September 29, 2020

One of Rev Elmslie’s descendants comes to Cayman Islands for a visit

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Before I tell you all about my meeting with Rozann Lynch (descendant of Rev. James Elmslie) I must tell you about the church that bears the Elmslie name and is situated on Harbour Drive opposite George Town Port on Grand Cayman.  It is one of Cayman’s historical landmarks.

Elmslie Memorial Church was built in the early 1900’s. Prior to the successful construction of Elmslie, three earlier churches stood on the same site. These were the early days of the 18th century. The first being the Anglican Church which was destroyed totally by a massive hurricane in the year 1837. That was the days of wattle and daub walls and thatch roofs.  The Anglicans rebuilt but again that too was destroyed by the 1876 hurricane, and, again determined to have a church on the same site, this time a slightly larger and stronger church of wattle and daub, but with a shingle roof, was rebuilt, but again it was destroyed by  another hurricane in the year 1917. However, they had a pretty good inning and served the community for approximately 40 years.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the congregation decided to yet build a much stronger, almost hurricane-proof building – a building that would express their reverence to God.

The new Church was designed by a Scottish Architect based in Kingston, Jamaica, having been invited, to prepare plans for the new Church building. His name was a Mr. R. Gilles. He designed the Church Building in the shape of a cross. This time though they wanted the Church to be built of cement blocks. But who knew anything about cement blocks, and where would the funds come from? A brilliant suggestion was given to Rev. R. N. Dickson, who was serving as Minister at that point in time, that he would contact Caymanians living in the United States and elsewhere, appealing to them for help to raise the funds needed.

Rev. Dickson was successful in collecting an amount equal to 800 UK Pounds. Then who would make the concrete blocks? No one had ever worked with cement before.

Rozann and Ed

So it was decided to send Captain Rayal Bodden  to Jamaica to the Portland Cement Works to learn how to work with cement and how to make the moulds to make cement blocks.  After all, Captain Rayal was a prolific ship builder and it was suggested that he should build the Church. The architect commented that ‘anyone who can build a ship can build a Church, but not everyone who can build a Church can build a ship.’ Each block was made by hand and this was a long and tedious job.  So Elmslie Memorial was the first structure to be built of cement blocks.  The wood and timber for the roof and window frames I am told came from a particular shipwreck.

On the 1st July1920 the foundation was laid and at the same time it was decided to name the Church Elmslie Memorial in memory of the first Presbyterian Missionary, Rev. James Elmslie, who had ministered on the Island for 12 years, 1846 – 1858. Rev. James Elmslie was a Pastor and friend to all.

On the Elmslie Church website (www.elmsliechurch.org.ky) this is what it says about Rev. Elmslie:

In 1846, the Synod meeting at Goshen in St. Mary decided that someone should go. The Rev. James Elmslie heard of the plight of the Caymanians and at the age of 50 he was sent to the Cayman Islands to establish the Presbyterian Church there. Rev. Elmslie had been at Green Island Church in Jamaica and when no other volunteer was found to set up the Cayman Church he said, “If no one will go, I will go”.

“Rev. Elmslie travelled all over the island of Grand Cayman on horseback, by boat and on foot planting churches, among which was the Church in George Town.”

So with Captain Rayal Bodden as foreman for the building of the Church, he found and employed many local, gifted and talented carpenters. One of the most gifted finish carpenters was Captain Rayal’s brother, Mr. Roland Bodden II. Mr. Roland Bodden was responsible for the much-admired ceiling in Elmslie Memorial Church. Mr. Roland was a ship builder also. The two Bodden brothers worked together tirelessly and by the end of the second year the Church was completed and dedicated in 1922. The ceiling resembles the upturned hull of schooners the two  brothers had  designed and built previously.

The present pews in the Church were built by Mr. Elroy Arch, another of Cayman’s finest shipbuilders. The price of the pews was 5 pounds each and they were built from mahogany, which was imported from Belize. Members of the congregation were asked to pay for them. The pulpit was a gift from Mr. W. M. Cochrane in memory of his brother-in–law, Rev. John Edmond Martin who was a missionary for nine years, The Communion table and the three chairs on the platform are from the Sunday School teachers and students, The Baptismal font is from a member in memory of her daughter and the lectern was a gift of Mr. William Dickson, in memory of his Son Rev. R. N. Dickson

Elmslie Memorial Church has unofficially served as Cayman’s “cathedral” for many years. Remembrance Day is observed each November, with persons placing wreaths around the Memorial Cross in the Churchyard.

In 1965 Elmslie Memorial became a part of the United Church in Jamaica and Grand Cayman bringing the Presbyterians, and Congregational Churches together and then later the Disciples of Christ merged as well.

On the 11th September 1996 the National Trust in the Cayman Islands unveiled a historic plaque making Elmslie Memorial Church a “ Building of Historic Interest”.

So now to my meeting with Rozann Lynch who was visiting the Cayman Islands for the very first time with her husband Edward (Ed).

When it was announced in Elmslie Church on Sunday (3) that a descendant of James Elmslie was here on the Island I just had to find and meet up with her. I knew she was in the congregation but I missed her wave because she didn’t stand up so I made enquiries to find out where she was staying.

Then on Thursday (7) I had a telephone call from Evangeline Rankin telling me that Frand Connolly had informed her that a relative of Rev. Elmslie was staying at Moritt’s Grand Resort in East End. So I decided to call the hotel and left a message. A few hours later Rozann called me back. One day later my husband, Colin, and I did the journey from George Town to East End and joined Rozann and Ed for a delightful lunch.

Both of them are retired, Ed was a Hotel Consultant and Rozann, a school teacher (“I taught the young ones,” she said with a beaming smile). They are Canadians, Rozann from Walkerton and Ed from Toronto.

James Elmslie was Rozann’s Great, Great Uncle and when she heard there was a church in the Cayman Islands named after him she knew she just had to come here one day and visit.  She also wanted to learn more about him, too.

It has taken a long time but both Ed and Rozzan have fallen in love with Grand Cayman and are planning on coming down again next year for a longer stay and bringing “some friends”.

Both Colin and I are looking forward to seeing them again.

Rozann is directly associated with part of our Islands’ history.

 

 

 

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