Nevis: Queen of the Leewards

By Stoddard, Maynard Good | The Saturday Evening Post, May-June 1985 | Go to article overview
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Nevis: Queen of the Leewards


Stoddard, Maynard Good, The Saturday Evening Post


NEVIS: QUEEN OF THE LEEWARDS

Draw a straight line from Rangoon through Timbuktu and into the Western Hemisphere, then another straight line from Halifax right into the Dragons Mouth west of Trinidad; at the intersection you'll find the West Indies island of Nevis. All 36 square miles of it.

Nevis' big-sister island, Saint Kitts, all of 65 miles square, lies two miles across the strait.

Columbus first saw these islands in 1493 and gave them their names. The shape of the larger and its Mount Misery suggested to him an image of his own patron, Saint Christopher, bearing the Christ Child on his shoulders. The smaller island and its cloud-capped peak reminded him of los nieves, or "the snows,' of the Pyrenees back in Spain. The British have long since shortened the islands' names to Saint Kitts and Nevis (long "e').

Jamestown's settlers indulged their bodies and refreshed their souls in the tropical sunshine of Nevis before moving north to tackle the hardships of a 17th-century Virginia winter. Here, Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury in George Washington's cabinet, had the good sense to be born. And here, Captain (later Lord) Horatio Nelson took time from fighting the French to be married.

At one time, with the help of conscripted labot from England (no black slaves for the first 100 years), 69 plantations produced the sugar that helped satisfy much of the world's sweet tooth; six plantations remain. A dwindling market, caused in part by the introduction of a formidable rival, the sugar beet, brought the sugar-cane mills to a halt. Today, the plantations have been converted to an even sweeter trade--catering to the vacationers who want to have the time of their lives without working at it.

A sign at the airport advertises: "You are on the right island, now go to the right place--Zetland Plantation.' Zetland, 1,500 feet up the slopes of Nevis Peak, offers a view not only of Saint Kitts but of Redonda and Montserrat islands as well. Here, at leisurely "Caribbean time,' life revolves around the manor house and its restaurant, lounge, bar and boutique, surrounded by 15 villas that dot the hillside. The converted sugar mill, resembling a Dutch windmill with the fans missing, is occupied (when he's in residence) by the New York Giant football hall-of-famer Andy Robustelli, the part-owner of Zetland.

A tennis court, a swimming pool, a dance pavilion, manicured lawns and walks bordered by coconut palms and exotic flowers now cover the area where the sugar works once stood upwind to the original owner's mahogany "great house.' The house was deliberately burned in 1706 to keep it from falling into the hands of the invading French.

As we sit on the veranda of our villa and look across the gentle water to Montserrat, the trade winds cool upon our cheeks and glasses cold in our hands, it's easy to contemplate those early times when Nevis was known for its glamorous social life. What isn't easy to accept is that this little Caribbean cameo has a problem-- water, Not even the most preoccupied could miss the doggerel posted on the wall above our commode:

Welcome--

On this isle

Of sea and sun,

We do not flush

For number one.

Thank you.

Nevis islanders tell us the big event here is the sunset, but we found a visit to the Nelson Museum fascinating. The memory of Lord Nelson, one of the greatest heroes of the British Empire, is kept alive on the island thanks to a Philadelphia lawyer, Bob Abraham: He restored and converted a room in a 300-year-old cane house into the Morning Star Nelson Museum. Enshrined here are Nelson memorabilia that include a grandiose grandfather clock, the hands of which were stopped at the exact moment of the visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1966; a walking stick that contains a concealed field glass; one of Nelson's swords; a replica of his coffin (sold on London streets the day after the funeral); and an invitation to the funeral--as well as faded letters that Nelson wrote with his left hand, his right arm having been shot off.

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