Friday, 17 February 2012

Picton and Woodford

Picton Street and Woodford Street in New Town, Port of Spain, commemorate two of the islands early British Governors.
Colonel Thomas Picton arrived in Trinidad with the British conquering forces in 1797. It was island embroiled in anarchy and on the brink of civil war and  slave insurrection, similar to those that had impacted on Haiti, Guadeloupe and Grenada Thomas Picton, under the aegis of marshal law and in the frame work of medieval Spanish statutes, imposed law and order by brute force. He was undoubtedly successful.
In 1813, Sir Ralph Woodford, some 16 years later, when the revolutionary insurgencies and slave revolts of the previous century had passed, presided over a different reality. Edward Lanzer Joseph, historian, in his "History of Trinidad (1838)" remarks:
"The administration of Sir Ralph Woodford, like that of Sir Thomas Picton, was well timed. They were both well fitted to govern Trinidad at the epochs of their respective administrations. Had Sir Ralph Woodford been placed as governor here at the time of capitulation, he perhaps would have lacked the stern, daring, the almost terrible energies which were necessary to control the jarring elements of the colony at the time of Picton. He certainly did not possess the determined military talents necessary to preserve the colony when rebellious colonists, intriguing spies, threatening neighbours, discontented slaves and a garrison both feeble and mutinous threatened on a daily basis the stability of the young colony. Had neighbouring governors set a price on Woodford's head, he perhaps would not have coolly sent them an invitation to come and get it.
On the other hand, Thomas Picton would have been misplaced in Woodford's time. The gruff Welsh professional soldier did not possess those polished and dignified manners that in Sir Ralph were so conspicuous and with the world at peace and through his own example tended so much to bring the islands' society into something like order.”
Professor Phillip Sherlock wrote:
"Picton ran Trinidad as if it were his regiment, Woodford ran it as if it were his country estate. Sir Ralph Woodford traveled widely through the country, saw everything with his own eyes rather than through the reports that others gave him, and made sure that his decisions were carried out. He was at his best when dealing with matters like planning, and building roads, and enlarging and beautifying Port of Spain. He also straightened the confusion over the ownership of land. This was a mess. The old Spanish Grandee families claimed more land as belonging to them than the entire square acreage of the island."
Woodford brought Spaniards from Venezuela, lawyers who were versed in the Spanish land laws. Their descendants are still with us as families such as Garcia, Llanos and Gomez.
Picton, on the other hand, had his own way of doing things, for example, as Edward Joseph recounts:
"The manner of Picton addressing a suspected inhabitant of this colony was characteristic. If he heard of anyone of them who behaved badly, he would send for him and take him to his gallery (he lived on the south eastern corner of Charlotte Street and Marine Square) before which was erected the mark of civilisation, a gallows. He would tell the party that he had heard so and so of him, which he hoped for his sake was not true. 'Go,' he would say, 'reform from your former life or leave the island, otherwise the wind shall pass between the soles of you feet and the earth.'"
Sir Ralph saw to the planning and building of a road from Matura to Mayaro and opened up the old Amerindian track between Arima and the Manzanilla coast. He put up a customs house in Mayaro, which made it easier and cheaper for people in the eastern parts to ship goods to Tobago. He opened up these areas in the hope of attracting settlers, disbanded soldiers from the Duke of Wellington's army. He felt that more English people should settle in Trinidad. He created prescriptions against the free black people and sought to prevent marriages between white and black people.
Picton, on the other hand, hung, flogged, beheaded, banished and jailed everybody, black or white, and openly kept a mistress of indeterminable racial mixture. Their descendants are still with us.
Woodford never had a mistress, although it is said that he was in love with Soledad, the daughter of Don Antonio Gomez. Henry Nelson Coleridge, the nephew and son-in-law of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote of her:
"Soledad! Thou wilt never read this book; few of those who will can ever know thee and I shall never see thee again this side of the grave; Therefore I write thy name whilst I remember thy face and hear thy voice, thou sweet ingenious girl!"
Picton was not charmed by the giles of the Creoles who knew well the art of currying favour. For example, calling once at the store of a reformed republican, the Governor complimented the man on his good conduct as of late and told him that those who, like him, behaved well, would prosper with the rising prosperity of the colony and should never want for his protection. The Frenchman was tasting wine, a glass of which Picton partook of and admired. The storekeeper subsequently sent the governor the cask of the wine as a present. Picton returned the wine with a brief note, which thanked the man for his offer but informed him that when his (Picton's) King could not afford to give him wine he would drink water.
Sir Ralph was first in urging from the Secretary of State a plan for attracting families of East Indians to settle and cultivate their own farms. He wanted them to come as small settlers, to create homesteads of their own. Woodford acquired the Peschier estate at St. Anns. It is interesting to note that he removed the original forest and imported trees, under the guidance of his botanist, David Lockhart, from other countries so as to create an English garden - which still exists in the form of the Botanical Gardens in St. Anns.
Picton put up a notice on the hangman’s gibbet in Marine Square, stating that he would hang the first Public Officer who took a bribe. With regard to obeah which was both prevalent and terrifying, an old man, who allegedly killed people with sheer fright of 'Obi', was caused to be seated on an ass with his face to the tail and all his collection of "rude dolls, dried bones, herbs, teeth, snakes" and other trumpery of his trade hung around his neck, while all the children of the estate stoned and hooted at the old impostor. This had the desired effect. It turned the obeah man to ridicule, and those who formally stood in awe of his supposed power now treated him with disdain. Had he been hung, he would have left the reputation of having been a great enchanter.
Port of Spain was still a small town when Woodford became governor in 1813. But it was growing rapidly and it might easily have lost some of its open spaces if it had not been for him. He saw the shabby lots that had been left empty since the fire of 1808, weeds covering the square which the Spaniards and French had called Place Des Armes and which the English re-named Brunswick Square. The empty wasteland west of the town, which was part of Ariapita Estate, the thick bush that covered the land, north of Oxford Street, the corbeaux that swarmed along the beach, the shacks and huts that littered the foreshore, where the Spaniards had their Calle Marina. He rode through Maraval and St. Anns, he laid out parks and brought pitch from La Brea to kill the weeds in Brunswick square. He bought through the Cabildo lands to the north of the town and laid this out as the Grand Savannah, later known as the Queen's Park Savannah, to be pasture for the cattle of Port of Spain. Close upon 200 years later, we still enjoy these green oases that Woodford created.
These men who have left their mark were men of their times and are remembered by Woodford Square and Picton Quarry as well as the two one-way streets in New Town.

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