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The Lady Constance

The Lady Constance
A historical BVI vessel rides through the waves of time

 She must have been a magnificent sight flying across Road Harbour, with her huge mainsail and three foresail sails up. Perhaps a rather unusual rig for a locally built boat, but there is a small black and white photograph to prove it—one of several photographs taken by then-Agricultural Officer WC Fishlock around 1910. Two years later, the collection appeared in a little booklet he had published, and then several more of his photographs were found at Kew Gardens in 2009.    


The Lady Constance was built in 1903 in Baughers Bay by the Maduro brothers and used as what was described as the “government revenue cutter” for the commissioner of the day and other government officials to get around the islands. Besides getting to the outer islands, it was sometimes easier to visit West End or Cane Garden Bay from Roadtown (as it was then spelled) by boat than walking or by horse or donkey. According to Fishlock, besides revenue collection, she was used for communicating with St Thomas and made frequent calls there, usually meeting the steamers of the Quebec Line from New York and the East Asiatic Company from London. He rated her at 13 tons. She did not have a long life, as she was reportedly wrecked off St John in 1921, and was replaced by the motor launch Saint Ursula—a vessel that also lived only a short while. Only three-years-old, It ended up high and dry on the shore below the Government House in the Hurricane of 1924.
There are no known drawings of her lines, but I found a model boat kit that resembled her and thought she might well have been copied from a ship like her. It was the sloop Emma C Berry, built in Connecticut in 1866 and, with a 41 ft waterline and overall length with bowsprit of 65 ft, she seemed amazingly similar to The Lady Constance. She also carried a similar draught of 6 ft. The mast had to be moved back 10 ft and the rigging was altered on the model to suit the photograph. Today, she lives again in the Old Government House Museum.
Later, I asked Reuben Vanterpool to paint her sailing across Road Harbour as I had admired his historical paintings. This one has pride of place in my study.
To see more of the 1910 Fishlock photographs, which must be some of the earliest recorded ones of here, a copy of his fascinating little booklet, The Virgin Islands BWI—A Handbook of General Information, originally published in 1912, is on display in the Old Government House Museum. Others can be seen at the 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum.

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