one hundred men
one hundred men
This colour DVD, 59-minute film documents the story of one hundred men who, in 1949, were recruited from the Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic to work as agricultural labourers in England. It weaves archival sources together with conversations with some of the surviving men, their respective wives, a daughter and an Oxfordshire farmer.
A range of themes invoked by this unusual moment of migration within the British world -to do with race, identity, citizenship, and the meaning of Britishness- are explored through first-hand accounts and archival sources. The film moves back and forth between gardens and landscapes in both England and St Helena.
The garden becomes a metaphor for reflecting upon the roots and routes of these Atlantic world characters and their multiple time-place associations and sense of belonging. As the characters talk about their encounters in rural England, reflect upon the meaning of this particular event and their unfolding histories, the film is also a meditation on identity, memory, time, home and belonging in Britain, St Helena and the Atlantic World.
This is a film in which I am quite personally implicated: I was born and raised on the Island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic, where, I recall years later, there was frequent reference to so-and-so having gone to Britain with ‘the hundred men.’ I met one of these men, Jordon Philips, in Cape Town in 1987 where I had just arrived from St Helena after my first visit home in seven years, for what turned out to be my father’s last few days. I was spending time with family and friends in Cape Town before proceeding to Zimbabwe which had been home, by then, for six years. Jordon had just flown down from England and was staying with his sister, whom I knew as Aunty Gertie. He was making his first trip in thirty-eight years ‘home’, to St Helena, and was about to board the ship on which I had just arrived. It was a very poignant time, pregnant with some of the emotional themes –of loss, convergent and divergent journeys, home- to which, as life would have it, I return years later in this film. Gertie, it must be noted, went south to South Africa from St Helena, before the formal introduction of apartheid, ‘into service,’ to use the Edwardian left-over language of the day for domestic employment. Jordon had headed north to England, in 1949, one year after Apartheid which effectively ended ‘coloured’ immigration from St Helena. He was of the hundred men contracted to work as agricultural labourers.
I was intrigued by Jordon’s account of his experiences in rural England and saw in it a moment of social history waiting to be re-told. More than a decade later, I began that work, tracking down other men from the group of one hundred (most had passed on) for interview and following up on archival research. In my conversations with these men I was struck by their insight, resilience, humour, the impact of those early encounters, and the passion of their reflections upon them. My being from St. Helena did much to enhance the flow of our conversations. Regarding the archival materials, I was struck by the anxieties about race and citizenship evident in how government officials and bureaucrats argued over the work-scheme to bring these British subjects to England. There was resistance, for example, to the ‘importation of this type of labour onto the English countryside’ (my italics). At the same time the men’s ‘mixed stock’ and ‘European’ blood, their Britishness and capacity for assimilation, were championed and the suggestion that they be sent to work on Africa’s groundnut scheme dismissed as ‘a disservice.’ I was struck by the racially constituted landmark of Britishness –rural England- and the imagined threat to this national imaginary posed by the ‘mixed stock’ of British immigrants. Such arguments and counter-arguments were made at a time when immigrants from Europe, deported persons and others, were brought in by the thousands to the English countryside, seemingly posing no such threat to the landscape as a racial marker of identity. With the St Helenian ‘mixed-stock’ also viewed as incompatible with African space-place imaginaries, the men appeared to fall between the cracks of these binary racial representations of race in/and place. Such contradictions and contestations leapt out from the archival sources. My research was undertaken with no plans for a film. However, in a conversation with film enthusiast, director and producer, Paul Lee, I described what I thought was the story’s ‘filmic potential.’ “Then why don’t you make a film!” Paul replied. He proceeded to convince me of the possibility and talked me through what the processes entailed.
