- John Barbour-James, London 1937
John Barbour-James was born in Berbice, British Guiana (now: Guyana) in June 1867, educated there, and became a clerk in the post office, working as a postmaster in Georgetown by 1888. He became postmaster at Victoria-Belfield, established a black-run self-help group (Victoria Belfield Agricultural Society) which had support from both blacks and whites, and in 1902 relocated to West Africa to a management role in the Gold Coast (now: Ghana) post office. He wrote The Africultural and other Industrial Possibilities of the Gold Coast (published London, 1911) and mixed with colonial officials and the educated elite of West Africa. Unable to transfer his wife Caroline and five children to Africa, they settled at 19 Birkbeck Grove, Acton (west London) around 1904. He joined them on leave and three more children were born (Amy, born 1906 outlived them all – see ‘Amy Barbour-James’ page). He retired in 1917.
Active in black British affairs, supported by a decent pension, living at 84 Goldsmith Avenue, Acton (named The Kaieteur after the waterfalls in Guiana), he seems to have known many visitors and residents of African descent and origin. Active in the African Progress Union, the Association of Coloured Peoples, the African Patriotic Intelligence Bureau, and from 1931 in the League of Coloured Peoples, he worked with Robert Broadhurst and Kwamina Tandoh in African affairs, with Dr John Alcindor in the APU, and in 1924 was a guide at the Gold Coast hall at the British Empire Exhibition. He introduced black associates to colleagues in the Brotherhood Movement including lawyer W. E. S. Callender and the Acton Adult School (he chaired the school), knew titled worthies including Lady Llangattock, Jamaica’s governor Lord Sydney Olivier, and represented Guiana and the West Indies at the Raleigh Tercentenary service at St Margaret’s, Westminster in 1918 – and was with a South African delegation that saw prime minister Lloyd George in late 1919. He accommodated Professor W. Rawson Wooding and headmaster A. A. Thorne both from Guiana in mid-1921. Wooding taught in South Africa.
His wife died in 1917; he remarried the Barbados-born Edith Goring in London in 1920 and they moved in the 1930s to 60 Ivanhoe Drive, Kenton near Harrow. They went to the Caribbean in 1938 where war trapped them. He died in Georgetown in late 1954.
Sometime in the 1920s, probably during the British Empire Exhibition (which reopened in 1925) Barbour-James was involved in recording the singing of three different African language-group choirs – a matter that only emerged in late 2009.
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See ‘Amy Barbour-James’ pages 2 and 5, and also on this site article 16 ‘John Barbour-James’ # 1.