Who do you think you are? Introducing my great grandfather.
I think most of us are interested in our ancestry and finding out more about where we came from. For many it answers questions about why we are who we are.
When people ask me why I’m passionate about public service, I say politics, preaching, teaching and performance are in my DNA. The preaching comes from Welsh Methodist ministers on both sides of my family, the teaching from my mother, who raised the aspirations of her many pupils, and the performance (which has always been necessary to get your message across) from my paternal grandmother and her sisters – all of whom were theatrical performers in the days of the music hall. My father was a D Day veteran, and his father served in both world wars – volunteering from his home in Jamaica for service in Europe. He served with the 6th Lincolnshire Regiment in Gallipoli. However, it was not until a few years ago that I discovered the history of my great grandfather, the Hon David Sampson Gideon C.M.G. It was like the missing piece of the family jigsaw. Here was a man who seemed to embody all the elements that have shaped my own values and beliefs. His was a remarkable life.
I discovered a folder with newspaper clippings marking my great grandfather’s death, and a pamphlet from 1957 called The Jamaican Historical Review, which publishes the correspondence documenting the battle between Mr Gideon, who was the elected Member for Portland in the Legislative Council and Joseph Chamberlain, in his role as Secretary of State for the Colonies. The British Government were planning on changing the balance of the Jamaican Legislative Council from a majority of locally elected representatives in order to vote through higher taxes. Mr. Gideon vehemently opposed this.
Born at sea off New York in 1862, David Sampson Gideon was a British subject by birth. He was a posthumous child and was brought to Jamaica at a very young age as he had relatives there.
In 1887 his company, the Jamaica Cooperative Fruit & Trading Company enabled the transportation of fruit by small local cooperatives, before the U.S. corporate interests in the region saw bananas provide 20% of Jamaica’s total exports, as well as associated tourism. In 1890 he was appointed Vice-Consul for Spain (?), and in 1891 was made a Justice of the Peace. In 1896 he was elected a Member of the Legislative Council for the district of Portland. In 1899 he was a Member of the Trade Delegation to the United States and Canada, seeking to improve trading relations. He resigned his seat on the council on principle.
As well as his involvement in the fruit business, Mr Gideon is listed as Chairman of the Angels’ Company (1907), Member, and eventually Chairman, of the Railway Advisory Board, Chairman of the Titchfield School Board and Vice-Consul for Norway (?), and Director of the Jamaica Mutual Life Association.
He re-joined the Legislative Council in 1913, and was appointed Member of the Privy Council. In 1923 he was appointed Custos of Portland, and on June 3rd 1924 was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael & St George by the King George V. He died shortly after travelling to London to receive the honour, and his body was transported back to Jamaica, where he had a State funeral.
So why do I feel such a strong connection to a great grandfather that I never knew? I think the answer lies in the obituary of this remarkable man, written in a local paper at the time:
“Bringing Him Home
It has been decided that the body of the late Hon. David Sampson Gideon, C.M.G., shall be brought from England to be interred in his own native land, the country in which he lived and worked, and which he loved with a simple, whole-hearted patriotism.
This decision has been approved by all Jamaica. It is right that the last sleep of the dead Jamaican should be amongst his own people, right that hundreds and thousands of his fellow-countrymen should have an opportunity of paying him a last tribute of regard and of respect. The parish of Portland has already expressed its grief at the loss which has befallen it, but though in a special sense Mr. Gideon belonged to Portland, yet all Jamaica shares with that part of the island a desire to give some token of its sense of loss, for Mr. Gideon was never parochial, never belonged to one parish merely, but faithfully endeavoured to serve Jamaica as a whole, and abundantly succeeded. We cannot doubt that he will be given a State funeral. It will be, of course, in the town of Port Antonio: he would have wanted that. But it will be attended by men of distinction from every part of the island, by the dignitaries of our colony; it will be attended by the head of the Executive, with whom he was long associated in public work, the Members of the Legislative Council, who liked and respected him, who appreciated his knowledge, his experience, his painstaking industry, will be among the followers of the bier, and all Port Antonio will be present. It will be conceded by everyone that had Mr. Gideon devoted himself entirely to his business interests he could have acquired more wealth; but he was dominated by public spirit, the spirit of public service, and so he gave freely to Jamaica time and energy which he might have devoted to purely self-regarding ends. We cannot but honour a man who does this. We cannot but see in him an example to others. We cannot but feel that by his death we have sustained a grave loss, and our grief for him is also grief for ourselves………
When the words of the offices of the dead shall be pronounced above his body, they will not represent our final leave-taking of him, for he will continue to live in our memory, and that is what the heart of the patriot will crave for most. We shall continue to think of the public man who has passed away, the patriotic son of Jamaica who thought and worked for his country, the friend who was always true. His body we shall consign to the dust. The recollection of his services and of his benevolence and sterling character will live with us as long as we ourselves shall live”
I have lived in many parts of the UK and abroad, and I have always wanted to help shape the communities I live in. I have never identified as being from a particular place – though I was born in Birmingham, not at sea like my great grandfather!
A background in business and leadership, a love of innovation and public service and a desire to bring people together with a social purpose. It’s in my DNA!