Idle folly or desecration and sacrilege?

Church at Saddlers on St Kitts, Wikipedia creative commons image

My husband’s great-grandfather Burchell Edward Marshall (1873-1951) was the son of a school teacher who became a prosperous businessman and landowner in his native St Kitts. During the first half of the 20th century, he owned a number of sugar cane estates on the island, which was not typical for a man from a mixed race background. One of the plantations he owned was called Theroulds, located in the Christ Church Nichola Town parish.

For much of the 19th century, Theroulds was owned by the Boon family. Joseph Henry Boon was an island physician who had several sons before he died in 1879. One of his sons, Charles Henry (1849-1925), inherited the estate when his father died. Charles also got quite a bit of press in the Kittitian newspapers of 1875 because of an incident he was involved in with his horse and the parish Anglican church.

The story can be followed through a series of heated letters published in the Saint Christopher Gazette and Charribbean Courier paper. Minor details were disputed, but the gist was that Charles Henry Boon rode his horse into the church on Friday, October 15, 1875, made his way on horseback up the aisle and back, cursing the church sexton on his way out.

The rector of the church, C C Culpeper, was understandably outraged, and threatened to prosecute. Some of the negotiations to resolve the insult seem to have been handled publicly through the newspaper, over the course of two months. Charles Henry initially admitted to an “idle folly” and an “impulse of the moment”, but not to swearing at the sexton or riding all the way up to the altar railing. He offered to make a public apology.

In another letter, Reverend Culpeper expresses his outrage that Boon was not taking his actions seriously enough. He wrote

“…a gentleman of your education and intelligence will find it very hard to convince the people of our church, to whom the occurrence has become widely known, that you were not and are not aware of ‘the gravity of the offense’ ‘which you have committed… And I put it to you to say, on calm and deliberate reflection, whether now to characterize a gross act of desecration and sacrilege as one of thoughtless indiscretion – just in the same terms in which you would express your regret at riding across Mr Culpeper’s garden or your neighbour’s potato-field – be not to add insult to injury.”

The rector came in person to Joseph Henry Boon’s house two weeks after the incident, and demanded that Charles make an apology on his knees in church during the Sunday service, reading from a statement that would be prepared for him. Charles would not agree to that act of penitence, and the Anglican bishop of Antigua became involved. After some back and forth with offers agreed to and rescinded, it was finally decided that a sincere apology printed in the newspaper, along with a private letter to Mr Culpeper, would suffice.

Although Charles Henry Boon’s occupation appears in various St Kitts vital records as engineer, planter, and “gentleman”, he became involved in public health issues, again in a very public way. For several years in the 1890s, he published a small periodical called The Lazaretto. A lazaretto is a facility used to quarantine and treat people diagnosed with leprosy. Such a facility existed on St Kitts, called the Hansen Home, which operated from the 1890s to the 1990s. Charles Henry wrote articles in his publication that advocated for establishing set policies to protect the public from the spread of the disease. Some of his proposals seem quite reasonable, like preventing the selling of agricultural and food products prepared by infected people, barring staff family and friends from staying within the home, and allowing visitors to see patients and bring in supplies that could add to their comfort. One of his ideas seems quite harsh and punitive in today’s world – he thought the inmates should have to wear distinctive clothing (such as bright yellow) to clearly proclaim their health status to all.

Charles Henry Boon eventually emigrated with his family in 1908 to British Columbia, Canada. The Canadian censuses list his occupation as farmer and engineer and his religion as Episcopalian or Church of England. His maternal grandfather, a man named Wyndham Scott Serres, was an Anglican minister in Nevis at the time of his death in 1878 (not long after the horseback incident on St Kitts), so one would assume that Charles wasn’t totally surprised at the uproar his actions caused.

Sources

  1. Saint Christopher Gazette and Charribbean Courier, December 1875, The British Newspaper Archive
  2. National Archives St Kitts and Nevis, The Lazaretto
  3. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange, ‘It’s Not Catching’: Hansen Home and the Local Knowledge of Leprosy in the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis, West Indies, Nancy R Anderson, 2005

One Comment

  1. David said:

    Your work is phenomenal! Wow! I would love to learn more about your work and methods. I have been searching through numerous records for my family in St. Kitts and Nevis. I thought most were from Nevis but now possibly seeing a st. kitts connection with the surname O’Brien. As you’ve said some in the 19th put surnames in the middle as well. I stumbled across this with my ancestor Andrew Ferraro O’Brien. My guess is that his mother may have been Portuguese and he received O’Brien from his father. I have no proof of his father but my guess is John Hitch O’Brien who is listed in a record as a temporary manager of the Stapleton estate in Nevis. Andrew goes on to marry Ann Elizabeth Stapleton (both born in 1824). All of the Nevis O’Briens I have found in the 19th seem related and mixed so that leads me back to John Hitch O’Brien who in one record says he would come over from St. Kitts. Would love to chat more about this with you!

    December 3, 2022
    Reply

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