Feature

The Case for George Augustus McIntosh as National Hero (Pt 1)

By Dr. Adrian Fraser

1. Introduction

I am proposing George Augusts McIntosh as our next National Hero. I regard him as one of the country’s most outstanding political leaders, taking into context, of course, the times in which he functioned and the constitutional limitations that existed then. He contributed to the life of his community both in and out of the Legislative Council. In looking at the work of McIntosh we have to bear in mind that he operated at a time when the ordinary man and woman was not allowed to vote. He therefore attached tremendous importance to his work outside of the Legislative Council and was particularly interested in lifting the political consciousness of the working people who had been kept out of the formal political process. As we reflect on his life and the contribution he made to the development of the country and its peoples, it is important for us to be grounded and guided by how the people of his time saw and related to him. In this section I am going to present the views of persons who knew him during the period in which he functioned and was politically active.

At a rally at the Victoria Park on August 3, 1936, staged by his newly formed St.Vincent Workingmen’s Cooperative Association, the outstanding Grenadian politician, one of the architects of Caribbean Federation, Albert Marryshow, who was invited as a guest speaker, said that McIntosh’s name would remain “carved imperishably in the annals of the West Indies…(when)…many a big name in St.Vincent will be forgotten…G.A McIntosh, the man who is prepared to give his heart and soul and serve his day and generation will live on.” Marryshow knew McIntosh very intimately in that he collaborated with him when he worked for the reintroduction of the representative element in the country’s government. McIntosh was a co-founder of the Representative Government Association with Marryshow playing a leading role in a similar body in Grenada. He worked with him again when he established the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association and in the drive for West Indian unity.

Sir Rupert John who would have been twenty one years old when McIntosh first entered the Legislative Council and who would have known him over the years, said of him; “Throughout McIntosh’s fourteen years as a Member of the Legislative Council he always evinced forthrightness and a sincerity which left no doubt in the minds of his listeners. He was deeply committed to every measure that was proposed for the development and progress of St.Vincent in general and of the poor in particular.”

He stated further, “All who knew McIntosh well could never fail to recognise the strength and sincerity of his feelings… Beyond all this, however, was his intense love and concern for the so-called common people- those who are poor and whose cause often goes unheard and unrepresented. It was because of his deep commitment to the cause of the poor and neglected that McIntosh sought to gain for the Shakers the freedom to carry on what he conceived to be their legitimate right to worship God in the manner that seemed best to them. It was because of his deep and abiding concern for the landless that he waged a relentless campaign for the acquisition by Government of certain estates on which to settle some of the poor and needy. It was because of his unfailing involvement in the problems of the voteless class that he never tired in his struggle for adult suffrage.”

Even the Administrator felt compelled to acknowledge the work of McIntosh when he suffered defeat in the first elections under Adult Suffrage in 1951. He wrote to McIntosh;

“After years of struggling for the uplift of your people today must be a bitter one indeed. I can well imagine you saying that the people of Kingstown ‘have brought down your gray hairs in sorrow to the grave.’ But lift up your heart- these things are sent to try us not to annoy us and if no one does today, posterity will acknowledge what St.Vincent owes to “Mr. Mac” (my emphasis). I have been happy and honoured to work with you during my short time here and I hope you will turn again your attention to the Kingstown Board and work out a progressive policy there and we can still have amicable relations. My sincerest sympathies and assurances of my highest regard.”

Perhaps one of the best summaries of his work and life, and a fitting tribute to him was that provided by the Vincentian newspaper in its editorial of November 6, 1963. The Vincentian had not always been a friend of McIntosh, in fact in the early years it was strongly opposed to him and to the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Cooperative Association. Times had however changed, the planters whom the paper had traditionally represented were no longer a powerful force in the Legislative Council and with changes in editorial staff the paper was in a better position to assess his contribution over the years.

“… If there is one man in St.Vincent whose life has been one of self sacrifice for his country, that man was George A. McIntosh. His was a service that looked for no reward save that of helping those less fortunate than he and assisting in the uplift of his country. He served his country at a time when there were no rewards, none of the fat salaries and kudos which today are a blessing to the politician, yet it is to George A. McIntosh that the praise and glory must go for raising the standards of the masses and lifting them from the darkness and the slums in which they wallowed. To do this he had to be radical and this even brought him within the prison walls, but he was not a man to be deterred from his aims by prison walls and today St.Vincent, its workers, the labourers, the Civil Servants, nay, every department of Government must owe him an undying debt of gratitude.

