PRESS RELEASE by The Son Chapman Tragedy Commemoration Committee Linden, Region 10 COMMEMORATION OF THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SON CHAPMAN TRAGEDY Sunday July 4, 2004
The Linden Commemoration Committee of the Son Chapman Tragedy has organized a remembrance programme on Tuesday 6th July 2004, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the bombing of the Son Chapman which caused (43) forty-three persons from Linden to lose their lives. Commencing aat 2:00 PM there will be a journey of remembrance to the Hooradia area in the Demerara River where the tragedy took place. This is to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by those who lost their lives in this tragedy. A brief wreath-laying ceremony will also be held at 2:30 PM on the west bank of the river where two of the murdered victims were buried. Leader of the PNCR Mr. Robert Corbin, Mayor Hamilton Green, Regional Chairman Mortimer Mingo, Executives of the PNCR, representatives of other organisations and other residents from Linden and other parts of Guyana Georgetown will be participating in the programme.
On Tuesday also, a memorial lecture series will be launched at the Wismar Hill Government School, Linden at 6:00 PM where presentations will be made by Mayor of Georgetown, Mr. Hamilton Green and Leader of the PNCR and Opposition, Mr. Robert H O Corbin.
The public is invited to participate in both activities. Those interested in participating in the journey of remembrance should assemble at the Silver Hill junction of the Linden/ Soesdyke Highway at 1:30 PM on Tuesday July 6th where transportation will be provided to the Demerara River.
The Commemoration Committee will also be launching their project to erect a monument on Republic Avenue, Linden which will be unveiled on the 41st anniversary next year. The site for this monument was identified several years ago and the former Mayor of Linden had given his commitment that the identified Council reserve would be made available for the project.
A BRIEF BACKGROUND TO THE TRAGEDY
Tuesday July 6th will mark 40 years since the ill fated Son Chapman launch was bombed on its journey with passengers traveling from Georgetown to Linden. The launch sunk immediately and some 43 persons lost their lives. This was one of the gruesome acts of political violence which was perpetrated during the 1963 to 1964 disturbances.
The Son Chapman was a wooden launch owned by Mr. Norman Chapman that plyed the Mackenzie/ Georgetown route transporting passengers and cargo. The Son Chapman left Mackenzie at around 11:30AM on Friday July 3, 1964 with a five-man crew and 63 passengers traveling to Georgetown, but no one, including the crew members, Captain Herman Softleigh, Engineer Astes Cooper, Purser Charles Lewis and sailors Alphie and Harold Cummings, knew that it was the last time it would make that journey.
Some two months before that tragic day, rumors were heard that the Son Chapman would never return to Linden, but they were dismissed as propaganda. On that fateful day, the Son Chapman left the Stabroek Market wharf with passengers and cargo consisting of paddy, flour, sugar, greens and ground provisions. Evidence during the inquest that was subsequently held revealed that the boat later stopped at the Fish Koker near Sussex Street where five bags of rice were loaded on the vessel.
The launch did not leave with a full complement of passengers as some were scared because of the rumour. Some passengers opted to travel with another launch, The Emperor, or the regular Sprostons owned steamer, The RH CARR..
At approximately 4:30 PM that day when the launch was about 300 yards from Hooradia, approximately one-hour’s traveling time from Linden, there was a loud explosion. Persons were flung into the River, while some appeared to have died instantly. Others jumped into the Demerara river as the launch sank within minutes of the explosion. Survivors told the sad story of the scene thereafter with some persons swimming to the shore, others clinging on to floating objects such as bags and tins while others were screaming for help as they sank to the bottom of the river.
Sixty-two (62) witnesses testified during the six days of the Inquest which began on March 16th 1965. Among those who testified were survivors. Some testified that they had heard the rumor prior to the bombing of the launch. According to one witness, a woman was warned not to travel on the launch that day but she insisted on traveling. Regrettably she was one of the victims who perished in the tragedy. Another witness testified that he had heard a conversation in a hotel room in Lombard street, that he knew the voices and later saw the same men he identified the following morning. Some witnesses testified that they saw three suspicious men on the Son Chapman who came off the vessel at a stop shortly before the launch was blown into pieces. The theory that a bomb was thrown into the launch was refuted as it was established that the bomb had to be placed with the cargo in the boat for the vessel to have sunk the way it did.
Dr. Robert Klautky testified before Coroner, Mr. PM Burch Smith and the five-man jury, that persons died from mutilation following an explosion. There were twenty odd survivors and forty-three who perished, including a four year old child. Eleven bodies were never recovered. At the end of the inquest, while fingers were clearly pointed to a political plot by the PPP, no one was charged, according to the coroner, due to lack of sufficient evidence.
The scars which the Son Chapman tragedy left on the people of Linden cannot be erased. They are painful reminders that Guyana needs a political solution that would be long lasting and for the benefit of all.
The Son Chapman Tragedy Commemoration Committee
Linden, Region 10
Sunday July 4, 2004
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