What made headlines in Cayman’s first newspaper, 109 years ago

    Paul F. Ebanks peruses his uncle's copy of The Caymanian for March 1908. - Photo: Carol Winker

    Reports of a large shark in George Town harbor. A fatal shooting. Vessels arriving and departing. A meeting of the Legislative Body. The naming of a new road and support urged for local business.

    Almost all of these topics sound as if they could have been today’s front page news. They were, in fact, the subjects of stories considered newsworthy – 109 years ago.

    The “Monster Shark in Harbour” item, however, only made page 2. Perhaps this was because the sighting occurred on Jan. 27, 1908, but the newspaper reporting it did not make its debut until five weeks later, when everybody on the island must have already heard some version of the event.

    According to the paper’s account, the crew of the schooner Sea Gull were engaged in work on board when “a very large shark” was seen alongside. “Comparing its length with that of the ship, it was estimated that the monster was nearly thirty feet long. Its head was thought to be about five or six feet across …. The men were so much taken by surprise at seeing so great a monster of the deep in such proximity to their vessel that no attempt was made at killing it, and it may be added there were no firearms or weapons of any sort on board the ship at the time.”

    The “Shooting case at North Side” appeared at the bottom of page 3. That incident occurred on Jan. 9. The Sgt. Major of Police and the Clerk of the Court made their way across the North Sound in an open boat to the house of the deceased. The arrest of a suspect followed. “Notices to jurors and witnesses were served and everything made ready for the Coroner’s inquest the next day,” the paper reported.

    There was an exhaustive inquiry, and facts brought out showed that the accused man had gone to Malportas Pond to shoot water fowls. Shortly afterward, the man now deceased had gone in the same direction to his provision ground near the pond. The verdict was death caused by gunshot wound accidentally inflicted.

    The front page of the paper carried two items – an editorial, and shipping news. Great care seems to have been taken in naming the schooners or sloops and their captains, their last port, next intended port, and dates of arrival and departure. Eleven vessels are listed as arriving that January and 23 departing.

    The sloop Brothers, for example, left Cayman on Jan. 7 with “a general cargo that included thatch ropes, hides, etc. She also took about 13 passengers.” Captain Farrell sailed during a fairly strong North-Wester and reached Montego Bay in about 42 hours. The vessel went on to Kingston and then returned to Cayman on Jan. 23, with mail, general cargo and several passengers.

    The front page editorial announced that with steam communication between Kingston and George Town assured, it was thought appropriate to launch a local newspaper.

    Another vessel figured in two stories: the Steam Ship Oteri.

    In an article headlined “Justices and Vestry meeting called,” the Legislative Body assembled on Jan. 3 at 10 a.m. Commissioner George S.S. Hirst, as president, explained that he was asking members to vote the sum of 150 pounds per year toward a subsidy for the monthly trip of a steamer between Kingston and George Town. “He spoke at some length on the advantages to be gained by having this island in closer touch with the outside world.” Four lawmakers abstained; everyone else voted in favor.

    The front page editorial announced that with steam communication between Kingston and George Town assured, it was thought appropriate to launch a local newspaper called The Caymanian to supply a long-felt want. Manuscripts would be despatched from George Town to Kingston, “there to be printed and arranged in newspaper form,” and then be returned to George Town by the S.S. Oteri.

    The Caymanian promised to be devoted to the interests of the islands and their inhabitants. Its motto was “Vox Populi. Lex Dei.,” a literal translation being, “The Voice of the People. The Law of God.” The price was one-and-a-half pence, or two pence by post. Number 1, Volume 1 is dated March 2, 1908. Editor and manager is P. A. Myers.

    The paper did not provide any biographical information about the editor. One detail is found in Cayman’s first comprehensive history book, “Founded upon the Seas,” by Michael Craton and the New History Committee. The book explains that Commissioner Hirst had encouraged a Jamaican entrepreneur, Fred Myers, to start a monthly paper. P. A. Myers was Fred’s son.

    The Cayman Islands National Archive has a full set of The Caymanian on microfiche, and members of the public can arrange for a viewing. There are copies in private hands as well. One was recently brought to the attention of the Cayman Compass by Paul Flexon Ebanks of North Side. It belongs to his uncle, Lloyd Ebanks, who maintains a keen interest in local history.

    That first issue introduced so many topics begging for a follow-up that a visit to the National Archive was inevitable.

    For example, public funding was awaited for a road to be constructed “from Shedden Road to Dixon’s at Red Bay.” Did the road ever get built? It did, and within six months. Informally referred to as The North Road, The Red Bay Road, and The Road Past George Chollette’s, it was formally named, according to the custom of the day, for His Majesty’s Secretary for the Colonies at the time of construction – the Right Honorable Earl of Crewe.

    The newspaper salutes the excellent work of the contractor, regrettably identified only as “Mr. Ebanks.” The road featured what may have been Cayman’s first bridge, described as being 45 feet long, over a ravine. The bridge was attributed to Millard Russell, “a man of our own who can undertake such work and perform it so creditably.”

    Advertisements livened up the pages with different sizes and styles of type and even an occasional illustration.

    In October 1908, Malcolm McTaggart managed Cayman Aerated Water Co. and urged residents to “Support Home Industries.” Among the products he offered was cream soda at two shillings per dozen.

    In July, 1909, a Merren’s advertisement featured a limerick contest, with readers invited to supply the last line and win one of “3 valuable prizes” on display at the store for the month. First prize was a set of fancy glassware; second prize, an umbrella; third prize, a pair of photo frames and one tin of Cashmere Bouquet powder.

    The Caymanian for October-November 1909 carried an ad for Benjamin’s Jamaican Healing Oil, described as the greatest pain medication on earth. The copy encouraged readers to “Try it on yourself! Try it on your horse!! Try it on your cattle!!!”

    This combined issue may have been a sign of what was coming. The Caymanian explained that there had been no opportunity to get the manuscript for October to Kingston because of the stoppage of the steamer between Kingston and Cayman.

    But there may have been another factor as well. In January 1909, P. A. Myers had been succeeded by W. M. Cochran as editor and manager of the newspaper. In March 1909, Mr. Cochran wrote, “Financially the paper is not yet a paying concern, but we hope that during its second year of existence this state of matters may be remedied.”

    Commissioner Hirst, in his “Notes on the History of the Cayman Islands,” stated, “In March 1908 the first issue of the ‘Caymanian’ appeared, but owing to want of public support, the venture was abandoned in 1910.”

    The 22nd and last issue of The Caymanian is dated December 1909.

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