Bell of Anna Catherina

Plantation Anna Catherina on the West Coast Demerara was originally owned by the shipping company Sandbach & Tinne. In the year 1772 there was a bell on this plantation. It was used to regulate the rhythm of life on the plantation. It can be conjectured that after Emancipation the peal of the bell awoke baneful reminders of slavery in both the living and even the dead. With the plantation changing hands and going bankrupt the bell grew silent, disappearing altogether from sight and then from memory. Almost 200 years later a bell was found in the Demerara river. It was in fairly good condition and had the inscription “De Catherina 1772” carved on its flare. It is believed that this is the same bell used to awaken slaves from their slumber at Pln Anna Catherina. In 1961 the bell was donated to St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge University and found a resting place at Porter’s Lodge. I saw this bell in 1983 when I was in Cambridge to attend the Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols at King’s College Chapel. How was one to know that it was a priceless piece of Guyanese history? The College has now agreed to return the bell to Guyana. For Guyanese it will probably be the oldest and best-preserved artifact from the age of slavery. It is a spectacular instance of historical justice that this bell should come back to its home.

Rishi Singh