Jack Rose was Cayman’s last commissioner

Anyone who thinks Stuart Jack was a controversial governor should look at what has been written about Cayman in 1962.

Her Majesty’s Representative that year was Jack Rose, who had joined the Colonial Office after flying fighter planes in World War II.

Roy Bodden, in his book, The Cayman Islands in Transition, uses the term official malfeasance. He states that Mr. Rose ‘contravened established constitutional procedures and ignored political protocol’ by orchestrating the rejection of Ormond Panton as a member of Executive Council even though Mr. Panton’s political party had won the election.

Mr. Panton’s biography, by Dave Martins, expounds on this incident but further charges Mr. Rose with ‘telling an outright lie’ when Caymanians had to decide on their future governance. Even the diplomatic civil servant Harry McCoy went on record to say Mr. Rose ‘didn’t explain the thing properly.’

Cayman’s most definitive history book, Founded upon the Seas, gives an account of both events in a chapter on party politics and self-government.

Mr. Rose, Cayman’s last commissioner and first administrator, died on 10 October this year. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph was headed ‘Wing Commander Jack Rose’ and 12 of the first 13 paragraphs detail his wartime exploits as both pilot and squadron leader.

One paragraph relates to Cayman. It reads: ‘In 1960 Rose was seconded to be the first administrator of the Cayman Islands, where he spent four years. He commissioned a draft company law, which was approved in London, passed in the island’s [sic] legislature, and became law in December 1961. It provided, among other things, for ‘exempt companies’ and very soon led to the tax haven status of the islands and a huge growth in their economy.’

Mr. Rose’s signature on other bills indicates he served in Cayman from February 1960 until March 1963.

In 1999, Heather McLaughlin was in England and traveled to his home in Burford to interview him for the National Archive Memory Bank. In preliminary conversation, Mr. Rose recalled the names of many Caymanians and was interested to know how they were doing, Mrs. McLaughlin said.

He spoke about the political situation in 1962 and explained how the Companies Law got started.

But, 38 years after the fact, his most startling comments must have been about the day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, when four attack aircraft with Cuban military markings landed in Grand Cayman.

Bay of Pigs and the CIA

Mr. Rose’s narrative reads like a movie plot. It deserves reading in full, but here is a summary.

One morning in April 1961, Mr. Rose was listening to news on the radio and heard mention of military activities in the area of the Bay of Pigs on the south coast of Cuba, about 200 miles north of Grand Cayman.

He received a message to go to the airport ‘because something unusual was happening there.’

When he arrived he saw an American A-26 aircraft with Cuban markings and a Cuban crew. In the next hour, three more A-26s landed, ‘There were a few bullet holes, but nothing serious.’

Each plane had a pilot and navigator/bomber. Each was carrying rockets, bombs and machine guns. In a cockpit, he found a map showing a flight plan from Central America to Cuba, with the return course marked to fly to Grand Cayman in the event of trouble.

When he checked, the rocket and machine gun controls were still on ‘Fire’. His first concern had to be for public safety.

‘It so happened that I had spent time during the 1939-45 war flying rocket-firing Hurricanes and Typhoons so that I was reasonably familiar with the unloading procedures,’ he commented.

An American tourist had come along to see what the noise was about and it turned out he had been a bomber during the war. He and ‘a few government employees’ helped Mr. Rose unload the aircraft.

The ammunitions were stored out of sight and guarded. Mr. Rose had to contact the Governor in Jamaica by telegraph to say what had happened.

Visitors from the US Central Intelligence Agency arrived by night with no lights on the plane and none on the landing field. After hearing Mr. Rose’s account, one man wanted to phone Washington, DC. The administrator had to tell him there was no international phone service.

The man went to the airport and arranged for a message to be passed to Montego Bay for a plane to be chartered to come to Cayman and pick him up, take him to Jamaica to make the phone call and then bring him back to Cayman.

Mr. Rose said the aircraft crews were Cubans who had fled Cuba and were recruited by the CIA. ‘The fact that they landed here with most of their bombs and rockets unspent showed how little stomach they had for the job.’

The aircraft were patched up and flown out as soon as they were airworthy. ‘There was never any publicity about it,’ Mr. Rose said.

The Companies Law

In his Memory Bank interview, Mr. Rose recalled that he had stopped in Jamaica on his way to Cayman to discuss his new assignment with Governor Blackburne. One topic was the prospect of assistance from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund toward the costs of suitable projects.

‘He asked me to prepare a plan… which he would send to London if he approved.’

Government Reports for the era indicate that a development plan was already drafted in 1959 and its final version approved by Cayman’s legislators in 1960. It envisioned capital expenditure of £280,000 over four years for such items as a police station and jail, a new airport building, a residence for the Administrator.

Mr. Rose recalled other requested items, including a bulldozer and dental equipment. He called the plan a reasonable mix.

He did not take credit for the Companies Law, explaining, ‘My immediate predecessor, Alan Donald, had left a note on a file about the possibility of considering a company law.’