In the halls of West Indian fame, the names of Crichlow, Ciprani, Marryshow, Rawle and others must be inscribed. There along with them the name of George Augustus McIntosh must also be written; nay, his should find a special niche, for it was that little man who brought dignity and respect to the common man of St.Vincent. It was he who made them realise that their labours were worth that which would permit them to live in some degree of comfort. It was that little man who made employers realise that they needed the worker as much as the worker needed them, and it is to George Augustus McIntosh that the credit must go for awakening a political consciousness in St.Vincent. He got nothing for it. Today his successors reap a rich harvest from his unpaid efforts.

Yes! George McIntosh has gone to the bourne from which no man returns. His figure will be greatly missed in this community. His life and work will however never be forgotten. His was a noble service to this Colony. His voice has now been stilled; that voice which would rant and rave at wrong, but which could also appeal to those who had it in their power to help the oppressed and downtrodden. George McIntosh was the friend of the masses. His charity will not be forgotten, and as he gave of his charity to the deserving poor, so we hope he will receive charity at the hand of the judge of all men.”

In my view that Vincentian editorial captures many of the highlights of the life and work of ‘DaDa’ as he was affectionately known by the ordinary man. In fact, all of the tributes to his life and work that I have mentioned capture the nature of the man and what he stood for.

2. OVERVIEW

George McIntosh was a pharmacist, having been trained in St.Vincent and obtained his certificate from the Medical Board and worked briefly in Grenada as a Druggist Assistant. On his return to St. Vincent he established a Pharmacy or Drug Store as it was then called in the Middle Street, in close proximity to the Market. His Drug Store which was not limited to the sale of pharmaceutical products was heavily patronised by Market vendors. He developed a close relationship with this group and generally with ordinary working people. McIntosh realising that his customers and the ordinary Vincentian, could not afford the price of the medications that they needed began to produce substitutes; Indian healing oil for use on burns and bruises, Vapine, a substitute for Vicks and Limasol for Limacol. He also made Eatolax, a laxative, Magic Linament for pain, Beef Iron & Wine Tonics, tropical eye drops for eye irritation, ointment for ring worm. He distilled lime juice from which he made oil. He made also beer, wine, rum soap and candy and in later years, certainly when I was going to secondary school, fireworks which we used on Guy Fawkes Day.

His relationship with the working people extended beyond this and was clearly manifested on the first day of the 1935 October riots when they sought his help in taking their concerns to the Governor. This was misinterpreted by the authorities who misunderstood the relationship and jumped to the conclusion that McIntosh was the mastermind behind the disturbance which they were convinced had been planned before.

McIntosh first became politically involved as one of the founders of the Representative Government Association that was formed in February 1919 to advocate for the reintroduction of elected representation in the Country’s Legislature. This was achieved in 1924 through combined efforts with similar organisations in other colonies. The formation of the St.Vincent Association was, in fact, influenced by that of Grenada that came into existence in 1917.

The Middle Class members did not benefit immediately from the constitutional change since there were still income restrictions on the franchise requirements. A number of planters and their representatives soon joined the Association and were the ones most geared to benefit from the restricted constitutional arrangements of 1924. McIntosh was elected then, in 1924, to the Kingstown Board and remained a member until his death, serving as Chairman on a number of occasions.

The riots of October 21 and 22nd propelled McIntosh on to the formal national political scene and were critical to the country’s continuing constitutional advancement, the period following the riots representing as described by some scholars, both a watershed and the beginning of the Democratic revolution. McIntosh was arrested and charged with Treason-Felony. After spending some weeks in gaol his preliminary hearing was brought to an abrupt end on the 5th day on December 11 when the Magistrate concluded that he did not see an iota of evidence to justify the charge. The reaction of the crowd that carried him on their shoulders and the general glee from the working people that had awaited the decision, testified not only to McIntosh’s popularity with the working people but showed him that there was a political vacuum in existence that needed to be filled. This he did on January 20, 1936 when the inaugural meeting of the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association which he formed with other prominent persons in the community was held.

The St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association was registered as a limited liability company because of the limitations of the existing Trade Union regulations. It was to serve as an organisation representing workers in and out of the Legislative Council. The Association was the first mass organisation to be formed in the country and soon won the first elections held in 1937 under a revised constitution. The mass rally held on Labour Day, August 3, 1936 was one that the country had never experienced before with representatives from throughout the length and breadth of St.Vincent. The Workingmen’s Association was the dominant political force from 1937 until Adult Suffrage in 1951 and McIntosh the highly regarded leader.

