Thursday, 25 August 2011

Longtime Days

Notes taken from the reminiscences of a truly grand old man, Lionel Inniss, born in the late 1840s.

Lionel Inniss could remember when anyone wishing to go to Arima would have to hire a carriage and a pair (two horses) for six dollars a day or a saddle horse for three dollars, and be responsible for any damage or injury which might occur to it during the journey. There were many stables around the town of Port-of-Spain in those days, hiring out horses, and there were several grass markets where one could buy fodder for animals: at Victoria Square for example, where there was open pasture land, and another behind the Catholic Cathedral.

Olga Comma Maynard remembers in her book ‘My Yesterdays’:

“One of the things that deterred my fiancé and me from selecting Hanover as the venue for our wedding was the fact that the hoi polloi had an unfortunate tendency to take over wedding ceremonies conducted at the nearby church. The Grass Market at the corner of Duke and St. Vincent Streets, established since 1857, had for many years been the site favoured by fish vendors, seldom the most disciplined of mortals. At the slightest hint of a wedding they would rush to occupy points of vantage either in or outside of the church, to watch the bride and her guests as they arrived and to make comments about their array and about anything else - derogatory, scurrilous or just plain outrageous - that would delight lawless bystanders. Wisely, I felt, we turned our thoughts to Tranquility.”

The roads were not paved in those days, so it was mud in the rainy season in dust in the dry season. Travelling also had its cost: two pence at the toll gate, which was situated at the boundary of Port-of-Spain, at the foot of the hill where the powder magazine stands (now the flyover at the bottom of Laventille Road). When the railway was extended to Arima in 1875, the toll gate was abolished.

Communication southward was by sailing boat, which plied from Port-of-Spain to Chaguanas, Couva, Claxton Bay and San Fernando, and by sloops which sailed occasionally to La Brea, Cedros, Icacos and around to the Bande de l’Est, as Mayaro was called. They did not run on schedule, anytime was their time of arrival, and it was anybody’s guess - but then noone was in that much of a hurry, so it could take two or three days to go to Mayaro, or three weeks for that matter, depending...

The Guiacara rivers was an entry port to San Fernando in those days. It was bad enough being cramped up in these boats during the journey to places between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando, but what was worse was to find that when you reached the mouth of the river, the tide was too low to allow the boat to cross the sand bar. Then you had to wait for high tide, while being devoured by hords of mosquitoes and sandflies. When the steamer began to ply the gulf, it was almost as bad rowing out to the mouth of the river to meet it at all hourse in the sun or the rain.

Travel along the Eastern Main Road in the 1860s was facilitated by a horse-drawn van, capable of seating a dozen persons,which made one trip a day between Port-of-Spain and Arima. The fare was ten cents per mile. This van was patronised by ‘the aristocracy’ (white people). Those of the ‘hoi polloi’ (ordinary people) who wanted to save their legs negotiated at the Cart Market - the spot which is now Columbus Square - for a lift on one of the numerous estate carts or wagons for eight cents for the journey.

Between Port-of-Spain and Arouca, there were twelve sugar estates worked by steam, water or animal power. During the crop season the air along the road was beautifully perfumed with the smell of hot liquor. The sugar was produced by common process and was called ‘Mundungo’.

“When I was twelve years of age, I walked from Port-of-Spain to Mayaro,” writes L.O. Inniss. “I remember the festivities when the two sons of the then Prince of Wales, Prince Edward and Prince George, visited Trinidad, the principal feature of which was a grand ball which Leon Agostini gave in their honour at ‘Coblentz’, St. Anns. The grounds were brilliantly illuminated and the preparations were upon a magnificient scale, the cost running in tens of thousands.”

(At the occasion of another grand ball, a lady is remembered who wore an outstanding evening dress: all in white, her skirt and bodice had been decorated with live fireflies that were attached to the lace, and the lady created a fantastic appearance at the evening party!)

Hippolyte Borde, a rich cocoa planter, entertained the two Princes to lunch on his cocoa estate ‘La Pastora’, situated in Santa Cruz. Inniss:

“In this connection, I also recollect another scion of Royalty (though on a much humbler scale) who resided in Trinidad for some years. I refer to Prince Kofi Inti of Ashanti, who was sent by the British government and placed in charge of Mr. Collens, the headmaster of the Boys’ Model School. He was small in stature, and a crowd usually followed him when he went to Trinity Cathedral with Mr. Collens, but the novelty soon wore off and people became used to seeing the ‘Black Prince’, as they called him. He had some sort of a job in the Public Works Office, and it is said that he designed the Signal House at Fort George. After a few years residence here he went to England and died there not long afterwards of consumption.”

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