The Bahamas Historical Society
In 1959, when the Bahamas Historical Society came into being, The Bahamas was a far-flung dot on the map of the British Empire and so the big news was the general elections in Britain. In America President Eisenhower called for an end to Steel and Dock strikes which were having a crippling effect on those industries.
In the Bahamas, the most important news was that “Tourist travel sets all time record” with 194,763 visitors – we now total close to five million. The two main airlines were PanAm and BOAC (Now British Airways).
At that time most schools in the Bahamas taught only British History toward the British GCE exam and little was known about local history. A group of concerned Bahamians and Lady Arthur, the Governor’s wife decided that a historical society could become a platform for change.
On 5th October 1959, an informal gathering of 30 people at the inaugural meeting of the Bahamas Historical Society voted Sir George Roberts, President, Lady Arthur as patron, Mary Moseley, Honorary President, Mrs. Harcourt Malcolm, Vice President, Mrs. H G Christie, Secretary, Mrs. Harry P Sands, Assistant-Secretary. And just as today there was a call for members.
The worrisome question that Sir George frequently asked in those days was: "What are we going to do with the Historical Society?" Sir Harold Christie, the next President was plagued with the same question but believed that the Bahamas Historical Society was destined to play an important role in the cultural life of our country.
In those early years the Society was always in debt but kept alive by Sir Harold out of his own pocket. And as the Society had no permanent home, meetings were held initially in the Dundas Civic Centre, then the Rand Compound, the Government House Ballroom and Cumberland House.
Paul Albury became President in 1973 and the Society struggled on, not realizing that a bright and glorious ray of sunshine was about to pierce the black and depressing gloom. The Imperial Order, Daughters of the Empire, was reassessing its position in the Commonwealth. Changing times had much reduced the membership as well as many of the purposes for which the Order was formed. Consequently, members were actively considering selling the building and getting rid of the problems of repair and upkeep. Fortunately for the Historical Society, the IODE Hall built in 1952 was gifted to the Society on the 21st May 1975.
At last the Bahamas Historical Society had in one building “A Magic Mirror to the Past”.
We must pay tribute to those early pioneers who formed and guided the Bahamas Historical Society and to the succeeding Presidents: June Maura, Gail Saunders, David Cates, Stephen Aranha. Jim Lawlor and now Andrea P Munnings Major.
To all who visit The Bahamas Historical Society's Museum is a reservoir of history--which includes historical, anthropological and archaeological artifacts spanning 500 plus years. The history encapsulates the activities of the Lucayans, Black Beard, piracy in The Bahamas and Woodes Rogers; and encompasses Slavery in The Bahamas including enslaved Pompey who led a slave revolt in Exuma, Bahamas, and Sir Milo Butler, the first Bahamian Governor General in an independent Bahamas. An excellent exhibit on medicinal herbs found in The Bahamas is impressive and informative. Photographs, documents, artifacts and other renderings recount Bahamian history and capture historic time slices. A must see presentation!
To Bahamians, as national identity in a post-independent Bahamas becomes a critical factor in national development, we look forward to a renaissance in the Society. More and more Bahamians clearly see the importance of history as a key to understanding our culture and society. More and more Bahamians are researching and writing history to uncover the past. And the Bahamas Historical Society is committed to showcasing this research in our monthly lectures and annual journal.
Thankfully, we have a wonderful hard working committee and dedicated volunteers who keep our Museum open on weekdays from 10am to 4pm.
Undoubtedly the Bahamas Historical Society still has an important role to play and display the cultural life of our country.