Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Government Houses of Chacon and Picton

“Wise for his generation” - these words used to describe the last Spanish Governor of Trinidad by Dr. K.S. Wise, member of the Trinidad Historical Society, who published a series of historical sketches in the 1930s. Don Chacon was appointed governor in 1784, a year after the granting of the Cedula of Population. During this period, there was a rapid increase in population and a great deal of economic activity. Having no intention of going to live at St. Joseph, the already crumbled, antique capital, Chacon wanted to live in Port of Spain. From 1786 he imposed and collected a special additional customs duty of 2.5% on all imports so as to provide the funds for the erection of new public buildings in Port of Spain. One of these was to be a new government house, which was completed about 1788.
Lionel M. Fraser, historian, writes of Col. Picton, British governor who succeeded Chacon:
“At that time, soon after his arrival in 1797, he lived in the house which had been used as an official residence by Governor Chacon. It was situated in the street now known as King Street (Independence Square), and near to the south eastern corner of King and Charlotte Street.”
At that time, there were no houses or other buildings on the southern side of Independence Square. From where W.H. Scott is now, to Express House and all the way to Royal Bank and beyond, were mud flats, mangrove and gigantic silk cotton trees, armies of enormous crabs and entire squadrons of corbeaux. In between were huts for hucksters, beached boats and the occasional corpses.
Notwithstanding, the ... Spaniards called it ‘Calle del Marina”, Marine Square. We know from reading the Spanish protocols that the ‘Casa de Gobierno’ was on the Plaza de la Marina. The evidence produced in the famous Luisa Calderon case shows that the residence of Col. Picton was on Marine Square as well. It must have been on the portion directly opposite the foot of Charlotte Street that Governor Picton had erected the permanent gallows which he used liberally on slaves, free people and his own soldiers.
References to public buildings scattered through the deeds comprising the Spanish protocols show that Government House on the south eastern corner of Charlotte Street and Marine Square, while the government officers were at the south west corner of Charlotte and Queen Streets. The office of the contador (Don Manuel Sorzano) was at the east corner of George Street and Marine Square, the office of the treasurer was on Marine Square, midway between Nelson and Duncan Street, and the artillery quarters were opposite government house at the western corner of Charlotte Street and Marine Square.
In 1803, on the 15th June, Colonel Picton left the colony and this house became vacant. It burnt down in 1808 and was rebuilt. Eventually, it was sold and changed hands several times. In the 1950s workmen broke into a corner of the attic, where an iron bed was found and an oil painting of a man as well as other items. It was said at the time that the portrait was that of Chacon and so too did the bed belong to him. No none knew for sure - and in any event, the portrait was lost.

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