Thursday 12 July 2012

By Rail to San Fernando

by J.H. Collens (abridged), 1886
When hundreds of wild cows roamed Caripichaima

The different estates and objects of interest on the line between Port of Spain and St. Joseph junction have already been enumerated in the previous chapter (published in last month's digest). It will therefore be necessary to take up the journey only from the point where the line branches off, viz., at the signal box between St. Joseph and Tunapuna. Here, you will turn sharply round in a southerly direction, leaving St. Augustine estate works on your left and passing through the estate. After crossing the iron bridge over the Caroni, you reach the station, which is named, like the district, after the river. To the right are the hospital and factory  Frederick estate (Mr. Gregor Turnbull). On the public road to the west of Frederick is another substantial iron bridge spanning the river. The road from the back of the station leads to St. Clair estate (Mr. Zurcher), Mon Jaloux (Mr. Q. Kelly), and several cacao estates along the bank of the river. Beyond these is St. Helena estate (Messrs. G. Turnbull & Co.), where is the very fine new iron bridge alluded to in the former chapter as being on the road from Golden Grove. Still farther is an Indian settlement, with several more cacao estates, the principal being those of Mr. Centeno.
It was originally proposed to extend the railway system to Cumuto. Three and a half miles of embankment were thrown up, bridges constructed, and a mile and a quarter of rails laid down at a cost of £5,000, when the work was abandoned, I believe by order of the then Secretary of State. The first station would have been St. Helena, and from Cumuto in all probability the line would have eventually reached Mayaro.
Parties bent on alligator shooting frequently have their boat sent from town up the Caroni to meet them here or at the adjacent estate of Mc Leod Pain. Still better sport, however, is to be obtained at a small lake about two miles inland, known as the Bejucal. Here alligators, wild birds, and the queer armour-coated cascadoura positively swarm.
Following the rail again from Caroni station on the right is Wilderness estate (Mr. J.W. Warren); Mr. F. Zurcher's Mon Plaisir faces the Cunupia station. This part of the country is becoming famous for the cultivation of tobacco and limes by Mr. C. Fabien, who has been successful both with regard to the growth and the manufacture of the fragrant weed. Apropos of tobacco, His Excellency has just published a smart little brochure advocating the growing of this plant, and certainly the recent experiments have clearly shown that there is no earthly reason why we must either pay an exorbitant price for the Havana article, or else as an alternative have badly made up cabbage-leaf foisted upon us. Mr. Fabien's best cigars at the recent exhibition were of very good quality. Mr. Anderson, who has had some experience in that line, is also going in for the cultivation and manufacture of tobacco and cigars.
Leaving Cunupia station, Reform estate (Messrs. Coryat and E. Cipriani) is the next estate on the right, and beyond it Léonice (Mr. Cornilliac). I omitted to state the rather interesting fact that the site of the little Anglican Chapel at Cunupia was given by a wealthy heathen Indian living in the quarter.
St. Charles, a small estate belonging to Mr. C. Smith, is on the right near Chaguanas, while beyond it on the left is Endeavour (Mr. René de Verteuil). Opposite the latter is Woodford Lodge, the property of the Hon. G. Fitt and Mr. S. Henderson. The oscillated centrifugal sugar system, adopted first on Messrs. Tennant's estate, Inverness, has been improved upon here, with highly satisfactory results. The soil of Chaguanas, especially in the vicinity of the sea, is of the description commonly known as "crab-land", from the innumerable holes in the surface made by the land crabs.
Chaguanas has generally the reputation of being a dreary kill-joy sort of place, suggestive of muddy roads and legions of mosquitoes and sand flies. So it may be, but the forests and high woods are full of hidden treasures that the keen and vigilant eye of the naturalist will spy out and gloat over. The Noel Baptist Chapel in McDonald valley of this district is interesting as having been built partly by subscriptions of the neighbouring planters, but mainly by contributions form the Sunday School Children of John Street Church, Bedford Row, London.
You cross the Chaguanas Road immediately before entering the station. To the east lies the Montrose cacao estate (Hon. G. Fitt), and Mr. Latour's sugar estate, Edinburgh. Beyond these is the convict depot. To the west lies Perseverance (Messrs. T. Daniell & Sons), and Chaguanas village with its Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. A new church is being built for the former denomination quite close to the line. Beyond the village are Trafalgar (Messrs. Cadet and Ambard), Petersfield (Mr. Burgos), Adela (Mr. J. Coryat), and near the bay Messrs. Daniell's large estate Felicité. The proprietors of the last named generously gave a site for a new Wesleyan Chapel, erected in 1878.
Taking up the route again from the railway, you pass through unopened lands, the huge trees, with their burden of parasites, not having yet succumbed to the woodman's ax. When nearing Carapichaima, on the right you catch a glimpse of the fine Waterloo works (Mr. J. Cumming), furnished with the Brush Electric Light. Opposite these is a road leading to the village and to Orange Field (Mr. L. Preau).
From Carapichaima, Mr. Cumming, who is the largest resident proprietor in the island, and one of the most liberally disposed, owns a series of estates, extending a distance of fully seven miles. A part of his property is as yet uncultivated, and is to all appearance high woods, but it is tenanted by a herd of wild oxen. Some twelve or fourteen years ago, about fifteen head of cattle escaped from Felicité estate, Chaguanas, and took to the woods. There must be now not less than two hundred of them, and noble beasts some of them are! Occasionally, sportsmen and hunters come across a drove them, when they immediately do a stampede.
