Captain Monrad Siegfried Metzgen, OBE, JP, VD
National Hero of Belize
Monrad Siegfried Metzgen (1894- 13 May 1956, Belize) was a well known national hero of Belize having been a leading citizen in the Colony of British Honduras.
Early life and education
Captain Monrad Sigfried Metzgen, OBE, JP, VD, was one of the most outstanding sons of British Honduras and his death, which occurred on 14 May 1956, marks the end of a brilliant career.
He was born in Belize (Town) a Belizean Creole of humble parentage in June 1983 and died, suddenly of poisoning, on 14 May 1956. Monrad was the son of Carl Alexander Metzgen, the former Auditor General (1911) of Belize, British Honduras.
Monrad Sigfried Metzgen's mother, Esther Almira Bevans (born on 17 January 1869 in Belize and died in 1944), was the second wife of his father (the first one was Estelle Greene). His father, Carl Alexander Metzgen (born on 24 July 1860 and killed in Petén on 13 March 1930). His grandfather, Charles Alexander Metzgen, was born 1816 in Copenhagen, Denmark the son of Johan Christian Metzgen (1784–1843) a retired Danish naval officer.
In Belize he received his education at St. Mary’s Primary School, and later at Wesley School and the Diocesan High School for Boys (now St. Michael's College) before entering the British Honduras Civil Service as a Temporary Clerk at Her Majesty's Prison on 4 March 1910. Monrad became an erudite person by his own private studies.
Capt. Metzgen entered the Civil Service as a Copyist on 4 March 1910, and ten years later he was appointed Internal Revenue Officer. Subsequently he acted as District Commissioner in Orange Walk, an Auditor and then Director of Colonial Audits. He was made Chief Income Tax Collector in January 1924. He was Treasury Superintendent in 1932 and District Commissioner in Stann Creek in 1935.
Since then and until (and even after) his retirement from the Service as District Commissioner of Stann Creek some years ago, after an accident in the Stann Creek Valley which only a man of his amazing constitution could possibly have survived. A serious, near-fatal accident eventually caused his retirement in 1939. On several occasions he acted as District Commissioner of the Orange Walk District and as Auditor; and it is worthy of mention in the latter connection that he received special commendation from the Director of Colonial Audit for work done during the period 1927-28. He was appointed Treasury Superintendent in September 1932.
He held this position for three years and assumed the Commissionership of the Stann Creek District in September 1935. His administration was a boom to Stann Creek and the inhabitant of that District will long remember his energetic and productive services. Last year he promoted a successful Goodwill Flight, which took him and other leading citizens of Stann Creek to every section of the Colony. That was the forerunner of a mammoth Agricultural Exhibition planned for Stann Creek but unhappily the sad event which befell the Captain precluded the carrying out of his plans.
Captain Metzgen has served the Government of this country in numerous ways and his services have earned him the thanks and commendation of succeeding Governors and other leaders of state.
Completing nearly 30 years of faithful and very valuable services to the Government and people of British Honduras, Capt. Monrad Sigfried Metzgen OBE., District Commissioner of Stann Creek and Acting Superintendent of the Treasury, Belize, spent the last day in the Civil Service with numerous friends and well-wishers throughout the Colony.
As is mentioned, Capt. Metzgen's retirement was hastened by a disaster which occurred in the Stann Creek Valley during the latter part of last year, when he was nearly crushed to death in a collision while in the execution of his duty. He spent a long period in Stann Creek, Belize and Guatemala City Hospital and his suffering was great. Those who were familiar with his case regarded it as a miracle that he was spared but they attributed the saving of his life largely to his amazing constitution and his indomitable courage. Although he regained much of his power to serve his country, his retirement was deemed necessary.
Here are some the posts filled by Captain Metzgen in the Government Service: Acting Asst. Keeper, King's Warehouse; Internal Revenue Officer; Principal Officer, Income Tax; Special Officer of Customs; Acting Colonial Auditor; Acting District Commissioner of the Orange Walk District; Chief Income Tax Collector; Treasury Superintendent. He was Private Secretary (temporarily) to the Acting Governor (Lt. Col. Maxwell Hinds Smith) on a special mission to the Cayo District in 1922. He also served as Secretary or Member of numerous Government and other Boards and Committees, including in 1926 the Fort George Hotel Committee. He was at one time a member of the Belize Town Board (now the City Council).
