The Colonel-The Rt. Excellent Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw
Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw was the First Premier of St.Kitts-Nevis -Anguilla . He was born in the Saint Paul Capisterre Village in Saint Kitts to Mary Jane Francis, a domestic servant, and William Bradshaw, a blacksmith on September 16th 1916. He was raised by his grandmother after his father moved to the United States when Bradshaw was nine months old.He attended St. Paul’s Primary School and completed seventh grade, the highest level of primary education available in Saint Kitts at the time.
At 16, Bradshaw became a machine apprentice at the St. Kitts Sugar Factory, where he began to take interest in the labour movement. In 1940, he left the sugar factory following a strike for higher wages and joined the St. Kitts and Nevis Trades and Labour Union as a clerk. Bradshaw rose to become the first secretary of the Sugar Factory Section of the Union and a member of the Executive Committee. In 1944, Bradshaw became Union President and vice-president of the Workers’ League. A year later, he took part in the establishment of the Caribbean Congress of Labour and was elected its first assistant secretary.
Bradshaw succeeded Joseph Matthew Sebastian as president of the union in 1944.
In 1947, he represented St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla at the “Closer Union” Conference for the amalgamation of the Windward and Leeward Islands and at the Montego Bay Conference which discussed the Federation of the West Indies. Two years later he participated in the establishment of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Brussels and was elected to its first Executive Committee.
It was Bradshaw who led the Labour Union through the throes of the Thirteen Week Strike in 1948. It sparked off the Soulbury Commission of Inquiry into the organization of the sugar industry. Dissatisfied with the Commission’s conclusions, Bradshaw wrote a minority segment which was included in the report
In 1963 he married, Millicent Sahaley, a Kittitian-Lebanese. They had one daughter, Isis Carla Bradshaw, together. He also had a second daughter, Etsu, from an earlier relationship.
Bradshaw supported the cause of the sugar workers, and was one of the political stalwarts of the country. Bradshaw was elected along with J.N. France and Maurice Davis to the island’s Legislative Council in 1946 and later became a member of the Leeward Islands General Legislative Council. He was again elected in 1952 when universal suffrage was introduced. When a ministerial system came into effect in 1956, Bradshaw was appointed Minister of Trade and Production. It was during this period that a rift developed between himself and Maurice Davis and R.J. Gordon of Nevis. It was symptomatic of the growing hostility between the Labour movement on one hand and the people of Nevis on the other.
Bradshaw along with other Minister of the West Indies Federation at Conference at Lancaster House in England (Bradshaw enter Conference at 27 seconds mark of Video)
In 1956 he was Minister of Trade and Production for St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. During the short-lived West Indies Federation (from 1958 to 1962), Bradshaw was elected to the Federal House of Representatives and held the post of minister of finance for the Federation.
After the break-up of the Federation, Bradshaw returned to St. Kitts from Trinidad. In 1966 he became Chief
Minister, and in 1967 the first Premier of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. Anguilla now an associated state of the United Kingdom. Under his leadership, all sugar lands as well as the central sugar factory were bought by the government. Opposition to Bradshaw’s rule began to build. This Opposition was especially great in Nevis, where it was felt that the island was being neglected and unfairly deprived of revenue, investment and services by its larger neighbour. Bradshaw mainly ignored Nevis’ complaints, but Nevisian disenchantment with the Labour Party proved a key factor in the party’s eventual fall from power.
In 1975 General Elections were held and the the two major campaign issues were “that the sugar lands should irrevocably remain the property of the State and that rapid progress towards independent status within the Commonwealth” be sought. Independence talks started in earnest in 1977.
Through out his career, Bradshaw maintained a great interest in the Sugar industry in St. Kitts. Its survival and the welfare of the workers that depended on it were of great concern to him both as a political and as a trade union leader. With the acceptance of Ministerial powers came the responsibility for a viable economy. In the mid-1960s sugar production and international sugar prices were both in decline. Bradshaw embarked on a two-pronged
solution – the rescue of the industry and diversification of the economy. Sugar could not be abandoned as seventy per cent of government’s revenue was generated by it and the employment of many Kittitians who were the basis of the political strength of the Labour Movement was dependent on it. However rescue operations were being thwarted by the indiscriminate sale of sugar lands and the inability of the planters to effectively put in place the measures required for the survival of the industry. So in 1975 Bradshaw took the bold step of acquiring the sugar lands and later, the sugar factory. To many planters the move came as a relief but then within a very short space of time their expectation in the way of payment multiplied to a sum far in excess of what the government was prepared to offer. Whilst the land stayed under cane, the matter of payment became the subject of a legal battle that was not resolved till much later.
In 1977 Bradshaw travelled to London for independence talks with the United Kingdom government. But the talks failed .
Bradshaw died on 23 May 1978 of prostate cancer at his home in Basseterre. He was succeeded by his former deputy, Paul Southwell.He is buried in Springfield cemetery in Basseterre.
In 1996, Bradshaw was posthumously awarded the title of First National Hero by the National Assembly of Saint Kitts and Nevis and is honoured annually on National Heroes Day, which is observed on his birthday. On the inaugural National Heroes Day in 1998, the Golden Rock Airport in Saint Kitts was renamed the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport in his honour. In 2007, the Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw Memorial Park was dedicated at his birthplace in St. Paul’s. On 17 September 2010, the Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw building was dedicated on the Windsor University School of Medicine campus in Cayon.
Bradshaw’s legacy is still unfolding but many credit him for leading the resistance against the brutal white colonialistic rule of the British, whose sole interest was focused on what economic benefits could be squeezed out of the islands for the benefit of the European based colonialists
Bradshaw was also heavily chastised and criticised for what was considered an uncaring attitude toward the cries of the people of Anguilla, who were demanding more autonomy to handle their own affairs and better deliver their social programs. There was Similar disenchantment with Bradshaw on the sister island of Nevis and like Anguilla residents there began to agitate and thus began the cries of secession .
The political hatred for Bradshaw in Nevis and Anguilla was not always the reality, because in the earlier years of his career in politics and trade unionism, he was admired for his strong stance against the colonial oppressors.
Bradshaw’s funeral in 1978 saw a Who’s who of Caribbean Leaders attending and payig their final respects. Leaders such as Michael Manley (Jamaica), Forbes Burnham (Guyana), Vere Bird Snr. (Antigua & Barbuda), Sir Eric (Grenada), Governor Cyril King (USVI), all attended to bid farewell.
This year would’ve been Bradshaw’s 100th Birthday. The Government of National UNITY led by Dr. Timothy Harris are considering plans and activities to celebrate . His birthday is on September 16th Heroes Day. The Opposition SKN Labour Party has also organized their own activities in commemoration of the event.
Bradshaw’s name generates both extremes of emotions. Some revere him in almost a Go-like manner while others have the complete opposite view. One thing is certain however and that is Bradshaw was easily the most significant figure in the history of St.Kitts-Nevis .
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