Maureen Searles on the Nelson Island Experience
Maureen Searles – (Butler’s Granddaughter) transcribed address:
I came here yesterday, but it was not enough; I had to come back today. One of the things that stands out for me and makes this occasion very important is the fact that, for most of my mother’s life and up until very close to his death, my grandfather wasn’t seen as a national hero or an icon officially. There were people who were always his supporters, people on the ground etc., but officially, he was a rabble-rouser who was an opponent of the lawmakers; he was seen to be a law breaker etc. I grew up knowing that this is my grandfather but not really knowing a lot about the political side.
As a parent now, I understand my mother’s need to protect because she grew up knowing that he was her father. He would visit etc., but, of course, because of who he was, he had to protect her, so not many people knew that she was his daughter. She was a teacher She had to go to the Teachers Training College, and while he was able to help her with that through some of the people he knew, she couldn’t let anybody at the Teachers Training College back in the fifties know that she was Butler’s daughter. That would not have worked. Yesterday, and again today, when I hear people talk, I am regretful that I did not have the opportunity to perhaps get to know the man and his politics better.
My mother remembers going to—and she knows the names and the dates—the boat master. She lived with her godmother. So her godmother would leave early with the first bus on a morning, and they would come to Port of Spain to get to the boat master for her to get a pass to come down here. She would come with the guards, so whenever they were changing the guards, she would come down and spend a couple of days and then go back to Port of Spain and her godmother would come and pick her up there. She would have been a young girl; the only female on the island. She never felt uncomfortable here. She talks about at night when the moon was up he’d be down by the dock playing cards with the guards because he wasn’t going anywhere. As a prison then, this was a pretty safe place in that she could roam the island such as it was openly.
Yesterday, when I went to the cottage, it was a kind of goose bump thing for me because in that space my mother would have spent time with her father at some point. I am listening again to all the history and it’s a little bit overwhelming for me really and for my family. To think that the day has come when they publicly acknowledge his contribution in this way then say to people openly this was a national hero … what he did was visionary. It took a huge toll on him … on his health. I know sometimes we forget that. The man that I knew was big, tall and strong with a huge voice. I was around when he died; I saw his failing health. When we went to visit him, it was about rubbing his feet. Those feet that he walked up and down with … they didn’t do pedicures back in those days. As children, it was a mixed blessing to go visit grandpa because it meant that he would put his feet up and you would have to rub them.
I just want to say, learn about it. It’s interesting to me how we talk about [things]when we don’t know our history [and] we [choose] to repeat it. We see opportunities now for the kinds of work that he did in terms of having a belief and working towards that … to committing a life towards that because that is what he did.
I remember you go to visit your grandfather and you carry three pairs of pyjamas today. If you go [back] tomorrow there are none because somebody would have come and all you had to say was, “That pyjama nice eh. You want it?” and it would be gone. I remember him coming to our home and trying to do that same kind of thing which wouldn’t work with my mother. He would come with people and they would see something and he would be willing to give it to them because they are more in need than you are. That was his philosophy in life. He owned nothing. There was nothing except perhaps his Bible that he wouldn’t give away. That’s the person I knew.
I want to thank the National Trust for this opportunity on behalf of my family. Use the day wisely and try to take something away from it.
Uriah Butler – Nelson Island Experience in pictures: