Lobo & St. Hill Families - Barbados
~ A Memoir ~
Written by Jimmy Lawless
July 8, 2011
This story was sent to me by Elizabeth Cole née Lawless, who lives in Barbados. It was written by her uncle Jimmy Lawless. Elizabeth's family and the St. Hill and Lobo family shared many family occasions, as is described in this affectionately written memoir. Dolly Lawless née Atkinson was Elizabeth's grandmother. Ivy was one of her sisters. Our families also share another connection not mentioned: Elizabeth's aunt Sylvia Boxill married my uncle Louis St. Hill, my mother's brother. Colin Lobo was my great-uncle, my maternal grandmother's brother.
Dolly (Kathleen) Lawless’ sister, Ivy Atkinson, married Colin Lobo in the early 1930’s and so the Lawless and Lobo families were brought together by marriage.
Colin and Ivy Lobo - 25 Nov 1933
The Lobo's home "Raeburn" is the large yellow house. Below is a photo of it from the roadside. Unfortunately, this lovely Bajan family home that held so many memories was sold has since been demolished.
The Lobos lived at “Raeburn” on the sea-side of the Hastings Road about 200 yards west of the Hastings Rocks. From memory, the family consisted of the parents, Mr.& Mrs. Lobo and several children. The names I remember are: Colin, Frank and Arthur (better known as “Shortie” or “Pepper”) and Esmee, Freida, Hilda and Carmen. They were all of an out-going and friendly character and all enjoyed a good party. Their love of a good party was regularly satisfied by parties given by Colin and Ivy at their home “Windmark” in Harts Gap. There was always a Christmas dinner with a large table filling the drawing room from which all the furniture had been removed to accommodate the very large table at which the Lobo, St.Hill and Lawless families were seated. There were other parties during the year which did not involve a sit-down meal, but were what were called “cocktail” parties. The guests were drawn from a wide spectrum of Colin’s friends. These included many of the horse-racing fraternity, including some of the English jockeys who were then the elite jockeys in Barbados. These included Edgar Crossley and his wife who were regular, and Thirkell.
My mother, Betty St. Hill at 15 with her cousin Denis Hart and his fiancée Gloria
The drinks flowed freely, and the “itals” were the best bouchees, patties stuffed eggs, sandwiches and other goodies which were standard fare at the best cocktail parties. I do not remember (my brother) David being at these parties and I believe he stayed with Miss Edith Hutson while Tony and I were allowed to tag along. We did our fair share of gorging on the eats! Harry St.Hill and his cousin, Norman Hart, who were teenagers, used to cheat and hit a few of the cocktails before the butlers left the kitchen area with the trays of drinks! They were not supposed to drink any alcoholic drinks, but somehow they sometimes became somewhat unsteady on their feet before the party was over.
After the Christmas dinner was over, the music started. It was then that the musical talent of the Lobo and St.Hill families became evident. All had good voices. Of the Lobos, Arthur had a good tenor voice, and the ladies could give a good rendition of the carols and other popular songs which were sung. But the musicians of particular note were from the St.Hill family. The father, Garnet, impressed me immensely. He not only had a very strong tenor/baritone voice but excelled in making music on unusual instruments. First, he played the “bones”. These consisted of two pairs of actual bones about four or five inches long which were placed between the fingers of both hands and made a loud noise when the hands were shaken. Garnet used these bones as a percussion instrument and the effect was outstanding. He also played the musical bottles. A series of bottles with varying amounts of water in them were struck by a implement which produced a particular note depending on which bottle was struck. The bottles were “tuned” to produce the correct notes, and Garnet could play tunes on them.
Both he and Betty played the musical saw. The handle of an ordinary carpenter’s saw was held between the knees and a violin bow was drawn across the edge of the saw which did not have teeth. This produced a musical sound which was varied by the flexing of the saw with the left hand.
Betty St.Hill was a musical prodigy and would have gone far in the musical world if she had been born in some big country away from Barbados. She used to tap-dance and sing as well as to play the piano and saw. The musical talent which Betty had in abundance has been transmitted to her children, the Sheppards, who continue to play a significant part in the musical scene in Barbados. They obviously enjoyed playing their music and the pleasure it gave to those of us who shared their exuberance. It taught me that music was something to be enjoyed and appreciated.
Apart from the musical talents of the St.Hill family, my own life has been greatly affected by two members of that family. The first one to have an influence on my life was Mr. St.Hill himself. Garnet St.Hill was a kite enthusiast. I too was a kite enthusiast and every Easter kite season I would make several kites. They consisted of 3-stick small kites, 4-stick round kites with one round-head and one bull, “Umbrella” kites which had the sticks bent back so as to look like an umbrella, and “Singing Angel” kites which had bulls all around the kite. But Mr. St.Hill had other kites which were not flat kites like the ones I made. Some of his kites were made of cloth instead of paper, and were in more than one dimension, not flat one-dimension kites like mine. In particular he had a four-foot box kite which he flew at a spot where the Canadian Embassy now stands. There were no houses between Bishop’s Court and Pine Hill in those days. That whole stretch of land was where the Belleville people went to fly kites at Easter-time. The box kite which Mr. St.Hill had was a very powerful thing and he had to use thick marlin and gloves to fly it. He taught me the secret of the ratios of the lengths of the sticks, the spacing between sticks, and the area of cloth necessary to make this very unlikely looking object into something which would fly like a kite. I used his formula to make a half-size box kite and subsequently made one in Antigua which caused a sensation there in 1943 as no one there had ever seen a box that would fly! I have also made one here in Burlington, Ontario, Canada and have flown it in the Central Park here. I will always be grateful to Garnet St.Hill for his tuition in kite making.
The other member of the St.Hill family who materially directed the course of my life was Harry St.Hill. This he did without ever knowing the role he played in the direction my life took.
Harry St. Hill
Harry had joined Cable & Wireless (West Indies) Ltd. and trained as a wireless operator and had been transferred to Antigua. He and Colin Bynoe were the two operators from Barbados who manned the only means of communication which Antigua had with the world. Antigua was one of the few islands in what was then the British West Indies which did not have a cable connection with any other island or territory. Harry never wanted to go to Antigua in the first place and asked the Divisional Manager, Mr. Douglas, how long was he going to be in Antigua. The DM told him “about a year”. When Harry had been in Antigua one year and there was no sign of a replacement for him to return to Barbados, Harry became upset. He soon developed a sickness.
The DM received a message from the Officer-in-Charge of Antigua that Harry had been certified as unfit for duty and should be repatriated as soon as possible. The sickness Harry was diagnosed as having was “bilharzia”, which is usually known as “hook-worm”. This is a parasitic worm which lives in rivers and gets into the body when people bathe or wade in rivers. There are no rivers in Antigua, and none in Barbados, so Harry must have done something very strange to contract this sickness.
At the time I was training to be a cable operator in a batch of probationers which included Charlie Warren. Vincent Johnson and Vernon Pilgrim. Mr. A. M. Wilson, a retired C & W man, was our teacher. Mr. Douglas came to him and asked who of his batch of probationers would he choose to learn to be a wireless operator. Mr. Wilson said, “Lawless”. Mr. Douglas told me to report to the Reef Wireless Station the next day to learn to be a wireless operator. So I became a wireless operator and was transferred to Antigua, January 1943, to replace Harry St.Hill. If Harry had not created a crisis in Antigua, I would never have had two wonderful years in Antigua and would never have gotten into the technical stream at C & W which shaped the whole of my working career.