Hurricane of 1916, Governor’s Dispatch

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Description by Kaila-Ann Guiste:

This collection of dispatches from the colonial governor in charge of Dominica in 1916 contains normal and mandatory records of being stationed and other government matters of employment.

The section which was digitized is the incident of a hurricane on August 18th 1916. The reports come from all over the island as well as a few reports from surrounding colonies. It gives several reports of the hurricane, what happened, and recovery information live from the scene. It also has follow-up letters indicating that the colony had asked for help from Martinique and how that carried on. It records several searches that were engaged, and the findings and a final summary report every few reports.

Intern Kaila’s reflections:

Going through these dispatches was like observing a conversation over the span of a year, 1916 to be exact, during WW1, for chronological context.

From January to mid-August, the dispatches stay the same. Reports confirming stations, job changes in ministry, news about the affluent and other very mundane information.

So, I’m reading those very simple dispatch notices, retirement of government workers etc and then in the middle of the pile there’s a bound set about the 1916 hurricane. This bound packet contained several reports of the same hurricane from perspectives all over the island.

Reading through that year’s dispatches was like reading a book. With very normal easy starts, one gets accustomed to the writing style and voice and personality of the main character and then a climax in the plot, and back to regular program as the story winds down. Reading through these dispatches I felt like I was there experiencing all the destruction in each location and the build-up of dread every time a body was found alongside the list of those still missing. All throughout that year there were follow up documents surrounding this hurricane.

I found an interesting point: people’s feelings of shame in asking for help when they were sick, homeless, and hungry while the governor who still had a home held his pride speaking as though the hurricane was the fault of those who suffered losses.

Realistically I think it could have been the pride of the colony as a colony of Britain and not wanting to request help from the mainland for other reasons (maybe even the ongoing war).

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