Tuesday, 28 February 2012

An Indian Prime Minister


Racial prejudice, institutionalised to a fine point, was directed at the free blacks and people of colour as a class during the Woodford administration 1813 - 1829. The educated, well-off slave- and property-owning free black people responded with petitions. Eventually a delegation led by the coloured doctor Jean Baptiste Philippe left for London and met with the Secretary of State to the Colonies, the Lord Bathhurst. They did not propose emancipation of the salves. Slavery was an economic necessity that they as well as the Europeans subscribed to.
The case as presented was sound in law, inasmuch as the terms of the Cedula of Population, under the Spanish government, guaranteed certain rights for free blacks. The Articles of Surrender to the British by the Spanish Government in Trinidad in 1797 maintained those rights. With the court’s decision, the free blacks as a group had won a civil rights case, more than likely the first in this hemisphere.
Out of this came a political awareness that eventually formulated itself into the reform movements of the 1850s, on through to the turn of the century to the creation of the Workingman's Association. These reformists were concerned with altering the nature of Crown Colony status so as to increase greater participation by local people in the colony's political process. This was the hot-bed, the crucible of Creole politics as expressed by people like Mzumbo Lazare, Maresse Smith, Phillip Rostant, Preudomme David, Captain Cipriani, Albert Gomes and eventually C.L.R. James, Dr. Patrick Solomon and  Dr. Eric Williams. The genesis of the "politics of race" was a natural reaction of the black intellectuals to the absurdity of colonial prejudice which, more than anything else, insulted the intelligence of thinking people.
The East Indians of Trinidad, arriving from 1845 to 1917, had an entirely different political genesis. Living on the vast cane estates after the emancipation of the slaves, they escaped the emasculation and degradation of slavery and the violence of the plantations worked by slave labour to some extent. Old roles of leadership did not apply in the indentureship system. The mere crossing of the ocean had been enough to break that spell.
Conditions on the estates were also a great leveler. Leaders emerged from different quarters as necessitated by the managers' requirements. "Surdars", drivers and foremen and shopkeepers of all and every condition and caste, assumed leadership roles in estate yard and village life.
The earliest Indian organisation in this island came into existence in 1897, to organise a campaign to protest an ordinance, No. 12 of 1897, which contained several sections which infringed on the rights of the East Indians. This was the East Indian National Organisation. This body was to out live its original purpose, however its efforts after 1898 served to increase East Indian self-awareness.
Also in 1897, a group of East Indians submitted a memorandum to the West Indian Commission in which they requested for the first time direct representation by an East Indian member in the Legislative Council. This was unsuccessful. But as Dr. Bridget Brereton observes:
"The request highlighted a growing political awareness; it indicated that Indians were beginning to consider themselves as an identifiable group with its own interests, different and separate from those of other groups and with demands to be articulated."
By and large, East Indian politics was 50 years behind the Reformist Movement of the Creoles. Leaders like Sir Henry,  Maxwell Philip Q.C., Kenneth Vincent Brown K.C., for example, were already practiced speakers on the nominated benches of the Legislative Council in the 1880s and '90s. It was out of the organisation of labour that East Indians were to assume leadership roles that were larger than the estate yard or village life. This process commenced with lowering of wages and the increase of task work.  Professor Kusha Harraksingh states:
"This was a recurring planter strategy which the nature of the task system itself conveniently accommodated."
Many factors contributed to the unionisation of sugar workers that eventually occurred in 1937, not the least of which was the end of indentureship in 1917 and the switch over to free, unindentured labour. Professor Harracksingh also notes that the "concentration of ownership of the sugar industry was in a few hands ... the growth of a peasant sector of small and middle-sized cane farms without their own processing facilities; the development of party politics ... and the identification of sugar workers with a particular ethnic and cultural group."
The East Indian National Association in Princes Town was joined by another organisation called the Indian National Congress centered in Couva. The aim of these bodies was to encourage Indians to takes an active and intelligent part in both community life and in the broader scheme of things. The Trinidad Citizens League formed be Cola Rienzi (Krishna Deonarine) was a party which mainly appealed to sugar workers. This was branded as Communists by the colonial government.
In 1942, almost a century after East Indians had settled here, the right of adult franchise was granted by the colonial authority, hard won and hard fought for by the 19th century reformists and the trade unions, produced from their ranks, in the strikes of the 1920s and 30s and in the killing fields of Apex and Fyzabad.
For the East Indians, it created a great political impasse. The ordinance demanded that the voter could cast a vote only if he was qualified in the English language. The majority of the East Indians were illiterate and very few of them had a command of English. As V.M. Vidyarthi wrote in his article "Indian to Trinidadian":
"The language test therefore would have almost exclusively and adversely affected the Indian Community in the exercise of its votes, should it be allowed to function."
