St. John Virgin Islands: Lobster Hunt

In 1933, Desmond and Bet Holdridge left their life in New York and came to St. John. The island population was then somewhat over 700 people and with the addition of the Holdridges St. John’s white population increased from five to seven.

Desmond and Bet were married at the fort on the first night of their arrival and spent about two years on the island, before leaving because the island was getting too crowded. Desmond later wrote the book, Escape to the Tropics, published in 1937, which included descriptions of the couple’s experiences on St. John, he wrote:

“Several new roads were being cut up the hillsides and Agnes (Sewer) told us that Paul (Boulon) was beginning to erect a few cottages (at Trunk Bay) to rent to winter visitors; we knew he had the plan in mind but, at last, he was putting it into action…. Tourists were coming. Nice tourists, probably… but to our way of thinking, even five more white people on the north shore would destroy that splendid something that had made St. John a paradise and given us the two happiest years of our lives. … for us it was ruined.”

Following is an account of a lobster hunt from the same book:

When we left New York, we were told we would go soft in the tropics…but two months after landing at Cruz Bay, we were healthier, harder, and infinitely more serene people than we had ever been before.

There was nothing softening about a lobster hunt on the reefs. Landlord Davis, on one of his visits, put us up to it and then retired with a book and a bottle of rum while we, with the Sewer boys, piled in a row boat and made for the shallows on the other side of the bay. A brilliant moon shone down on a gently heaving sea, and we could see the rollers breaking white over the reefs where the lobsters came. A full moon makes a fairyland anywhere, but in the trade winds the effect seems more marked, and we agreed that, even if we got no lobster, it would be worthwhile.

Drawing the boat out on the nearest beach, we gathered at the beginning of the reef, and commenced an activity sufficiently picturesque to make any artist catch his breath and sufficiently sporting to warm the heart of anyone who like to see the hunted creature get a little better than an even break. We spread out fanwise, carrying lanterns and flashlights, and waded into the warm, shallow water that covered the jagged coral of the reef. The coral was brown with sea growths and the lobsters, consequently, very hard to see. In addition, the reef was honeycombed with sea eggs, round black affairs from whose cores extend long, black spines that are very sharp and armed with microscopic barbs whose removal from an injured foot is a hospital job. I am afraid that Bet and I paid far more attention to the sea eggs than we did to the possible lobsters but, when the boys started one, the six of us plunged after it in a splashing, headlong pursuit that lasted several minutes. The lobster took refuge in its color protection again, but one of the boys immediately put a forked stick over its back and held it until another one, with what seemed incredible courage to us, seized the lobster in his hands, and bore it ashore in triumph. From tip to tip, the grotesque creature was nearly three feet long and, to add to our awe, one of the boys announced that he was small.

After another hour of stumbling about among the sea eggs and sharp coral, we cornered one more, and returned home soaking wet, with our canvas shoes torn to rags, but satisfied that we had found still another way to make the island take the place of a canning factory in a town we had never seen.”

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2 thoughts on “St. John Virgin Islands: Lobster Hunt”

  1. Wonderful to read the 72-year old reflections of Desmond and Bet. One of their thoughts was particularly intriguing and ironic: “to our way of thinking, even five more white people on the north shore would destroy that splendid something that had made St. John a paradise and given us the two happiest years of our lives. … for us it was ruined.” Imagine what they’d say now! But I must say that I’ve been gratified by the number of lifelong St. Johnians who have been so gracious not to view every visitor as a ‘destroyer.’ During my dozens of visits to beloved St. John over the past 50 years, I’ve tried not to be an “ugly American” — knowing full well that St. John has seen more than her fair share! (One correction in the article: The couple’s last name is Holdridge, not Holdbridge. I discovered this detail because I was so intrigued by the excerpt here that I went to find an old copy online (successfully[!], at abebooks.com). THANK YOU for the wonderfully heart-full and soul-full articles which appear regularly on your website. – Sally

  2. I think the Holdridges feelings about the arrival of more continentals is a common theme for expats on St. John even today, a nostalgia for the “good old days”. But all and all, the changes of the last seventy years or so has been a mixed bag, some good, some not so good. Also, thanks for the spelling “heads up.” The beauty of web publishing as opposed to print is that you can more easily fix your mistakes. I guess I’ll go and click “edit.”

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