Twenty Years of Achievement

This timeline highlights the TCI National Museum’s accomplishments.
By Dr. Donald H. Keith, Chairman, TCI National Museum

Let’s take a look at what the Museum’s Finders, Binders, and Minders have been up to for the last 20 years and what they have accomplished. Here is a sampling of a few of their more noteworthy achievements.

1980–1989 Molasses Reef Wreck archaeological project produces thousands of artifacts. Return of the collection to the TCI following conservation and analysis provides the impetus for creation of the TCNM.

Grethe Seim is the Turks & Caicos National Museum's founder.

1990 Grethe Seim creates the TCNM with the help of Governor and Mrs. Bradley. Its mission statement: “The Turks & Caicos National Museum is a not for profit organization aimed at recording, interpreting, preserving and celebrating the history of the Turks & Caicos Islands and its people.” Guinep House Lodge is purchased and remodeled to become TCNM.
1991 A Ships of Discovery team creates and installs the exhibits.
1991 Museum opens to the public on November 23.

1992 Sherlin Williams leads a Museum team in conducting a survey of all windmills on Grand Turk. Ships of Discovery technician Juan Rodriguez builds a fully- functional scale model of the last standing windmill.
1992 Museum Manager Brian Riggs oversees conversion of the lot north of the Museum into the “National Arboretum” after the historic Bascombe House burns to the ground.

1993 Prince Philip tours the Museum during a visit to the Turks & Caicos Islands.

1996 Capt. Bob Gascoine finds a Lucayan Paddle underwater on Grand Turk. Following conservation treatment is becomes the centerpiece of the new Lucayan Gallery.

Turks & Caicos National Museum team members document Grand Turk's windmills.

1997 Barry Dressel, the Museum’s first Director, presides over the opening of the Science Building, providing the Museum with badly needed work and storage space.

1997 Editor Kathy Borsuk accepts the Museum’s invitation to publish its newsletter, the Astrolabe in each quarterly issue of Times of the Islands.

1998 Ted Philippona donates his collection of photographs of the TCI taken in the early 1960s. Other photo collections are also donated.

1999 A Ships of Discovery team moulds many of the inscriptions on Sapodilla Hill. Sherlin Williams assists in making casts of the moulds now on display in the Providenciales International Airport.

2000 Founder Grethe Seim establishes a small endowment for the Museum before her untimely passing.

2000 A Ships of Discovery team surveys and maps the Cheshire Hall ruins.

2001 Nigel Sadler, the Museum’s second Director, presides over the creation of the Lucayan Gallery and publishes three booklets on sale in the Museum.

2003 Smithsonian Institution lends artifacts in their collection originally found in the TCI to the Museum for exhibit. A Lucayan duho stolen from the Victoria Library decades ago is returned.

This Ted Philippona photo shows the last of TCI's salt rakers at work.

2003 Tanya Streeter, world renowned international free diver, visits TCNM after breaking two world records on Providenciales and donates a range of items from these dives.

2004–8 A Ships of Discovery team locates and test- excavates remains of the Spanish slave ship Trouvadore.

2005 The TCNM Children’s Club is created.

2006 Grand Turk Cruise Ship Center opens. Visitation to the Museum increases exponentially.

2008 Trustee Donna Seim publishes Where Is Simon, Sandy? All proceeds go to the Children’s Club.

2008 A Ships of Discovery team identifies remains of the US Navy warship Chippewa on Provo’s Northwest Reef.

2008 Neal Hitch, the Museum’s third Director, is thankful that damage to the Museum is minor with no loss of collections following the devastation of Grand Turk by Hurricane Ike.

TCI museum team members excavate a small building on Ft. George Cay.

2009 A Ships of Discovery team surveys Ft. George Cay, revealing that the site is much larger than previously thought.

2010–11 Contract archivist Melanie Clifton-Harvey identifies, catalogs, and evaluates archival assets in the TCI under a grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Program.
2010–11 Pat Saxton, the Museum’s fourth Director, secures funding to transform the National Arboretum into a Botanical and Cultural Garden that is now a tour destination.
2011 Funding is also secured to create a walking and driving bird trail on Grand Turk, in cooperation with the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum.

2011 Museum Manager Jackie Garbarino revitalizes the shop and oversees the knowledgeable staff and volunteers as record numbers of cruise ship tourists visit the Museum.

3D view of the planned new National Museum on Provo.