It was perceived as the most notorious element in the political setup and called for a united force to fight it. It tended to unite the East Indians, and their organisations finally succeeded in removing the test. Thus, equal opportunity for all races to participate fully in the political process was achieved, albeit within the structure of colonial Trinidad. The small steps taken by the Indian community in contributing to the creation of the nations political life was to be conveniently forgotten.
The first election with universal adult suffrage was held in 1946. A large number of independents and various political groupings contested the election. Men of Indian descent obtained four out of the nine elected seats. At this point, East Indians formed 35% of the islands population. It is thus very significant that they actually captured 44% of the elected seats.
In 1950, the second election was held under a new constitution. The entire colony was divided into 18 constituencies with an almost equal population. Fifty-one candidates were put up by five different political groups, and ninety independents contested. Five independents and 13 party candidates were elected. Among these seven were East Indians - four Hindus and three Christians. This represented 39% of the total elected seats. In his article Vidyarthi writes:
"A constitutional Reform Committee under the chairmanship of Ashford S. Sinanan, a member of the Legislative Council, was appointed in 1955. This committee recommended the creation of a British type of cabinet government under an elected Chief Minister. After minor modifications, the recommendations were implemented and the introduction of these reforms were hailed as a significant political advance. It gave rise to Party Politics."
In 1956, the elections were held under the new constitution, in which 8 parties put up 89 candidates to contest 24 seats. Among these, the Trinidad Labour Party and Uriah Butler's Party were the oldest. The Trinidad Labour Party was founded by Captain A.A. Cipriani and advocated self government.
The East Indian leadership at this point was divided into two groups. Leaders like Sarran Teelucksingh, Timothy Roodal and Adrian Kola Rienzi formed an association with Cipriani and the T.L.P. and had the support of East Indian organisations. The other party in the race was the People's Democratic Party, formed by Bhadase Sagan Maraj. For many years he reigned supreme as one of the top East Indian leaders in Trinidad.
Bhadase was a man of wide influence and dynamic personality, who advanced the status of the entire East Indian community. First elected as an independent to the Legislative Council in 1950, in '53 he founded the Peoples Democratic Party and in the same year became the leader of the Sugar Worker's and Cane Farmer's Union.
The year 1956 saw the formation of the People's National Movement under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams. The P.N.M. entered the election campaign with a clear-cut program. It declared that the people of Trinidad had 6 years of corruption, mismanagement and party acrobatics in public affairs. It presented a multiracial slate of candidates and based its appeal on West Indian nationalism. It commanded black professional,  black labour and black urban support. It also commenced an educational program at Woodford Square in an atmosphere that may only be described as messianic.
Under pressure from the P.N.M., the leadership of the P.D.P. tried to modify its purely East Indian character and promoted multi-racialism and secularism from its platforms. It lent its support to the Party of Political Progress Groups, headed by Albert Gomes, the most significant person in the political scene after Captain A.A. Cipriani. The P.D.P. also supported the Butler Party and the Trinidad Labour Party as well as several independents.
From the results of the 1956 election, in which the P.N.M. secured the majority of seats and formed the government, it was clear that the time of the independents was over. The P.N.M. victory was the result of better organisation and leadership. It was also the result of the assertion of Negro self respect and self confidence, all supported by a strong black middle class, with its roots firmly placed in the 19th century colonial reform movements buttressed by West Indian immigration that had struggled against colonial dominance for close to 150 years.
On July 18th, 1957, at a special meeting of the representatives of the P.D.P., the F.L.P. and the P.O.P.P.G., a decision was taken to dissolve their parties and form the Democratic Labour Party. On January 8th, 1958, Badhase Sagan Maraj, the former head of the P.D.P. and the president general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu religious body in Trinidad, was elected Leader of the parliamentary wing of the D.L.P., which by this time was recognised as the official opposition party in the Legislative Council.
With this development, the two-party system came into being. Between the P.N.M., with its "African" support and the D.L.P. with its "Indian" base. The D.L.P. was successful in the Federal Elections. However times were changing as Vidyarthi notes:
"But despite Bhadase's popularity and his influence on the East Indian masses, the younger generation of educated and enlightened groups found him to be an embarrassing leader. He was uneducated and no match for Dr. Eric Williams."
They thought his manners crude and his methods suspicious. To match the intellectual glamour of Dr. Williams, a section of the D.L.P. looked for leadership elsewhere, as the old "chief" had become less effective and increasingly unwell. The D.L.P. was divided upon itself during this period and A.P.T. James of Tobago took the helm.
He too was no match either for the brilliance or eloquence of Dr. Eric Williams. During this period, there were many defections to the P.N.M., as both Christian and Muslim intellectuals crossed over to the winning side. The D.L.P. leadership passed to Rudarnath Capildeo, a "staunch Sanatanist Hindu." Dr. Capildeo, like Dr. Williams, was an island scholarship winner. He had earned his Ph.D. from London University. He was now an acknowledged mathematician and physicist. It was felt that if Dr. Capildeo headed the D.L.P., he would be able together East Indian intellectuals and professionals and at the same time exert enough influence on the rural masses. He would also provide non-Indians alienated from the P.N.M. with the intellectual capacity they wanted.
