Cayman Islands Coat of Arms History

By Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin, MBE, JP, MLA

I extend a warm Caymanian welcome to you all and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to join us today on the lawn of the Glass House to commemorate this special day in our history.

This is also a celebration of our incredible journey as three small islands in the Northwest Caribbean Sea that have emerged from relative obscurity onto the world’s stage.

Today we launch Celebrate Cayman by observing the Diamond Jubilee of our Coat of Arms and herald the return of a very special part of our history, the Royal Warrant, which was conferred by her Majesty the Queen on 14 May, 1958.  Celebrate Cayman will continue into 2019 as we observe the Diamond Jubilee of our first Constitution, issued on 4 July, 1959.

When we examine the storyline that bridges the gap between Cayman’s earliest settlement and our rapid ascension to becoming a world class leader in financial services and tourism, the issuance of the Coat of Arms represents the seminal moment that arguably triggered the chain of events that placed the Cayman Islands on the path to modernity.

It is indeed my distinct honour to share the story of how our Coat of Arms came into existence and pay homage to the many individuals who contributed to its development.

The Coat of Arms is our first internationally recognised symbol of identity.  Its rich imagery tells the story of who we are, our history, our culture, our earliest industries, our constitutional relationship and our faith.

Up until 1958, life in the Cayman Islands was summarised by the mythical phrase, “the Islands time forgot”.   Caymanians eked out a hard scrabble existence based on subsistence farming, fishing, turtling and seamanship.  During these early years, our people endured many hardships, challenges and difficulties the likes of which I pray future generations will never experience. There were many who saw little by way of a future here and chose to migrate, whether to Central America, Isle of Pines, Cuba, the United States or Jamaica.

But many others remained, determined to stay and tarry on while bravely facing the most difficult of circumstances. You see, these hardships forged generations of Caymanians, steeling their spirits and uniting their hearts in a commitment to succeed while producing legendary iron men and women. Those hardy and intrepid Caymanians were distinguished by an existence based on self-reliance, ingenuity and relative independence.

It is important to note that at this time we were constitutionally a dependency of Jamaica, which was itself at the time a British Colony or as I often say, we enjoyed the lowest form of constitutional existence – being the dependency of a dependency.

Whilst domestic affairs were managed locally and trade routes existed with other countries, the administration of the country was overseen by a Commissioner or Administrator who himself reported to the Governor of Jamaica.  Caymanians received direct support from Jamaica in the form of medical professionals, teachers and pastors. Furthermore, many Caymanians went to Jamaica for medical care, further education and employment. And so you have a very concise picture of where Cayman stood until the late 1950s when a man of vision arrived, Commissioner Major Alan Hilliard Donald.

Major Donald came from Basutoland, a British Crown Colony in southern Africa, known today as the Kingdom of Lesotho. He served as Commissioner (equivalent to Governor) from 1956 – 1960.  During his administration great strides were made in many aspects of life in the Cayman Islands.

Commissioner Donald is recognised for his central role in the development of the Cayman Island’s first national symbol – the Coat of Arms.

Coats of arms are an important element of heraldry – the practice of design, display and study of armorial bearings. They have been used for centuries to represent and identify military units, towns, churches, families, individuals and even companies.

While history does not clearly record an underlying reason, Commissioner Donald would have seen first-hand the independence and ingenuity of the Caymanian people despite their constitutional link to Jamaica and recognised that Caymanian people clearly distinguished themselves from their neighbours to the Southeast. Commissioner Donald put forward a proposal to adopt a Coat of Arms for the Cayman Islands, which was approved by resolution of the Legislative Assembly of Justices and Vestry on the 3 April, 1957.

Records show that Commissioner Donald approached the Reverend Arthur W. Saunders of the Methodist Church, St. Lucea Circuit, Jamaica and a member of the Heraldry Society to assist with the creation of the Coat of Arms.

In what could have been one of Cayman’s earliest examples of a public consultation exercise, on 11 April, 1957, Government notice 33/57 was issued requesting all interested Caymanians to submit design ideas and illustrations for the Coat of Arms. A deadline of 1 May, 1957, was set.