Captain Metzgen had a military record that was equally impressive. He joined the British Honduras Mounted Infantry on 1 March 1906 and the next year he went with the force, under Major F.M. Maxwell, to quell a riot at the Stann Creek Railway. The same year he accompanied the force again to Sapodilla Caye on the "City of Belize" to assist in preventing filibustering on the coast of General Bonilla of Honduras.
In 1915 he applied to join the War Contingent but his application was not approved owing to the number of Civil Servants that had already obtained permission to enlist. He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant of the British Honduras Territorial Forces in June, 1918 and on the formation of the Defence Force in 1928 he was appointed a Lieutenant of this Force. He was in charge of the Defence Force during the first two days after the terrible Belize hurricane of September 1931 and the hard work he put in on the occasion, rescuing the injured and dying, burying the dead and feeding the homeless, won the admiration of all.
The planter and the agricultural cause generally had and still have a stalwart friend in Capt. Metzgen. He has the distinction of being the founder of the British Honduras Agricultural Society and the successes of the great agricultural and industrial exhibitions staged under the auspices of the Society in 1928 and 1931 were due largely to his capable and tireless direction.
In 1927 he convened at Belize an agricultural conference which brought together planters from all sections of the Colony. He was a most useful member of the Agricultural Advisory Committee appointed by His Excellency the Governor and Chief Justice Greenidge as Chairman.
Captain Metzgen was one of the leading members of the Church of England in British Honduras and served his own church and those of other denominations in a multitude of ways. But we can hardly think of any good cause that did not enlist the support of this good and useful man.
Monrad Metzgen was one of the founders of the British Honduras Agricultural Society; producing an Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition in 1928 and 1931. In 1927, he convened an Agricultural Conference which brought together Planters from all over the Colony. Subsequent to this conference, the Governor of British Honduras appointed an Agricultural Advisory Committee with Monrad as one of its prominent members.
During World War II, he traveled the Colony making speeches on the dire need for agricultural development and become synonymous with his mantra: “grow what we eat and eat what we grow".
Realising that the lack of roads would retard the agricultural development of the Colony, Capt. Metzgen fathered a Colony-wide propaganda for fords and is slogan was "Roads, Roads and Still More Roads". He organized and was the Chairman of the British Honduras Cyclists Association and his Cross Country Cycle Races demonstrated in a tangible manner the urgency of a road programme for the Colony. There is also no end to the number of Roads and Committees which have been served by Capt. Metzgen. It will, however, suffice to mention some of the more important ones. For three terms he was a Member of the Belize Town Board under the chairmanship of the Rev. Robert Cleghorn OBE, and for a period he was a member of the Belize Electricity Board. For several years he was Chairman of the St George's Caye Day Celebrations Committee at Belize. He served with the Honorable C. Douglas-Jones and the Honorable Willoughby Bullock on a Treasury Inquiry Committee and he was Secretary to the Colonial Lindbergh's Reception Committee and a Hotel (for Belize) Committee of which the late Honorable Sally Wolffsohn was Chairman. He also acted as Private Secretary for His Excellency Colonel Maxwell Hinds with on a special mission of investigation to El Cayo some years ago. He was the first Treasurer of the Infant Welfare League. By the way, he was also the first President of the Eureka Band and the first President of the Native Jockey Club. He gave to Stann Creek flourishing Poor Relief Organisations.
The cultural and educational advancement of his countrymen always received the attention of Capt. Metzgen. He believed thoroughly in educating the people and the series of propaganda public meetings which he organised and successfully directed under the auspices of the Belize Literary and Debating Club some years ago, will be remembered. In the years when Belize had no Public Library, it grieved him very much and for many years he tried very hard to secure cooperation for the establishment of a Public Library and a Town Hall for Belize. He was Chairman of the Debating Club for 10 years.