2011 Museum purchases property in the Village at Grace Bay on Provo and begins capital program to build a second museum.

For the greater good
Collecting, preserving, and disseminating: everything the Museum does is for the Greater Good. In other countries the National Museum is normally supported by the government. But this is not the case in the Turks & Caicos. The National Museum is supported primarily by donations and grants from foundations and individuals.

Our Museum’s greatest benefactor is the Founder, Mrs. Grethe Seim, who created the Museum’s Deed of Trust, purchased the Guinep House, renovated it, and filled it with exhibits. Realizing that any competent museum needs laboratory, office, shop, storage and meeting room space, she also constructed the Science Building just behind the Guinep House exhibits facility. The National Museum is her gift to the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Until this year, the National Museum has existed only on Grand Turk. But thanks to a grant from the Krieble Foundation it now has property in the Village at Grace Bay on Providenciales where it plans to establish a second venue.

Looking ahead
So much for the past, what about the future? Where is the Museum headed? The Museum’s greatest challenges for the next few years will be to keep up with the dramatic increase in visitation from the Cruise Ship Center on Grand Turk and to create a new campus on Provo. This provides us not only with an opportunity to unveil new exhibits specific to the history of the Caicos Islands, but also to update old exhibits and create new ones on Grand Turk.

Because the Molasses Reef ship, the earliest shipwreck found in the Americas, wrecked on the Caicos Bank, we want to move its exhibit to Provo and replace it on Grand Turk with an equally exciting one about HMS Endymion, a 44-gun warship that wrecked on the Turks Islands Bank south of Salt Cay in 1790. Grand Turk will also get a brand new exhibit on the History of Diving in the TCI, starting with the exploits of early helmet diver Jeremiah Daniel Murphy, who lived and worked there for almost 50 years. To fill out the story, we can add Tanya Streeter, who set a free-diving world record off Provo, and another extraordinary marine philosopher and record-holder, Jacques Mayol, who had a home on South Caicos for many years.

Being one of the oldest buildings on Grand Turk, the Guinep House is the perfect place for exhibits depicting life in the 19th century, during which the salt industry peaked and then slowly but steadily declined, the victim of changing times and technology. In addition to converting one of the rooms into “Jeremiah Murphy’s Dive Locker” and another into a re-creation of the Colonial Administrator’s office, complete with furniture, clothing, documents, maps, letters, tea set and Sword of Service, we plan to showcase the original kitchen and install plaques in each room explaining their original use.

The Museum on Provo will feature a major exhibit about the Islands’ original inhabitants, the Lucayan Indians, who settled in the Caicos at least 700 years ago. The Museum has been accumulating Lucayan artifacts excavated in the Caicos Islands for many years. Now, at last, they can be viewed.

Other brand new exhibits planned for the National Museum on Provo includes the brief but hugely important period from about 1790 until 1840, during which the most fertile land in the Caicos Islands was cleared for cultivation by Loyalist refugees displaced after the American War of Independence. They and their slaves planted cotton and sugar cane, built docks, roads, homes and settlements, bringing civilization to the Islands for the first time.

One of the boldest ideas for the Provo Museum will be the “Caicos Heritage House” exhibit. This will be a masonry home typical of the type built in the Caicos Islands throughout the 19th and 20th centuries disassembled, moved to the Museum’s grounds, reassembled, and fitted out with all the normal household appurtenances such as cookware, tableware, gardening tools, etc.

Perhaps the most historically significant exhibit in the Provo Museum will be about the two slave ships, Esperança and Trouvadore, that wrecked on Middle and East Caicos. When Museum researchers stumbled across the story of the slave ships we immediately recognized how important these forgotten events were to the history of the nation and its people. After years of research, the story turned out to be even more enthralling than we imagined. Museum-sponsored expeditions in 2004, 2006, and 2008 combed the area where Trouvadore sank; resulting in the discovery of hull remains and artifacts that we believe are all that is left of the ship.

Of course all of this is just the Museum’s potential. It will take a lot of effort by a lot of people — finders, binders, minders and funders — to make it a reality.

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Jan 26, 2012 1:18

I hope you have plans to bring in a full time research archivist/genealogist to continue the Endangered Archives Project of indentifying, cataloging and preserving historical documents. Also that you will seriously consider opening a genealogy/archives department and offer research services to the public not only in person but on line requests as well. As a genealogist with ancestors from Grand Turk there are many who would like to see the museum offer research and archive services so they can learn more about their ancestors and the great people who made up these wonderful islands of Turks and Caicos Islands. It is important to preserve the archives and historical documents for future generations to come. And for those interested to learn about their past.

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