Colin and Caroline MacMillan, from Ravenscourt Park in west London, returned to Nevis last week to celebrate their 30th anniversary on the same day they were married twice – at St Theresa Catholic Church in the morning and during a reenactment of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s marriage ceremony to Fanny Nisbet – on March 11,1987.
Richard Lupinacci, owner of The Hermitage Plantation Inn, hosted a private reception in the couple’s honor last Saturday evening. Several people instrumental in setting up the reenactment in the Eighties and members of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society (NHCS) board were at the reception. The NHCS is the custodian of a collection of Nelson memorabilia.
A BBC producer introduced the MacMillans to Nevis in 1985. “We worked alongside the BBC for various reasons during our courtship,” said Colin, now 71, who worked as an accountant. Caroline, 73, was a historian and now writes books in the Wild About series.
Prior to the reenactment, the couple visited the island twice and stayed at Montpelier Plantation Inn, then owned by James Gaskell and his wife Celia.
On their second visit, the Gaskells talked to them about having a destination wedding in Nevis during a week of activities commemorating Nelson in 1987. They agreed readily.
“We asked them if they would play the role of Admiral Horatio Nelson during the reenactment of Nelson’s marriage ceremony to Fanny,” said James Gaskell. Montpelier – and the island – had 18 months to prepare for the ceremony.
Colin, who’s a Catholic, and Caroline, an Anglican, got married at 11 am in St Theresa Catholic Church, Charlestown. Colin explains that they had to get special permission to wed, as they were meant to be on the island for a fortnight before marrying.
“The parish priest on Nevis had to write to Cardinal Hume, who in turn wrote to the Bishop of Antigua, as we didn’t have the luxury of time on our side,” says Colin.
After their own quiet ceremony, Colin and Caroline played somewhat grander roles of Lord Nelson and Fanny at 4 pm at Fig Tree Anglican Church. Other players, including local Nevisians and expatriates, wore costumes and gowns depicting those worn back in 1787.
Caroline remembered the exciting events: “The whole island was buzzing. The place was full of sailors. You have never seen Charlestown so busy in all of your life. All the ladies were occupied with stitching the costumes weeks before hand. There was a wonderful atmosphere.”
The Democrat, a local newspaper, carried a report on the reenactment in its Saturday, March 14, 1987 issue. “The week was packed with entertainment, church services, beach parties, horseracing, dances, a bridesmaids luncheon, a bachelors’ party, aquatic sports, masquerade dancing, jump-ups and lots to eat and drink. It turned out to be a sure boost for tourism in the Queen of the Caribbean, Nevis.”
Another highlight was a musical drama, Horatio, written and directed by Nevisian writer, Amba Trott.
Also of great attraction were three naval ships, two English and one American (U.S.S. Fahrion), with 900 crew members, anchored in Charlestown’s harbour.
Although in keeping with the ongoing rivalry between the French and the British, the French weren’t happy to be involved. The French response to an invitation to participate was short and pointed: “Not for Nelson”.
A ball was held in the evening, with local lasses dazzling a number of the naval officers and crew. It’s suggested that one captain complained to Nevisian fathers the morning after the ball that they needed to come and fetch their daughters, as the departure of his ship had been delayed by six hours by the young women. Locals recall a number of island girls sporting naval hats after the event.
“It was wonderful. It was an important day. It was part of the history of this lovely island, reflecting what happened 200 years ago on the island of Nevis. Nelson is very renowned and respected. It was also a very special day for us personally. We played a small part in portraying some of the rich history of Nevis, which is a happy little place. We came back this year to say thank you,” Colin says.
“When we landed on Nevis, locals were telling us that there’s a lot going on, because Nelson’s getting married,” Caroline recalls.
Colin adds that the couple didn’t realise how big the event was going to be. In the end, it’s believed that around 600 people turned out for the reenactment. “Someone who worked in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London told me that it was interesting that the British were sending a destroyer out to Nevis for the occasion.”
After contacting the American Embassy, the American coastguard was in attendance. The British Navy was in evidence, too. Dr Simeon Daniel, Premier of Nevis at the time, declared a public holiday.
Ian Hart, who was general manager of Montpelier Plantation Inn at the time of the reenactment, remembers “urgent calls to get large amounts of currency shipped in, as there were so many people on the island”. His young daughter Alice was Fanny’s flower girl, alongside the Gaskells’ son, Charles, acting as a page.
Lupinacci points out that it is important to celebrate historical events, as they benefit the tourist trade. “At the time the reenactment was carried out, people wondered why they should celebrate. Little did they know that if it was not for Nelson we would be French speaking.”
He adds wryly that living under French rule might not have been all that bad. “The French have better food.”
Lupinacci defends Nelson’s legacy, revealing that Nelson was not popular with planters because he did not support slavery.
Colin and Caroline have plans to return to Nevis in the future.
They also would like to host a lunch for Nevisians living in London who wish to see photographs of the marriage reenactment. And the couple hopes that the musical Horatio could be performed again.
With regards to performing as a bridge and groom, however, the MacMillans feel that twice on Nevis – along with a registry office ceremony and village church blessing when they arrived back in England – is quite enough.