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The Name Behind a Name

The Frith family of Palm Grove, Grand Turk.

Story and Illustrations By Jeff Dodge

Today, the name Palm Grove designates a neighborhood on Grand Turk that’s just south of Cockburn Town. How many residents of this neighborhood know where the name Palm Grove originated or the history behind the name? 

This postcard (circa 1906) was commercially produced to sell to the public. It appears in the picture that the Friths are hosting an “At Home,” as it was called in the day—a gathering that included friends, relatives, and dignitaries.

Palm Grove was the name that the Benjamin Charles Frith family gave to their stately home on Grand Turk just south of Cockburn Town. It was probably built in the fourth quarter of the 19th century, but exactly when B.C., as he was called, built Palm Grove, seems to be a mystery. 

B.C. Frith was born in 1855 on Grand Turk to Daniel Nichols Frith and Jane Frith Butterfield. Benjamin and his brothers formed Frith Brothers & Company, which at one time was the largest producer of salt on Grand Turk. In addition to salt production, Frith Bros. & Co. were involved in growing and processing sisal on West Caicos, mining guano on Middle Caicos, and operating retail businesses selling all manner of goods on Grand Turk. 

B.C. inherited a coconut palm plantation from his father on the north end of Grand Turk—northwest of North Creek. It’s reported that Edmund Neale Coverley, a shopkeeper and photographer on Grand Turk, managed the plantation for B.C. The postcard on the opposite page is evidence of this—it was produced by Coverley to sell in his store and depicts his son among the coconut palms.

The child in this circa 1909 postcard is Edmund Neale Coverley’s son, Flavius Lytton Coverley.

B.C., or his father, built a house on this property that was known as  “Little Bluff” or “The Summer House.” The house was reported to have been a two story stone structure that was used as a family get-away in the summer—for the breezes and cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, the coconut palms were wiped out by a blight that swept through the Bahamas and West Indies in the early 20th century.

In 1875, B.C. married Frances Elizabeth Streeter who was living in Great Britain at the time. They had 13 children on Grand Turk, however six died before their first birthday. Frances died in 1910.

B.C.’s businesses often took him to New York and it must have been during one of his trips to the U.S. that he met Virginia Sawyer of Owensboro, Kentucky. They were married in 1916 when B.C. was 61 years old and she was 48. B.C. passed away in 1933, leaving Palm Grove to his youngest living son, Geoffrey Hammond Frith. B.C.’s second wife, Virginia, continued living at Palm Grove until her death in late 1944. 

Geoffrey was born on Grand Turk in 1891. He served in the Middle East during WW I as a captain in the British Army. After the war, he was employed on Grand Turk as a civil servant until 1927. His various positions included: Justice of the Peace, Acting Police Inspector, Assistant Customs Collector, Postmaster, Clerk to Commissioner and Secretary to the Board of Education.

Geoffrey married Thelma Izeyl Whitfield Smith in 1921—her father was the commissioner and judge for the Turks & Caicos Islands from 1914 until 1923. Geoffrey and Thelma lived in a house on Duke Street—now the Salt Raker Inn—until 1927. Geoffrey once wrote a letter to his brother Arthur, who was living in Vancouver at the time, saying he preferred living in his house in town to living at Palm Grove.

Thelma had two miscarriages prior to her third pregnancy in 1927. For this reason, Thelma and Geoffrey decided to move from Grand Turk to Barbados hoping for better medical care. Their only son, Terrence R. Frith, was born on Barbados in February the following year.

Geoffrey continued working as a civil servant while on Barbados serving as postmaster. In 1929, the family was sent to the Cayman Islands where Geoffrey served as the commissioner until 1931. Next he was assigned the job of treasurer on Tobago and in 1932, he was transferred to Trinidad to work as the assistant auditor. From 1934 to 1939, he was the treasurer on St. Lucia—while there he also served as acting commissioner for about a year. 

Geoffrey was posted to the Falkland Islands in 1940. He had a stroke after six months and returned to Grand Turk to recuperate. While recuperating, he worked for the Turks & Caicos government. In 1942, Geoffrey and his family moved to St. Vincent where he served as that country’s treasurer.  

The house in the background of this circa 1906 postcard may be Frith’s summer get-away.

Geoffrey and family returned to Grand Turk in 1945 to find that Palm Grove, the family home, was in terrible condition. It had been uninhabited for over six months following the death of Virginia Frith—B.C.’s second wife. A Frith descendant says that the caretaker had stolen most of the furnishings. Geoffrey threatened the caretaker with a lawsuit, but passed away in April 1945 before his lawsuit was adjudicated. Some thought the caretaker had poisoned him, however, descendants insist he died of an aneurysm. Geoffrey left Palm Grove to his only son Terrence.

Thelma and her son Terrence moved from Grand Turk to Barbados in 1946 where she lived until her death in 1984. In 1946 or 1947, Terrence, having no interest in returning to Grand Turk, sold Palm Grove to the Cable & Wireless company. 

Cable & Wireless demolished the house, which was termite infested, in order to build housing for their employees. Palm Grove was said to have been situated on 13 acres of land and was reportedly sold to Cable & Wireless for just £250—however, this figure has not been confirmed. 

Terrence moved to Toronto, Canada in 1947 and by 1952 had joined the Anglican Church Army for evangelical training to become a missionary. The following year he married Nancy Elizabeth Dunseith of Toronto who was also training to be a missionary. By the end of 1953, the church sent both Terrence and Nancy to Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuit hamlet in the Canadian North West Territories. They served in the Diocese of the Arctic for 22 years—their five children were born there.

In 1974, Terrence and Nancy moved to Barbados where he pastored the Pentecostal Church until he retired in 1985. Terrence and Nancy moved to Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada in 2003. He passed away in 2009 in Ladysmith—Nancy died the following year.

Palm Grove’s exact location is yet another mystery. Nobody seems to know for certain where it was located. Two different possibilities are marked below with a red star. However, no evidence that either location is correct has surfaced.

B.C. Frith and his family were proud of their stately home. They had at least three different postcards made from personal photographs of Palm Grove. These postcards were for family use and not sold to the public.

It is a shame that there isn’t a marker or plaque marking where this historic house was located? Perhaps readers of this article will make that happen.

The author wishes to thank Edward Grice, Benjamin C. Frith’s great-grandson, for providing much of the Frith family history for this article.



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