Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Warners


Sir Thomas Warner, the progenitor of one of the Caribbean’s great extended families, came out to the West Indies in the early years of the 17th century. He had been born in 1575 in Parham, Suffolk, England, and as a young man he had served as a captain in the bodyguard of King James I, a company of specially chosen soldiers, whose duty it was to guard the King’s life. Later he was made Lieutenant, or keeper of the Tower of London.
During that period, many young men in England were eager to follow the great sea dogs like Raleigh, Drake & Morgan to the Caribbean so as to make their fortunes, and when his friend, Captain Roger North, thought of making a settlement in Guiana, Warner decided to go with him. The settlement did not work out as expected, and Warner instead settled at St. Christopher in the Leeward Islands on the 28th January, 1624.
Despite much initial hostility from the native Caribs of the island and the battles between would-be French and Spanish settlers, Thomas Warner still persisted in his ambition to create a British settlement. Sir Thomas became the first Lieutenant Governor of the Caribbean islands. He died in March 1649 and was buried in St. Kitts’ middle island.
Warner’s sons and grandsons established themselves in the British West Indies: Sir Thomas Warner of Barbados, Col. Philip Warner, Governor of Antigua, William Warner of Dominica, who was known as “Indian Warner” on account of his Carib blood, and Col. Edward Warner, who arrived in Trinidad in 1807 and purchased lands.
Charles Warner, born in 1805, was the only son of Col. Edward Warner. Charles decided to settle in Trinidad after a visit here with his cousin Ashton Warner, who was Chief Justice of this colony during the governorship of Sir Ralph Woodford (1813 - 1828). Charles became one of the most prominent Attorney Generals in the history of Trinidad, serving from 1844 to 1870.
He so influenced this period while in office, that “Warnerism” became a synonym for the policy of local government. He married twice, once to Isabella Carmichael, with whom he had six children, and to his second wife Ellen Rose Cadiz, with whom he had twelve. He endowed St. Margarite’s church. He passed lands at Belmont, where in fact the land holdings there were described as “the lands of black Warner and white Warner”.
The black Warners of Belmont are the descendants of Ashton Warner, born in Savannah, U.S.A., in 1750. His grandson William, who lived in Dominica and died in 1793, was reputed to have had four sons with Mildred Johns. One of their sons, Ashton, came to Trinidad around the time that his namesake and relative Ashton Warner was Chief Justice, and he purchased lands at Belmont, closeby his cousin Charles Warner. Ashton married into the Zampty family of Belmont, who were descendants of Sergeant Zampty of the Disbanded 3rd West India Regiment, which had been raised in Sierra Leone to do service in the Caribbean.
In 1873, Charles Warner built his home which he called "The Hall". The building was a beautiful, two-storied property, where his children grew up. Amongst them were Archer Warner, who also became Attorney-General of Trinidad, and Sir Pelham Warner, who would later achieve international fame as a cricketer. Streets in Belmont are named for them, as well as for other members of the Warner family. Charles Warner died in 1887, and his grave can still be visited in the Botanical Gardens.
The Hall at Chancery Lane spanned a whole block. The house comprised a splendid garden, which included a swimming pool for the children to learn to swim and a pond where they could sail their toy boats and where the morocoy could bathe. The gardener had been brought from Germany! The Hall also had what was perhaps the first tennis court in Trinidad.
Warner lived in The Hall in an extravagant style, and one informant told me long ago that his family was "very united".
In 1886, Charles sold The Hall to Don Carlos Siegert. It became the home of the Siegert family for the next 34 years. Don Carlos kept race horses and as many as 11 carriages of various sizes in his stables. At that time, the main entrance was from Chancery Lane. The ground floor of the house held a large hall, hung with portraits of the Siegert family, who had come to Trinidad from the town of Angostura in Venezuela (now Ciudad Bolivar), bringing with them the secret of their now famous bitters.
In 1920, The Hall was brought by Charles Conrad Stollmeyer for $40,000. He and others thought to convert the premises into a club. This was, however, not to be, for a bad fire gutted the house. They were forced to sell the property to the Anglican Church through Bishop Anstey. The main building of The Hall became a guesthouse that was run by Mrs. Florence Rust. The buildings which opened on Abercromby Street were converted into classrooms.
In the 1950s, Trinidad witnessed many social and political changes. As Olga Mavrogordato states in her book "Voices in the Street":
"In 1952, the entire property was taken over by the junior school of St. Hilary's until 1966, when it moved to Monte Christo, St. Ann's, to make room for the High School. Since that time, St. Hilary's has occupied the entire premises and though many improvements and changes have been made, the family atmosphere of old still remains and this is a happy school."

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