Alfred Raymond Forbes Webber
1880 - 1932 Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
November 19, 2006

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Preserving our literary heritage by Petamber Persaud THE novel, `THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE', written by A. R. F. Webber was released in 1917, the year that saw the official abolition of immigrant labour from India to British Guiana. This novel was in the same vein as Edward Jenkins' 'Lutchmee and Dilloo' published 1877 describing the bittersweet experiences of East Indians in the colony, exposing many of the attendant ills of that slavery by another name.

`THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE', A Tale of Indian Indentures and Sunlit Western Waters, falls into a significant category of Guyanese first novels, numbering four between 1877 and 1917.

About this time, just after the release of his first novel, Webber tried his hands at poetry, some poems good enough to be included in the first collection of local verses, 'Guianese Poetry' edited by N. E. Cameron in 1931. Cameron explained how he went to great trouble to persuade Webber to release his work for publication in the anthology because Webber was of the opinion that having his best poems appearing first in a collection would affect the eventual publication of his own book of poetry. A year before the anthology came out, Cameron founded the British Guiana Literary Society of which Webber was a member.

Webber's literary inclination found its way into the Chronicle Christmas Annual, first as a contributor and then as editor of the 1920 issue. This magazine is now 90 years old, outliving many local, regional and international journals. (This writer, editing The Annual for the third consecutive year, is proud to be part of this tradition.)

A. R. F. Webber, poet, short story writer and novelist, also employed his pen to fight for constitutional reforms in the colony, using the New Daily Chronicle, which he was editing at the time, to debate the issue with the English-born editor of the Daily Argosy, Sam Lupton.

Webber believed in dialogue. In his poem 'Guiana' he asked, 'Wouldst thou be great? /Then grapple to thy soul these primal truths. /Greatness is neither born of intolerance nor schism, /But 'tis a sturdy growth of open minds'!

P. H. Daly described Webber as one 'whose faith in the fate of British Guiana never wearied nor waned, nor faded nor faltered'. And that's saying a lot for a person not born in Guyana.

A. R. F. Webber was born on the island of Tobago on January 1, 1880, to James Francis Webber and Sarah nee Hope. He married Beatrice Elizabeth Glasford, a union that produced Ivy Forbes Webber and Edith Forbes Webber.

Some 20 years after he was born, he came to live in British Guiana at a crucial and exciting period of its history. In his own words, he described that era as not being 'jejune or insipid'. He was a witness to many changes and innovations like the introduction of the electric tram service, the 1905 and 1924 riots, the end to East Indian Immigration, the first issue of $1 and $2 paper money, educational reforms, the great rice embargo, glory days of sugar and its greatest decline, and the 'abrogation of the 1891 Constitution'.

Webber's first taste of Guyana came with his introduction to its commerce sector, working in the Berbice merchant firm of Crosby and Forbes of which his uncle Forbes was a partner. Thereafter, his rise in the public's eye was swift; next he became Secretary to Chapman & Company. Webber then moved into the mining sector, first as Company' s Secretary to Peter's Mine and an attachment to Mara Mara Gold Company.

Another aspect of business he was involved was advertising, first attached to the Daily Argosy and then Messrs. Booker Bros., McConnell & Co., Limited.

But the call to the printed word was great. This was where Webber made the most telling contribution to this land.

In 1919, he was appointed acting editor of the Daily Chronicle succeeding C. W. Marchant, gravitating to the editorship position until 1925 when the paper went into liquidation.

During this time, his popularity increased enough to earn him a seat in the Combined Court as Financial Representative in 1921. He was re-elected at the General Elections in 1926.

The New Daily Chronicle came into being in 1926 as the official organ of the Popular Party with Webber as editor. The paper was branded a 'sensationalising paper' but made significant progress towards constitutional reforms in 1928. In February of that year, Webber was part of a delegation to England meeting with Secretary of State, L. S. Amery, on the above issue.

In his book, 'An Innocent Abroad', Webber recorded that journey. His other travelogue was 'Life in New York', recording his visit to America.

The life of Webber was always connected to the printed word. Vincent Roth recalled in his memoirs the help his father received from Webber in the process of publishing the translation of Schomburgh's TRAVELS IN BRITISH GUIANA.

For his work in newspaper, Webber made a Fellow of the Institute of Journalists. But not before his struggle in collaboration with Herbert de Lisser (author of 'Jane's Career') for press freedom and for the formation of the first West Indian Press Association.

A. R. F. Webber died while on duty. 'Though I go with work undone/ 'Tis better to leave the fields aglow/ Than to wait and watch the fires grow dim/ And steal away in the still and darkening night'. He died on Wednesday June 29, 1932 on a steamer going to Bartica but not before publishing his magnum opus CENTENARY HISTORY and HANDBOOK of BRITISH GUIANA in 1931.

Webber lived a colourful life even unto death; at the funeral, his grave was strewn with red roses.Sources:

" Daly, P. H. 'Stories of the Heroes'

" Cameron, N. E. 'Adventures in the field of Culture'

" Cudjoe, Selwyn R. Introduction to 'Those that be in Bondage', 1988

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