In and out of the Legislative Council McIntosh trumpeted the cause of the working people. He raised motions and asked questions in the Legislative Council, he fought to have the grievances of workers addressed and wrote numerous letters to the newspapers in his bid to help to lift the political consciousness of the working people. In a letter to the Times newspaper he stated the following; “I want to broaden the intellectual horizon of our poor working people and to see a change in their lot.”

McIntosh fought stubbornly for land settlement, criticizing the uneven distribution of land, focussing his attention particularly on the Leeward side of the island where one or two planters controlled most of the land. He urged Government to make lands available for workers in Canouan and spearheaded the move that led to the 1945 Land Settlement Ordinance which was celebrated as a great victory.

The issue of conditions facing workers in St.Vincent was highlighted and constantly brought to the attention of the authorities. In the Legislative Council he pushed for the introduction of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, spoke about the treatment of workers on estates. He convened a Conference of workers in 1940 and had representation from 58 delegates from all areas of St.Vincent. He formed Trade unions despite the existing limitations- A Peasant Cultivators Union, A Bakers Association and a General Workers Union which held other smaller unions or units under its umbrella. The General Workers Union survived until 1951 before being submerged by the United Workers Peasant and Ratepayers Union of George Charles and Ebenezer Joshua. McIntosh was one of St.Vincent’s delegates at the launching of the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC) in Barbados in 1945. He also spearheaded the introduction of the Trade Union and Trades Dispute Ordinance of 1950 which provided for the regulation of trade unions and trade disputes.

McIntosh was also in the forefront of issues relating to Education. At the Inaugural Meeting of the Caribbean Labour Congress in Barbados he chaired the session on Education that advocated progressive policies on Education. But before this in 1936 the Workingmen’s Association granted three scholarships to Secondary Schools. McIntosh called for compulsory primary education, raised a motion in 1938 for the establishment of an Agricultural School and piloted a motion to grant an annual or biannual Agricultural scholarship to the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad. He was also a strong advocate for better housing for the working people.

McIntosh was continually in the forefront of every move for further constitutional advancement. At a meeting of the Kingstown Board in 1936 he raised the issue of granting the right for women to vote in Town Board elections and called for it not to be restricted as it was then. He was one of the pioneers of West Indian Unity, working along with persons such as Marryshow and Cipriani. At the CCL inaugural meeting he pushed for full responsible government with Dominion status and generally wanted a federal government with the greatest measure of autonomy in each colony. When the initial intention to have Adult Suffrage with a Literacy proviso was made, McIntosh fought strongly against it, wanting to have Adult Suffrage without any qualifications.

McIntosh was also a strong advocate of the rights of Black people. He was among the persons who welcomed Marcus Garvey on his two trips to St.Vincent and was the Chairman at the public lectures delivered by Garvey. He condemned Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia and spoke at meetings organised to show solidarity with the people of Abyssinia.

One of the areas in which McIntosh really made his presence felt was in the struggle to remove the ban on Shakerism that was imposed in 1912. He first introduced a motion to that effect in 1939 and between 1939 and 1950 was relentless in his efforts to have the ban removed. He stated that it was un-British and was imposed on the oppressed working class people largely because they were poor and undefended. He argued that the ban deprived a section of the community of the right to serve God in the manner they wanted to. He pledged to raise the issue in the Legislative Council as long as the ‘obnoxious’ piece of legislation remained.

As with so many other things the very backward constitution of that time ensured that McIntosh and the other elected members had little power and authority so that there was very little that could have been meaningfully accomplished in Council unless it had the support of the Administrator/Governor. McIntosh recognised that the struggle could not be limited to the halls of the Legislative Council and made efforts through articles/letters in the newspapers and speeches on political platforms or at other public forums to stimulate and get the support of the working people as an extra-parliamentary force. The 1935 riots were still in the consciousness of the authorities and left some room for McIntosh to exert his pressure in an effort to get things resolved.

(In the next segment, Dr. Fraser discusses “Mcintosh and the Representative Government Association”)

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “The Case for George Augustus McIntosh as National Hero (Pt 1)

  1. In 1955 McIntosh made an admittion when he said “I like communism.”

    Gonsalves will certainly make him a hero, just for saying that.

    Posted by peterbinose | March 2, 2013, 08:27

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