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    October 19

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Black History Month: Rawle Winfield Wiltshire

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, sherrylynclarke@nationnews.com

Added 28 February 2014


Researched by SANDRA SEALEY Today we conclude our Black History Month series with a look at Rawle Winfield Wiltshire, Barbados’ last lighthouse keeper. ​​Rawle Winfield Wiltshire was born on January 8, 1919, in Marley Vale, St Philip. He was the fourth of 12 children born to Oscar Ezekiel Wiltshire (a fisherman) and Mary Dianna Wiltshire, née Roberts (a home-maker). His brothers and sisters have all predeceased him. ​He received his early education at St Catherine’s Primary School. His childhood was typical of a country boy in St Philip. He played lots of cricket particularly for Skylark Club. He helped his father to fish, and frequented the gullies and coastline of Marley Vale, Bayfield and Ragged Point. Rawle became an excellent swimmer at an early age. He trained as a tailor but because life at the time was difficult, he left for the United States in 1944 to find suitable employment to provide sustenance for his family. Shortly after returning to Barbados he married Ismay Batson on December 18, 1945, at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Between 1946 and 1954, the young couple raised several children before Wiltshire was appointed lighthouse keeper at Ragged Point on June 21, 1954. Wages at the time were low, so he supplemented his income from his work as a tailor, a small farmer and diving for sea eggs. Wiltshire’s family, originally from the Wiltshire-Marley Vale area, had a long association with the Ragged Point Lighthouse as keepers, doing their work “faithfully and well”. As early as January 1895 Levi Wiltshire had been appointed assistant keeper. In 1907 Joseph Dacosta Wiltshire was made assistant lighthouse keeper while the Wiltshire brothers, Rawle and Frank, also became keepers and were among the last to serve at Ragged Point. The life of a lighthouse keeper was not an easy one. Three lighthouse keepers were assigned to the lighthouse and worked on a shift system – 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., or sometimes 6 p.m. to midnight or midnight to 6 a.m. Their main duty was to ensure that the light which warned mariners to stay clear of the rugged Atlantic Coastline and the Cobblers Reef never went out. This entailed almost daily cleaning of the lamp, chimney and other paraphernalia which could be easily corroded by the ever present sea spray. Ragged Point was the third lighthouse to be set up in Barbados. It was preceded by South Point on March 1, 1852 and Needhams Point on October, 6, 1855. North Point followed in 1925. Wiltshire noted that the lighthouse was equally important “for navigators on land”. Up to the late 1970s, since electricity and street lighting were not widespread, “the Bulls Eye took home many a person. We would wait until the light shone in the dark areas and then move on quickly”. The Bulls Eye was a very thick magnifying glass which revolved around the lamp. The light gave off bright flashes at two-minute intervals and could be seen at a distance of 25 miles on clear nights. Every hour on the hour the lighthouse keeper had to be alert to ensure that he pulled up the weights to keep the Bulls Eye flashing. ​“Dalt Dalt” as he was affectionately known, spent 18 years as a lighthouse keeper at Ragged Point Lighthouse before he left in 1973 at the age of 54 to take up a position as signalman at the Bridgetown Port until he retired. He passed away on June 20, 2013, at the age of 94. In modern times all lighthouses were fully automated and the days of lighthouse keepers have long been over. ​Source: Article by Ernestine M. Alleyne in St Philip Junior Cricketers Second Magazine, Tour To Trinidad and Tobago, August 9-20, 2001. ​  


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