Passing another of Mr. Cumming's estate, Exchange, on the right, and crossing the road, we enter the Couva station. Here in a cluster are the post office, warden's and savings bank offices, Roman Catholic church and school, and police station. The last is a creditable building of concrete, containing also the magistrate's court. Couva is a fast-growing flourishing district, comprising four villages—Exchange, California, Spring and Freeport. The eastern direction of the road lately crossed leads to the new Presbyterian church and school now in course of erection, near which is an excellent manse; the site for all these have been generously given by Mr. Cumming from the lands of Camden estate; then Spring village, Spring and Caracas estates (Mr. J. Henderson),  and finally Montserrat. It is proposed to lay a tramway between Couva station and the junction of the two roads to Gran Couva and Mayo. This is very much needed, as it will open up the way to what is practically an unknown region to a great many even of the residents in Trinidad.
But the train has started again; rolling over the muddy Couva river by the longest iron bridge in the island, you see on the right the fine works of Brechin Castle estate (Mr. G. Turnbull) in the Savonetta part of Couva (Savonetta—little savanna). These were the first vacuum pans worked erected in Trinidad, and the fine crystals made here took the first prize at the local exhibition in February this year (1886). On the left is Sevilla, worked in connection with Brechin Castle. the first building is the estate hospital; a little further, on the rising ground, is the residence of Mr. John S. Wilson, planting attorney of Messrs. Turnbull, Stewart & Co. There is a telephonic communication between Brechin castle and Sevilla, and from the former to the shipping place. Behind Sevilla, in the direction of Montserrat, are Milton estate (Messrs. C. Tennant, Son & Co.) and Rivulet (Mr. G. Turnbull).
Leaving California station, on the left is the residence of Mr. Bernard Kenny, a genial son of Erin,  who has charge of Mr. W. F. Burnley's Couva estates, Esperanza, Phœnix Park and Providence. Phœnix Park is easily recognisable by the avenue of coco palms on the left. On the opposite side are Providence works and about a quarter of a mile beyond the distillery.
Nearing Claxton's bay village and school, you cross the road just before entering the station. The eastern direction of this road leads through the village and on to the four estates of Mr. Abel Devenish—Mount Pleasant, Forest Park, cedar Hill and Diamond, in the direction of Montserrat.
The westerly direction of this same road brings one almost immediately to the Gulf, and to the jetty, 1,300 feet in length and ten feet in breadth. This is now the property of the Mr. Devenish just mentioned, and was built in 1871 by his uncle, Mr. Le Roy, at a cost of nearly £2,000. It stands on cast iron screw piles, with runners and decking of balata, one of our most durable native woods. Being connected with the estates by a tram line, Mr. Devenish thus avoids much of the expense of carting, the sugar being conveyed to the extreme end of the jetty, where the lighters lie alongside to receive it.
Claxton's bay railway station is grimy-looking, like all the rest of them for want of clean new paint, but the collector, all honour to him, does his best to improve it by planting creepers, and attaching orchids to the woodwork. I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance, but I feel convinced he must be a good man. Would it be a liberty to suggest to the authorities that this horticulturist should be removed to each station in turn along the line, say for six months at a spell, so that he may continue the work of reformation at each, and show what nature can do when she is helped a little?
Leaving Claxton's bay, you approach Plaisance estate (Messrs. C. Tennant) on the left. Here is one of the most interesting curiosities in the island, the thermal spring, or rather springs, for there are at least two distinct ones. A bath house has been put up, covering two good-sized concrete baths. The clear spring water, apparently like other water till you become cogniscant of its warmth, flows directly into the baths from the hillside, in just such a stream as might be poured from a bucket. The temperature of the water is from 100º to 105º Fahrenheit. On the occasion of my visit, by the courtesy of the manager, I was allowed to take a bath, which I found particularly pleasant an soothing, after the first strangeness of the unusual warmth had subsided. It is curious that hi water cools more rapidly than ordinary water would if heated artificially to the same pitch.
Rolling over the viaduct, near which is the government school, you see Pointe-à-Pierre R.C. church on the hill, commanding a fine view. The building, a wooden one, is of good size; over the altar are two large figures of St. Peter and St. Joseph. The Pointe-à-Pierre railway station is the merest apology for anything of the kind that I ever saw. Near it is Mr. Le Gay Johnstone's Plein Palais estate. The cutting a quarter of a mile long through the Pointe-à-Pierre hill was one of the chief engineering difficulties in the construction of the line, owing to the tendency to landslips.
At Marabella junction, passengers going towards Princes Town change to the Guaracara railway, which here branches off. As our destination is San Fernando, we keep our seats, and crossing the Guaracara we have a good view of the Gulf on the right and Marabella works (Mr. A.P Marryat) opposite on the eminence. The pasture, with its trees dotted about, strike one as resembling an English orchard. You will see plenty of pelicans flying busily about the Gulf, sometimes suddenly swooping down straight as an arrow for the unwary fish they have spotted during their flight. The white egrets, too, look very pretty wading through the shallow water, or stalking along the muddy banks. Passing and abandoned estate, Vista Bella (Mrs. J. Lambie), and skirting the Naparima Hill, you come to San Fernando.

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