November 14, 2003
The clock which has its home in the High Court building is the oldest surviving public timepiece in Georgetown. It saw the end of the slave trade on January 1, 1807; it ticked away the hours as the capital mushroomed from a few muddy streets into a sizeable town; it was witness to the events of the great Demerara Rising of 1823; it kept time when Essequibo-Demerara was united with Berbice in 1831 to create the unified colony of British Guiana; and at midnight on August 1, 1838, its bell added its chimes to the peals of the great church bells heralding Emancipation.
The precise history of the clock prior to its installation in the High Court building is somewhat unclear. Messrs Shayt and Todd, who recently restored it, say that it was made by master clockmaker PP Barraud in 1800, and think that at one time it could have been in the Public Buildings. The High Court, which was probably designed by Cesar Castellani, but whose foundations were the work of Dutch hydraulics engineer Baron Hora Siccama, was opened in 1887. The Public Buildings, designed by Joseph Hadfield, were begun in 1829 and opened in 1834, so the longest the clock could have been at that location would be fifty-three years or so.
Prior to its sojourn at Parliament Building, say the restorers, the clock might have found a home in the armoury and guard-house - a far more elegant structure than its functions suggest - sited not far from St Andrew's Kirk. Mr David Todd told this newspaper in an interview that the clock had been built to endure the local climate, which might indicate that it was a special commission by the British authorities for installation in a public edifice. The guard-house is thought to date from around 1800, and there really are not too many other buildings erected at this period which would have qualified as homes for Barraud's timepiece. In addition, there are drawings extant of the armoury and guard-house, which clearly show a clock-face on the cupola.
The maker of the High Court clock, Paul Phillip Barraud, who was particularly renowned for his chronometers, was the most famous member of a respected family of clockmakers. According to Cedric Jagger who published a biography of him in 1968, Paul Phillip was born in London in 1752, the son of clockmaker Francis Gabriel Barraud, to whom he was apprenticed in 1767. The firm was known as Barraud of London, which was later changed to Barraud & Sons. The family was still in the clockmaking business well into the nineteenth century, under the name Barraud & Lund.
Exactly how Guyana, which has been so cavalier with its material heritage, managed for two hundred odd years to hold onto a clock, especially designed for this country and crafted by one of the great Regency clockmakers, is something of a puzzle. However, now that this great public timekeeper has been rediscovered, so to speak, one hopes that it will not be left neglected and forgotten again; the people of this country expect that those who hold immediate responsibility for its maintenance and safety, will ensure its long-term preservation.
Having said that, however, it would be remiss not to give credit to those who have played a part in the story of its current rehabilitation. That story begins with former Mayor Compton Young, who thirteen years ago invited a team from the Smithsonian Institution to come to Georgetown to service the Stabroek Market clock, and subsequently asked the members to look at all the public clocks. It was an initiative which set in motion a project to document and restore timepieces which might otherwise have been forgotten about completely, and some of which might in due course have rusted away to oblivion.
Secondly, there is the contribution of the Smithsonian Institution itself, which agreed to treat the exercise as a research project to be funded by its Bio-diversity of the Guianas Project; it was funding which all those committed to preserving the heritage of this country truly appreciate. Most deserving of appreciation, however, is the work of the specialists from the Smithsonian - Mr David Shayt, Mr David Todd, Mr Eric Longe and Mr Larry Jones - who came here in the first instance, and gave their labour gratis to the nation. Mr Shayt and Mr Todd made return trips, expanding their work as they discovered more clocks, and including bells on their list of items. As a consequence of their expertise, generosity and dedication, they have, among other things, recorded the history of public clocks here, uncovered two unique bells and serviced various timekeepers. It is no small gift.