‘Final voyage for one of country’s top judges’

1908 - 2004

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When Joseph Luckhoo travelled on the Empire Windrush with his wife, Clara, he was one of British Guiana’s top judges, having been the country’s first barrister of Indian descent and the first to be elected to the colonial legislature. A regular visitor to England, this would be his final voyage across the Atlantic before his death in 1949, aged 61.

Born in 1887, Joseph Alexander Luckhoo was the son of Moses Luckhoo, one of approximately 240,000 indentured labourers who came to what is now Guyana from India between 1838 and 1917 to work on the sugar plantations. His name at birth was Lokhooa, and he arrived in the colony in 1859 as a seven-year-old with his two older brothers. He later converted to Christianity and was called Moses.

Joseph’s mother was Jamuni (sometimes spelled Jamunie) Elizabeth Saywack who was the eldest daughter of Alexander Saywack, a merchant of New Amsterdam – today’s Berbice – who arrived in British Guiana in 1852.

From such humble beginnings, Moses inspired a dynasty that dominated the legal profession and politics in British Guiana for many decades to come. Moses and Jamuni had six sons. One of them, Edward, qualified as a solicitor in England in 1899, becoming the first solicitor of Indian origin produced by British Guiana. He later became mayor of New Amsterdam.

Joseph was educated at the country’s prestigious Queen’s College and qualified as a barrister in 1912, making Guyanese history as its first barrister-at-law of Indian descent. He would go on to successfully defend 98 people out of 100 accused of murder.

He was also a pioneer member of the British Guiana East Indian Association, an important political and welfare organisation looking after the interests of the Indian community that was founded in New Amsterdam in 1916. In 1919, at a meeting in the Town Hall in Georgetown, he was elected its president.

In 1916, Joseph succeeded in gaining one of the three available positions in the national legislature, thus becoming the first Guyanese of Indian descent to be so elected. In September 1923, he was appointed HM Counsel for British Guiana and also became a King’s Counsel. From 1919 onwards, he crossed the ocean to England at least six times up until his death in 1949.

He and Clara, née Mahadeo, had six children. Their son, Joseph Alexander Luckhoo junior, became Chief Justice of British Guiana, serving between 1960-1966, and was knighted in 1963. He died in 1990. Clara, nine years her husband’s junior, died in 1966 in Georgetown aged 71.

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