From discovery to becoming British
(compiled by Carlton Ottley)
1498 Discovery by Christpher Columbus
1580 Visit by English soldiers
1596 Reported uninhabited by Captain Keymis of the ‘Darling’
1627 Visit by Durch Captain Joachim Gijsz on his way to Brazil
1628 Charles I of England grants the island to Earl of Pembroke. Jan de Moor, Burgomaster of Flushing, sends Jacob Maersz to command a settlement called New Walcheren, which is later abandoned.
1632 200 Dutch men and women arrive and settle under Cornelius de Moor
1636 Dutch driven out by Spaniards from Trinidad
1639 More English settlers arrive from England
1640 Caribs drive out English, who then settle in Trinidad
1641 Charles I makes birthday gift of the island to his godson James, Duke of Courland
1642 Courlanders arrive and settle on north coast, but are driven out by Caribs by 1650
1654 Oliver Cromwell supports claims of Courlanders
1658 Dutch seize Courland and make Courlanders pay tribute
1662 Adrian Lamsins, a Dutchman, is created Baron of Tobago by Louis XIV of France
1666 English capture Dutch settlement in Tobago, the French from Grenada drive out English, the Dutch return
1667 Peter Constant arrives as Dutch governor and builds town near Scarborough
1672 English capture island from Dutch
1676 Dutch return and re-settle. French attack Dutch and blow up Dutch fort
1678 Treaty restores Tobago to the Dutch. Courlanders return but are driven out by French and Caribs
1683 Tobago is sold to Captain Poyntz by the Duke of Courland
1684 Tobago declared a no-man’s land by powers of Europe
1698 British navy arrives and quells disturbances among settlers
1706 French squadron uses Tobago as base in the West Indies
1723 Pirates use Tobago as rendezvous. British man-o-war drives them out
1748 French from Martinique attempt settlement. French government orders them out
1749 French and English remove their nationals from the island
1760 French return
1762 French driven out by British
1763 England’s claim to Tobago guaranteed by Treaty of Paris
1764 First English governor arrives and a settlement is started
Tobago becomes a ward of Trinidad
It is only a century ago that Tobago was annexed to Trinidad. On the 1st January, 1899, Tobago was made a ward of its bigger sister isle. Before that, it was a British crown colony in its own right, with its own governor, own administration - and its own debts and import duties, of course. Being a small island has never been easy!
As one can see in the chronology, Tobago was in the 17th and 18th century much more fought over by the European powers than Trinidad. It was simply more developed than Trinidad, providing sugar en masse to sweeten England’s tea, while Trinidad was still an underpopulated Spanish colony, covered in bush up to the late 18th century, when French settlers and their slaves started to establish large plantations.
But in the 19th century, Tobago’s agriculture-based economy went down. It became too expensive for the British Crown to maintain it as a colony, and so it was decided to annex it to Trinidad. This administrative step bears its problems to this day, since Tobago and Trinidad a religiously, culturally, ethnically and even linguistically very different. In 1885, Tobago even conducted all its trade with Grenada and Barbados, and not with Trinidad.
50 years ago, people who remembered that annexation were still alive. In 1950, Tobagonian historian Carlton Ottley wrote an ironic account of it in his little travel-book about Tobago:
“[Tobagonian] Governor Llewelyn invited Governor Robinson from Trinidad to come to a dinner here. WHen the roast lamb was brought in, the legend goes, Llewelyn was pressing home his point as to the advantages that would be derived by Trinidad as being able to procure so near and cheap a supply of foodstuffs, and more especially livestock. There was, however, need for no further dilation on the point, for the proof of the theory was in the eating of the lamb.”
As Ottley describes further, it was not necessarily so advantageous for Trinidad to incorporate the ‘white elephant’ Tobago. Per-capita taxation in Tobago was a fraction of that in Trinidad, and so was the gross inland revenue. On the other hand, Trinidad was already spending thousands of pounds every year on immigration, railways, telegraphy, pensions etc., it did not need Tobago’s bills on top of that. But the Secretary of State in England had decided two years ago, and the two islands must have ‘tied the nuptial knot’ quite teethgrittingly!
The inhabitants, however, had some short-term benefits from the union. Tobago became the ‘market garden’ of Trinidad, as Ottley describes in the 1950s, and Tobagonians had less duty to pay on foodstuffs and imported goods. As Ottley relates in the following anecdote:
“At a public meeting held in Scarborough, the head teacher addressed the tightly packed audience thus: ‘Brethren, do you want annexation?’ The motley crowd rose up wth a great shout and answered: ‘No!’ When with difficulty silence had been restored, the speaker continued. ‘But brethren,’ said he, ‘if we should get annexation we are also going to get walt-fish cheap, flour cheap, cornmeal cheap, for we ain’t going to pay no duty. Now do you want annexation?’ And the crowd rose once more and shouted: ‘Gie a we annixation, gie a we annixation!’ And thus it was, that when the leg of mutton came in and the people shouted ‘gie a we annixation’, Tobago’s independence passed away.”
Of course, Tobago had not been independent before she became a ward of Trinidad, but had been ruled as a British Crown Colony. In 1962, however, she became part of a truly independent country, Trinidad and Tobago, and in 1976, gained republican status along with Trinidad.