Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Julian Fraser described the catastrophic sinking of the BVI vessel the ‘Fancy Me’ 90 years ago as a tragedy that brought tears to many eyes in the Territory.
Hon. Fraser recalled the sadness during his remarks at a ceremony that was held to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the sinking of the ‘Fancy Me’ and remembrance of the individuals who lost their lives as a result of maritime tragedies between 1902 and 1942.
The ceremony was held at the Virgin Islands Studies Institute at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on 25 July, and Hon. Fraser urged all to remember those who lost their lives: “This morning let us all acknowledge the sacrifice made by those 59 people who died in that tragic incident, and the surviving 21 who must have been so traumatized that living a normal life was virtually impossible, by rising to our feet for a brief moment.”
“What happened on 25 July, 1926 was ghastly tragic, but at the same time of extreme national and historical significance, so neither I nor any speaker here this morning should have difficulty saying it, despite knowing it will be repetitive,” the Opposition Leader noted.
“My invitation reminds me of the mood in the Territory when the news of the Fancy Me hit, “there was not a dry eye to be found. Every island and village community across the Virgin Islands was affected one way or another and the memory of this event has lived on in the lives of many even to this day.” Hon Fraser added.
The “Fancy Me”, a Tortola schooner, was lost on a voyage from Santo Domingo to Tortola. 59 of the 89 passengers perished. Captain James Smith attempts to secure his vessel and passengers were in vain. On 25 July 1926, the vessel had left the port of San Pedro de Macoris where a sizable workforce of Tortolians and Anegadians had found seasonal employment at local sugar plantations and farms. While a number of these Virgin Islanders had decided to settle in the Dominican Republic on a permanent basis, many returned home at the end of the harvest season. In those days, Santo Domingo was the bread-basket of the English-speaking islands. The St. Thomas-built ‘Fancy Me’ was owned by the brothers James and Alexander Smith of Carrot Bay, Tortola. The list of the passengers of the fateful sea journey included many familiar names such as Smith, Henley, Connor, Hodge, Leonard, Donovan, Creque, Vanterpool, Chalwell, Penn, Frett, Malone, Hill, Lloyd, Thomas, Christopher, Freeman, Rymer, Nibbs, Brown, Wheatley, Hendricks, Barry, Fahie, Stephens, Lewis, Benjamin, George, Parsons, Blyden, Bild, Dawson, Martin, Rabsatt, Rogers, Fraser, Norman, Cills, and Jacobs.
In 1998, Janet D. Smith, Ph.D wrote a well-researched book – “Such are the Hours to Find Peace”. This precious book includes a detailed chronicle of the biggest BVI tragedy at sea. BVI historian Vernon W. Pickering said that the facts reported in Dr. Smith’s highly informative book “are in most cases, first-hand accounts”. In a 1998 interview with The Island Sun Dr. Smith noted that the 1926 tragedy “must have shattered the dreams of many, it was nearing August Monday – a time toward which everyone looked to see old friends…For many years to come, August Monday must never have been the same, everyone lost someone.”