The UWI Museum’s exhibition titled: Origins. The Roots & Symbols of the University of the West Indies, was the first effort to pull together early artifacts of the institution. Research in the University Archives and secondary texts written by UWI stalwarts provided clues to the existence of some items. Actually laying hands on them proved more challenging. And some have continued to be elusive.
As Curator Suzanne Francis-Brown commented to the Salises 50-50 Conference in Kingston, Jamaica during August, “without a context of value, old things are simply that – old things. “ She noted that the UWI Museum can help to provide items reflective of the university’s history with the context, purpose and value necessary to their preservation and conservation.
Artifacts now in the museum include an early institutional seal, but efforts continue to locate the granddaddy of them – a large metal seal which required muscle power to operate and which was among the earliest donations to the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI).
One of the interesting stories attached to items in the museum collection has a tragic side. It relates to the loss of the original Royal Charter of the UCWI. The Charter, which was approved in December 1948 and passed under the Great Seal in London on January 5, 1949, was sent to Jamaica aboard the British South American Airways aircraft Star Ariel, which disappeared mid-January en route from Bermuda to Kingston with 20 people on board. Later, the contents of the charter would be incorporated in Letters Patent which were sealed and sent as an official replacement. These constituted the basis for the university college’s operation until a new Royal Charter was granted in 1962, when the University of the West Indies became an independent, degree granting institution. A subsequent charter, granted in 1972, forms the on-going basis for the UWI’s operation.
The university’s Coat of Arms, from the Royal College of Arms in Britain, and the original Chancellor’s Robe are among the artifacts on exhibit.
For others, the search continues.