Despite fierce factional fighting between the Bhadase supporters and the young intellectuals, concern of another P.N.M. victory eventually forced the closing of the ranks behind the new leader. But Dr. Capildeo was no politician. Unlike Dr. Williams, he had not created a political party of his own, but was rather placed at the head of a party by a group of shrewd and experienced politicians who wanted to use him and his academic achievements for getting votes. Dr. Kenneth Lalla comments on the 1961 elections and quotes Dr. Selwyn Ryan:
"As a forerunner to the 1961 general elections, the P.N.M. government announced its intention not only to re-draw the electoral boundaries but also to compile a new voters' registration and to introduce voting machines.
The Indians' reaction to those proposals was that they pointed out that these new voting arrangements were calculated to curtail the voting strength of the Indians, which had been demonstrated against the P.N.M. in the 1958 Federal elections. They further argued that the replacement of the ballot box by voting machines was also designed to frustrate illiterate Indians. Did the P.N.M. manipulate the distribution of the voting population on a racial basis so as to give more seats to the P.N.M.? On this issue Dr. Selwyn Ryan commented:
“The P.N.M. took no chances even in Port of Spain, where the boundaries were redrafted, to make sure that all potential D.L.P. areas, i.e. the upper class and upper middle-class residential areas, were attached to working class areas where the P.N.M. had been consistently strong. The D.L.P. was not given an outside chance to gain a seat in the capital city as they had done in the 1958 and 1959 municipal elections . In the countryside there was strong evidence to substantiate the D.L.P. claim that the P.N.M. had herded as many Indian voters as was possible into constituencies which they could not possibly win, and had extracted from such areas large blocks of Negro voters who were then recombined into the other constituencies.” (from “Race and Nationalism” 1961 pp. 144-45)"
Dr. Capildeo as Prime Minister! This was the dream of many and perhaps it was his dream as well, an Indian Prime Minister, just imagine!
Under his leadership the D.L.P. captured ten out of thirty seats. The highest voter turnout was in St. Augustine, where he was the candidate. The D.L.P. candidates were returned from the rural areas, mainly the sugar belt. Out of the ten seats gained, eight were East Indians and two were Negroes.
The eight East Indians consisted of three Hindu, one Muslim and  four Christians. Among these Ashford Sinanan, Simboonath Capildeo, Lionel  Frank Seukeran and Stephen Maharaj were elected to the Legislative Council. The other six members, new to the political arena, were Dr. Capildeo, political leader, Tajmool Hosein, Vernon Jamada, Balgobin Ramdeen, M. Forrester and Peter Farauhar.
In 1962, Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence. Many of the opposition's demands were rejected. Dr. Capildeo had failed at the Marlborough House talks in London, and in many quarters it was felt that their cause had been betrayed. This led to an all around dissension among party members and resulted in the expulsion of many. Dr. Capildeo himself grew weary and was disgusted with politics. He eventually relinquished leadership of the D.L.P. and returned to London where he died in 1970.

Mary Seacole


by Gerard Besson

The little woman, just a trifle plump, alighted from the carriage. Above, the London sky appeared a seamless fold of gray that descended downward and into an unremitting damp. As the carriage rolled away, she made her way across the broad pavement towards the great iron gates of Buckingham Palace and, to the startled amazement of the sentry pacing the perimeter of the palace, she slipped through the small postern gate, set into the huge railings near to the red and white striped sentry box.
"Stop at once!" called the sentry.
"Sir, a person has entered the courtyard and is making her way to the front entrance."
He reported to the sergeant of the Cold Stream Guards who had been alerted by his cry. Already the little woman was out of sight as she followed the wide curving sweep of the massive driveway, decorated with monuments of the Empire's glory. Spotting her as she took the flight of stairs, he blew shrilly on his whistle. This brought several guardsmen on the run. Their bright red tunics and tall, dark bear skins were starkly elaborate against the all-covering gray. By that time Mary Seacole had gained the portico and pulled the bell next to the main door.
"Halt, Madam!" shouted the first guardsman to mount the stairs. Already there were three other tall imposing young men, resplendent in their uniforms.
"Attention!" snapped the sergeant of the Cold Stream Guards. They had been joined by Captain Baldwin Northcliffe Phipps of the Household Regiment.
"Good Morning, Mother Seacole. I see you have come to call upon Her Majesty," tutted the distinguished, somewhat more than middle aged officer. "Perhaps you might have informed us of your presence in the city and of your intentions."
"Captain Baldwin Phipps, you look very well indeed."
"Thank you Ma'am."
Mary Seacole looked kindly at the smart young men still standing at attention and smiled into the slightly puzzled eyes of the sergeant of the Cold Stream Guards and said to him in her good West Indian way:
"My son, the Royal Family is glad any time to ask me to tea."
