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The Best Small Museum in the Caribbean: The Heritage Collection Anguilla

The Heritage Collection in East End village, Anguilla, ‘Where the spirit of Anguilla comes to life,’  is a veritable treasure trove of things Anguillian, presided over by Colville Petty, OBE, the genial collector behind the numerous displays in the little house once lived in by his mother.

The museum is arranged as a progression through time.  A display of the geology of the island is followed by a section on Amerindian artefacts belonging to the Arawak people, the island’s first inhabitants from as long as 3300 years ago.  These are followed by sugar industry exhibits, a corner on slavery and a room filled with household items evoking childhood memories.  Another room is dedicated to the island’s industries and sailing heritage, while another covers migration from Anguilla during lean times early in the twentieth century.

In 1967 Anguilla revolted! Anguillians rebelled against their inclusion in the St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla Alliance and firmly stated their preference to remain a British territory.  The museum dedicates a large room to the Anguilla Revolution, a bloodless uprising, which is the most popular exhibition in the collection.

Outside the main building there are the exhibits that are too big to be brought inside; a tree uprooted in a hurricane, huge cooking pots, a Class A racing boat, De Wizard, which won races in 1993 and 1994.  In all, this museum, which visitors frequently say is the ‘Best Small Museum in the Caribbean,’ is bursting with things to interest all ages.

The display of boat building, sailing and boating through the ages is of particular interest.  Colville takes up the story, “Anguilla had a tradition of the sea.  They were sailors for a long time because the island was small, with few resources and they had to take to the sea to supplement their meagre earnings from the land.  In the process they became expert boat builders and sailors.  This section of the museum is in recognition of the contribution those people made to Anguilla’s development and to their expertise in the boat building business.  In years gone by they mostly built wooden sloops and schooners, which sailed across the Caribbean as far south as Trinidad, then to Curacao and Aruba and to San Domingo.

“They carried salt in the 1900’s to Trinidad and other islands.  There was a lot of trading between Anguilla and St Barthélemy.  Anguilla had a good relationship with St Barts over the years and it was easy to smuggle from there.  This is part of our history.  Port fees were exorbitant and so Anguilla started smuggling.”

Colville’s mention of salt is telling.  This was a major industry between the 1760s and 1985 when production ceased.  The museum gives a brief history of the process and Colville is a mine of information on the subject.  “In 1855 the salt industry was given a boost with the establishment of the Anguilla Salt Ponds Joint Stock Company.  1500 shares were sold at US$5 each,” he says.  “The first recorded mention of a sailing regatta on Anguilla is in the 1880’s when the Reverend William Bourchier mentions using salt piles as grandstands.”

Nowadays boat building on Anguilla is a small concern.  “It is a specialised skill,” says Colville.  “Through the years it was perfected and was a family concern.  Now not many people on the island are involved.  It is changing.  Boats are no longer traditional big boats.   Now it is sailing boats [being built] and one business, Rebel Marine, is moving to commercial boat building to respond to needs and demands overseas.”

The Heritage Collection is addictive.    Allow plenty of time for a visit!

If You Plan to visit

The Heritage Collection, East End, Anguilla, is open Monday to Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm.  Enquiries can be emailed to the Curator, Colville L. Petty OBE: petty@anguillanet.com or telephone: + 264 497 4092/ + 264 235 7440.

British-born Penny Legg has a regular column ‘Thoughts of an Expat’ in The Anguillian, www.anguillian.com She writes for magazines and newspapers in the Caribbean, US and UK.  She is married with one son and currently lives on Anguilla.

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