That was the glowing endorsement of Sir Charles Metcalfe, a man of unquestioned intellect and tough mettle, who was sent by the British colonial government to bring order to the unruly colony of Jamaica. Remember, Jamaica was at one time so ungovernable, that the British colonial government had to send a pirate, Captain Henry Morgan, cum Sir Henry Morgan, to bring order as its tough governor in 1680. The Jamaica legislature had always been a stubborn and obstinate bunch. They were often at loggerheads with the colonial government. And the slaves. Naturally. Jamaicans, on the whole, were a difficult people. Remember, there were large areas of Jamaica (Maroon Town, the Cockpit Country, etc.) that were never really subjugated by the British.
Anyway, by 1839, things had come to a head in Jamaica. Everybody was doing whatever the hell he or she felt like, and the colonial government felt that some semblance of order had to be restored. That’s when they tapped Sir Charles Metcalfe, he who was known to have “read Gibbon, Aristotle, Voltaire and Rousseau for leisure…,” to bring back some sort of structure to Jamaica. THE MAKING OF THE WEST INDIES by Francis R. Augier, described the appointment of Metcalfe to such a prestigious post, with such a Herculean task as, “The right man, for the right job, at the right time.”
Donald R. Beer, the author of a biography of Sir Charles Metcalfe, wrote thusly of his subject, “[Sir Charles] had a reputation for persisting doggedly in a crisis until he had won or irretrievably lost . . .he was a man of strong convictions who resigned from the East India Company rather than sacrifice dignity or principle . . . his considerable intelligence was matched by a warm, equable disposition, deep attachment to his family, and the fortunate capacity to keep the cares of the day separate from the other compartments of his life . . . He succeeded in surmounting, at least temporarily, the major crisis in relations between the intransigent plantocracy and the newly- liberated black population that had been the reason for his appointment. . .” Hmmm! May his tribe increase!
Now let’s fast-forward to a different time and place and we see some parallels to the undesirable situation that existed in Jamaica prior to Metcalfe’s appointment as governor. We’re talking about the disorderly city of St. John’s and the denizens of that once-beautiful city who are now doing whatever the hell they feel like. “Every man is doing that which is right in his own eyes . . .” (Judges 21:25) – people cutting hair and doing weaves over gutters; people selling food in gutters and on sidewalks; barbeque grills here, there, and everywhere; bikinis and other delicate articles of clothing hung up on government street signs for sale; vendors selling cooked fish, crabs, cockle and clams wherever the hell they feel like; no permits, no licences, no food safety standards; no occupational hazard regulations! Good grief! Mangy dogs all over the place; rats and other vermin own the night; filthy gutters, broken sidewalks; business people set-up no-parking cones wherever they feel like; ugly and tasteless buildings erected; gridlock and traffic jams every blasted place; Market Street a free-for-all; Old Parham Road a no-man’s land; just confusion and chaos! Sigh!
Noteworthily, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, a man not known for the employ of euphemisms, recently spoke with obvious disgust at the “ghetto” appearance of St. John’s. His disdain for the slip-shod arrangements that have taken over our once-fair city was unmistakable, and as was reported in yesterday’s DAILY OBSERVER, the PM has given Mr. Saiid Greene, the Director of City and Urban Renewal at the St. John’s Development Corporation (SJDC), a mandate and an ultimatum to restore order to the disorder and anarchy that now prevails. We applaud the PM for acknowledging the “Shanty Town” appearance of St. John’s and moving with a sense of urgency to do something drastic about it. We believe that, as was said of the aforementioned Metcalfe, Greene is “the right man, for the right job, at the right time.” He has many of the self-same requisite qualities of Metcalfe, and is possessed of a keen intellect and a deep and abiding love of our country, culture and history. He is a thinker, but “he does not make thoughts his aim . . .” (Rudyard Kipling, IF). He is driven, and possessed of an indomitable will. He should get the job done!
He has spoken in the past about saving and restoring many of the colonial-era buildings in the city and upgrading and re-naming the Queen Victoria Park aka the Botanical Gardens. We endorse those initiatives. The restoration work to the city of St. John’s should also include a major cleaning and upgrade of the Country Pond, (see our DAILY OBSERVER editorial, January 8th, 2020) LET’S SAVE COUNTRY POND, a restoration of the abandoned St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and the now-shuttered Spanish Main Inn on Independence Avenue. Actually, Independence Avenue should be turned into a sweeping tree-lined boulevard with antique, colonial-style, street-lights and park benches. The War Memorial should also be outfitted with antique-style lights and a spot-light that shines on the cross with the engraved names of the fallen. The roundabout in front of Government House should also be enhanced with lights and a flagpole bearing our national flag. The desecration of the area around the Sir V.C. Bird bust at the market should also cease. We mean, is nothing sacred? Day and night, the whole area is swamped with crude, ugly sticks bearing cardboard, crocus bag or tarpaulin covers, and from ‘Joe Tony Corner’ to ‘Dickie Lake’ and ‘The Bridge,’ the place looks and smells worse than the teeming bazaars of Bombay and Calcutta.
Many of the streets (first laid out in 1702 for horse-drawn carriages) and sidewalks in the city need to be redone, not by some politically-connected flunkie, but by a professional contractor with a proven track-record of doing that sort of work. And don’t even think of Bahamas Hot Mix! We can’t wait until this coming September when, mercifully, we shall see the last of them . . .forever!
Clearly, Saiid Greene has his work cut out for him, and he knows that. In fact, in an appearance on OBSERVER AM, he pointedly remarked, “Whenever there is a comparison about an unkempt capital in the Caribbean, St. John’s is the reference point. This brings us to a situation of shame. It is untenable what is taking place in our capital. This the year that it has to change . . . either I get it done or clear my desk.”You said it, sir. We wish you all the best!