Monday 10 October 2011

Cipero Train

The wail of the whistle echoed across the undulating countryside, startling the flamingoes to flight. The scarlet ibis made a magenta scar in the pale sky. It did nothing at all to the placid Gulf of Paria. William Eccles stared at the slow moving mangrove. The steam-driven paddle boat, the 'Lord Harris', was endeavouring to pause and come about. At the same time this produced a pillar of black smoke from its single stack.
In the distance, Naparima Hill still had about it a trace of early morning chill. On the nearby wharf, his tram awaited him. Its silvery iron rails were curving away in the freshly risen sunshine.
The Cipero embarcadere had been Eccles' creation. So too the tramway, which was at first hauled by mules, later steam-driven. William Eccles' had introduced public transport to Trinidad in 1859 by connecting Naparima to Mission, now known as Princes Town. He had also create warehouses and introduced large and powerful cranes at the Cipero Creek, so as to facilitate the loading and off-loading of flats and carts. He established a sawmill and machine and engineering works for the repairs to steam engines with a slipway for taking steamers that he owned onto dry dock.
Daniel Hart writes of Eccles:
"It was largely due to his enterprise that the San Fernando jetty was built. To accommodate the people from Pointe-a-Pierre and Savonetta, he established a station at Sandy Bay, another at Felicity Hall."
Eccles' steamers were called the 'William H. Burnley' and the 'Lord Harris'. He owned nine sugar estates and managed two others for his relatives, the Burnleys.
Ian Jardine, a descendant of Eccles, writes:
"With such vast acreage under his control and situated mostly in the Naparimas, it was not surprising that he constructed a railway there to facilitate the transport of his sugar. This was the first railway to be built in Trinidad."
Today, districts in the south are remembered by the names of Eccles' sugar estates as Mon Repos, Forres Park, Cedar Hill, Les Efforts, to name a few. William Burnley Eccles' roots were firmly planted in Trinidad. His people, Catholic Scots, had arrived in Spanish times before 1797, and for fifty years endured the vicissitudes of Trinidad's history. In William's day, they were a very powerful family.
Little did he know that that clear-cut morning was to be the last that he would have on his Cipero wharf, as within weeks he was dead. This man of energy and vision died in his 42nd year at his townhouse at Richmond Street, Port of Spain.
Apart from being a sugar planter and an entrepreneur, William Eccles was also a humanitarian with a sense of social responsibility beyond his times. As the employer of large numbers of Indian indentured labourers, the plight of these newcomers was very real to him. The estate hospitals that he created on his plantations were well equipped, and although the barrack yards were in a perpetual state of bedlam, Daniel Hart remarked that they were clean.
Eccles is remembered for the work he did amongst the orphaned. Ian Jardine writes:
"The high mortality rate among the indentured produced quantities of orphans, with no one to care for them, and it was due to his efforts that the 'Coolie Orphan House' was founded at Tacarigua."
This home was opened in 1857. It is now the St. Mary's home for children. There are no more Eccles left in Trinidad of his family. A surprising six young cousins died in World War I. There are, however, many Trinidadians of East Indian descent who bear the surname Eccles - they are the descendants of the orphans.

No comments: