(We promised a follow-up to the approval of a Royal Charter for the UCWI. Here it is:)
In the first two weeks of January 1949, the fledgling University College of the West Indies was celebrating as pieces of its governance structure clicked into place; a week later it was touched by tragedy! How so?
With its first 33 students from across the Caribbean region matriculated in October 1948 and immersed in their labs and lectures within temporary structures at Mona – the founding campus – the administration redoubled efforts to get its governance straight. In a Christmas gift to the new institution, King George VI approved a Royal Charter on December 22, 1948, which was sealed on January 6, 1949. When the university’s Provisional Council met January 10-13, they heard this news and also that the King had accepted the position of Visitor and had appointed Princess Alice of Athlone as the first Chancellor.
The UCWI’s celebratory news was plastered across the front page of the Daily Gleaner newspaper.
And then, on January 19, the Gleaner carried another front page headline: ‘No Sign of the Star Ariel’. The missing British South American Airways plane had disappeared Monday January 17 en route from Bermuda to Kingston, with 20 people aboard, seven of them staff. Despite the involvement of some 80 aircraft and US warships, the search for the Star Ariel proved futile. No conclusive explanation was ever found and the Star Ariel tragedy became one of the legends connected to the Bermuda Triangle!
Celebration followed by tragedy! But what was the UCWI connection? The ill-fated Star Ariel had also carried on board the first Royal Charter granted to the newborn UCWI. The university’s first Principal, Dr Thomas Taylor would later comment that the loss of the document formally incorporating it had been a disaster that was successfully overcome with the assistance of the newly announced Chancellor. She would be formally installed in February 1950. The replacement document would serve the UCWI until a new Charter was granted in 1962 by Queen Elizabeth II, on the occasion of the UCWI’s elevation from college to full-fledged university.