He has made no small contribution to the literature of the Colony. The present very helpful Handbook of British Honduras was compiled by him in 1925, with the assistance of Mr. H.E.C. Cain, during the administration of Sir Eyre Hutson KCMG. He was Assistant Editor of the Archives of British Honduras, of which the late Sir John Alder Burdon was Editor, and he compiled the booklets "Blazing Trails in British Honduras", "Shoulder to Shoulder" and the Standing Rules and Orders of the Orange Walk District Board, 1924.
His travels took him to Guatemala City, New Orleans, New York and London. His visit to the latter three cities was in 1925 when he studied various income tax systems through the courtesy of the Income Tax Officials of those cities. By means of illustrated lectures, he brought the great Wembley Exhibition from England to the CUs Theatres in Belize and was supported by the late Honorable Lieutenant Colonel Dr. James Cran OBE and Mr. F.R. Dragten OBE, KC.
At the Shipmates Club at Stann Creek and at the Eureka Band Concert at the Park, Capt. Metzgen addressed the people of the District he had served so faithfully since September, 1935. He thanked them sincerely for the loyal cooperation he received from them during his administration and for their prayers and attention during his recent illness. In this connection he said that one of the things that will always linger in his memory is an act three Carib women - all unknown to him - who travelled from Stann Creek to Belize just to see him in the Hospital where they knelt at his bedside and prayed for his recovery. He had hoped to inaugurate a five year plan for Stann Creek with the one determined aim of laying a sound economic foundation for that deserving District. He hoped Stann Creek would get a District Commissioner who will serve her better than he did and he promised that during his retirement he will be ready and willing to serve the District and the colony in any way he can.
In 1928, on a bicycle ride in the country on the Northern Highway, Monrad Metzgen conceived the idea of what became the first Cross Country Cycling Classic having been struck by the number of bicycles Belizeans used to attend weekly cricket games in rural areas. He developed the idea for a cycling "expedition" to San Ignacio in order to test the cyclists' ability to cope with a then-badly built Western Highway. The Governor immediately pledged support and offered a cup as a prize to the winner of the race — a race that continues annually to this day. He enlisted the support of such notables at Matron L.M. Roberts of the Public Hospital, Royal Bank of Canada local manager Charles Beattie, Frans Dragten, Reverend Cleghorn, medical officer Lieutenant Colonel James Cran and that of a young surveyor, Henry Fairweather. Within a month he had the whole programme together and launched.
On 2 April 1928, a parade and inspection of the cyclists was organised by Monrad Metzgen and attended by the Governor, Superintendent of Police and others, who congratulated the cyclists and sent them on a parade through the town's streets. The official race kicked off on 5 April 1928 from in front of the courthouse at 5:00 AM. The trail was along the Western Highway to San Ignacio (55 miles from Belize City). The first rider into Cayo (90 miles in total), Elston Kerr, was cheered for making it into town in about 13 hours. The men stayed through the Easter holidays, feasting, eating, playing cricket and soaking up the accolades of the Cayo faithful. They also visited Benque Viejo and San Jose Succotz, the westernmost settled areas in Cayo. On 9 April, the expeditionists set off at 5:00 AM to return to the City, their progress reliably reported through of all things, the telephone service. Kerr, of Burrell Boom, finished first in 21 hours 29 minutes, 81 minutes ahead of second place Norris Wade, also of Boom. Race organizer Metzgen finished in 30 and a half hours.
Subsequent to the race, Monrad Metzgen formed and chaired the British Honduras Cyclists Association in June 1928. As a result of his experience in the race, he was a key proponent of improved public roads ensuring that successive Governors of the Colony became interested in road building.
Metzgen served on numerous Boards and Committees, including: Three terms on the Belize Town Board; the Belize Electricity Board; Chairman of the St. George’s Caye Day Celebrations Committee; Secretary of the Welcoming Committee when Colonel Charles Lindbergh flew into Belize in 1927; Secretary of a committee to promote the building of a really first class hotel for the town; President of the Native Jockey Club; and President of the Eureka Band.
He belonged to the Belize Literary and Debating Society and gave speeches and wrote papers on the value of educating the masses, including campaigning for a Public Library in Town.
Monrad had three children: Louise MBE, Humphrey and Frederick (Bill).
Death and legacy
Captain Metzgen died on 13 May 1956. On 17 September 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction from the Government of Belize in recognition of his dedication to Community and Public Service.