The Struggle for Freedom

CHAPTER 5
WICKHAM AND THE PEOPLE

It was critically summed up in the Sketches of 1921 of Clennel Wickham, whose editorship of the Herald newspaper, until it was crushed by the vindictive judgment of the Barbados Grand Jury in 1930, made him the militant voice of the Barbadian masses. Penned in the Walter Bagehot manner, those┬ápieces of sardonic observation exposed the hypocrisy of Barbadian government and politics under the old “rotten ‘borough” system on the eve of its slow transformation. “The purpose of their presence in the chamber”, opined Wickham generally of the House of Assembly members at that time, “is not satisfactorily established in their minds. There is no sense of duty to the individuals of the island as a whole. There is no sense of responsibility for broad and reasonable treatment. There is merely a sense of class.” The particular individual examples of that general truth did not make for edifying reading, nor did Wickham intend them to be so. The character of Sir Fred Clarke suggested the ease with which any man could be placed on a pedestal of public office, without any qualification save that of being a bogus aristocrat. The quality of the ruling families could be seen in the character of S. C. Thorne, “coarse of appearance and brusque of manner, with the soul of a vulgarian looking through the face of a prize fighter, reckless and ready of speech and regardless of the truth.” There were the vapid talkers, members like Dr. E. G. Pilgrim, who suffered from Johnsonian ponderosity, or like Washington Harper, retaining too much, “the manner of debating societies where youthful aspirants declaim with anachronistic disregard of times and manners.” There was the occasional emigre, like the Jewish E. I. Baeza, whose wealth went hand in hand with illiberal prejudices;
or, again, the cricketer-politician, like Harry Austin, who merely proved that the gifts that made a great cricketer – always revered in Barbados – were not those that necessarily made a great statesman. It is true that there was the rare genuine liberal, like the Douglas Pile of one of the old and respected English families in the island. But he could do little in the face of colleagues who, in the main, viewed their seats as pieces of private property, and appeared to believe that they were conferring an honour on the electorate by con-descending to be members. The general temper, altogether, of the Barbadian governing class was that of the professional lawyer and constitutional, legalist, rarely, by their nature, radical social types. Their very preoccupation with Barbadian constitutionalism made them parochial in outlook. For, as Wickham concluded in an acid sentence, “the constitutional history of Barbados is not more than any forward fifth standard boy could assimilate and master during an ordinary school term, without prejudice to his other studies.”