1905 - 2000
The Challenger lineage goes back to the days of slavery and is rooted in the soil of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Clement Challenger of Nevis was a free coloured who was employed to fatten slaves for the market. After the African Slave Trade was abolished in 1808, the plantations had to rely on locally produced slaves for labour. In many of the Caribbean Islands, an entrepreneurship developed in the local culture of human beings who were bred, fed and matured for the auction block.
Clement Challenger did well at this enterprise for he was able to acquire eleven acres of land in Nevis and set up himself as a merchant. However, when a growing conflict with his brothers threatened to put him out of business, he sold his land and came to St. Kitts to make a fresh start. He went to Old Road where he established a. grocery and met Hester Osborne who became his housekeeper.
Hester was the daughter of Lucretia, a very pretty black woman who was the house-slave of Mrs Osborne. Mrs Osborne's brother, a lawyer was Nester's father.
Hester Osborne bore four children for Clement Challenger who bequeathed his property to the children. One of these children, John Challenger, continued in his father's business and by 1836 has accumulated enough money to buy 79 acres of land at the Hole.
John Challenger's son, John Oscar, inherited this land from his father and moved to Basseterre where he acquired property on Central Central Street as well as on the corner of Princess and Church Streets. He called his business place "International House" and traded in household hardware and builders tools.
He married Antiguan Louisa Wynter, a close relative of Mr Thomas Manchester. Together they had six sons of whom Percy was the oldest and Edgar the youngest. John Oscar Challenger died in 1916 and, having bequeathed his land and business to his sons, left the eleven year old Edgar in the care of his widow. After the death of Edgar Challenger's father, his mother, Mrs Louisa Wynter Challenger who was very light in complexion, leaned heavily towards the white aristocracy and tried to get her sons to appreciate that between them, and the poorer Kittitians of darker colour, there was a barrier that should not be breached.
Mrs Challenger sent Edgar to the infant school of Miss Malvena Amory, a white woman who tutored a small group of children of well-todo parents, and then to Miss Connie Wattley, who ran a primary school for the same purpose.
When he was twelve, Edgar was sent to the St. Kitts-Nevis Grammar School - which was the male counterpart of the school run by Connie Wattley's sister, Miss Eliza Wattley. At this school, staffed mainly by expatriate teachers, the sons of rich
families received a secondary education.
Edgar Challenger did not stay long at the Grammar School. In his second year, a Barbadian Master, Mr Jordan, ordered him to read Latin from the blackboard.
Suffering from near-sightedness, he was unable to do so properly and, when his fellow students laughed at his effort, the angry master thought that young Challenger was trying to turn his class into a fete and administered six strokes with the cane.
For Edgar Challenger these were decisive blows. He refused to go back to Grammar School and had to be sent away to boarding school at Lodge in Barbados.
Challenger liked Lodge School and thrived there. Apart from distancing himself from his mother and elder brother, it brought him into contact with other boys from the various Caribbean Islands, and it helped him to develop his self-assurance. He also did well at his lessons, passing the Cambridge School Certificate Examination, excelling in Mathematics and Science. It was while he was at Lodge that his eldest brother Percy, sold the 79 acres of land which was their inheritance and used the money to go 'to Canada to study. His attempt at studies failed however, and he returned to St. Kitts, stayed for a while supporting himself from the family's business until be journeyed to Trinidad.
There he died one morning, as he was about to board a bus to go to work. Thomas Manchester, who was Mrs Challenger's first cousin, was attrated to Edgar Challenger for more than family reasons. He was imressed by Challenger's knowledge of African History, of stories that was always ready to share about the African women of Peter's and Basseterre who, in refusing to bear mulatto children for French masters, concocted a contraceptive from ochroes.
Manchester was also impressed by Challenger's enthusiasm for land reform and his advocacy of the creation of an agricultural peasantry. There may have been another attraction. Challenger's apparent disdain for materialism must have touched a kindred note in Manchester, who having himself risked his wealth and property to fight in the cause which called him, felt an admiration for the younger Edgar Challenger who seemed to care little that his family and fortune was turning to ashes. Whatever the attraction, Manchester persuaded Challenger to join the Worker's League, orchestrated his rise to vice-president, got him elected to the Legislative Council in 1937, in the first election since 1868, and then in 1939 helped to make him first President of the Trades and Labour Union.
Manchester was no doubt correct in his assessment of the character of Challenger, but he overlooked one important factor. Whatever may have been his other attributes; Edgar Challenger lacked the tact and charisma of Thomas Manchester, and experienced great difficulty in dealing with some of the members on the Trade Union Executive.
He could not understand their militancy, he was puzzled by it and suspicious of it. He believed in the proposition that the only true reformers were those who had crossed over from the aristocracy, who delivered from temptation by their own possessions. And he harboured a measure of indifference which sometimes bordered on scorn towards some members of the Trade Union Executive. For his part, Challengers regarded the Union as the worker's bargaining body whose strength lay in their unity. At the same time he thought that as a bargaining body the union ought to act responsibly and, in view of the war which was being fought in Europe, persuaded the executive to pass a no strike resolution.
In 1943, therefore, when the union decided to rescind the n-strike resolution, Edgar Challenger took it as a personal affront and became so angry and embarrassed that he resigned, not only as President of the Union but from the Library Board and from the Legislative Council.