The reason was Cayman’s need for a new source of revenue as the economy would be affected by dwindling remittances from seamen.

Mr. Rose cited Vassel Johnson as one of the people involved in the Companies Law. ‘We got a firm of solicitors in Kingston, Jamaica and told them what we wanted.’ The law was based on the English Companies Act with a few added nuggets, such as the types of companies and the directors having their board meetings in Cayman.

The Companies Law was one of three bills passed in 1960 with the expectation they would ‘serve the dual purpose of helping to finance the Development Plan and enabling further reductions to be made in import duties.’

Mr. Johnson, knighted in 1994, wrote in his autobiography that the Companies Law ‘was then, in fact, making its good mark on the offshore business.’ To continue to promote the financial industry three more laws were needed, he said, and they were passed in 1966: a bank and trust companies law, a separate trust law and a new exchange control law.

Mr. Rose commented, ‘One had hope of the Companies Law developing into something, but frankly if I’d been asked, at the time, I wouldn’t have had any idea it would have bloomed as it did and would have produced the revenue that it did for good or for ill. I think what I hoped was – if it produced enough cash to deal with the mosquito problem, we should be content with that….’

Mosquitoes worst problem

Mr. Rose was interested in Cayman’s tourism potential, but ‘Getting rid of mosquitoes was absolutely key to development.’

He recalled going to the airport when a plane was landing with tourists. It was just before sunset when mosquitoes were ‘swarming by the millions.’ People started coming down the gang plank, ‘bashing themselves about’ and then rushing back into the aircraft. They refused to get out and insisted on flying back to Miami, he recalled.

On another occasion, he and his wife heard a whining at the back door of their residence. He went to look and found ‘a black ball of mosquitoes on four legs’. It was a dog covered by the insects. They brushed him off as best they could and got him into water for relief, but he died shortly after.

Although mosquitoes were not conquered during Mr. Rose’s time, there were other significant occurrences, including construction of the present governor’s residence on Seven Mile Beach.

Sir Vassel’s widow, Lady Johnson, explains that the old Government House stood where the Glass House is now. Offices were below and living quarters for the commissioner or administrator were on the top storey.

Mr. Rose had admired a residence in Northern Rhodesia and obtained a set of plans for it in exchange for a set of Cayman stamps – an excellent bargain and a saving of time and money, he noted.

National Hero Sybil McLaughlin, clerk of the Legislative Assembly at the time, recalls it was in 1962 during Mr. Rose’s tour of duty that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Sir Kenneth Blackburne, visited Grand Cayman 2 – 5 April and stayed in the newly completed Government House.

A book Miss Sybil compiled about parliamentary government notes that, also in 1962, provision was made for the post of Probation Officer. Mr. Rose was involved in the appointment of the late Joyce Hylton, who touched so many lives in her service.

Another noteworthy event was Government’s reluctant takeover of the private company that had provided electric power on Grand Cayman.

In his dealings with people, Mr. Rose is assessed by Lady Johnson as ‘not an unpleasant man. He was a stickler for civil service rules and regulations. As a wing commander, he would have given orders, so maybe that is why he sometimes seemed abrupt. But I believe some of those edges were smoothed by the time he left here.’

Asked about Mr. Rose, Mrs. Olive Miller immediately recalled that he held Christmas parties for civil servants. ‘We would dance, which was unusual in those days.’

The controversy involving Mr. Rose and Cayman’s political leaders is worth a book in itself. The works mentioned above present various perspectives.

The problem had roots in the West Indies Federation, an organisation of British colonies in the Caribbean that came into effect around 1958 and began disintegrating in 1961.

Cayman had been administered as a dependency of Jamaica, which was a colony. Within the Federation, the proposal was that Cayman would have full internal self-government while paying the Federation for dealing with external affairs. After a five-year trial, Cayman would have the option of continuing with the Federation or reverting to colonial status.

Jamaica’s move toward independence and withdrawal from the Federation left Cayman’s position uncertain. One author calls the Cayman Islands at this time an orphan.

Mr. Rose saw only two choices: associate with independent Jamaica or continue as a colonial territory under the Crown. ‘There was no third alternative.’

One suggestion had been for Cayman to be a self-governing colony with a link through the British High Commissioner in Jamaica. Mr. Rose did not see this as a realistic alternative, but his critics did.

In his 1999 interview, he was asked about reports he had said in a public speech that there were only two balls to play. He did not remember that analogy, but said it was conceivable.

‘What I was trying to say was there are two alternatives only and there is no question of trying to have a piece of one and a piece of the other….I might have said ‘it’s either black or white and it’s nothing in between.”

Told that his remarks had been interpreted as black representing Jamaica and white representing Britain, Mr. Rose responded, ‘Oh God; oh, no!’

Looking back, he said he was sure he felt Caymanians would have made a mistake if they linked too closely with Jamaica, but ‘I think I tried to be impartial and present the two possibilities.’

Still, he had no doubt the majority of Caymanians wanted the link with Britain.

‘I think that as history unrolled after that, it turned out to have been the right decision. But of course one could not have foreseen that.’