The St. Hill Family - Barbados
The earliest known photo of the St. Hill Family in Barbados - circa 1896
Seated centre are my maternal great-grandparents, Henry Graham St. Hill and Annie Bourne. Next to Annie is her father, John Bourne with his wife Augusta Matilda Mahon standing behind him. My grandfather, Henry Garnet St. Hill is standing next to his grandfather on the right, and his brother Eric is next to his father on the left. Seated in front are their twin sisters, Ruby and Beryl. The three young ladies are not known, but I'm guessing that they are the children's aunts.
Oral tradition tells us that our Sainthill family came from Devon, England, but it is a challenge to find documented proof of this. I do know that certainly in Barbados, the surname changed at some point to St. Hill.
Our story starts on April 28, 1842 when 22 year old Benjamin St. Hill, my mother's great-grandfather, took as his bride Margaret Bourne. The Marriage Register shows that the couple's fathers, Samuel St. Hill and John Bourne were present to give their blessings and sign as witnesses. It is true to say that their marriage was fruitful, as between 1843 and 1863 they became parents of no less than ten children. They lived in St. Michael and baptised each of their children in the Anglican faith. Several of them were baptised at St. Stephen's Church, Black Rock. In the various registers, Benjamin's profession was sometimes listed as a merchant, and sometimes as a merchant's clerk. With such a large family to support he must have worked hard!
The ninth child of Benjamin and Margaret's brood was my great-grandfather Henry Graham St. Hill. He was duly baptised on 4 Jul 1861 and was just a boy of 11 years old when his father Benjamin died. Benjamin was only 52 years old when he died on January 5, 1872, and Margaret died about six years later in Warwickshire, England. Left without parents, one wonders how all these children left behind were able to cope.
Although he was a 'city' boy, he married a girl from the parish of St. Peter - that was fairly uncommon in those days. Annie also came from a family of 10 children, daughter of John Bourne and Augusta Matilda Mahon. Henry Graham and Annie made their home in Cheapside, St. Michael, and were living there when their first child Eric Graham was born.
Cheapside in Bridgetown, where many of the Jewish settlers also lived, was close to the port (now the Careenage), which was the hub of shipping and trade in those days. It was a convenient location for merchants to reside, as it was near to where are most of their business was transacted. Within five years, they had five children - Eric, Edith, Henry Garnet, and twin daughters Ruby and Beryl. Of these, the only one who remained in Barbados was my grandfather, Henry Garnet St. Hill.
Henry Graham and Annie eventually moved to Barbarees Hill, and owned their family home there. My mother Betty remembers visiting her grandparents at this house when she was a child. She describes the atmosphere in their home as "fascinating and quaint" and loved to go there. She says that her grandad taught her how to tell the time when she was 8, using an alarm clock that had two big bells either side. About her grandmother Annie she recalls:
"She was a dear little soul. From the time you woke up in the morning, she was dressed in boots and a long skirt with an apron over it. She was a busy, busy little lady. She was olive-skinned, with a little round face. She was a Bourne. She was very musical - she could play the flute."
She recalled that there was an Uncle Freddie St. Hill, (her grandad's brother) Aunt Bessie and Aunt Evie who lived with them in their Barbarees Hill home, but they all made themselves scarce and went into their own rooms when she visited. After they all died and her grandparents were left alone, their house in Barbarees Hill was sold and arrangements made for them to come and live with her parents at their home "Ypres" in Belleville sometime in the 30's. My mother was one of five children, so I can imagine that it must have been awkward and difficult for them and, according to Mum "It just didn't work out." My grandfather then bought a house for them in Tweedside Road, and had it renovated. They called it "Graham Cot", and since it was within walking distance, they could visit often. Garnet also hired a lady to live in and attend to his parents and he diligently looked after them until they passed away in 1940 and 1941.
The first of their children to be married was their eldest child Eric, who was later to become somewhat of a family mystery for a long time.
ERIC GRAHAM ST. HILL
Eric Graham St. Hill and his wife Sarah Berinda Josephine Johnson
Barbados, 8th November 1911
Eric was born on 18 August 1887, and was baptized in St. Mary’s Chapel, St. Michael on 1st October the same year. At that time, his parents were still living at Cheapside, Bridgetown, an area not too far away from that church. St. Mary's Anglican Church (called chapel in those days) was built in 1825 and is the second oldest consecrated ground on the island.
Of Eric's early life we know that he attended the Combermere School in Barbados, where he showed a keen interest in and aptitude for languages. When he was 15 years old, he was awarded a prize for Latin, and the following year he won the Senior Prize for French and Spanish. The two handsome leather-bound classics are treasured by his family. Eric also studied Pitman's Shorthand, as evidenced by the textbook he kept and on which is inscribed "Eric St. Hill, 1905". His thirst for learning never stopped, as he continued to study Spanish after he left school, teaching himself to become fluent by listening to records.
We don't know where they first met, but Eric fell in love with an attractive brunette named Sarah Berinda Josephine Johnson (called Berinda), daughter of James and Louisa Johnson née Weekes, who was to become his spouse for life. The couple took their wedding vows at St. Leonard's Anglican Church on 8 November 1911, when they were both 24 years old. The marriage records show that she was living in St. Philip at the time, and he in Belleville, St. Michael. His brother Garnet (my grandfather) is shown as a witness on their marriage certificate. As a matter of interest, St. Leonard's Church was where the St. Hill family worshipped, and the St. Hill Family burial site is located in the St. Leonard's churchyard.
