At the turn of a small country road, between two hamlets in the commune of Saint George, in the center of Barbados, a narrow gravel track sinks in the middle of the fields of sugar cane already in the beginning of flowering, a sign the harvest is approaching. At the edge of the bumpy path, a sign deters the curious: “Private Property – No trespassing” (“private property, no trespassing”), warns the sign.
It is there, behind this seemingly banal entrance, that hides Drax Hall, a prosperous sugar plantation founded by English settlers several centuries ago.
Due to its slavery past, the estate is now at the center of a growing controversy between Barbados and the United Kingdom, against a backdrop of increasingly pressing memorial claims in the fifteen or so former British colonies located in the region. Caribbean archipelago.
In the valley of Saint George, after the unwelcoming sign, the stony track is shaded by palm trees and mango trees, then leads to an improbable mansion. With its gray roughcast walls and sash windows, this austere two-storey building would look less out of place in the mists of the Scottish Highlands than in the middle of a lush, sun-drenched tropical garden.
On this late December afternoon, calm reigns over the farm. “Thirteen people work here. With me, that’s fourteen”says, pointing to the remains of a windmill and almost new-looking agricultural machinery, an affable man with silver hair who introduces himself as the manager of the plantation. ” The owners ? Ah, they haven’t lived here for a long time. At least a century. They don’t come very often either.”adds the sexagenarian with a shrug.
Cede the plantation as reparations
London is the place to look for the current owner of Drax Hall. In Westminster more precisely: former officer in the British army and ex-journalist at the BBC, Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax – or, more simply, Richard Drax – sits in the House of Commons since 2010. In 2017, on the death of his father, Henry, this 64-year-old Conservative MP inherited the 250-hectare estate and mansion built in the 1640s by his distant ancestor, Sir James Drax, one of the first English settlers to settle in the West Indies.
But after four centuries in the hands of the same family, the plantation could soon change hands. In any case, this is the wish of the government of Barbados. The authorities of this country of 290,000 inhabitants have, in fact, started talks with the British aristocrat in order to convince him to cede Drax Hall to them as reparations. The matter is serious: in September, the owner of the estate went personally to Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, where he met the Labor Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, as well as the Barbadian MP Trevor Prescod.
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