As the film project unfolded, I wanted to bring to the story-line a set of aesthetics that would engage the aforementioned contradictions and the idea of one hundred men negotiating the heart of Britishness -rural England- bringing, what a friend described as a ‘bits of Britain back to Britain’ in the form of cricket, football, Anglicanism, ‘English’ hymns and tea; and the mutual curiosity invoked by these encounters. I also wanted to hint at a convergence of time, space and place, so as to locate the telling of this particular story of migration in the context of a long, continuous and continuing history of movement within the Atlantic World. Landscapes and gardens became the aesthetic working metaphors. Thus, juxtaposing landscapes and gardens in St Helena and England, and allowing seconds of my own garden and home in Toronto to merge with a shot of the Steam Ship Umtali against Cape Town’s Table Mountain, signal the dispersed and interconnected multiple nodes of the story, as well as the four countries in which the work was produced.
The idea of the garden came about when, after an on-camera interview, Edward Leo, one of the men, walked me around his little garden in Hampshire describing, with immense pride, the plants therein, that he had over the years ‘brought from St Helena.’ It was not just the metaphoric and literal routes and roots –uprooting, re-rooting, making home and being in two places at once- and the evident subversion of old concerns about importing this type of labour onto the landscape, that excited me. I was also struck by how the metaphor -planting and nurturing- stood in for culture and people, as about circulations and re-creations: Every plant in Edward’s garden that came from St Helena, at one time or another in the distant past, like its people, were brought from elsewhere to St Helena.
There are many levels and threads to the story of One Hundred Men -much is told and much has to be left to the imagination. Very early in the project I was asked by Iris Duncan, who is mentioned in the film (she was aboard the Umtali, in 1949, heading ‘into service’) ‘But what about the women?’ I had, and have, no fully satisfactory answer to that question, except to say that the film is really about the men who went on this contract, and that I apologize for any omissions. However, that said, I am enormously grateful to Beverley Yon for the thread that she brings to this film, hinting at a shadow cast by the departure of these men, in her talk of her mother and about growing up with the absence of her father who left, as one of the hundred men, before she was born, never to return. The postscript (about her father’s passing and plans for his ashes) inscribed towards the end of the film over one of my favourite shots of St Helena, amplifies, I think, the poignancy of her story as it reminds us of how this film is all about how the past revisits and lives on in the present.
The often emotionally-charged project of doing this work was only possible because of the friendships I have formed through the process, not least with those who feature in the film. The team involved in making the film was as dispersed as the subject it takes up and I have benefited greatly from conversations and support from friends, students and colleagues at York University in Canada, folks in St Helena, Cape Town and England. In Toronto, Paul Lee introduced me to Antonin Lhotsky who became the primary camera person. On our shooting session in England, Antonin introduced me to Harriet Pacaud who did follow-up camera work when I was in transit in England en route to Cape Town. Anya Richards, my niece in St Helena, did most of the shooting there and when she had left, on my subsequent trip, Darrin Henry did follow-up work. Doug Campbell took out his camera when it was necessary and Paul persuaded me to borrow one to use on one of my journeys to St Helena. I spent many long and rewarding hours, over different seasons, with Doug, my editor (and his beautifully-disciplined dogs) in his studio barn in London, Ontario, and he put in many, many more hours editing passionately as though this film was his very own. He is also responsible for the film’s sound. Co-producer, Paul Lee, provided constant probing, advice, encouragement and generally made the project possible. I have learnt much and owe a great deal more to the generosity of this brilliant team.
Daniel Yon is Associate Professor at York University, jointly appointed to the Faculty of Education and the Dept of Anthropology and currently Director of the Graduate Programme in Social Anthropology. His scholarly interests include the anthropology of race and racism, diasporas, cosmopolitisms. He is the author of Elusive Culture (SUNY 2000), an ethnography of youth, schooling and identity. One Hundred Men is his first film.
Paul Lee was born in Hong Kong in 1963, and moved to Toronto with his family in 1976. He graduated from the University of Toronto with B.Sc.(biology/anthropology/Latin American Studies) and M.A. (anthropology) and Ph.D. (education), and from York University with M.B.A. (arts & media administration) and M.F.A. (film).