Eric joined the Machine Gun Volunteers of Barbados, but was not called to active duty during WWl. Seeking better job opportunities, he and Berinda decided to emigrate to Toronto, Canada sometime after their marriage in 1911. My grandmother, Esmée St. Hill in Barbados sent Eric a postcard in 1915, which indicates that they corresponded with each other during those first years after he left his home in Barbados. A postcard was also sent from Eric to them in 1916.
Like Eric, my grandparents, Esmée and Garnet St. Hill also lived in Belleville, where their family home "Ypres" was situated at the corner of the 1st Avenue and Pine Road. Their property occupied two lots, extending into the 2nd Avenue, so they had a large back garden and orchard. In 1880s, Belleville was developed as an exclusive residential area in Barbados. By 1910, the 8th through 11th avenues were available for public access while up until about 1935, the 1st through 7th avenues catered to private residents only.
An avenue in Belleville, Barbados
I was curious to find out more about where Eric and Berinda lived in Canada, having left behind the beautiful palm-lined avenues of Belleville in Barbados. Thanks to my grandmother's familiar rounded handwriting on the postcard she sent to him in 1915 I had their exact address. With the help of Canadian friends, I discovered that they had moved into a new and very desirable residential area, designed as Tudor style apartments set in gardens and close to nature. The construction of the 260 units began in 1913 and continued on for another decade. They were designed to provide the working class with nice places to live. Eric and Berinda, with their toddler Josephene, would have been among the first tenants to move into the first of the finished units. Below are photos of the Aberdeen Club apartments at that time, and a picture of them now.
Postcard sent in 1915 from 1st Ave. Belleville, Barbados
to Eric at No. 1 Apartment, Aberdeen Club, Bain Ave. Toronto, Ont. Canada.
Eric is in the front row among a detachment of Machine Gun Barbados Volunteers.
August 3, 1914 -Postcard addressed to my grandmother, Mrs. H.G. St. Hill from her brother-in-law Eric. He and Berinda visited Niagra Falls, N.Y.
Eric and Berinda's first child arrived in the summer of 1916, while they were living in their new Apartment on Bain Avenue, Toronto. By all accounts, Berinda loved life in Canada, but the same could not be said for Eric. Many Barbadians who have emigrated have found the long, harsh Canadian winters to be difficult - I wonder whether Eric longed for warmer weather year-long!
Eric's daughter Helen remembers that her father always yearned to visit Spain, which is perhaps why he continued to learn Spanish after he left school. The fact that he spoke Spanish may well have been the reason he was sent from Canada to work in the Mexican branch of the Railway Light and Power Company. With this job opportunity, Eric, Berinda and little Josephine set off from Canada around 1918 to live in Monterrey, Mexico . There he was employed as Assistant Manager with Monterrey Railway Light and Power Company, which was a Canadian company. Two more children were born, Gloria in 1920 and Helen in 1922 - completing their family of three daughters.
Eric loved life in Mexico and soon became actively involved in the community. He was founding member of the Rotary Club of Monterrey, which held its first meeting on October 27, 1922. He also served as President of the Rotary Club of Monterrey in 1925-1926. He and his family moved to Mexico City in 1930 where they settled permanently.
Eric and Berinda were married for 41 years, until he died on January 22, 1953 when he was 65 years old. Berinda went on to live to the ripe old age of 92.
It appears that Eric and Berinda never returned to Barbados, and after a while the St. Hill family completely lost contact with each other. His family in Barbados never knew what became of him, and sadly, his parents passed away not ever knowing what became of their eldest son.
Fast-forward to May 2008 when, out of the proverbial blue, I was thrilled to receive a message on Facebook from a stranger with a Spanish sounding name.
"My name is Emilia and I am the granddaughter of Eric St. Hill, your grandfather Garnet's brother. This makes us relatives, but I'm not sure what we are -second cousins? My mother, Helen St. Hill (sister of Josephine and Gloria) would love to contact your mother Betty... Until a few days ago she had no idea that she has a cousin in Barbados. My brother Marco has been trying to track down my mother's side of the family in Barbados and he found out about you on Internet. We live in Mexico City and would love to write to you."
Our long-lost Eric, though long gone, was reunited with the family through his Mexican family! Through this contact with my Mexican family, we have been able to learn more about my great-uncle Eric, though we will probably never know why he and Berinda broke all ties with their families in Barbados after they settled down in Mexico. All we can say is that, as in many other families, "something" must have happened.
After exchanging several emails, Emilia, her sister Helen and their mother Helen (now 98) took a trip to Barbados in 2010, and met her cousin Betty (St. Hill) Sheppard (my mother, now 95) and some other family members. The cousins exchanged letters and were happy to have found each other.
So thanks to my family tree work on line and the wonders of the internet - we are thrilled to have discovered a delightful Mexican branch of the St. Hill Family, and they are happy to know more about their Barbadian roots.
Above: l/r Eric's granddaughters Emilia Almazán, her sister Helen and their mother
Helen Graham St. Hill Almazán
Below: l/r my cousin Helen St. Hill, Helen Graham St. Hill Almazán, with my brother Peter Sheppard and his wife Neilsa nee Tasker, in Barbados - 2010
Cousins meet for the first time in Barbados, 2010
Betty (St. Hill) Sheppard, rt. Helen (St. Hill) Almazán