Indeed it proved to be true on that occasion. This is the story of one of the most remarkable West Indian women who ever lived. It is the story of a coloured woman who traveled round the Caribbean, in fact the world, at a time when most women stayed at home; the story of a woman who, with gentle persuasion, dealt with the British War office and made her way to the Crimea at the time of the Crimean War; the story of a woman who was well known to and on family terms with Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India, and who was decorated by Her on more than one occasion.
The story of Mary Jane Seacole is now all but forgotten. There was a time, however,  when her humanitarian and medical services to the British Army fighting in the Crimea War from 1854 to 1856 "made her a household name in Britain".
She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Jane Grant, in 1805. She was the daughter of a Scottish army officer and a coloured woman who ran a boarding house called Blundell Hall in Kingston, largely patronised by army and naval officers and their families Mary married Edwin Horatio Seacole who was a godson of Viscount Nelson. Her mother was well known for her skills as a healer and her ability to cure fevers, especially yellow fever, which ravaged Jamaica from time to time. Mary acquired her mothers gift and knowledge of Creole medical lore. She worked with her mother saving the lives of many service men and their families. Her reputation grew in such a way that the authorities enlisted her services for their military hospital.
Among the officers and enlisted men of the regiments she had known were some of the 48th Regiment of Foot, the 1st Battalion of the Northhamptonshires, stationed in Jamaica. While still in her teens she made the first of many trips to England. Learning of the terrible hardships caused by the incompetence of the military in the Crimea in the early 1850s, particularly the suffering of the wounded and the sick, "the inclination to gain my old friends of the 97th, 48th and other regiments battling with worse foes than yellow fever or cholera, took such exclusive possession of my mind that I decided to devote my energies to the alleviation of their misery".
She undertook the difficult task to persuade the military authorities to "permit an unknown coloured woman to proceed to the Crimea to help nurse the disease prevalent among troops in this war fought between Russia, England and France". Applying without success to the Secretary of War, the Quartermaster General, the medical department and to the wife of the Secretary of War, Mrs. Sydney Herbert, who co-ordinated the recruitment of nurses, including the famous Florence Nightingale, she was eventually obliged to set out, at her own expense, for Turkey and the theatre of war.
On the way, she was recognised at Gibraltar by two officers of the 48th bound for scene of action, who warmly greeted her. On arrival in the Crimea, she set to work "serving the expeditionary force, both as unofficial nurse and as a 'suttler', that is, one who followed the army and served food and drink."
Within two months, she had opened the British Hotel just north of Balaclava on the road to Sebastopol. A London newspaper reported:
"Lord Raglan's veto for women rendering assistance at the battle front did not inhibit Mrs. Seacole from riding forward with her small personal mule train of medications, food and refreshments."
By the summer of 1855, Mary Seacole was regarded by the troops as part heroine and part mascot. If the other battle front had Florence Nightingale, the lady with the lamp, Balaclava could offer the romantic legend of a Creole with a tea mug. The soldiers called her "Mother Seacole" and "Auntie Seacole."
Her hotel was on the main road to the front line and to many it was a place of comfort and healing. When peace came, Mary had to sell her hotel. Her work had already made the news. W.M. Russel of the "London Times" wrote:
"I have witnessed her devotion and courage. I have already born testimony to her services to all those who needed them. I trust that England will not forget one who has nursed her sick, who has sought her wounded in order to aid and succor them and who has performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead."
Mary returned to Jamaica where she helped her sister, Louisa, to run Blundell Hall. She visited London whenever she could. Mary Seacole wrote the story of her life in a book called "Wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands". Count von Gleichen, a nephew of Queen Victoria, made a little bust of her in terracotta which is kept on show at the Institute of Jamaica.
She was widely known as a woman of great courage and kindness and as a devoted nurse at a time when the professions were closed to women and few ventured abroad. Today there is a Mary Seacole Hall at U.W.I in Jamaica. Wouldn't you agree that her name should be better known to West Indians?

Friday, 24 February 2012

West Indian Immigration


No other island in the West Indies has experienced such an ongoing immigration as Trinidad has. In 1826, just before the emancipation of the slaves, the population stood at 23,123 slaves, 8,404 Free Blacks, 2,005 Whites and 655 Amerindians.
After emancipation in 1838, West Indians, mostly of pure African descent, began to come to Trinidad from the neighbouring islands.
Encouraged by the planter interest facilitated by the British Administration, motivated by the freedom to travel and in pursuit of better opportunities, West Indians came from all the islands in the Caribbean. This immigration was so intense that it was remarked that the Trinidad Creoles were being overwhelmed by the other West Indians.
According to Prof. Bridget Brereton, the figures for immigration from the British West Indian islands between 1871 and 1911 were, at a conservative estimate, 65,000, about an average of 1,625 a year. Barbadians looking for a way to acquire plots of land, which for blacks was difficult, came here. This was facilitated by the 1873 Barbados Act which made provisions for assisting immigration.
