesting couple were joined in holy matrimony at the Free Church as St. Ann's was then known. The marriage took place on 25th June 1897. Children of this union were Charles Sebastian Theodore Sheppard, born 21st October 1885 and Amalia Elizabeth Sheppard, born 14th May, 1887. They were preceded by Alfred Sheppard born 8th January 1884 and followed by Arthur Wybrow de Freitas Sheppard, born 6th November 1888 and Albert Edward James Sheppard, born 6th April, 1890. Both Albert and his brother Arthur died 14 days apart on 11th June and 25th June 1873, both of acute dysentery. At that time their father Alfred James Sheppard was a Trinidad Police Inspector in charge of the San Fernando Station. This terrible grief sadly affected Alfred and Virginia. When the Royal Sussex Regiment left Trinidad to return to England, Alfred accepted a commission in the Police Force.
The eldest son of Alfred and Virginia, Charles Sebastian Theodore Sheppard was married to another member of the Free Church - Elsie Mabel Gomez, whose father was Albert Gomez and her mother, the former Christine Pereira. The marriage took place at St. Ann's Free Church on 30th January, 1909. They were blessed by 13 children, the youngest of whom died a baby of 8 months, he was Arthur. The rest of the children, six boys and six girls were all married and have produced 58 children. Only one son died at 44, George. His son, Stanley, died at 38. Another sad loss was that of David Gibbon, whose mother was Sybil Sheppard and father Patrick Gibbon. David was killed while riding his racing bicycle on a highway, hit by a truck.
Elsie Mabel's parents had a son George, who was a brilliant Trinidad scholar who graduated fron Edinburgh University in Scotland with highest honours. He volunteered for service with the Medical Corps and was sent to India with the British Army in 1915. He eventually went to Nevis as the solitary surgeon and died while directing his own operation (with the aid of mirrors) to have a highly infected appendix removed. He died on the operating theatre table of peritonitis in 1931. A large marble memorial was erected over his grave by public subscription because of his contributions to the public of Nevis and St. Kitts. Elsie's mother also had two brothers who had qualified as surgeons at Edinburgh University and who practised at Harley Street in London.
The union of Alexander and Antoinette produced many talented Trinidadians who became famous doctors, surgeons, business executives, politicians, military officers, accountants, competent musicians and good citizens. Love conquered all. Don Pedro's loss was our gain. Long live Alexander and Antoinette.
Virginia and Alfred are my great-grandparents,
Sebastian is my great-great grandfather.
The story as told by other family members
Notes made by Andrew's sister Audrey Clarke, which were attached to his handwritten story
Andrew's sister Sybil Gibbon wrote the following in an email to a niece in May 2012
"The tale about the gardener etc. is as follows given to me by my sister Jessie who got it from Aunt Ivy.
Don Pedro du Roi was some sort of Royalty in Portugal and he had a beautiful daughter, Antoinette, who fell in love with the young gardener who came from Scotland to work on the palace grounds. The papa said he would disinherit her if the continued with the romance - she en mind -- and she and the gentleman, Alexander, eloped and went to Madeira and came down to Trinidad with the group of people who were running away from religious persecution - all protestants. In Trinidad they had a daughter - Antonia - who married John Pereira. They were the parents of Grandma Christine Pereira, Marikin who married Alfred Mendes and Dr. George Pereira who settled in England and did brilliantly. Christine got married to Joseph Gomez and they had Elsie Mabel and all her brothers and sisters. So I think that the family originally started from Portugal and then all the children married maybe offsprings from the families who came from Madeira.
Now Grandpa Alfred Sheppard came from England to work in the Police Department in St.Joseph Trinidad. He settled in Trini and married Virginia de Freitas . They had Charles (my papa) and Amy who married Oswald Mendes. Dr. Pereira had a son who became a doctor in England and two daughters - so they must have some family still around.
Family Bible passed on from Elsie Sheppard to her daughter Sybil
Notes made by George Dornier Gomez and given to me
when I visited him in Trinidad in 2009