Since 1991 he has organized, programmed, and curated film festivals in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Romania, Moldova, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.
In addition to his programming activities, Paul also specializes in producing films for first-time filmmakers, and in producing international co-productions, women's films, Asian films, human rights/social justice educational films, and lesbian & gay films.
In 1994 he made his first short film Thick Lips Thin Lips, which has won 9 awards, and was screened at over 220 film festivals worldwide after its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival.
In 1995 he made his second film These Shoes Weren't Made For Walking, which has won 6 awards, and was screened at over 80 film festivals after its premiere at the Sydney Film Festival (and the film is used in the Women's Studies curriculum in more than 30 universities and colleges across Canada, the U.S., Polynesia and the Caribbean).
In 1999 he made his third film The Offering, which has won 60 awards to date, and was screened at over 430 film festivals worldwide after its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Cinematographer/editor/producer Antonin Lhotsky is a graduate of F.A.M.U., the Czechoslovakia Film Academy in Prague. He has taught film at a number of Canadian film schools and has been a Professor of Film and Video Production at York University in Toronto for the last 10 years. As a Canadian filmmaker, Antonin has accumulated more than 100 film credits, mostly in cinematography but also as producer, director and editor in documentary and theatrical films. He has also worked on several multi-screen projects including Taming of the Demons (1986) which received a special Genie Award (Canada's top film honour) for Outstanding Film Achievement. During recent years, Antonin was Associate producer/cinematographer for the Karen Shopsowitz’s documentary A Place to Save Your Life, about Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II; and cinematographer for the half-hour drama The Visit, the feature film My Script Doctor and three short 35mm films: Island, sancesse and the award winning The Offering, which has 60 awards at more than 430 film festivals around the world, with 9 awards for Best Cinematography. Antonin was cinematographer for My Father’s Camera (National Film Board of Canada) which won the prestigious Peabody Award in 2002. He recently finished a short experimental film titled Last Year at Killaloe and a docudrama, The Last Illusion (As a Cinematographer/Producer).
Douglas Campbell is a doctoral candidate in Social Anthropology at York University. He has worked with youth on making videos as part of his doctoral fieldwork in Vanuatu. His works include: Reality Comes to Vanuatu (Canada/Vanuatu, 2005, 19:30, digital video); Wan Naes Wan (Vanuatu, 2003, 30:00, digital video, Vanuatu Young People's Project producer); The View From Dutton Dunwich: An Interview with John Kenneth Galbraith (Canada, 2003, 43:30, digital video); Certain General: At Peace (Canada/US, 2002, 4:30, digital video); Artists Against the Occupation (Canada, 2002, 8:30, digital video, Marcy Saddy co-producer); Collaborative Research on Colonial Domestic Research in Vanuatu (Canada, 2002, 17:30, digital video, Margaret Rodman producer); Spacing Out (Canada, 2001, 14:15, digital video); Wendake: A Space Set Apart, Or Our Camp Has AIDS (Canada, 2001, 42:30, digital video)
Darrin started Capricorn Studios while working on Ascension Island where he made Living on the Rock using a 8m camcorder, a home VCR and a borrowed video player, audio mixer, microphone and connecting leads. With his partner Sharon, Capricorn Studies, he owns and runs Capricorn Studios in Jamestown, St Helena. His films include, Ascension Island, the South Atlantic Adventure (2004); A voyage on the RMS St Helena (2004); St Helena Island, a timeless discovery (2005); Narrow Daylight (2005).
Canadian-born director, producer, cinematographer Harriet Pacaud now lives and works in London. Her work in film is wide-ranging and is always attentive to issues of social justice. Her filmography includes, director: Female Parts: a dream of dress (1992); True Stories: Kirby’s Kingdom (1991); Another Side of London:where’s our platform? (1987); How Birds Sing (1983); Bank Street (1978). Producer: Live and Learn (1978).
