Super centenarian James Sisnett, being greeted by well wishers at his 111th birthday celebrations.
New technological innovations have granted Barbadians the opportunity to revisit memorable moments in their history. Through television programmes, history books and a wide range of websites, information on major events such as World War II, the 1937 riots and the introduction of the first car into Barbados, are practically at our fingertips.
However, such moments are, for super centenarian, James Sisnett, not just history, but precious memories and lifelong experiences.
This spritely senior citizen remembers a time when "coloured" people faced many hardships, while they now live in an era of comfort and luxury. He recalls a time when the only available water was that which dripped from the rooftop after a downpour or from the pond at Drax Hall, which was shared by people and livestock alike. Mr. Sisnett also reminisces about visits to the dentist before anaesthetic existed, and rum was used instead to "deaden" the affected area. During these times he maintains, ???things were hard".
Born February 22, 1900, James Emmanuel Sisnett, BCH, was the fifth child of James Albert Egerton Sisnett and Matilda Ann Sisnett. He grew up in Drax Hall, St. George and attended the St. Luke’s Boys’ School under the leadership of School Master, Abraham Jones.
After leaving school, Mr. Sisnett trained as a blacksmith at the Newcastle factory and the Barbados Foundry. He officially started his career in that field at the Haynesfield Factory, but eventually returned to the Barbados Foundry. In 1920, he gained employment at the Kendal Sugar Factory, and after filling various positions there, he retired as chief factory engineer in 1970.
Of a short and slender build, Mr. Sisnett has memories of working very hard in the factory, despite the fact that "the money was very small".
"I worked at Kendall from 1920…at that time they used to pay you what they like and when they liked. When I first went to Kendall I got two shillings a day, and I worked like that for a long time before I get an increase. I went in there as a factory blacksmith and then I used to do all kinds of things. I do a little plumbing and I shoe horse and mule," he recalled.
Despite the magnitude of tasks which he did at the factory, Mr. Sisnett’s work day consistently began each morning at approximately 3 o’clock so that he could attend to his stocks.?? In addition to his commitment to the sugar industry, this sharp and determined senior, was a very prominent farmer; a trade which he plied until very recently. He was renowned for growing such crops as carrots, cabbage, potatoes, corn and cane.
"I like to work land. The agriculture people liked me. They say I was the oldest gardener that they had. Up to when I was 100 years old I still used to go in the land and plant things to sell," asserted Mr. Sisnett, who was honoured in 2000 by the Ministry of Agriculture for being Barbados’ oldest farmer.
Mr. Sisnett has attributed all of his hard work to the need to provide for his family. He was first married to Anita Dowling, a friend from his school days, on December 23, 1923. The centenarian joked that they liked each other "from a distance" because the parents of that day were very strict and would not allow boys and girls to talk without supervision. The two childhood sweethearts produced five children, before Anita’s death in 1937. Mr. Sisnett’s second marriage to Josephine Evelyn, on May 23, 1942, resulted in the birth of six children.
To date, this proud family man boasts 25 grand and 16 great grand children, whom he has advised, just as any other young persons in Barbados, to get involved in agriculture.
"I would encourage [young people] to raise stocks or work the land. If you want anything, you [could] sell a cow and make up the money to buy a piece of land or a house. You raise chickens and sell them," the avid farmer instructed.
James Emmanuel Sisnett celebrated his 111th birthday today.?? He holds the title of the oldest man in Barbados and in the Caribbean.??