British-Seychellois historian passes away: Remembering Bill McAteer
McAteer on a visit of Fond Ferdinand on Seychelles' Praslin island in 2010. (Ian McAteer)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles is mourning the passing of one of its adopted sons; the author and historian William 'Bill' McAteer. The British - Seychellois is remembered for his extensive work on the history of the archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, from its discovery in 1742 to the election of a first opposition president, in October 2020.
Bill, who was 95 years old, had not been well since an operation in June 2020 and passed away in a care home on Mahe on November 30, coincidently St Andrew's Day, the patron saint of Scotland, where he was born. His funeral was held on Monday, December 12, at the Anglican St. Paul's Cathedral in the capital Victoria.
The author is survived by his children Ian, Jean, Brigitte as well as by eight grandchildren.
|McAteer and his three children. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
In a message to the McAteer family, the President of Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan, said the country was deeply saddened by this great loss, adding "our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Mr. McAteer."
"His literary contributions and love for Seychelles will remain engraved in our hearts and minds. Mr. McAteer leaves behind a timeless legacy of historical literature for our youths and future generations,' said the head of state. Ramkalawan added: "We wish his family courage and peace during this time of mourning."
In an email to SNA, Ian McAteer, Bill's son said that his father is the only person to have researched and published the entire history of the Seychelles from discovery to independence from original source material.
"His five books are the result of meticulous research of almost 40 years, travelling across the world. He dedicated his life in retirement to researching, writing and publishing a detailed and comprehensive history of the Seychelles islands. He has thus provided a permanent legacy for the nation," explained Ian, adding that "This is a unique work, nothing else comparable exists. His history of the Indian Ocean islands spans the period from discovery to independence."
According to Ian, his father "leaves a legacy which provides the definitive and authoritative story of the Seychelles, a former British colony."
|His book launched in May covers the history of Seychelles from its independence In June 1976 to 2020. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
As an author and during his career spanning 30 years, Bill produced five books: Rivals in Eden (1742-1810), Hard Times in Paradise (1827-1919), To be a Nation (1920-1976), Another Story (1976-2020) and Echoes of Eden, a collection of historical essays on Seychelles.
His last book, Another Story, was launched in May this year and covered the island nation as an independent state including the coup d'état of 1977 that introduced one-party rule by President France Albert Rene, a coup attempt led by British mercenary Mike Hoare, the return of multi-party democracy in the early 1990s and all the subsequent historical events leading up to the present day when for the first time an opposition party leader was elected as president in 2020.
The book was launched at State House, where the author presented a signed copy to President Ramkalawan, who said that there was no one other than Bill McAteer who could have completed this chapter of the history of Seychelles.
"I'm sure every Seychellois will go after this book and it is so important because some of our young people do not really know the history of Seychelles. Here you are, the modern history of Seychelles," said the President.
The research for his books took him to La Reunion, Mauritius, Paris, London -- the British Library, Kew Gardens, Somerset House -- the Boston Whaling Museum, the National Archives in Seychelles, and many other places in between.
According to Ian, his father started writing and publishing in 1980, inspired by his Seychellois wife, Juliette, and the fact that up until then no proper history had been recorded.
"When we first came to Seychelles after the airport was opened, he realised that no one had written the history of Seychelles and he decided then that he was going to write the history of Seychelles," explained Ian.
|McAteer at 90 years old returned to the Glasgow Herald newspaper where he started working at 17 years old. (Ian McAteer) Photo License: All Rights Reserved|
Bill was born and raised in Glasgow, coming from a family of modest means. He was conscripted for military service at the end of WW2. He joined the Highland Light Infantry and served as a 2nd Lieutenant for three years, mostly in Northern Greece. He then studied at Glasgow University and thereafter joined the Glasgow Herald newspaper as a journalist. In 1955 he left Scotland for Kenya, joining the East African Standard in Nairobi. The same year, he visited Seychelles for the first time, on holiday.
In 1958 he married Juliette Mellon, a Seychellois, in Nairobi, Kenya. He then spent 25 years working in newspapers throughout East Africa; he was Editor of the Mombasa Times and the Uganda Argus. In 1972, working with the support of the British Overseas Aid scheme, he set up the first School of Journalism in central Africa, at the University of Nairobi, serving as the Deputy and Acting Director. From 1980, he worked in the UK and Qatar at various newspapers before retiring in Seychelles in 1994.
In January this year, he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the late Queen Elizabeth II in the UK's New Year's Honours. The award is in recognition of his work in researching and documenting the history of Seychelles from discovery to independence, from original source material.
Bill is also remembered for having introduced the islands to fellow compatriots such as artists Michael and Heather Adams and Brendan Grimshaw, who made Seychelles their home. The latter went on to buy an island - Moyenne, currently a nature reserve.