FEBRUARY MEMORIES

Three February moments jump to mind with regard to the heritage of the University of the West Indies. The first recalls the first office of the university; the second spotlights the installation of its first Chancellor – an event still remembered through annual Commemoration activities; and the third relates more broadly to the region that the UWI serves.

First Office

Unveiling a plaque marking the first office of the University College of the West Indies. Pictured from left, alumni Dr Don Christian and Dr Aggrey Irons.

Unveiling a plaque marking the first office of the University College of the West Indies. Pictured from left, alumni Dr Don Christian and Dr Aggrey Irons.

The first office of then University College of the West Indies (UCWI) opened for business in February 1947, and doubled as the home of first Principal, Dr Thomas Taylor. Taylor, a British chemist, had arrived in Jamaica in November 1946. Until the property at 62 Lady Musgrave Road was leased, meetings were held at the British Council office in Kingston. Ironically, it is said that the previous resident of the Lady Musgrave Road house was a Jamaican journalist who had objected to the notion of a West Indian university!

Within a year, the UCWI had identified its permanent home at Mona, on the outskirts of Kingston, amid wooden barracks buildings that had been a home to Gibraltarian evacuees, European refugees and some German and Italian civilian internees during World War 2; and which had then been a military camp.

Installation of the Chancellor

Princess Alice addresses the gathering at her installation ceremony in 1950. Sir James Irvine is seated at left. (UWI Main Library Historical Photos Collection)

Princess Alice addresses the gathering at her installation ceremony in 1950. Sir James Irvine is seated at left. (UWI Main Library Historical Photos Collection)

The UCWI was granted a Royal Charter and the King appointed his cousin, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, as the first Chancellor. She was installed on February 16, 1950, in an outdoor ceremony held in an area of the campus now known as the Mona Bowl. A church service at Jamaica’s historic Spanish Town Cathedral followed the next day.

Interestingly, Princess Alice’s husband, the Duke of Athlone, was then Chancellor of London University to which the UCWI served an initial apprenticeship.

Federation Day

While the UCWI pre-dated the West Indies Federation, it was established with regional development in mind: “The College, and its new Principal (Arthur Lewis), were closely and continuously involved. Regional agreement and hopes of regional unity had brought it into being. Its students were clowly creating an image of what it meant to be a West Indian. It had begun to serve the Federal government as a resource…” (The University of the West Indies by Philip Sherlock & Rex Nettleford, 1990)

The West Indies Federation lasted only until 1962, and Principal (later, Vice Chancellor) Lewis was hard pressed to develop strategies that kept the UCWI from going the way of the Federation. Nonetheless, the Federation remains a part of the context of the UCWI/UWI and it seems appropriate  to remember that in 1957, February 25 was declared as Federation Day.

Exhibitions On-Going

Our cameo exhibition on the centenary of Sir Arthur Lewis continues through February, alongside our semi-permanent Origins exhibition.

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5 thoughts on “FEBRUARY MEMORIES

  1. February 9, 2015.
    Very interesting! I especially appreciated the photo of Princess Alice as I actually won the Princess Alice Scholarship in 1961 which allowed me to enter the then University College of the West Indies. Since that long-ago time, I am not aware that any other such scholarships were awarded. It would be wonderful if someone could clarify this for me.

    • Thanks for the comment and for the question also. Perhaps one of our visitors might have an answer but will try nonetheless try to find out what happened to that programme. Do you remember how many of you awardees there were at the time? And were you all brought to meet the Princess (who of course was the Chancellor) or were there any special requirements you had to meet?

      • To the best of my recollection, I was the only one awarded this particular scholarship at that time. There were awards of other scholarships and bursaries but I really don’t remember the details. With regard to whether or not there were any special requirements that I had to meet, no, there were not.. All I remember is my astonishment at hearing the news!

  2. In the background of the picture of Princess Alice is her ‘page’, Denise Mitchell (dec) one of the original 33 medical students admitted in 1948.

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