According to a 1746 plan of the part of St. Lucia, later known as Le Carenage and Port Castries, the Government buildings ("Government") were situated at Vigie, in the neighborhood (if not on the very spot) of the big house now belonging to Mr. J. Q. Charles. At that time, the French had their "capital" at Vigie. The little town ran from the spot in question across to Choc Bay, end spread out eastwards along that bay.
According to Breen, between 1768 and 1771, the principal French fort which "had been erected on the Peninsula of the Vigie, was removed to Morne Fortune and the town which had been commenced at Little Carenage bay, on the right of the harbour, was transferred to its present more advantageous locality." That means, of course, that the Government buildings were transferred to the south side of Castries Harbour. However, it cannot be supposed that they were re-situated on the site of the present Castries Town. In those days of war and strife, the obvious place for a government Headquarters would have been some place in the vicinity of the main fort. "Le Gouvernment", then, as the French called these buildings, was lodged on Morne Fortune.
This is borne out by the Memoire that the Chevalier de Micoud wrote to excuse himself for capitulating to the English in 1778 - 1779, when he was governing St. Lucia. He speaks of transferring his troops, together with four field guns, "to the top of Morne Fortune, behind the garden of Government's House, which has its back against the road to retreat."
The earliest reference to a Governor's house seems to be in 1778 when the residence was identified as the most easterly of three main Morne Fortune buildings. In 1796,however, reference is made to the Governor's house as being well to the west of Fort Charlotte, indicating a change in the building occupied by the then Governor. Sometime after the terrible hurricane of 1780 Government House was apparently moved to Morne Bellevue or Morne Pavilion. Government House became known as the Pavilion. It is not clear whether this is the exact location of the present Government House.
It appears that by about 1816 the building had fallen into disrepair and that Governor Seymour commissioned a new residence on the Morne. From a Dispatch of 31st December 1816, there would also appear to have been some uncertainty regarding his right to occupy the then Government House until it was confirmed that he had been given Command of the Troops by the Crown.
Subsequently, in a Dispatch of 2nd March, 1817 Governor Seymour informed Lord Bathhurst that the "colony has purchased a small tract of land nearly halfway between Morne Fortune and Castries and they are building a house for me as Governor.'' Ironically Governor Seymour did not live to see the house completed. He died on October 21st, 1817 during a dreadful hurricane that ravaged St. Lucia. Government House was blown down and the Governor, Major General Seymour, was buried in its ruins, together with many others. He died three days later from a spinal injury (Dispatch of 24th October 1817. written by one Capt. Winkler).
According to Capt. Winkler who as senior military officer assumed command until the arrival of Col. O'Hara on November 18th 1817, the island had lost a Governor who 'invariably studied to compile its interests with that of His Majesty's'. He also noted that Governor Seymour had left a widow and nine children without the means of a comfortable livelihood.
The new Government House was apparently rebuilt on the same spot by 1819. It was of timber construction, measured 80 by 62 feet and was situated on a plateau 450 feet above sea level. It had a drawing room, dining room, five bedrooms, a pantry, a gallery and two porticos.
Breen (p. 19 .1844) described it as a "spacious wooden structure… tastefully laid out …fitted up in a style of elegance worthy of the representative of the sovereign "and situated "at the western extremity of Morne Fortune." Breen also noted that "the situation occupied by the Pavilion or Government House, on the crest of Morne Fortune, has been regarded as very unhealthy . . . during a period of little more than four years, from November 1829 to January 1834, no less than four Governors died at the Pavilion.' This is borne out by several Dispatches. One such dispatch was written by Gov Darling on Feb 11th 1852 wherein he lamented that while clearing the bush and gully round the house at his own expense "no less than 15 venomous serpents were found and destroyed. In a dispatch written by a Colonel Sir A. Mackworth (Royal Engineer) as late as 30th December 1890, he refers to the reputed unhealthiness of the site due to "the filth from the town below… deposited at the curve of the fore shore at the base of the hill upon which the old Pavilion stands."
It was there, no doubt, that the parsimonious Governor from Scotland, Major General Farquharson, played his practical joke on the Bishop who paid him a visit in 1832. Not feeling disposed to entertain His Lordship for several days, the Governor told him, after dinner, that every room in the house had already witnessed the death of a Governor. However, he added in jest that no room had yet had the honour of killing a Bishop. "So, My Lord," he went on, "you have only to make your selection; I leave you to the embarras u choix," Thereupon, says Breen, the good Bishop immediately ordered his horse and rode down to town. Ironically, Governor Farquharson himself soon fell prey to the houses reputation , dying there on January 23rd, 1834.
Thereafter, the Pavilion seems to have been allowed to fall into disrepair and by about 1865 Governor Grant took the decision to move Government House to the old military barracks on the Morne, which the British military had just vacated. In the interim, Government would appear to have disposed of the Pavilion, presumably selling it into private owner ship.