Anya Richards graduated from the Cheltenham and Gloucester Institute of Higher Education (now University of Gloucester University) with a B.A (Hons) in Professional Media Studies. She returned home to St Helena where she worked for the government in information technology. She now lives and works in Human Resources in Germany.
Reginal (Reggie) Benjamin remained in England at the end of the contract (which brought the one hundred men to Britain) and settled in Leighton Buzzard with he continues to live with his wife Grace Benjamin. Together they have Reggie’s birth-place and ‘home’, St Helena four times since first leaving and is planning a fifth visit.
Edward Clifford returned to his wife and daughter on St Helena at the end of the contract. He took up employment with the St Helena Government’s Agricultural and Forestry Dept and went on to become the island chief forester.
Bill Johns went to live in the north of England at the end of the contract and then went on to join the British Army. He has held a variety of jobs since leaving the forces, including long-distance deliveries. He first settled in Hemel Hempstead and later moved to Honiton in Devon settling with his wife Avril.
Edward Leo settled first in Kilburn, London, at the end of the contract where he met his wife Audrey Leo. After a variety of different jobs he and Audrey decided on moving away from fast-paced London to settle in Ringwood in Hampshire. Edward and Audrey have for many years been active members of the St Helena Association with Audrey serving as secretary for more than a decade. Edward and Audrey has made four trips to St Helena together.
Jordon Philips moved to London at the end of the contract, starting in Kilburn and eventually settled in the area of Ladbrooke Grove. He and his wife Joy Philips (also from St Helena) met in London. They continue to live in Ladbrook Grove.
Tom Routledge is an Oxfordshire Farmer who lives in Duns Tew in Oxfordshire. His father was a farmer. Tom remembers how his father employed some of the St Helena men during harvests on his farm.
Beverley Yon was born and grew up St Helena. She has held a number of financial/secretarial positions in government in St Helena. She has worked on Ascension Island and is currently holds a civilian administrative position with the British Forces on the Falkland Islands.
Walter Yon worked initially for United Dairies, in London, along with several other St Helena. He and his wife, Helen Yon, met in London where they started their family before moving out to the expanding town of Letchworth in Hertfordshire. They have visited St Helena on two occasions.
Special Thanks to
- Grace and Reginal Benjamin
- Edward Clifford
- Iris Duncan
- Avril and Bill Johns
- Audrey and Edward Leo
- Joyce and Jordon Philips
- Helen and Walter Yon
- Beverley Yon
- Tom and Ann Routledge
Thanks also to
- Delia and Bob Allen
- Ricardo Barcello
- Malcolm Blincow
- Deborah Britzman
- David Clark
- Isobel Clark
- Ian Cosh
- Dennis Day
- Dorothy Evans
- Richard Fung
- Basil and Barbara George
- Liz Guerrier
- Ruth Hamill
- Daniel Hammett
- Patricia Hayse
- Trevor Hearl
- Radhika Johari
- David Kisly
- Marc Lafleur
- Paul Lee
- Susan Levine
- Eileen Maybin
- George and Poppy Moss
- Alice Pitt
- Ciraj Rassool
- Gissle Richards
- June and Terry Richards
- Joe Saddy
- Marcy Saddy
- Veronica Schild
- Mugsy Spiegal
- Iain Staines
- Robert Szucs
- Shaun Viljoen
- Remi Warner
- Gary and Jenny Widdows
- Pat Williams
- David Young
- Grace and Reginald Benjamin
- David Clark
- Iris Duncan
- William Johns
- Audrey and Edward Leo
- George Moss
- Joyce and Jordon Philips
- Anne and Tom Routledge
- Helen and Walter Yon
- Public Records Office
- Kew Gardens, London, UK
- Government Archives
- The Castle, Jamestown, St. Helena
For Financial and Material Assistance
- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Research Council of Canada
- Faculty of Arts
- York University
- Faculty of Education
- York University
- Department of Social Anthropology
- University of Cape Town
- Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology
- Oxford University
The producer regrets any errors and omissions.