Beeman’s adventures with Nevis beesWritten by Pauline Ngunjiri
By Pauline Ngunjiri as told by NHCS
“Beeman” Quentin Henderson was sent to Nevis to spend two years improving the standards of Beekeeping, but stayed 25 years.
The Nevis Historical and Conservation Society (NHCS) is celebrating 24 years of the Beeman on Nevis at a farewell dinner scheduled to be held at Café des Arts at 6.30 pm, Saturday, April 14th.
Henderson arrived on Nevis on a LIAT Airliner on September 1, 1987. He had to sit next to the pilot, his bee smoker on his lap. At immigration that day he told the officer he wished to stay two years as an incoming VSO (Volunteer Service Organisation) member but was only allowed two weeks and told to make proper arrangements in Charlestown. The VSO program is the British equivalent of the US Peace Corps
Augustine Merchant, then Director of Agriculture, welcomed him but warned him to be prepared to take “the rough with the smooth.” Never has a truer sentence been spoken. He also recalls blushing as Mr. Arthur Evelyn, then Minister of Agriculture, asked him to stand and be introduced to a huge crowd at the Gingerland High School, October 1987, World Food Day, as a beekeeping specialist.
Following Hurricane Hugo, Beeman was offered funds to take bees to Montserrat on the S/V Avontuuv. Hives of bees were assembled at the Café de’ Arts (then Trott yard). Quentin recalled his adventures with the bees. “When we had 20 hives, we some how found the boat captain and loaded the bees onto the deck of the boat via a Zodiac dinghy and off we sailed to Montserrat where millions of bees had perished in Hugo (this was before the volcanic eruption)”.
During the 1990’s, Ian Corker of the British Development, assigned to Nevis and who in part had been responsible for Beeman’s arrival in Nevis, sent word from Anguilla (his next posting). “Please bring bees to Anguilla, funding arranged.” And so began one of Quentin’s most ambitious, perilous and craziest escapades. He made up Nuc Hives (pronounced Nuke) from established beehives all around the island, took them under cover of darkness to Jenny Lowery’s garden and then ferried them 2 by 2 on a LIAT Twin Otter Aircraft to Anguilla. Even Beeman was amazed and astounded to see bees bringing in pollen to their tiny Nuc hives within a half hour of being released. And the Anguillan farmers could not work out WHY their pigeon pea crops had trebled - all due to bee pollination, of course. Taking bees on the LIAT aircraft meant taking certain precautions to ensure there was no great escape, which would have spelled disaster for LIAT. Happily LIAT and Beeman’s bees buzzed along in perfect harmony as one of Nevis’ most unusual and valued exports.
When Edris Fellows heard about this buzzing export endeavour, she wanted to organise “whomever” into recognizing this effort with some award from the UK. Thankfully the Government declined to follow through with this. By way of compensation perhaps Quentin and the Nevis Beekeepers were greatly honored to appear on a set of stamps of Nevis, issued June 13th, 1994 and still available at the Nevis Philatelic Bureau. Later Beeman was to appear on another stamp disguised as Father Christmas sitting outside the High Courthouse, at the bottom of the steps, giving a gift to one or two small children. Mention of this will cause the Beeman to weep unashamedly- even as he sits here now and records this very memory.
For the first ten years of his career on Nevis, he undertook his duties from the saddle of a small motorcycle, on which he used to carry everything. On one occasion, it was a hand honey extractor to the astonishment of passing local folks and tourists. When some equipment was too big for the cycle to transport and he could not find a pickup truck he would simply hitchhike with it from point A to point B. On another occasion he and a hive of bees ended up in a boat being towed behind a truck. On yet another occasion, Beeman, a hive of bees and motorcycle ended up in ‘Cushsa’ Bush at the side of the steepest part of Ridge Road, which he was descending with bees enroute to Anguilla.
February 2nd and 3rd, 1993 was Beeman’s darkest hour and greatest time of need. The Beehouse burned to the ground. “Police officers came banging on my door about 3 am shouting, Beeman! Beeman! Your house is on fire.” Beeman stumbled from his bed NAKED believing indeed it was his house on fire. The police fell over themselves backwards down the steps, hand over their eyes and in great confusion. But the true carnage was truly dreadful. The smoking ruins of the lovely beehouse and thousands of dollars of beekeeping - equipment mostly funded with AID agency money - took nearly 2 years to re-establish with a lot of help from many people. Phil Smith was incredibly generous with financial contributions as was Vince Hubbard.
Quentin has this to say about the fire incident:”The cash strapped Nevis Island Administration( NIA) helped as best they could and we finally restored a fine old building to it former glory, keeping it as original as possible. All of this cost US$80-90,000.00 which was funded by public fundraising. A special thanks to the late Ed Konczeski, a builder from Schenectady, New York who organized the actual reconstruction of the Beehouse during 1994-95.
Quentin is a little saddened he has not been able to even visit the inside of the Beehouse since January 2001 except for two brief occasions. But that is another story best not told.
A further great memory of Beeman’s Anguilla bee adventure was being asked to bring back from Anguilla copies of the infamous but noted publication, ‘Under An English Heaven” by Robert Radcliff. The Bradshaw government at one time had banned the sale of it on St. Kitts and Beeman was just a little bit worried of what might happen if a customs official noticed he had a dozen copies in his rucksack. So on each trip to Anguilla he would return with empty Nuc (Nuke) boxes crammed full wit books, which would be dutifully delivered, to the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society who sold them like hotcakes to all and sundry.
Those who have copies should be pretty certain the copies arrived on Nevis from Anguilla inside one of Beeman’s Nuc-beehives with its lid screwed firmly and tightly down. This little escapade went on monthly for about 2 ½ to 3 years. It was truly a win, win situation for all concerned and Quentin was happy to be part of it all.
Quentin also produced a booklet called Beekeeping the Nevis Way.