Rum as a family business
Mon, February 04, 2013 - 12:01 AM
IT LAYS CLAIM to being the world’s oldest rum, but descendants of the person whose name is associated with Mount Gay Rum will point to the family surrounding the spirit as the feature of more interest.
A connoisseur will say its roots are in Mount Gilboa Rum, and the Wards will contend that “It is the association [between] Mount Gay Rum [and] the Ward family which makes an interesting story”.
And so it was told recently by Linda Bowen, granddaughter of co-developer A.F. Ward.
Over the better part of an hour, she condensed a yarn of family and production reaching back to 1667 when the rum was born in St Lucy to the present day, with Ward offspring continuing to manage the brown liquid fondly consumed by Barbadians in some 1100 rum shops across the island, at every gathering and in homes whenever there is – or is not – an excuse to imbibe, and in the far corners of the world.
Bowen told a group of Barbados Museum and Historical Society members and other local history enthusiasts how the rum had its genesis on a sugar estate in St Lucy named Mount Gilboa where a still was established 345 years ago, and here began production of a liquid that holds its own potential to change a story with each sip.
Despite a 1667 original production, the official date of first manufacture was 1703.
The more than 120 people at the Barbados museum heard of a succession in proprietorship that saw the estate’s ownership and management pass through the hands of owner William Sandiford to a rum producer atypically named John Sober, then managed by Sir John Gay Alleyne.
On that manager’s passing, the Sober family renamed Mt Gilboa to Mt Gay.
In the continued shaping of this Barbadian cultural heritage, Timothy Thornhill became proprietor and from 1904 the rum was sold in bottles known as demijohns holding ten gallons each.
“This was the birth of Mount Gay rum as we know it,” Bowen said, explaining the introduction of the bottling and labelling of the product for retail sale.
“Even though [the brand] Mount Gay Rum was first made in 1703, it did not become internationally famous until after 1918 when Aubrey Fitzobert Ward became involved in its production. It was Aubrey, the famous A.F. Ward, and his business partner John Hutson who put Mount Gay Rum on the map.”
Bowen would know – she is the daughter of A.F.’s eldest living child Roy Ward, 95, who continues briskly steering the business.
A.F. Ward had taken a risk and bought Mt Gay as an economically declining concern for £33 000 in 1918, then hooked up with Hutson, the marketer.
A.F. was born in 1869 and demonstrated that along with early business acumen, he was also a great multiplier – by the time he moved from St Philip to St Lucy at age 29, he had already sired eight children. At the time of his passing at age 79, the Barbados rum producer and popularizer of the product had given the island over 50 children.
Parallel to Aubrey’s business exploits up north, brother Edmund was building another offshoot of the dynasty in the south.
“At the same time that the St Lucy Wards were acquiring land, wealth and prestige as an excellent family business in St Lucy, the Christ Church branch of the family was doing a similar thing,” she explained.
Not only did A.F. and Edmund harbour a common drive for business but also an apparent motivation to populate Barbados. Between the two, they owned up to more than 80 children with the distinction of never having married any mothers of their offspring.
Bowen said nonetheless, all the mothers were provided for and the children educated. She said the latter was a factor in the expansion and sustainability of the family business: “All the sugar estates were managed by [A.F.’s and Edmund’s] offspring.” Others became professionals within enterprises.
Today as their flagship product continues to permeate the lives of people in the island and worldwide, the Wards of Barbados have put their stamp on this island’s cultural history. (GA)
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