Museum at the Turton Library, and the Story Behind the Chinaware Blue Willow Design, also a bit about Mr. Robert Sydney Turton and photos of the Jubilee Public Library he helped fund
I have always heard that there was an area at the Turton Library on North Front Street that have old furniture on display. I was visiting the Paslow Parking Lot where our latest investment project is taking place and I thought that it was my opportunity to go take a look at these old furniture at the Library.
I have heard about this area for a while and thought that the area would have been in a little dark backroom somewhere in the library, but was surprise to learn that it was at the entrance of the library. I must say that I was pleasantly surprise at the content and display. It was not a large display, approximately 20' x12’, however, large enough to reveal a lot of interesting artefacts of old Belize.
The display included much more than just furniture. Actually, I found myself looking at the other items more than the few pieces of furniture it had on display. One of the displays about Chinaware had the willow pattern. I always noticed this pattern on some of the old plates which were used during the Colonial Era, but never knew the history behind it. I am posting the history of this pattern for your information. I encourage all Belizeans in the city and the districts to make it a point to go visit it. The best part is that it is free! It's on North Front Street, phone is +501 227-3401, here is their Facebook page.
THE STORY BEHIND THE CHINAWARE BLUE WILLOW DESIGN
Once there was a wealthy mandarin who had a beautiful daughter (Kong-she), she had fallen in love with her father's assistance (Chang), angering her father (it was inappropriate for them to marry due to difference in social class).
The mandarin had plans for his daughter to marry a powerful duke. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree. To escape marriage the girl Kong and her lover Chang ran away to a secluded island where they lived happily for years. But one day, the duke learned of their refuge, hungry for revenge he sent soldiers who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves who spent eternity flying around the willow tree.
Mr. Robert Sydney Turton was one of Belize's greatest benefactors, and one of Belize's greatest benefactors of the movement of Independence.
Among the many donations to Belize, Mr. Bob Turton donated the building where the Jubilee Library is now located, on North Front Street. The Turton Estate also donated the building where the Red Cross is located, on Gabourel Lane.
Turton, (Belize's richest son) who so despised colonialism that he competed in an election and defeated Mr. Brown, the English manager of the British Belize Estate in 1934. I enjoyed hearing him boast, that he beat the bakraw man (meaning the white man).
Likewise he was a great supporter of George Cadle Price, his personal secretary. Mr Robert Bob Sydney Turton was a financial supporter of the People's United Party. He passed away in 1955.
Mr. Turton contributed to the education of many poor young persons, among them, the late Lawyer Avilez, Doyle Price, Dr. Bill Reed, Dr Cashmere Murillo and many others.
Unknown to many, Mr Turton assisted the Batty Brothers to establish a Bus Service in Belize.
His many businesses in Belize, created employment to hundreds if not thousands of employments in the Mahogany and Chicle Works.
A very interesting book was written by Mr Leroy A Grant on the "Life of Robert Sydney Torton."
FROM RAGS TO RICHES
by Hector Silva
This is perhaps one of my favorite success stories of a Belizean, along with the story of George Cadle Price Price, except that George had advanced education, while Bob only reached St three Primary.
The story of Robert Sydney Turton, the first Belizean Millionaire.
I knew Mr Robert Sydney Turton, through the great George Cadle Price and also that my Dad rented a Turton House for us to live, while we attended our studies at the various Learning Institutions. He knew my Dad well. I spoke to him on many occasions on politics.
Bob Turton as he was affectionately called, defined the true meaning of vision and ambition.
I recommend you read the following condensed biography of this icon from Amandala 12 July, 2006
Robert Sydney Turton my grandfather and a Belizean Patriot was the
first Belizean millionaire and a controversial political figure, was born in Belize City, British Honduras on December 9, 1877 at the corner of Barracks Road and Hyde’s Lane. Turton’s own childhood had been very difficult. His father, Robert Straker Turton, was an English military officer who had been posted to British Honduras as head of the local militia. He had on one occasion acted as Lieutenant-General for a short period. His mother was an uneducated Creole woman, Almira Gibson, who worked as a domestic in the homes of colonial expatriates. Robert Straker Turton returned to England leaving behind mother and son and when he died in 1889, nothing was in place for the rearing and maintenance of his son, Robert Sidney. Almira had to perform a number of odd jobs in order to survive and see to the upbringing of her young son. Things were so difficult for them that in 1886 at the age of nine, Bob dropped out of standard three, the equivalent of a grade five, to be able to assist his mother eke out a livelihood.
Turton had made his money from the transportation industry (Texan and Honduras mules, pitpans and boats), mahogany, boom chain, chicle and real estate businesses in Belize. It is whispered that he moved alcohol from Belize (British Honduras) to the American Gulf Coast (Corpus Christi, Biloxi, Mobile, Tampa, etc.) during the Prohibition era in the United States in the 1920’s (1).
Turton did not like Englishmen. His business empire began to feature more and more trade with American businesses, companies and banks. But British Honduras was a colony of the United Kingdom, and the laws practically forced you to look to Britain first where trade was concerned. The tariffs on British goods were much lower than the tariffs on American and European goods, as an instance. The laws of B.H. favored imports from Great Britain and the laws of B.H. favored exports to Great Britain (2).
The devaluation of the British Honduran dollar in 1949 hurt the rich and poor alike. Wealthy merchants like Henry Melhado, Guy Nord and Robert Sydney Turton were affected. As a result, men like Robert Sydney Turton started to support the nationalist movement and threw finances behind the first political party which would emerge in Belize. Mr. Turton supported George Price in the early days of the PUP. It was said that Mr. Turton tried “everything” in businesses and was in a good position to support the nationalist movement of the early 1950s (3).
Turton died in 1955 at the age of 78. As of 1975, the estate of Robert Syndey Turton was worth some 43.7 Million Belize dollars (4). The Turton Library on North Front Street, the Red Cross Building at the corner of Gabourel and Handyside Streets are all donations from Turton's Estate.
(1)(2), Interlogic Publishers (3), Case No. 79-2951. United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit (4).
Photographs courtesy The Belize City House of Culture and Downtown Rejuvenation Project
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