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Robert Morrel

Robert MorreIl (1851- 1912)

Robert Morrell came to the Caribbean in the service of the West Indies & Panama Telegraph Company, a distant ancestor of modern-day Cable & Wireless. Having secured contracts to expand a cable line down the chain of Caribbean islands, the company began operations in 1869. Over the following 30 years the WI&P laid approximately 4,000 nautica1miles of cable, linking Cuba to Trinidad in the southern Lesser Antilles. The "Darcia" was one of the original laying vessels that carried part of the 10,000 ton cargo of cable down from England, and it was on board the Darcia that Robert arrived in the West Indies in 1870 at the age of 19. (The words "£240 o/b 'Darcia"' noted in the margins of his employment record suggest this, and that his starting wage at the WI&P was £240/year.)

Robert was first stationed in St. Vincent, where he was worked as a clerk. It was there that he met his wife, Charlotte Elizabeth Toppin (1853-1931). They married in 1873 and in May 1874 Charlotte gave birth to Bertie Cecil Morrell. In October that year Robert was transferred to Barbados, where the family lived in Dunlop Cottage. Tragically Bertie died in 1877 from a 'tropical disease' in Barbados, at the age of just three and a half.  (Bertie Cecil Morrell is buried at St. Michael's Cathedral, Barbados.)  Arthur was born the following year.

One of Robert' s close friends at that time was a Bishop by the name of Eyre Huston. Bishop Hutson christened Arthur at St. Leonard's Chapel in Barbados, and it was after him that Robert named his son Arthur Routley Hutson Morrell. In 1879 the family moved to Port of Spain, Trinidad before settling in St. Thomas in 1881, where Arthur had been offered the post of Assistant Superintendent at the WI&P's headquarters. From then on the Morrells were to live in St. Thomas for more than forty years.

Arthur was sent to boarding school in England in 1884 at the age of 6. He did not see his parents again until he was 19. In 1892, the absent 14-year old was boy given a younger sister. Christened Mary Nannette, she came to be known as Maisie Nancy. She did not meet her older brother until she was 5 and Arthur 19, in 1897.

In 1900 Robert Morrell was promoted to the highest position on the West Indies station, replacing the late Mr. W.O.Ross as General Superintendent. His salary was doubled to £800 a year, reflecting the awesome responsibility that came with the new job. From St. Thomas Robert coordinated the maintenance and repair of all cable lines and repeater stations in the Caribbean.

While in St. Thomas, Robert and family spent more than 20 years at "the Bellevue", or what is now known as The Hotel Boynes on Government Hill. Completed in the 1860s over foundations originally laid in 1785, the building is a beautiful example of the late 19thC Danish colonial townhouse. Wide airy balconies run along the length of its two storeys, their elaborate two-tier pierced cast iron balconies contrasting with the simple lines of the building proper. Its walls are made from yellow ballast-brick and dressed blue-bitch stone (a style fashionable from the 1850s on), and marble steps lead up to the first floor from the garden.

Robert worked at the WI&P offices at Electra House, located near Emancipation Gardens at the east end of Main Street. The two-story office building was constructed in the 1880s, having been commissioned by the WI&P. It is called "Electra House" after the company's original Head Quarters in Moorgate, London.  (C& W was then called "Eastern and Associated Telegraph Companies". Electra House in Moorgate was also used as a training school in those days, located in two rooms in the basement. It was from here that the best students went on for further training at Porthcurno in Cornwall. In 1933 the company's administrative centre was transferred to Electra House, Embankment. It was not until 1941 that operations were also transferred as a result of damage caused by enemy bombing. The building is now occupied by City University.)

Robert would have commuted up the 99 steps on his way home after work. It was on these steps that Robert collapsed on 14th September 1912. A younger cousin of his, Dorothy Percival, was visiting at the time. (Dorothy Percival (nee Toppin) was Ed Percival's mother.)  She had challenged the 61 year-old to a race up the "99 Steps" and Robert took the challenge and collapsed from a stroke at the top. He was in bed for 4 days, but died at 3 am on the 18th September .

When Robert had his stroke, his only son, Arthur, was down island working as Captain of the WI&P grappler "The Henry Holmes". He sailed back to St. Thomas to be at his father's bedside but did not arrive until 6 hours after he passed away.

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