The group from |Between Lines|made the voyage from Sander’s Bay to Marine Bay, the same route the Dominican Sisters would have taken after completing their daily duties at the leper colony to return to their convent. The sea gods were kind to us as there are accounts of the Sisters suffering from bouts of seasickness and even one Sister falling overboard.
On February 17, 1926 tragedy struck, as the Government’s Gulf steamer Naparima was on its journey to Port of Spain from Chacachacare when the luxury ship, the S.S Vandyke crashed into the stern of the Naparima. The Naparima sank within twelve minutes under the waves around the second Boca. Twelves souls were lost that day but miraculously the architect of the Leprosarium, Mr Newbold and the Chaplain, Fr. A. Ter Maat survived the collision and were rescued by the boatmen from the island of Huevos and the crew members of the S.S Vandyke.
The main jetty at the bay had numerous scribbles of past visitors etched under the roof covering the jetty. Unbeknown to the group that these scribbles were to be found on all of the interiors of the buildings on the site. It was not only perturbing to see these crude markings on so many of the walls, it also shows the attitude of people to our history and heritage.
As mentioned before Mr. Newbold was the architect for the Dominican Sisters’ convent and the Chaplain quarters. Construction of the wooden structures began in early 1926 and was completed in October of the same year. With his efficiency displayed from this project Mr. Newbold was given the contract to build another convent at Holy Name on Queen’s Park East in 1927.
After World War Two, another residential building was constructed around 1945 for the Sisters of Mercy of Baltimore, USA on the request of Archbishop Finbar Ryan O.P. to assist the aging Dominican Sisters. However, it was not meant to be, as pressure from public authorities forced the Congregation to withdraw the Dominican Sisters from Chacachacare at the beginning of October 1950. This signalled the end of 82 years of diligent care of the Dominican Sisters who treated the patients suffering from Leprosy.
As one such patient exclaimed: “The doctors seem to give us up at the time of death, the Sisters on the contrary care for us. The more miserable, pitiful, sinful we are, the more they show us love. They care for us until they have closed our eyes.”
This was referenced from the book Called to Serve by Marie Thérèse Rétout O.P. an excellent resource on the history of the Dominican Sisters.
This close relationship with patients also had consequences as Sister Rose de Ste. Marie Verbert had contracted leprosy and was living in a house on Sander’s Bay where it was called Santa Casa by the local residents. Mother Rose as she was called stayed there until her death on 17th June, 1937. She was 71 years old and is the only Sister to be buried in the patients’ cemetery at Sander’s Bay.
One can still feel the presence of the Sisters while walking along the long corridors of their convent. Moving in and out of the well ventilated rooms with its many doors and windows. The ground floor on the northern side of the convent was the private chapel for the Sisters to pray. After the closure of the Leprosarium in 1984, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard created an outpost on Marine Bay and many of their murals can be seen on the walls of the Dominican Sisters’ convent.
It is quite disheartening after reading the stories from both the patients and the Dominican sisters, to see the remains of the buildings. It is unfair to the memory of the Sisters who dedicated their lives to the care of their patients, or to an important part of Trinidad and Tobago’s heritage. With the constant looting and vandalism there will be nothing left for future visitors to island to see. Not even the lonely stack bedframes on which the Sister slept will be there.
Coming towards the end of the adventure with the group from |Between Lines| I was left with a great feeling of euphoria knowing that I am with people who share similar interests for history and urban exploration. It is with great hope that each person in the group takes away something from this trip and produce a project that was inspired by their time on the island, if not now but in the future, I will feel that I have accomplished a goal in keeping our history alive. The patients and Dominican Sisters may be gone and the buildings they once lived and worked with may fall into oblivion but the images and stories that are recorded can last forever once we choose to preserve it and pass it on to the next generation. It is our call.
Many thank to The Caribbean Memory Project headed by Dawn Cumberbatch and Kevin A. Browne and Plantain headed by Felicia Chang and Zaake De Coninck for their support with this project and to everyone who came and contributed towards this project as we continue to inspire one another. And lastly to our guide Geoffrey Rodriguez who not only took the group to Chacachacare but also took the boat to each island explaining the history of each bay on the return journey to the mainland.
Thérèse Rétout, Marie. Called to Serve. Scrip J Printers Limited, 2001