In August 1885 Government House was connected by telephone to the re- established Military headquarters on the Morne and to the Harbour Masters Office in Castries. Government House was then a stones throw away from the Military Cemetery on the Morne. With the return of British soldiers in 1888 the Administrator and all other occupants were required to vacate the building serving as Government House. In1891, the Administrator seems to have been obliged to rent as building called 'the Crotons' on Morne Abercrombie Ridge as a temporary Government House 'pending construction of a new government House' (Dispatch of 16th June 1891). In order to facilitate construction, a new road consisting of approximately 5000 ft. from Castries to the proposed Government House was completed in 1892.
The Crotons would appear to have been home to successive Governors till 1895 (Blue Books of 1892, 1893 and 1894) when Governor Skipton Gouldsbury reported that though the new Government House was not quite finished it was so far advanced in November that it was habitable enough for him to move in (Blue Book 1895 p14).
The decision to construct the present Government House on the old Pavilion site was not the fait accompli it might appear to be. The flurry of communiqués between local Administrators and the Governor in Grenada regarding this decision, reveal the effort that was put into making it. Several other sites were considered including Coubauril Estates, Entrepot and Rose Hill. Ultimately none of these sites were considered to be suitable.
The old Pavilion site was chosen as the more economical site given that the foundations of the former Government House still remained. It was also felt to be desirable that the Governor live as near as possible to the garrison located on the Morne. While some reservations were expressed as to the reputed unhealthiness of the site, Col. A. Mackworth, Royal Engineer, laid these fears to rest. Rather than blaming the site per se he attributed the blame for the recurrent illness at the old Pavilion to the poor building "which did not comply with the requirements in any ordinary dwelling house.
In 1893 tenders were invited for the construction of the basement walls and the cartage of the material for the new Government House. Only one tender was received for the construction of the basement, but as this was more than six hundred pounds over the amount estimated by the Public Works, it was decided that the building was to be a Public work only. The task was given to Mr. C. Messervy the then Colonial Engineer. Actual construction began on 15th October 1894.
The construction of Government House did not proceed without some controversy. The project seems to have suffered from serious cost overruns to the tune of 1,200 pounds over the amount voted viz 7, 600 pounds for purchase of the site and erection of the building. (Dispatch from the Administrator 6th June 1895). Though Mr. Messervy bore the brunt of the blame, it would appear that as the Director of Public Works for the entire Windward Islands, he had far more responsibility than any one man could have been expected to handle competently (The Voice of St. Lucia 2nd May 1945). The lack of zeal with which local workmen (often left unsupervised) undertook the project was also blamed for cost overruns
Also of note was the reaction of the Legislative Assembly to the construction of the building. Complaints of the scandalous waste of money were reported in The Voice of Thursday 2nd January 1896. The House was dubbed a 'a piece of costly extravagance, out of proportion with our means …and without any reference to the advantage of the public.'
Particular outrage was expressed over the Governors request for an additional 600 pounds to furnish the new Building. The Governor was accused in most scathing terms of being content to deprive 'the poor man of his tobacco merely to acquire new upholstery for one man who is paid 1000 pounds a year for leaving all his work for his superior to do.' The article went on to say that the '45,000 people of the colony who were not included in the select invitation list of Government House should not should not be oppressed that the Administrator may make a brave show to the upper five dozen or to strangers whose entertainment can bring pleasure or profit to his Honour only.' Ultimately, only 300 pounds was grudgingly voted to refurbish Government House.
There also seems to have been contention within the Legislature regarding the use of the Pavilion road leading to the house. Objection was raised to the public being barred from using the road without special permission. This vexing issue seems to have been resolved via the following Proclamation:
"Whereas the Legislative Council of St. Lucia on the 28th and 29th December 1898 by resolution to the effect consented that the Governor should declare by Proclamation in the Gazette that after the 9th January, 1899, the road known as the "Pavilion Road" in the First District of the island and commencing at the Morne Road at the angle adjacent to the second Shelter House or Picket from Castries and traversing the properties of Heirs Mallet-Paret and Joseph Girard and the Pavilion Lands and terminating at the Tapion Road, is to be a public highway."
In spite of the furor that accompanied its construction, St. Lucia's present Government House was finally completed in November 1895 at a total cost of £8,800. The building that replaced the old Pavilion is situated on a terrace in the foreground of the western end of Morne Fortune. It is about one mile from Castries, at an altitude of 437 feet. Mr. G. Messervy also designed the building.
The present Government House has been honoured by several royal visits. On September 25th, 1920, the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor) planted a Norfolk Island Pine (Araucelia Excelsa) in its grounds. More important still, on February 16th, 1966, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II held an investiture there and, accompanied by H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh attended the Reception that followed. On the night of March 1st, 1967, a new era for Government House was ushered in, when the Island's first native Governor under Associated Statehood, H.E. Frederick James Clarke, held a reception for a vast throng of guests. Yet another era was ushered in 1997 when Dame Pearlette Calliopa Louisy, the first ever female Governor General was selected as the Crown's representative.