In the history of Cuba there are families that have given it more than one meaningful name. Some linked to culture, music or sport, others to patriotic facts and there are also some who have excelled at being related to dark stories. If I mention the surname Sanguily, any Cuban immediately evokes the family that contributed more than one member to our independence wars in different roles and after republican politics, but few could associate the surname with other stories, even abroad.
Julio Sanguily and Mary Garrite arrived one day in Cuba from neighboring Haiti. He was of French origin and she of Irish descent. They formed a family of three children: Guillermo, Julio and Manuel.
The couple did not last long, the father died early. The little ones were left in charge of their best man, a man named Murdoch. All three were sent to study in the United States. Already grown up and with studies, the minors returned to Cuba, but Guillermo remained in the northern nation.
Julio and Manuel joined the revolutionary contest that began in 1868. Both reached high military degrees. The well-known event starring Major General Ignacio Agramonte, on October 8, 1871, when with only thirty-five men he faced the forces of the commander of the Spanish army César Matos, to rescue his brigadier “alive or dead”, recognized as “The Rescue of Sanguily”, was nothing more and nothing less than to save Julio from the clutches of the Spanish enemy.
Manuel joined the Ten Years’ War on January 17, 1869. Before long he was the secretary of Major General Manuel de Quesada. He was elected by the Assembly of Representatives of the Centre to chair the commission that would unify the direction of the revolution and establish the type of government of the Republic in Arms. In 1869 he was already a lieutenant colonel. He remained as a representative to the chamber of the Republic in Arms from 1874 to August 1875 and then joined the forces of Máximo Gómez for the invasion of Las Villas. Under Gomez’s command he reached the rank of colonel, until in 1877 he was transferred under his brother Julio. The two had been appointed to go abroad and organize expeditions to Cuba. Manuel did not participate directly in the War of 1895, but fulfilled some important tasks off the island.
Elected delegate to the Constituent Assembly and in 1902 senator for the province of Matanzas, he was the first president of the Senate on May 20 of that year. After serving important administrative positions in different government cabinets, he retired from active politics in 1917 and died of natural causes eight years later, on January 23, 1925, in his hometown of Havana.
What was William’s fate? Some time ago I read in Cuba a job where it was assured that the first mayor of the city of Sydney, in Australia, had been a Cuban of the Sanguily family. The story drew my deep attention, especially knowing something about the history of that country. For this reason, I began my research on the subject. I knew I’d be on the mainland in no time, that would make it easier for me to access certain reliable sources from “the same place of events.” At the end of the search, I will share my version of the story with the readers of the New Word today.
William lived between 1862 and 1863 in Boston, where he studied naval arts. For some personal reason he changed his name to William’s and deleted his mother’s surname Garrite, taking the Murdoch from his godfather and guardian. From that moment on he was called William Murdoch Sanguily. He enlisted in the crew of the sailboat General Grant. The ship arrived in Melbourne, Australia, on 13 March 1866 as recorded in the documents of the Port Captaincy of the same city.
General Grant sailed again on May 4, 1866. It carried between its cargo 2,500 ounces of gold, as well as cotton, lead, zinc and a number of passengers. It is known that William Murdoch Sanguily was the youngest crew member in the endowment. The sailboat was shipwrecked off the six uninhabited Auckland Islands, near the so-called Disappointment. There he remained the eldest of the Sanguily brothers for just over a year, until he was rescued by a whaler and taken to New Zealand. This story is well known in Australia. The ship has been attempted countless times, until it was declared a World Heritage Site and the New Zealand government banned all search permits.
In 1872, William was in the United States, in the city of Philadelphia, this is a confirmed fact. He married Sara Dawes Randall, a descendant of Australians. The couple decided to move to Australia. They settled in the ancient city of Wolloomooloo, present-day Sydney, where they had five children.
William invested in a horse-drawn car business. Everything seems to indicate that he became recognized and prestigious, as allusions to him are frequent in the press of the time, you can even find images of exponents of his company’s carriages. It is also linked to the transport of funeral services.
I already knew some important questions about William – or William – but there was one issue that kept hitting my head, was he the first mayor of Sydney really? After searching the Australian press of the time and on the Internet, nothing had been able to find out about it. In the library of the University of Adelaide I was recommended to resort to mayoral and the government house in Sydney. Without delay and with the help of a friend, we ask for the information. Only in a few hours did they respond with a wide list of mayors that the city has had. William Murdoch Sanguily was never mayor of Sydney or any other city in Australia, his name is not on any list. Everything in this sense was a great fable. An accompanying note clarifies that Rollings Herbert William, his only son, did work in the mayor’s office, became a chief assistant to several of the city’s most notable mayors, and was a man closely linked to the political levels of his time. By prompt response and accompanying note, it appears that others have investigated the descendant of the Sanguily family.
You might think the story ended there, with no news, but it didn’t happen, it turns out that in the search process it came to light that William Murdoch worked with two friends, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, on the design and manufacture of steam engines. He devised a small prototype vehicle to demonstrate that the power source could be used in means of transport. The original model still exists and is preserved at the transport museum in Sydney. This means that a Cuban, yes, was a precursor to the use of the steam engine for transport in Australia.
Another surprise I had when I investigated who were the first Cubans to set foot on Australian soil. William Murdoch Sanguily was the first to arrive and the first to settle in the country. This indicates that he never renounced his status as a Cuban, so it is recorded in the official documents. No other person born on the island entered the country until 1930.
The first of the Sanguily brothers died in Sydney on 6 May 1909 from a heart attack. He was buried on the 27th at Rookwood Cemetery in the same city. Thanks to the efforts of the Cuban Embassy in Australia in March 2015, they found his abandoned tomb in the old Anglican sector of the cemetery itself.
Family stories are always important in any study of a personality, they are the basic forming cell of the individual. The Sanguily were also the result of their life trajectory. Guillermo – or William – because he was the eldest, must have had his reasons for changing his mother’s name and surname, a person of which no other references appear and, above all, not to follow his brothers, but he did not cease to be a Cuban and a Sanguily. It is not known whether he maintained any contact with Julio and Manuel, as these two were extended times in the United States. It’s definitely a curious story. William Murdoch Sanguily was never mayor of Sydney, but he was a Cuban, who without giving up his condition, left deep traces in a distant country. Ω
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