Monday 5 December 2011

The British settle Tobago

From the Historical Society of Trinidad and Tobago Papers (abbreviated)

The settlement of Tobago by the British was not without problems. Let’s first look at the historical circumstances:
Publication No. 329
The Duke of Montague applies for a Grant of the Island of Tobago
January 5th, 1764
“In 1728, the Duke of Montague first applied for a grant of the Island of Tobago in compensation for the loss of St. Lucia whence he had been driven out by the French in 1722. During the years 1725 - 1726, the Duke and the Duc d’Estrées failed to negotiate any agreement to divide the lands at St. Lucia and in 1730, the evacuation of both St. Lucia and St. Vincent was agreed upon by the French and English. By the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, these two islands were made neutral. In 1763, by the Treaty of Peace, Great Britain took Dominica, St. Vincent and Tobago, while France took St. Lucia. The Duke of Montague now applies for a Grant of Tobago.”

Then, a survey was made to structure Tobago in portions that could easily be administered.
Publication No. 330
Recommendations for the Settlement of Tobago by the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations
March 26th, 1764
“As to settling the Island of Tobago, the Board of Trade represents that this island is supposed to contain 140,000 acres, a valuable island with no inhabitants but a few Caribs and French turtlers. A survey should forthwith be made and it should then be divided into Parishes to contain 6,000-10,000 acres and suitable lands should be reserved for fortifications, navy yards and other military purposes. Towns should be laid out of 500-1,000 acres in lots not to exceed 6 acres, each with a 60 feet reservation on the water side for wharves, quays and other public uses; a glebe for the Minister of 100-200 acres, and 30-60 acres for a schoolmaster. Reserves of woods should be kept in suitable places sufficient to maintain a necessary rainfall and a suitable climate. The rest of the lands should be allotted as plantations in lots of 100-300 acres. In each parish, 800 acres should be reserved for grants of lots of 10-30 acres for poor settlers near necessary roads.”

However, when the Governor-General of Grenada, Robert Melvill, set out to get settlers to Tobago from Barbados, he found that nobody was willing to go!
Publication No. 334
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Secretary of State
Barbados, November 13th, 1764
“I arrived here after a tedious passage on the 23rd of last month intending to have stopped only for a few days in order to wait the arrival of the Melvill store ship which had been separated from us; and to furnish myself with all lights which might be useful in establishing and carrying on the new Government and to give what encouragement I could to the disposition which I hoped to meet with for settling Tobago. But to my no small mortification, I was no sooner arrived than informed of a universal dread and dislike of that Island, occasioned by the sudden death of almost every white person who had lately gone thither and the report of an excessive sickness prevailing among the troops.”

In the end, Melvill succeeded by promising the would-be settlers lands on the healthy Windward side of Tobago, not on the fever-stricken Leeward side.
Publication No. 335
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Secretary of State for War
Barbados, November 20th, 1764
“Tomorrow I sail for Tobago on my way to Grenada with all persons of this place who are desirous of being the first settlers and hope to find Lieutenant Governor brown possessed of a very healthy and commodious bay which has been discovered on the Windward side.”
Upon arrival in Tobago, Melvill takes action with regard to starting a structured settlement of British subjects in Tobago.
Publication No. 336
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations
Grenada, January 3rd, 1765
“After a tedious passage I arrived at Barbados on October 23rd, where I found it absolutely necessary to remain for some time in order to revive the spirit of settling at Tobago, which had been totally quashed by the very fatal sickness that had happened on the Leeward side of it. But by proposing the Windward side (reported to be healthy as well as fertile) for the first settlement, and pointing out all the advantages and encouragements with my best endeavours, a pretty favourable disposition came to prevail even amongst the most considerable inhabitants at the time of my departure. I arrived in Tobago on November 28th and joined Lieutenant Governor Brown. I was happy to find that his report was well founded with regard to the fertility of the soil, its being well watered, having several tolerably shipping places and particularly two very good bays (vizt: Rockly and Little Hog Bays). In a bay formerly called Gros Cochon, to which I gave the name of Barbados Bay, I fixed on a very commodious place for a first town settlement. It promises to be safe for shipping and has a river of wholesome water running into it. The country round is fit for sugar and all other West Indian produce and an adjoining headland projecting into the sea is an excellent and healthful situation for the placing of His Majesty’s Troops ad being likewise very defensible by nature, is very proper for a fort or battery.”

However, it was not easy. Months later, there was still no progress in establishing a proper settlement.
Publication No. 337
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations
Grenada, April 20th, 1765
“I am sorry to inform Your Lordships that by the slow progress that has been made in the settling of Tobago, owing partly to the sales in St. Vincent and to the disposition of the Barbadians being not quickly enough laid hold of, the town traced out in Barbados Bay and the adjoining lands have not as yet been cleared, so that it not only remains unhealthy but affords no accommodation either for the settlers or for the public Officers.”

A year later, houses were still lacking in Tobago, and the British government sent two ships for the administration to live “off shore”.
Publication No. 338
Requisition for two Ships of War for Accommodation of Officers at the Island of Tobago
London, March 30th, 1766
“From the Island of Grenada by letter of January 27th, 1765, Governor Melvill asked for two ships of war to be sent to the Island of Tobago as hulks for the accommodation of the Lieutenant Governor and other officers and settlers until convenient houses could be built ashore. This was approved and done and on March 21st, 1766 they were still being used and were continued for one year more.”

Even off-shore, the climate of Tobago was still detrimental for the British settlers, and the death of the Lieutenant Governor almost leads to abortion of the settlement of Tobago.
Publication No. 339
The Governor-General of Grenada to the Secretary of State
Grenada, July 26th, 1765
“I am very sorry to inform Your Lordship of the death of Lieutenant Governor Brown on the 9th instant after a very short illness. This is a public misfortune so sensibly felt and sincerely lamented by the Officers of the garrison and the few purchasers who have been actual settlers in Tobago that it even threatens a very detrimental retardment if not a total miscarriage of that infant Colony.”

A year and a half later, there are still few “Residenters” at Tobago, even though many plantations have been purchased. The proprietors in Tobago sent a petition to the Governor General in 1767, asking for proper local representation and administration. In subsequent correspondence, there is the first talk of a House of Assembly, but a slave insurrection in 1770 stalled developments in that direction, but by the beginning of 1771, the “President and Members of the Council and the Representatives of the People in the General Assembly of the Island of Tobago” had been elected.

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