Thursday 27 October 2011

Gems from 1916

1916 - a year like any other? We have proof that at least in Trinidad and Tobago, clocks ticked a little different then. Here some astonishing facts of ‘Franklin’s Yearbook of 1916’, which show aspects of normal, everyday life 84 years ago!

The western world was at war. It was the war to end all wars, expressing the wishful thinking of all nations at war. England was at war with Germany, and as such, German-immigrant-owned business were liquidated. Franklin lists the  ‘Official Managers of Alien Enemy Businesses (in liquidation):
Paul H. Scheerer & Co. - John R. Wilson
Schjolseth & Holler - William Scott
Wessels Bros. & Von Gontard - Thomas Boyd (POS), Ralph Sammy (SF)
Hugo Hoffmann - Arthur Greig
A.S.Laing & Co. - H.C. Ghent
S.E. Jacobson - John R. Wilson
C.A.Belling - dito
Max Reimer - dito
Max Reimer (cocoa estate) - M. J. Leotaud
House properties of Mrs. J.A. Scherer - John R. Wilson

On the same page as the liquidated German businesses are listed the indenture fees of 1916 - just a couple of months before indentureship was ended. £7.5.0. was payable in installments of £2.0.0. on allotment, £2.0.0. on the second year, and £1.0.0. in each of the three following years (minors to be half of the above).

Where have all the shaddocks gone??? Ask anyone older than 50, and they will tell you the variety of pre-independence fruits that was available in Trinidad’s markets. Today, many of them have simply vanished - the trees were not indigenous to Trinidad, and when political changes brought about a move away from plantation life, the orchards died.
Franklin lists them in order of their seasonal appearance:
All the year - banana, breadfruit, cassava, coconut, lime, plantain, pumpkin, sweet potato, soursop, tania, yam
January to March - Ground nut, sapodilla, sapote
April to June - star apple, cashew, cherry, Jamaica plum, tamarind
April to September - mammy apple, pine apple, guava
July to September - balta, granadilla, kenip, mango, governor plum, hog plum, java plum, sapodilla, sapote, rice
July to December - sugar apple, christophene, cucumber, melongene, tomato
October to December - golden apple, belle apple, citron, grapefruit, shaddock, papaw, ochro, pigeon pea
October to March - custard apple, orange, maize

It was the era of the steamship. Coming back to the First World War, it was the era when Britain had converted its flotilla from burning coal to burning petrol to fuel their steam engines, thus making Trinidad’s petrochemical industry really important for the first time. Trinidad and Tobago were linked to the world via various steamship agencies, as listed by Franklin:
The Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. provided a fortnightly service of twin screw mail steamers, poetically named Caraquet, Chaleur, Chignecto and Chaudière between Canada, the British West Indies and Demerara. For $10, one could travel around Trinidad, to Tobago and back on the R.M.S. Belize.
The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique arrived here around the 9th of every month from Europe via the French Antilles. Most notably, this would have been the line of choice for many immigrants from the Middle East, who came here via Marseilles, France!
The East Asiatic Line traded between Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Le Havre, London, the West Indies, Demerara and Suriname.
The Lamport & Holt Line would send ‘large steamers of the Vestris and Vauban type’ to Trinidad from Buenos Aires or Santos, and one was able to hop on board and continue to New York via Barbados with them.
The Caribbean & Southern Steamship Co. traded between Mobile in the U.S.A. and the Leeward and Windward Islands.
F. Leyland & Co. had a completely different route again: from Liverpool via Barbados to Venezuelan and Mexican Gulf ports.
La Veloce Line hailed from the Mediterranean as well. It covered a trip that is today, in the age of aviation, only something for the very, very, very rich: Genoa (Italy), Marseilles (France), Barcelona (Spain), Teneriffe, Barbados, Trinidad, La Guayra, Curacao, Puerto Colombia, Port Limon and Colon.
The London Direct Line was a no-nonsense all-British line, London-Barbados-Grenada-Trinidad-Demerara.
The Royal Dutch West India Mail sent its ‘Koninklijke West-Indische Maildienst’ steamers from Amsterdam to destinations in Suriname, Venezuela, Trinidad, Haiti all the way to New York. Every three weeks, one could also take one of the Maildienst steamers to Cartagena and Colon.
The Harrison Line operated in conjunction with the Leyland line, connecting Liverpool with the Caribbean and New Orleans.
Trinidad and New York operated familiar-sounding vessels: the Maraval, the Matura and the Mayaro. Every two weeks bound for the Big Apple!
Glasgow Direct shuttled between the British West Indies, Glasgow and (during crop time) London.
The Prince Line, Ltd., traded between New York and Brazilian and Rio de la Plata ports in Argentina. Its advantage was that it went directly north from Trinidad to New York on the way back from South America.
Houston Line steamed from South American ports to Cuba and American ports.
And finally, the Venezuelan Line did just that: steamers of the Compañia Anonima de Navegación Fluvial and Costanera de Venezuela ran between Trinidad and Ciudad Bolivar, calling at Orinoco ports and covering the sea coast of Venezuela.
All aboard!

One thing that seems very strange to us today is that opium and ganja were not illegal in 1916. One had to be licensed to sell it, yes, and custom duties were imposed. Here are the rates:
Customs Tariff for opium and ganja:
Including mixtures and preparations thereof, the lb - 15s.
Tincture of opium for medicinal purposes, the gallon - 6s.
Under the entry ‘Goods prohibited except subject to the restrictions on importation’ one finds:
Ganja - unless in ships of at least 30 tons and in packages of at least 20 lbs., forming part of the cargo, and duly reported, and subject to such Regulations as the Governor may provide.
Opium - unless in ships of at least 100 tons, and in packages of at least 20 lbs., forming part of the cargo and duly reported. (Note: Ganja and opium must be warehoused.)
The bonded warehouse had a rent attached to it. Again, this rent was subject to the article warehoused. For ganja and opium there was a fee of 4d. per case or other package not exceeding 100 lbs.

Another interesting aspect in the age when telephones were still luxury and radio unheard of was the signaling from the North Post to the Harbour Master’s Office in Port of Spain to identify every movement off the North coast of Trinidad, in the bocas and in the Gulf of Paria. The illustration shows what some of these signals looked like. The Harbour Master would have gazed at them through his binoculars and noted them in his log book. Each ship had to fly certain signal flags as soon as it was in eyesight of the coast, identifying the type of vessel, its cargo, its port of departure and destination, as well as other things that might be of interest. Since there was no oral communication between the Harbour Master’s Office and North Post, every aspect of the vessel’s movement, character and ‘behaviour’ had to be transmitted in signals.

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