Dr Howard Fergus

Montserrat’s Preeminent Scholar, Historian and Poet, Sir Howard Fergus Passes at 85

Sir Howard Archibald Fergus, born 22 July 1937 died on Thursday, 23 March 2023 at the Glendon Hospital at the age of 85.

His love and dedication to Montserrat was unquestionable.

Born in Long Ground, Montserrat, he attended Bethel Primary School, Montserrat Grammar School and eventually went to Erdiston Teachers College in Barbados (1955-59). He obtained degrees at the University College of the West Indies (1961-64), the Universities of Bristol (Cert Ed. 1968) and Manchester (M.Ed, 1978) and earned a PhD in 1978 from the University of the West Indies. He retired from UWI in 2004 as Professor of Eastern Caribbean Studies.

From 1955, Dr. Fergus served as a teacher, a role he never relinquished, teaching creative writing and English to students of all ages even into recent years. From 1970 to 1973, he was Montserrat’s Chief Education Officer, also holding the post of acting Permanent Secretary. In 1974, his main job was as the Extra-Mural Resident Tutor of UWI Montserrat.

From 1975 t0 2001, he was Speaker of the Montserrat Legislative Council and served periodically as deputy Governor from 1976. He was invited to serve as acting speaker on several occasions, usually following the election of a new government and before a substantive speaker had been appointed and trained. Dr. Fergus also served on several committees related to constitutional and electoral matters.

Sir Howard Fergus – AFW LitFest 2021

Dr. Fergus was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1979 for services to education and the community in Montserrat and in 1995, he received the Commander of the Order (CBE). In the 2001 Birthday Honours, he was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order (KBE). During Montserrat’s first National Honours & Awards ceremony in 2014, he received the Order of Excellence from the Government of Montserrat.

Never one to shy away from professing his faith in Jesus Christ, Dr. Fergus was an active member of the Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal Church in Brades.

The author of more than 40 publications of history, monographs, and poetry, Dr. Fergus penned Montserrat’s ancient and modern history, immortalised on pages, Montserratians and their contributions to nation building and chronicled moments of everyday living in multiple poetry collections about faith, politics and more.

He is also credited as the writer of the national song of Montserrat, “Motherland”, with the music composed and arranged by the late Dr George Irish.

Nerissa Golden, AFW Festival Coordinator with Dr. Howard Fergus and his new book Intriguing Story, which was launched Saturday, November 19, 2022, at the Alliouagana Festival of the Word.

In a 2021 unpublished interview, Dr. Fergus told Discover Montserrat’s Editor Nerissa Golden “I was fairly mature when I started to write creatively. I remember the closing couplet of a little poem I wrote when I attended Erdiston College in Barbados, 1957-59, starting under the age of 21. A goodish religious boy, it ran: “And there I’ll have no cause to rue/In that bright land beyond the blue”. I am pleased that my granddaughter Tene is beginning to write decent poems at 14,”

On becoming a historian, Fergus said “I think a need collided with an opportunity, maybe even a matter of destiny. While studying education in Bristol, England, by chance I came upon a historical document detailing slave voyages between Bristol and Africa and onward to Montserrat. I made notes as this aroused my interest and later sparked my interest in writing to fill a void. It was like a blessing. I was not even taught West Indian history, let alone Montserrat’s. There is a sense of destiny here.”

Sir Howard Fergus

On the books he wished he had written – “I wish I had written a book about Cotton which became our Sugar very early in the twentieth century. It would be an interesting and powerful social history since it impacted the lives of Montserratians in a big way. The practice of share-cropping for instance, an oppressive economic system is closely associated with the cotton industry. In a strange kind of way, there is a nexus between cotton and the Montserratian exodus to England in the late 1950s to early 1960s.

“Without elaborating, another useful volume could be: Prominent Montserratians in the Diaspora, the last word variously pronounced in the island. Montserrat is small, but I would like to think of it as having a much larger social space where our people are scattered. But time and energy have run out on me. Fortunately, there are many Montserratians who are writing our island story.”

