As we know them today, the Bay Islands are a center of activity and development. Around half the island’s population is supported in some way by the fishing industry and the tourism industry is catching up to these numbers.
Every month, tens of thousands of tourists from around the world visit our towns and beaches. Every week, shipping boats dock, unload their cargo, and leave port. Every day, thousands of children attend the many government, private, and bilingual schools on the three islands. Every Sunday, families get dressed in their best and attend church, in the one of many different denominations with houses of worship on the islands. The healthcare of the people is looked after by the government funded Roatan Hospital and supported by a growing collection of smaller clinics though out the Bay Islands communities.
This generation on the Bay Islands differs dramatically from those that came before it. Before the Bay Islands became what they are today, there were native Islanders and people who settled here from afar who paved the way for progress by making strides in their particular fields in healthcare, industry, church organization, and education.
Over centuries, with different approaches, these Bay Islanders were pioneers of their industries. Some of their names may be familiar and some may not, but their contributions to the islands are forever a part of our history.
The success that the Bay Islands are enjoying today came from hard working and inspiring individuals that founded schools, churches and strengthened their communities. The following are just several examples of the many great contributors to the Bay Islands.
Ms. Elizabeth Gaterau
Elizabeth Gaterau nee Elwin was born in Roatan on February 3, 1840. The eldest of 12 children, Gaterau was married twice. Her first marriage, in 1860, was to Charles Moses Willats, a British sea captain. They had three children: Alice, Uwins and Charlie. The youngest, Charlie, died in infancy about the same time that Charles Willats died, or was lost, at sea, around 1864.
In 1865, she married Frank Gauterau, a French citizen. They soon moved to New York City and together had at least three more children. In the early 1870s, they moved to San Francisco where Elizabeth Gaterau became actively involved in the Seventh Day Adventist religious movement. The couple decided to make a trip to Roatan to see her family and begin a SDA mission.
On December 9, 1885, Gaterau traveled by train from San Francisco to New Orleans, where she boarded a steamer to Belize. On August 6, 1886, Gaterau arrived on Roatan by ship.
Gaterau’s associate, Frank Hutchins built a 50-foot schooner for use of the SDA mission. The Herald sailed though to Guanaja, Utila and throughout the Bay of Honduras to spread the word of their mission. The SDA mission began building schools throughout the islands. Gaterau returned to the United States and remained involved with the Seventh Day Adventist Church until her death in San Francisco in 1894.
Today, the Seventh Day Adventists have more schools in the Bay Islands than any other religious movement. SDA enrolls almost half of the students of the Bay Islands.
A native of Coxen Hole, John Brooks was born May 4, 1887. The second son of Peter and Judy Brooks, Brooks traveled to Tegucigalpa in 1910 with Professor Thomas B. McField of Roatan. Under Professor McField’s guidance, Brooks earned a degree in Public Education and returned to Roatan. In 1913, he married Ella Magnolia Nelson and they had six children. Soon after, Brooks began teaching at the Minerva Public School in Coxen Hole. Now known as the Juan Brooks School, Minerva was the first government school in Coxen Hole.
In addition to teaching, Brooks was the interpreter for the government’s judicial offices and was the first person to serve as secretary to both the Commandant and the Governor’s offices.
Brooks lived and taught in Bonacca, French Harbour, and Coxen Hole, serving as director to each of the community’s state schools. On September 16, 1928, Brooks died suddenly at the age of 41. In 1939, Roatan Mayor Robert Earl Gordon named Coxen Hole’s government school in honor of John Brooks for his significant contribution to public education on the Bay Islands.
Daniel Solabarrieta Aramayo
Daniel Solabarrieta Aramayo was born in Ondarroa, Spain on November 1, 1918. In 1951, he came to Guanaja and opened a small business packing canned pineapples and goggle-eyes, a small herring-like fish. Employing 15-20 people, this initial venture failed over time, mainly due to lack of market.
Solabarrieta didn’t give up and in 1953 convinced an American seafood packing plant to invest money in Guanaja. With his American partners, he opened Alimentos Marinos, Guanaja’s first fish packing plant. Although the plant was a success, a year later the plant was moved to La Mosquitia.
In 1955, Solabarrieta brought two Florida companies, Solomon Seafood and Tringali Seafood, to Guanaja. These two companies operated approximately thirty boats, but never built a packing house or expanded local employment.
Eventually it was Solabarrieta himself who built a packing house called Industria Pesquera Hondureña, Guanaja’s second packing plant. His boat, the San Ignacio de Loyola, was the first Honduran registered vessel to fish for the new company.
