As with St. Vincent, Bequia was home to Amerindians before European farmers, fishermen and traders settled here in the 1700s. Nine sugar plantations were established during the early 1800s but prosperity was short-lived when the sugar industry entered a period of decline.
The maritime trades of fishing, whaling and boat building established themselves as Bequia’s primary industries and, by the late 1800s, our island boasted two whaling stations and a reputation as the boat building capital of the West Indies. Numerous whaling boats, schooners and the Gloria Colita, at 165ft the largest wooden vessel ever constructed in the region, are all legacies of Bequia’s rich cultural heritage.
One of the most notable vessels of this period was the massive three-masted Gloria Colita, built in 1938/1939 by Reginald Mitchell on the shores of Admiralty Bay beside what was then his home and what is now the Frangipani Hotel. At 182 gross tonnes and 165 feet including bowsprit, she was the largest wooden ship ever to be constructed in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and indeed in the whole of the Lesser Antilles.
Reginald Mitchell came from a richly talented Bequia boat-building family. His father James Fitzallan (“Uncle Harry”) Mitchell was one of three boat-building sons of William Mitchell and Mary Compton, daughter of English-born shipwright Benjamin George Compton who had emigrated to the Grenadine island of Canouan in 1838. Reginald’s mother Sarah Ann Ollivierre, was the granddaughter of Joseph” Pa” Ollivierre, co-founder of Bequia’s whaling industry.