Planter oppression was greater on that island and wages very low. As such, in this period, a vast majority of West Indian immigrants were from Barbados. This movement slowed somewhat between 1846 and 1861, but after 1864 many came to Trinidad so as to enjoy the prosperity that was happening here. Some 14,000 were living in Trinidad in 1897.
The vast majority of immigrants who came were working-class black people. This movement was just a part of a wider movement taking place during the latter half of the 19th century. Capital was moved out of the older West Indian colonies to the newer "unsaturated" territories.
It was necessary for the Secretary of State for the colonies to solve the overpopulation of some of the islands. Trinidad possessed a large land mass and a small population. These new arrivals did not necessarily go into the recently abandoned cane fields. They were escaping exactly such a fate in their own home islands. They did not want to make contracts with the planters. Instead they got their jobs in the many public works projects taking place all over the island, such as roads and railways.
It was estimated that 3,000 West Indian immigrants, most of them male, had arrived in Trinidad in 1873. Many of these were masons, brick layers, carpenters and other skilled labourers. The public works department had 400 West Indians working on the railways.
Urban institutions grew as a result of the prosperous state of the economy, driven by sugar cane, cocoa and coffee and supported by a growing commercial sector. Families, local whites, expatriates and well-off black people could afford to have a yard boy, a coachman, a cook, a maid or two, a nanny or two, a large house on upper Richmond Street or Victoria Square and could have as many as five domestics working on a regular basis. In some cases, dependents such as former servants, even former slaves, were part of the extended household. Some of these older folks could wield a strong influence, particularly in French Creole households, where in some cases the relationships may have been of long, sentimental or even familial standing.
Many West Indians went into the public institutions in Trinidad. They became wardens and nurses in the hospital, in the jail or in the asylum, work for they were by far the best suited for this work, as they came from small communities and were often kinder and just more understanding than Trinidadians. Many went into the police service which recruited from one generation to the next. They hardly ever bought estates and did not become agriculturists, although some bought land around Arima and Sangre Grande and grew cocoa.
There were a few small business proprietors. They settled in "large numbers in the long and almost continuous village" between St. Joseph and Arima where they raised large families and worked as artisans, mechanics, shoemakers and tailors. They were found to be, especially the Barbadians, able, peaceful and hardworking. They wrested most of the small industries from the more easy-going Trinidadian Creoles.
Barbadians were thought to be energetic, more so than the local Creoles. But like most immigrants they just had to work harder. Coming from Protestant islands, Barbados, St. Vincent, Antigua for example, they spoke English as opposed to those who came from Catholic islands like Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, who spoke Patios. British administrators in the civil service found them easy to deal with. As Dr. Brereton notes:
"This command of English made it easier for them to move into strategic jobs in the civil service as skilled workers, mechanics, craftsmen, policemen, teachers, minor civil servants and they, after forming a potentially mobile upper working class, became ambitious for their sons to rise to middle class status through the schools. The civil service became their most steady employer."
As the bureaucracy necessary to operate this prosperous island grew at a pace, it could afford an increasingly elaborate bureaucracy.  People who were now 'Trinis' depended on this bureaucracy as a secure life-time employer. The civil service in Trinidad became, by the 1950s, almost entirely made up of black people. This was not a result of an accident of history, but it was literally a policy of the colonial administration, and it was carried forward in a mindless manner. It served to segment the society and to create a dependency on the state by a very large segment of the population from one generation to the next, thus hampering entrepreneurial experiences in families and preventing personal growth and development in individuals.
On the other hand, undoubtedly the hard work, sacrifice and ambition of parents, grand parents and great-great grand parents had paid off in that remarkable individuals were produced. One thinks of Malcolm Nurse, called George Padmore, one of the founders of the international movement known as "Negritude" personalities like H.O.B. Wooding, and of Henry Sylvester, founder of the Pan African Movement. They were all sons and grandsons of Barbadian immigrants.
The adjustment to life in Trinidad was difficult for the immigrant. For those who, through luck, hard work, thrift and education found a footing here, there was the long road to self improvement. For those who fell between the cracks, life played out producing among the newcomers "swarms" of criminals, paupers and prostitutes. As one police inspector noted:
"The 1870s were notorious for crimes of wife beating, child beating, cutting and wounding. These were ascribed to Barbadian influence."
Studies also show that West Indian immigrants contributed an abnormally high proportion of convicts and hospital patients. The Colonial Hospital records for 1889 show 5,714 admissions, natives from India accounted 1,542, Trinidad Creoles 1, 680, Barbadians alone numbered 1,023 and from the other islands 744. Prof. Brereton notes that a
"Select committee of the Legislative Council considered the question of pauper and criminal immigration in 1893. It produced figures to show that while the proportion of natives of Trinidad to West Indians living in the island was 100:30 in 1891, the proportion in jail during 1888 - 92 was 100:109 and the proportion in hospitals and asylums was 100:94. It concluded that immigration from the West Indies 'embraces a most abnormal proportion of the worthless and vicious classes, of which these communities are riding themselves off the expense of Trinidad'."