Industria Pesquera Hondureña thrived for many years and Solabarrieta brought many more boats to work for the company. In addition, he brought French and Spanish fishermen to teach Islanders the craft of making and using lobster traps.
In 1974, a local bank bought up all the bills from his creditors and foreclosed on the company for 400,000 Lps. At the time of the foreclosure, there was reportedly over 500,000 lempiras in product in the freezers of the plant and the same amount in replacement parts. Many Islanders credit Solabarrieta for developing local participation in the fishing industry for Guanaja, encouraging competition with foreign vessels exporting product out of Honduras.
Captain Myrl Hyde
Captain Myrl Hyde was born in French Harbour, Roatan on May 8th 1909. He began his career with a shipping business in 1934. His small sailing vessel, the Adios, offered cargo and passenger service between Roatan and La Ceiba. In l942, he procured a larger boat, the M.A. Kern, providing freight and passenger service between Roatan, Guanaja and La Ceiba. M.A. Kern operated until 1960.
In 1959, Captain Hyde married Betty Reeves of Guanaja. That same year, Hyde built a larger vessel, Judy, which operated between the Bay Islands and Miami. Judy was the first island vessel to begin the international trade of Bay Islands coconuts. Before returning to Roatan, Hyde would procure factory ‘seconds’, such as appliances and household items which were sold from his warehouse in French Harbour.
Captain Myrl Hyde died in French Harbour on January 2, l981 at the age of 72. At the time of his passing, the business had grown to two container ships, Mr. B and Lady E.
Dr. Policarpo Galindo Ebanks
Dr. Policarpo Galindo Ebanks was born in West End, Roatan on December 25, 1910. When he was 18 years old, Galindo was hired by a hospital in Castilla as a general assistant. For the next 13 years, Galindo worked through all the Honduras’ departments in the hospitals, learning about surgery, dentistry and obstetrics.
In 1941, Galindo married Doña Margarita Sosa and they moved back to Roatan. Many Islanders knew of Galindo’s medical experience and came to visit him and ask for advice. In the next several years, Galindo opened a clinic and drug store in Coxen Hole and was treating a high volume of patients for various ailments.
Even thou he never attended medical school and lacked any formal education, Polo Galindo became known to Islanders as Dr. Galindo. Dr. Galindo traveled by horseback and dory to make house calls at all hours of the day, delivering many children across the island.
In the late 1950s, several people attempted to stop Dr. Galindo from practicing medicine due to his informal education. Islanders demonstrated against this action, protesting on the streets of Coxen Hole with signs showing support for Dr. Galindo.
His hobby was cattle ranching and he found great joy in spending time with his wife and their five children. After 51 years of operating his clinic, in 1993, Dr. Galindo treated his last patient. On February 20, 1995, Dr. Galindo died from prostate Cancer at the age of 85. After his death, a medical clinic in Punta Gorda was named in his honor.
Uwins Elwin immigrated to Roatan (then Ruatan) in the early 1800s from Middlesex, England. He was elected the first president of the Bay Islands’ Legislative Assembly when it was a British colony. In 1853, he was elected Justice of the Peace and Magistrate. As of 1859, Elwin held 884 acres of Roatan land and leased additional acreage from the Crown. His estimated worth was of his properties was $30,000.
In 1860, as England prepared to hand over the Bay Islands to Honduras, Elwin led a protest against the annexation. Elwin was one of the 145 Bay Islanders to write to HMG to express their desire to remain a British Colony.
When it was clear the cessation would proceed despite these petitions, Elwin attempted to form of a provisional government with members of the existing Legislative Assembly and encouraged Bay Islanders to cease paying their taxes. The British Government considered his acts to be treasonous and revoked their land grant offer to Elwin in another colony.
Richard H. Rose
Richard H. Rose (locally known as RH) was born in 1849 and died in 1932. He was born on the island of Barbados and later on in his life went to Providence, Rhode Island, to further pursue his education.
Family records state Richard was both a hardworking and determined man. His first job was as a cabin boy on a ship. His many accomplishments included being a minister in the Methodist church, a captain where he owned three small ships, and a publisher in which he owned a printing press and published a bilingual weekly newspaper.
Rose taught himself to speak Spanish fluently. He was the author of “Utila Past and Present” published in 1904. He later married Adela Bodden and had five children: Clarence Rose, Jimmy Rose, Edward Rose, Walter Rose and Leonore Rose. He later remarried to Clara Howell.
Today, the primary school at the Utila Cays of Utila is named after Richard H. Rose to honor and commemorate the man who accomplished so much. He will live on forever in his book and in the hearts of the people who knew him and the stories that are now told about him.
Many Thanks for all the help, time and Photographs made available to us during the writing of this article.