On becoming a poet – “I would say I only started to write tolerable poetry in the 1960s, in my high 30s. Incidentally my first useful verse/lyric was what evolved later into the words of the national song. Then a qualified teacher, I was pursuing a course in education in England. This patriotic lyric originally, Dedicatory Song was published in 1974 in a booklet titled Dreams of Alliouagana. In 1973, I attended creative writing sessions with the famous Dorcas White, now a lawyer, and began writing, haltingly but more in earnest.”

On publishing more than 10 collections of poetry in five years – “Poetic writing is imperious. It forces itself on you even driving down Forgathy – a kind of artistic rape. Sometimes you have to stop and write. Similarly subjects come also, demanding attention. But there are times when you make a decision to write on something or someone current – a death, a national figure, a person of some interest. You celebrate people; it could be Hammie White, John Osborne, Donald Trump, Ruthlyn Bradshaw, Myrle Roach, whoever the poetic Muse chooses. I write by inspiration and decision so one has to possess the necessary writing and crafting skill.”

On his Legacy

“Without a doubt and with God’s help, I will leave a body of writings of good quality, in both history and poetry and have generally promoted the building up of a Montserratian literature. Neither the sick nor the sane can refute that.

“St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday because I wrote a letter to the John Osborne government requesting it in 1984 after predicting it would happen as early as March 20, 1971. Ask the Montserrat Mirror.

“Then I led the committee which recommended the transformation of the elitist system of secondary education into a comprehensive one, thereby throwing the door of secondary education in Montserrat open to every child. This was a kind of emancipation. I recall the strong support I received from Mr. Peter White, Principal of the Montserrat Secondary School at the time.

“Additionally, I hope that imperfect as I am, throughout my sojourn I may have influenced someone for spiritual good.”

A favourite quote – I love to quote Guyanese writer, A. J. Seymour who told me: “We write because we have to and we are grateful that we can”.

He is survived by his wife Lady Eudora Fergus who he credited for her life-long support of his endeavours, his cousin Delena, who he honoured always for her loyalty and assistance, and his three children and four grandchildren.

Publications from Dr. Howard Fergus

  1. Intriguing Story (2022)
  2. Not Even Black and Other Poems (2022)
  3. St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in Montserrat: A History (2022)
  4. Twilight and Glendon Poems (2022)
  5. There’s Another Country – Poems from Sermons (2021)
  6. Lockdown Poems (2021)
  7. A Matter of Life and Death (2021)
  8. Pandemic Moments – w. Yvonne Weekes (2021)
  9. Man of the Match Election Poems (2020)
  10. First of August Come Again Poems of Celebration (2019)
  11. Our Mother’s Dreamt (2019)
  12. A Word in Season with St.Patrick’s Day and Mango Poems – 2018
  13. March Montserrat and Hurricane Poems (2018)
  14. Road from Long Ground: The Twilight Years (2016)
  15. Festival at Fifty (2012)
  16. Obama and Other Poems (2012)
  17. Tongues On Fire: A History Of The Pentecostal Movement Of Montserrat (2011)
  18. Poems From Behind God Back (2011)
  19. The Arrow Poems and Saturday Soup (2010)
  20. I Believe (2008)
  21. Death In The Family E.A. Markham 1939–2008 (2008)
  22. Montserrat: Defining Moments (2007)
  23. St. Patrick’s Co-Operative Credit Union Fifty Years of Golden Service 1957 – 2007 (2007)
  24. Love Labor Liberation in Lasana Sekou (2007)
  25. Montserrat: History of a Caribbean Colony 2004
  26. Beneath the Bananas: Poems of Montserrat Celebrating the Centenary of The Birth of R.W. Griffith 1904 – 2004. (2004)
  27. Volcano Verses (2003)
  28. Volcano Song: Poems of an Island in Agony (2000)
  29. Lara Rains and Colonial Rites (1998)
  30. Gallery Montserrat: Some Prominent People In Our History (1996)
  31. Eruption: Montserrat versus volcano (1996)
  32. Montserrat: Emerald Isle of the Caribbean (1984)
  33. Montserrat: The Last English Colony? Prospects for Independence (Two Essays on Montserrat) (1978)
  34. History of Alliouagana: A short history of Montserrat (1975)
  35. Dreams of Alliouagana: An Anthology of Montserrat Prose and Poetry (1974)

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Watch his funeral here.