The urban working class of Port of Spain grew at a pace in the 1880s to the 1900s, as the small islanders poured into the city's outer areas that had been forested just a few years before. The old city, dating back from Spanish times, deteriorated into horrendous yards. Areas such as Belmont, Laventille and East Dry River, which had been settled in the years after 1838 by coloured middle-class people, ex-slaves and their children, who were in the process of developing a low-keyed urbanization, were flooded by the small islanders, and many religious and cultural tensions arose. Calypsonians sang:
"Small islanders go back where you come from."
Increasingly, Trinidadians lost their 19th century "Creole soul" and acquired a Caribbean reality. The upshot of all this meant cheap labour for the moneyed interest of the colony and sewed the seeds of political avarice. The situation was investigated by the Surgeon General who revealed that small barrack rooms were being tenanted by dozens of persons. Some rooms on Prince Street and elsewhere were occupied by up to twenty adults. Such overcrowding brought hellish tensions, violence and antisocial behavior. The real problems were health, the spread of epidemics, death and mass human misery. The Surgeon General wrote:
"In epidemic times people become suddenly aware of the unpleasant fact that crowded away in the heart of large cities are hordes of destitute and suffering creatures more or less ill-fed, their diseases unattended to and their abodes the scene of squalor and every unwholesomeness."
It was unthinkable that it all could become worse but it did, in the period between the wars in the 1920s and 30s. Poverty was to hit a new low in Trinidad. The strikes and riots of this time came out of this neglect. With the advent of the second World War and the economy engendered by the arrival of the American forces, "money in the land" served to alleviate a desperate time. The 1940s and 50s saw a mass emigration of Trinidadians to London at first, than to New York, Toronto and other parts, very much in the same manner that the colonial administration allowed masses of people into Trinidad to drive down the cost of labour. In the main, the people who left Trinidad for greener pastures were urban middle class people with secondary and tertiary education. In turn, the politicians who took the country to independence encouraged immigrants from other islands to come, this time to maintain voter turnout affected by this Post War brain drain. A second wave of West Indian immigration took place, and again our culture altered as opposed to those who came in were rural, primary school educated and once more settled in the depressed areas that for runners had known. certainly, avarice drove the pursuit of cheap labour by the British colonial administration plus their need to alleviate overpopulated islands, as such Trinidad was a viable option. But in terms of local politicians, the question remains if the motive wasn't political avarice - a common cause of things in the history of the world.
The extent to which Trinidad was an immigrant society during the 19th century during the 19th century is seen by the following:
In 1861 the population was 84,438. In 1891 it was 200,028. Almost all as the result of immigration. the majority of immigrants came from the West Indian islands mostly British, India and Venezuela. In 1861 natives of India numbered 13, 488 and in 1891 numbered 45,028. From the British West Indies in 1861 there were 11,716 and in 1891 there were 33,180. From Africa, never knowing slavery, came freed Africans numbering 6,035.
A religious census in 1891 showed Roman Catholics to number 73,733. Hindu, Muslim, Confucian, Buddhist to be 64,413. Anglicans to number 46,920  and Wesleyans 6,312.
In 1881, there were 31,858 persons living in the city of Port of Spain with 2,706 living in Laventille. In 1891 "Greater Port of Spain" had an estimated population of about 50,000, that is about a quarter of the whole island.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

No Flint Grey


In the heat of the mid-morning, Alexander Grey sat in his gallery looking out at his fields. They stretched from what is now Maraval Road to the Boundary of Paradise estate, which belonged to the Peschier family.
If he glanced to his right, he would have seen his cane in arrow waving in reflection of the light hot wind that came across from the little port town, bringing with it the smell of overheated mangrove, warm molasses and the fragrance of rum being poured from the large copper ladles into massive oaken hogsheads.
The warm wind also carried the voices of his 137 slaves raised in song as in unison they slashed, as some forceful machine almost half a mile long, the full-bodied Otaheite cane, thick as a man's forearm.
St. Clair estate was named by him for Scotland in memory of the Princes of Orkney, in commemoration of Roslyn, his one true love. The house, large, too large, a wooden labyrinth built by slave labour, slave masons, slave carpenters, wood carvers and plasterers who had been brought from Barbados. The layout of his garden was in the English style. He had slaves to work his cane, to feel his lash, to be locked in his stocks, to warm his bed, to cook, clean, to serve, to be silent, to fan him in his sleep, to wake him gently, to help him into his shoes, his pantaloons, his coat, to pass his hat, his cane, to hold the door, close the door, to drive his carriage, to curry his horses, to bow before him, to bow after him, to whisper even in his absence, to rise, to wake, to sleep, to die for him. He was master of all that he surveyed.