One design was submitted by an American residing in Cayman named James “Jimmy” Ford, of the Port of Calls (formerly the Cayman Islands Yacht Club). This submission assisted in the final design for the Coat of Arms. It is also believed that Commissioner Donald, reputed to be a devout Christian, chose the motto “He Hath Founded it Upon the Seas” from the Psalm 24 as it reflected the Christian faith of the Caymanian people.

On 5 February, 1958, a resolution was moved in the Legislative Assembly by the Commissioner to approve the selected design of the Coat of Arms and to send to Her Majesty’s Government for approval.

It gives me great honour to recognise Mr. Linberg Eden and Capt. Owen Farrington, the two living vestrymen who would have been serving at the time the resolution was moved in the Legislative Assembly. Capt. Farrington is able to be with us today and will be taking part in the ceremony. I would also like to recognise that Mr. Arley James Miller, better known as Mr. AJ Miller, who along with Mr. Linberg Eden are the last living Vestrymen who would have been serving in the Legislative Assembly at the time we received our first Constitution on 4 July, 1959.

We hope to feature more information about these distinguished gentlemen throughout the Celebrate Cayman programme and we are most grateful to them for their service.
When considering a Coat of Arms, Government sent three design proposals to the United Kingdom for consideration.

In a letter written by Garter King of Arms, Sir George Bellew, it is noted that there were three key features the people of the Cayman Islands placed great value on and wanted represented in the final design. Those were:

  • The representation of the British connection
  • The representation of the sea as the home of Caymanians
  • Something to symbolise the three islands

Additionally, it was noted that for sentimental reasons Caymanians desired to retain the thatch rope as part of the final design.

A typical classic coat of arms features several distinct elements, including a crest, field, shield, supporters, design motifs and motto.

The chosen design for the Coat of Arms for the Cayman Islands features a shield, crest and motto and incorporates important historical and indigenous features of the country.

The shield features blue and white wavy lines representing the sea. Three stars of green, lined with gold, lay atop the lines, depicting our three islands.

At the top the shield features the Lion of England symbolising the Cayman Islands’ connection to the United Kingdom.

Above the crest are the arms elements of the Coat of Arms. The green sea turtle is a prominent feature, representing the Islands’ original name “Las Tortugas”, given by Columbus, as well as the turtle fishing industry.

The turtle sits on top of intertwined bands of blue and white silk, representing Cayman’s thatch rope making tradition.

Above the turtle is a pineapple, which represents the connection the Islands have had with Jamaica. Pineapples also appear prominently on Jamaica’s coat of arms.

At the base of the shield is the motto “He hath founded it upon the seas”, taken from Psalm 24:2, reflecting the Islands’ Christian heritage and connection to the sea.

As we explore our history and retell the incredible story of our Coat of Arms I am pleased today to reveal that our research has uncovered three other designs that were also proposed for the Coat of Arms. These designs are on display this morning and I encourage you to take a look at them at the end of the ceremony.

As for the design that was chosen, on 14 May, 1958, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II assigned the Armorial Ensigns to the Cayman Islands, bringing to life the first key symbol of national identify for Caymanians.

The Royal Warrant notes it was the Queen’s pleasure to order the Grant of Arms to the Cayman Islands.

In addition to noting the adoption of the Cayman Island’s Coat of the Arms, the Royal Warrant also gives details of the design of the Coat of the Arms.

A painting of the Coat of Arms was placed in the Commissioner’s office for public viewing.

Today is an extra special day for the people of the Cayman Islands, because our Royal Warrant has returned to our shores.  Many of you my age or older will remember the great national tragedy that befell the Cayman Islands when on 23 July, 1972, the Government Administration Building was engulfed in flames. Our signed Royal Warrant was amongst the litany of important documents and historical artifacts destroyed by that fire. Therefore almost two generations of Caymanians have known nothing about how our Coat of Arms came to exist.

Until now, the story, along with the Coat of Arms had been lost.

