Alexander Bustamante
Alexander Bustamante

The Early Years

Sir Alexander Bustamante was born William Alexander Clarke on February 24, 1884, in the tiny district of Blenheim in the parish of Hanover. His parents were Mary Clarke (nee Wilson) and Robert Constantine Clarke, a bookkeeper (although some say he was a planter) of Irish descent.

Bustamante was the second of five children to his parents. He had a younger brother - Herbert - and three sisters - Iris, Louise and Maud. He also had two older half sisters - Ida and Daisy Clarke - by a previous marriage of his father.

Historians have noted that Bustamante's grandmother - Elsie Clarke-Shearer - was also the grandmother of Bustamante's great contemporary, Norman Washington Manley.

As a youngster, Bustamante attend elementary school in the districts of Cacoon and Dalmalley in Hanover. He grew up and spent his adolescence as a country boy in a rugged, hilly, isolated community. As a teenager, he had his own horse, and naturally, one of his major recreational activities was horse-back riding.

In 1904, he was employed as a store clerk at C.E. Johnson & Company on the north coast, and shortly thereafter, he became a junior overseer at Belmont estate.

He was a restless young man, and in 1905, Bustamante started to travel the world, something he did for the next thirty years. Over time, he moved from place to place - Panama, Cuba, the United States and Jamaica - trying his hand at a variety of occupations including transportation, hospital attendant, security (police) work, beekeeping and dairy farming. In 1910, Bustamante returned to Jamaica from Panama with Mildred Blanck, a widow. He married her in December 1910 and headed back to Panama immediately, then went on to Cuba around 1920. He returned to Jamaica briefly, and also live in the United States for some time, and returned to Jamaica for the final time in 1934.

It is interesting common knowledge that Bustamante sought to shroud his background and upbringing, and substitute legends of his own making to serve his own purposes. For example, he popularized a story that at age five he was adopted by a Spanish sailor named Bustamante (hence his acquisition of the Spanish surname) and was taken to Spain where he was raised for nearly twenty years. The truth is however that Bustamante changed his name by deed poll in 1944, and was born into a family which by virtue of social and occupational status, fell within the plantocracy or planting class - a key component of the ruling strata of Jamaican society at the time.

DID YOU KNOW ... that Sir Alexander Bustamante was the only Jamaican to be declared a national hero while still alive. In 1970 he was declared one of Jamaica's national heroes. He was 93 years old when he died on August 6, 1977.