He could see beneath a spreading Samaan tree, large for its young years, the estate graveyard. It contained the remains of his wife Jane, daughter Mary and six slaves brought to Trinidad from the wars, men already mature by the time he acquired them in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The warm wind brushed his clean-shaven cheek but hardly moved his great gray mane, gathered at the back and tied with a black velvet ribbon. Jezebel bent gracefully before him as she placed a silver tray on a low table. She did this slowly so as to allow him to admire her charms, tipped a darker hue than she. He was old fashioned and like his house slaves to serve at the table half-naked.
He dozed the doze of old men in a place where memory and dream meet in a netherland of might have been, should have been and never really happened but had become legend soon to be made history and still remembered by legless men, some blind from fire, some deaf from the thunder of cannons that still reverberated in the silence of their dreams, dreamt in cold dark hovels two thousand miles away on rainy nights when the wind howled on the blasted heathlands, his men.
The dream came, hadn't it, he would have summoned it. In 1794, General Grey attacked Martinique with a force of 19 ships and 7,000 soldiers. A little island, called Ramier's Island or Pigeon Island, stood in his way. It was strongly held by the French who had 22 heavy guns on it. Grey knew that he had to silence these guns if his ships were to have success against Fort de France.
"Signal to the fleet, Captain Stone, we tack to windward."
"Colonel, inform Major Henderson to prepare the landing parties, tell the 64th that they shall get their feet wet."
"Sir."
"Captain Dalrymple, we shall require artillery. Prepare twenty guns for loading. I will expect you to lead the gentlemen of East Riding. Tell the 15th I shall expect from them their duty."
"Sir!"
"Harry!"
Alexander Grey looked to his friend, Colonel Harold Ditmus, Colonel of the East Yorkshire Regiment (the Duke of York's own regiment).
"Harry, silence those guns. We must take this island before the week is out."
Leaving the battlements of Fort de France behind him, the British squadron sailed along the south east coast and landed its men at three points. At the head of the 63rd, General Grey made his way through the bush and across fields coming to the headland overlooking Pigeon Island. Thunderheads sent sprawling squalls across the horizon; the sun, breaking through in vast splashes of light, illuminated the aquamarine Caribbean Sea to brilliance. He and Ditmus stood beneath the snapping regimental colours, the sweating men of the 15th dragged and man-handled the heavy cannon into place.
"Prepare to fire in volleys of five! Start at the top, Mr. Henderson."
"Sir!"
"Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Reload! Fire at will."
Flocks of seagulls, very white against the gray, wheeled overhead, the British guns blazing fire to hot to handle. In the distance, the French batteries were tumbling into the sea. But this was just the beginning. There were two forts protecting Fort de France, and they had to fall. He had to take St. Pierre also, much further to the north under the shadow of the volcano, Mt. Pelée. He sent a force against St. Pierre. They battled their way through the island's forested interior, struggling in their heavy uniforms beneath the blazing heat of the sun. When they came upon a French strong point, they took it by assault, charging with their bayonets. These soldiers had flint lock muskets but General Grey held a prejudice against these.
"Too much damn noise, Mr. Henderson."
"Sir!"
"Shouting and shooting off muskets all well and good for the parade grounds, good for fighting in the open but not for scrambling over mountains and storming redoubts, what, what?"
"Sir!"
The General's method was to remove the flints from the muskets of his men. Then their only hope against the enemy was "to get to close quarters with your bayonets and stick it to them." They called him "No Flint Grey".
Before long, all the forts were taken except one, Fort Louis, on a rock that jutted out into the sea like a finger.
"We shall not waste shot and shell against that rock, Mr. Henderson."
"What do you have in mind, Sir?"
"Tell Captain Faulkner to prepare the 'Zebra'."
Later that afternoon, under full sail, he ran the 38-gun frigate ashore under the guns of the fort. While the ship keeled over, he and his men scrambled over her sides and swarmed up the sea walls of the fort, making use of every crack in the rocks, every tuft of grass, every tangle of roots, climbing on the shoulders of their comrades until at last they were over the top and the fort surrendered.
So Martinique became British in 1794 and British it remained until peace was made in 1802 and it was handed back to France. Alexander Grey came to Trinidad in 1805 and acquired a parcel of land that he called "Sweet Briar Farm". This became the St. Clair estate. A few years later, it was owned by the Scott-Bushe family and also by William Gordon. The great house itself became the St. Clair club. Acquired by the Alstons, it was torn down to make room for the Tatil Building.

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.

Michel Jean Cazabon


1813. It was the year that Trinidad got her first civil governor, Sir Ralph Woodford. The world was full of significant men, never mind that they were all still in their diapers: Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Richard Wagner, Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon III, for example. Fürst Bismarck had yet to be born two years later, to be followed closely by Tolstoi and Rockefeller. The probably most important invention of the year was the bicycle, that is, if we disregard Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of it 350 years earlier; those had never been actually built.
In this setting, Michel Jean Cazabon was born in the Naparimas. His parents were French; coloured, well-off people who had come from the French islands to receive land grants in Trinidad under the Cedula of Population. Michel grew up with his mother and siblings in San Fernando, since his parents separated one year after he was born. In their household, as in most others in those days in Trinidad, people spoke exclusively French and Patois.