Today we celebrate the return of a facsimile or an exact replica of our Royal Warrant, which has been prepared by Garter King of Arms of the College of Arms at the request of the Cayman Islands Government.

But back to its history. The granting of the Coat of Arms began the process of formally distinguishing the Cayman Islands from Jamaica. It was a visual and internationally recognised symbol of the Cayman Islands, its people and their culture.

Cayman would never again be the same. The winds of change began to blow as the region was fraught with discussions of decolonization, federation and independence. Cayman found itself with a number of choices to make and once again our community and its leaders rose to the occasion, putting into motion a number of watershed moments in our history. As a snapshot, some of the key milestones that followed the grant of the Coat of Arms included:

  • The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Law in 1958 that gave women the right to vote and stand for public office;
  • The First Constitution on 4 July, 1959;
  • The passage of the Companies Law in 1960 and the Bank and Trust Companies Law in 1966, which paved the way for the Financial Services Industry;
  • The choice to remain part of the United Kingdom following Jamaica’s decision to become independent in 1962;
  • Government’s purchase of 51% of Cayman Brac Airways in 1968, later becoming Cayman Airways, which helped to strengthen the tourism industry;
  • The introduction of Cayman’s own currency in 1971.

These milestones were fundamental to the development of the Cayman Islands that we know and love today and were built on the foundation of the Coat of Arms.

This year marks 60 years since the creation of the Cayman Islands Coat of Arms. To commemorate the anniversary Cabinet has commissioned the Celebrate Cayman team to plan and bring to life the cultural celebrations.

Members of the Celebrate Cayman team are Executive Chairman Alfonso Wright, Deputy Executive Chairman Marzeta Bodden and Project Coordinator Kara Coe.   All have extensive experience with hosting large events such as National Heroes Day, and TEDx Seven Mile Beach, but more importantly, these three distinguished Caymanians have an unquestioned passion and commitment to preserving and promoting our heritage. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I do hope that they will ‘infect’ us all with a new found sense of pride and appreciation for our rich heritage and culture as we celebrate our Coat of Arms and our Constitution.

The process has already begun. Many of you will have seen that on 14 May the Government Administration Building on Elgin Avenue was dressed with the Coat of Arms (as part of the Celebrate Cayman logo) to mark the anniversary day here in Cayman. As celebrations continue other government buildings across all three Islands will all be draped over the course of the year to mark the anniversary.  It is my hope that other private sector buildings will catch the spirit and join us is draping their buildings with our logo.

Celebrate Cayman is not only happening in the Cayman Islands.

Celebrate Cayman creates an important platform for educating and informing people in the United Kingdom of our historical ties to that country. These efforts are led by the Cayman Islands Government Office in the UK under the leadership of Eric Bush, UK representative.

I recently led a government delegation to London to kick off the celebration. A reception was held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the day of the 60th anniversary, which showcased Caymanian culture and heritage to a wide audience. Amongst the highlights of the evening included the attendance of Garter King of Arms who prepared and presented the facsimile of our long lost Royal Warrant back to the people of the Cayman Islands.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, this is just the beginning. Throughout the commemorative period, Celebrate Cayman will host numerous events and run educational campaigns focused on teaching the public about the Cayman Islands’ important historical achievements.

If there were questions about why the government would bother to embark upon such an initiative, perhaps recent events have brought into clearer focus the importance of celebrating our identity, understanding our history and protecting our Constitutional relationship. The winds of challenge and change are once again blowing in our direction and just as our forefathers and previous legislators blazed the trail for future generations, it is now our time to write this chapter of history.

I am confident that with God’s divine providence, we will successfully navigate through these uncharted waters. But our story will be more colourful and richer as we take this time to study our past and embrace our future. So as we embark on Celebrate Cayman, I encourage each of you whether you have been here for eight generations or eight months, to join in this incredible national initiative and to be a part of history.

Thank you and God bless you, and may God continue to bless and prosper the Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Islands Government Office in the UK (CIGO) is situated on Dover Street, in the heart of Mayfair, London.

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