The Mace of The House of Assembly

April 27, 1965 sealed a place in history for the Mace of the Bahamas’s House of Assembly. On that day Lynden Pindling, Leader of the Opposition in that parliamentary chamber, tossed the object from an upper window into the street below in a bid to galvanize supporters to press for electoral change.  But while ‘Black Tuesday,’ as the day was later dubbed, lifted the Mace to its greatest prominence, the Mace had already won for itself a storied, albeit lesser-told, past.

Students of that past have speculated that the current mace of the House of Assembly was purchased from the Commons House of Assembly of the Province of South Carolina. Indeed British Loyalists did appropriate the mace of South Carolina during the American Revolution and did later offer it for sale to the House of Assembly. The prospect of such a transaction is captured in the records of The House of Assembly for Friday, 25th June, 1790. 

Mr. McKenzie moved that John Wells, Esquire, be empowered and authorized to purchase from the person or persons having custody of the silver mace of the late Assembly of the Province of South Carolina and that this House will provide for any sum or expenses incurred by reason of said purchase. 

However the transaction was never consummated.[1] What is more, evidence of an alternative provenance of the House of Assembly’s mace is suggested by an analysis of the object carried out in 1902 when the object travelled to London to be regilded and repaired. By that evaluation, the object was crafted in 1799. Witness a letter dated 23 February, 1903 and addressed by Harcourt G. Malcolm, who in 1914 would become Speaker of the House, to J. S. Churchill,[2] Colonial Secretary of the Bahama Islands:

Last summer when our mace was in London for the purpose of being regilded and repaired, it was inspected at the Assay Office. The officials of that office fixed the date of its manufacture at 1799 . . . . The date given by the Assay Office was also corroborated by Mr. W, H. St. John Hope, of the Society of Antiquaries. 

By 1799 the Province of South Carolina had long since relinquished its colonial identity and had outfitted itself in national garb; and the authorization given in 1790 to purchase a mace that had belonged to the province’s Assembly could not have had in view an object which had not yet been made. And so the mace which drew all gazes in the House of Assembly on April 27, 1965 surely came to the House from another source.

While the journey taken by the Mace from that source to its seat in the House lies partly in shadow, the makers of the Mace stand in full view. From the same letter written by Harcourt Malcolm to the Colonial Secretary we glean information about the manufacture of the Mace.

[T]he records of [the Assay Office] also disclosed the fact that it had been made by Lewis Pantin, a small worker, whose address was 62 St. Martin's le Grand, at present part of the site of the General Post office building

Lewis Pantin I and Lewis Pantin II, goldsmiths and silversmiths based in London, were part of the second and third generations of Huguenots who had fled Rouen in France in the 1600s amid ongoing persecution of the country’s Protestants by the country’s Catholic majority. The arrival in England of the Pantin family along with other highly skilled silversmith Huguenots would forever mark the style and technique of English silver. 

The landmark day in the life of the Mace would leave it lying battered on the street below the House of Assembly. On the second floor of the building, labour leader Randol Fawkes would call for business in the House to halt since the object was needed to fill its ceremonial space in front of the Speaker in order for the business of the chamber to carry on. The Mace started Black Tuesday as the symbol of parliamentary authority. By end of day, separated at globe and crown, broken and disjointed, it would offer a metaphor for the business of the House itself. In tandem with the Mace Incident, Opposition members of the House would launch a boycott of the chamber. The boycott would last for months. A new day in the life of the colony would dawn only after still more months of disturbance and fracture.

[1] Salley, A. S. 1871-1961. (1917). The mace of the House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: printed for The Commission by the State Co..
[2] Presumably J. K. G. T. Spencer-Churchill



Sir Arthur Foulkes, long serving Parliament member and former Governor General, describes how Black Tuesday unfolded both outside and inside The House of Assembly
Source: "From Dat Time": The Oral & Public History Institute Archive ~ Date: April 6, 2016
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The Mace of the House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina.pdfpdf / 365.67 kB Download
The Mace of the House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina.pdfpdf / 365.67 kB Download