“Miguel” Telford Harold Rudolph Tonge was born May 13, 1935 in the village of Urlings. His parents were the late John Tonge and the late Alice Jonas. Like his father, who was a fisherman, he took to the sea at an early age and went on to be a sailor. As a youngster he had a passion for bike riding and was one of Antigua’s top bike riders in the 1940’s. Mr. Eustace Cochrane used to train him while riding his Vesper and word would come back that he passed the trainer who would have a hard time catching up.
He married Josephine Benedict McKay on 24 October, 1958 and had four children - his sons Glenford, Kelly and Terrence and his daughter Cathy-Ann.
His career at sea started at English Harbour when Commander Nicholson employed him to work on one of his charter yachts as a deck hand and he quickly worked his way up the ladder. With his natural talent for boating and the skills he portrayed at sea he gained the trust of his captain and was the first black person to sail in and dock a yacht in English Harbour.
From this his career blossomed as a sea captain where he went on to travel the world collecting ships and carrying them to their destination. He would tell stories of his travel to places such as Lake Tahoe, Nevada and Copenhagen, Denmark and his many trips around the Caribbean.
He was instrumental in the opening of the Coco Point Lodge in Barbuda where he was put in charge of the marine department. On the occasion when Princess Margaret visited Barbuda in the 1960s and stayed at the Coco Point Lodge Hotel, Miguel was given the privilege to drive her on a tour around the island and take her fishing on the Barbuda Babe, one of the boats which he captained. He was dearly loved by the native Barbudans who have claimed him as one of their own. While working in Barbuda he became friends with former Commissioner of Police Truehart Smith and many other Barbudans.
In the mid 1970s he worked with Ken Scales as his boat captain and later on he operated the water sports at the White Sands Hotel in Hodges Bay. It was from there that he saw “the rock,” then called Pelican Island, and which is now known to us as the world famous Prickly Pear Island. He began to take tourists from the mainland at Hodges Bay to Prickly Pear Island.
In those days there were only three known tours to offshore islands around Antigua – Miguel to Prickly Pear, Short Shirt to Bird Island and Papi to Maiden Island. Miguel’s Prickly Pear Island Excursion is the older boat tour operating in Antigua.
Along with his wife Josephine, he revolutionized the boat tour business in Antigua. Their hospitality was impeccable and this can be attested to in the many of letters which would come in to the tourism department and the government highly recommending Miguel and Josephine as ambassadors for Antigua. The Yvonne Maginley and the late Eddie Hill Tibou along with Douglas Howie made the effort to meet this Miguel because of the overwhelming praises which they would receive via postal mail from tourists about him. Even today there are tourists who have been retuning to Antigua for over 30 years just to again experience Miguel’s Prickly Pear Island Excursion. His rate of return tourists far exceeds any other.
The climax of Miguel’s achievements came when he was published front cover and center page in the February 2011 edition of Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine under the heading, “The Boat Man”. This publication brought many tourists to the island of Antigua to venture to Prickly Pear Island to meet Miguel in person and have their picture taken with this great man.
Photo by Zach Stovall