Pompey Museum in the Bahamas: ‘Loss of a national treasure’

For the second time since it was established in 1992, Pompey Museum at the historic Vendue House on Bay Street was impacted by fire early yesterday, Candia Dames reports in The Nassau Guardian.

But this time, it was destroyed and most of its historic artifacts lost, according to officials on the scene, who said The Bahamas lost ‘a national treasure’. The fire ripped through a portion of the western side of Bay Street. Officials said it appears it started at what remains of the old straw market tent.

While there was speculation on the scene that it was arson, police said they had not confirmed this, but were continuing their probe.

As noted on Pompey Museum’s website, Vendue House, is an original single story arcade building. In 1784, Vendue House, then called the bourse, was listed among Nassau’s public buildings, and is thought to date from the 1760s. During this period, the building was used as a market, from which commodities of all kinds, including human beings, were sold.

In the early 20th century, it housed the telegraph and telephone department, and later the electricity department.

In 1992, it was given over for use as a public museum, named for Pompey, a slave who raised a revolt against unfair conditions on the Rolle Plantation on the island of Exuma. The museum opened with a classic exhibition on Slavery in The Bahamas.

Dr. Gail Saunders, deputy chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation, watched with obvious sadness as firefighters put out the fire. “This is the second time we’ve had a fire,” Saunders told The Nassau Guardian. “You know that Pompey Museum was established in 1992 as a museum of slavery and emancipation. It’s a very important part of our history and the artifacts that were there are gone and some very antique books that were kept on the second floor for researchers [are gone].

“It is very, very upsetting and sad for us. “We are going somehow to restore it. It’s going to cost a lot, but we’re going to restore it and reorganize the Pompey Museum.

“It’s going to cost a lot, but we’re hoping that the Bahamian public, the corporation and the government can do that.”

Kim Outten-Stubbs, chief curator for the corporation, said the loss of the artifacts is “a major loss”.

“This is the second time that we’ve lost the museum, but we’re still holding on to Vendue House and we believe that we will be able to restore the building and rebuild the museum,” Outten-Stubbs said.

“We’ve lost the entire collection that was in the museum and that’s major because it was a rare collection of objects relating to slavery and they’re very hard to find. “We have lost a national treasure important to Bahamians first, and an attraction to visitors, but we as a people have lost a very important monument, significant in our history, heritage and culture and that is a real shame.”

Alicia Oxley, historical preservation architect consultant for the corporation, said she thinks Vendue House can be restored.

“It must be restored,” Oxley said.

“If not for anything else, but its place in history. It is possible. We will have to find out first, get a structural engineer’s analysis on how the heat might have compromised the walls and the structure itself and then we will rebuild.”

Progressive Liberal Party Leader Perry Christie, who was also on the scene of the fire, spoke too of his sadness at the loss of the historic items in the museum.

“We are our history,” Christie told The Nassau Guardian, “No more, no less and our history has been impacted by this fire at the Pompey Museum.

“It was named obviously for a great slave coming out of Exuma. It contained historical artifacts.

“You can never replace historical artifacts once lost, and so once I heard that the museum was under siege with the fire, then I knew that it had enormous implications for the preservation of historical artifacts and the meaning really of who we are, and that’s what it’s really all about, and you feel very saddened by such a fire.”

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham called the destruction of the museum tragic.

“Some of the items in the Pompey Museum, the paintings of Amos Ferguson are irreplaceable, I think,” he said.

“They were able to save some of the old shackles that go back to the days of slavery. l don’t have a full record of what has been saved, but the government will move expeditiously to restore the museum and to restore that part of town.”

For the original report go to http://www.thenassauguardian.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18185&Itemid=27

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