While Pedro St. James is revered as the birthplace of democracy in our Islands, it was within the confines of this Hall where important political, cultural, and social events have occurred.
Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin
Published 1st July 2019, 10:47am
It is wonderful to see so many who have joined us today as we continue to Celebrate Cayman and begin the year-long observance of the 60th anniversary of our Constitution on this Constitution Day.
We have held a number of events over this long weekend to commemorate our first written Constitution, and we are fortunate to have several visiting dignitaries join us over the course of the past week for which we are very grateful.
Over this Constitution weekend we have reflected on several important occasions in our history in which this Town Hall has played a key part, particularly the events that led to our receiving our first written Constitution in 1959 and, subsequent to that, the debates and decisions that led to our breaking political links with a soon to be independent Jamaica.
While Pedro St. James is revered as the birthplace of democracy in our Islands, it was within the confines of this Hall where important political, cultural, and social events have occurred. These walls serve as witness to those historic moments some sixty years ago that helped shape modern Cayman in the late 1950s through the early 1960s.
It was here that the Caymanian people chose to become a British Crown Colony in our own right, with our own written constitution to help guide and shape our future. And with that decision, as I have noted, we redefined our relationship with Jamaica that had existed for over 300 years.
By the time of those events this hall was already some 35 years old, having been built by the great Caymanian ship-right and builder Captain Rayal Brazley Bodden, MBE, JP, in 1923 and officially opened on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1926 – Armistice Day.
Captain Rayal was born into a family of distinguished shipbuilders and was apprenticed to his father’s shipyard at age of 14. His first vessel built in 1920 was a sloop-rigged turtle fishing boat named the Bird. He built many more ships, including Cayman’s first motorized ship, the Cimboco in 1927, as well as two minesweepers for the Royal Navy in 1945.
His training as a master shipbuilder is still evident today in four buildings here in George Town – this Town Hall, the Elmslie Memorial Church, the George Town Public Library and our downtown Post Office were built by him. His placement of roofing beams and planking in those buildings is reminiscent of an inverted ship’s hull.
While construction of the Town Hall was under way, it got the nickname of Hutchings’ Folly because it was considered much too big for such a small island as Grand Cayman. Fortunately Hugh H. Hutchings, who served as Commissioner to the Cayman Islands from 1919-1929, understood that such a building as this would be needed then and into the future. History has indeed proven him right.
This Hall was built at a price of 2,000 pounds sterling, a weighty amount back then, and was intended to be used as a court house, Assembly meeting room and as a town hall. For many decades it was the centre of community life in George Town and beyond, serving as the venue for community dances, and dramatic and musical presentations. And of course, as I have said before, it also served as the meeting place of the Legislative Assembly of Justices and Vestry, which later became the Legislative Assembly.
In his speech at the dedication of the Town Hall as a Peace Memorial, in honour of Caymanians who had died in the first world war , Commissioner Hutchings said, and I quote: “Let it not be said the material uses to which we put our memorial may in any way detract from its dominant purpose: as Court House, the King’s Justice, the right of a free people will be administered within its walls; as Assembly Room, it will in dignified surroundings afford a place for the deliberations of the Dependency’s Legislature and the public discussion of the affairs of the people; as a Town Hall, this comfortable room will, I am sure, in countless ways contribute to the social enjoyment, uplift and happiness of the entire community.
“No longer the restrictions and discomforts occasioned by the limitations of a small room; there is now assured a stage of generous size, a room of ample space, efficient ventilation, comfortable seating, all to be taken advantage of in efforts to entertain, to brighten, to elevate and instruct those of all ages and classes within reach of its open doors.”
And so it was here that lively discussions were had in the run up to the granting of a royal order in council that gave the Cayman Islands our first written Constitution as well as provided for universal adult suffrage that allowed women the right to not only vote but to seek and hold public office.
Sir Vassel Johnson summed up the purpose of that first constitution when he said, and I quote “A constitution is very important to any country because it is the basis on which all future development, prosperity, peace and harmony will rest”.
While each Constitution Day provides an annual opportunity to measure how much progress we have made, these Celebrations of our first written constitution affords us an opportunity to enshrine our Constitution right here in this space we are occupying today.
And so in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of our first written Constitution, and to acknowledge the role that this revered Hall has played in the forming of that Constitution and the prosperity it has helped bring to us, I am happy to advise that we are renaming the George Town Town Hall as Constitution Hall. And in so doing we will help to immortalise in the minds of our people, present and future, that this is more than a mere building. This is a special place for all of us, not only to those who reside in the confines of George Town proper, but it belongs to all Caymanians across our three Islands.
And I pray that in a few short years to come that we also again celebrate this great Constitution Hall on the anniversary of its Centenary.
Again, I thank you for joining me on this important day in the history of our beloved Islands to memorialise this Constitution Hall, and that document that enshrines our rights, freedoms and responsibilities, all influenced by our history, culture and Christian heritage – our Constitution.