Michel grew up in an independent and outdoorish manner. The habit of rambling around in the country side was something which he would keep up throughout his lifetime, and even make a living off it.
Trinidad had been a British colony for only 16 years, and in order to converse with the officials bits and pieces of English sufficed. Like other parents, the Cazabons were looking ahead and planning a future for their son. And the future in Trinidad looked mighty British to them. Hence, they sent off 15-year old Michel Jean to St. Edmund's College in England, to learn English and the ways of a British subject in the colonies. Typically, they probably wanted Cazabon jnr. to become a doctor or a priest, respectability being the order of the day, especially for coloured people. However, already from his years in Hertfordshire, there is evidence that he had little inclination for the academics and a growing love for the countryside and for art: his bills for "mending of trousers" and "stationery" were quite high, as Geoffrey MacLean reports in his book on Cazabon.
After four years in England, Michel returned to Trinidad at the age of 19. Of the following seven years, only two paintings remain of him. In 1837, Michel and his mother move to Port of Spain. Later that year, he is sent to Paris for his further education. The Cazabons snr. manage to send him enough money to live in good "arrondissements" in France's capital.
Becoming a young bohemian in Paris, he probably took art classes at the Académie des Beaux Arts (without being officially enrolled). Other sources say that he studied with Paul de la Roche, who was then a famous painter in Paris. However, as the years went by, his parents might have become more and more reassured that their prodigal son was on the right way, or at least they boasted with his proficiency and his exhibitions in the metropole to cover the "scandal" of having produced an artist. He exhibited at the Salon du Louvre and even went to study in Italy for a year in 1841 - 1842; Italy was then still regarded as the Mecca of artists. His paintings sold for hundreds, even more than 1,000 francs.
What made him so successful? His style was that of a romantic landscape painter, with a close eye on the detail, on light and shadow, on textures and on the spontaneity of people in the scenes he depicted. His preferred medium was watercolour, which had become en vogue in the second half of the 19th century in Europe.
Michel Jean got married in France to Louise Rosalie Trolard and had two daughters and one son, who was mentally handicapped. When his mother died in 1848, he came back to Trinidad to live in Port of Spain. His wife continued to live in Paris with their first daughter and son, and didn't join him in Port of Spain until 1852, after the birth of their second daughter (Michel obviously having returned to Paris in the meantime).
In Port of Spain, Sir James Lamont and William Burnley, both wealthy planters, commission works by Cazabon. He also produces a collection of lithographs, which he subsequently publishes in Paris in 1851. His second folio, called "Album of Trinidad", was published in 1857.
Cazabon established himself in Trinidad by advertising himself, as MacLean records, first as an artist who "paints landscapes and sites", and then as a "drawing master". He also offered teaching to private pupils or classes at quite a stiff price: $5.00 or $3.00 per month, respectively. In addition to teaching and painting commissioned works, Cazabon also draws for the Illustrated London News.
When looking at Cazabon's works (and if you haven't done so as yet, please go and visit the Cazabon collection at the Victoria Institute!), one can picture the excursions that he and his students had to go on in order to get to the sites he depicts. No mountaintop to high, no weather to rainy or no sea to rough: even at a mature age Cazabon must have had many more pairs of trousers that needed to be mended. He is probably best known for his tranquil, lush and tropical landscapes from all over Trinidad and from down the islands. But he also travels to Grenada, Martinique and Demerara to paint, and in 1862 publishes his "Album of Demerara".
Michel and Louise lived in grand style. They loved and were used to the good life-entertaining, travelling, serving champagne. During their life in Trinidad, which was then mainly a planter society and generally not very artistically-minded, their resources dwindled, however. In 1862, they decided to move to St. Pierre in Martinique, which had by then earned itself as "Petit Paris des Antilles". Maybe the coloured artist hoped to lead a more gentle life in a French colony than in a British. But St. Pierre too proved to be provincial for the now 50-year old Michel, and he was again and again drawn to Trinidad, where he painted scenes of his favourite spots: Macqueripe, Belmont, Laventille and the north coast. With one of his daughters married to a Martiniquan, he and the rest of his family moved back to Port of Spain in 1870. Michel continued to paint and grow old here. In 1885, his wife died. He followed her into the grave three years later.
In his home country, his significance as a painter was only really appreciated almost a century later. Many of his works were destroyed in the volcano eruption in Martinique in 1902, in which also his daughter perished. Fortunately, he had been so prolific, that in the first half of the 20th century people had Cazabons hanging in their houses as a matter of course, not attaching any special value to them. They were given away as wedding presents, or even thrown away if something more modern was to be put up.
But many of his works have survived, and are now on par with other artistic works of his time, with the added value for us that they depict - us, our lives, and our country, more than a century ago.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Cola Rienzi


Both the Trinidadian Cola Rienzi and the originator of his nom de plume shared the fate of power being placed into their hands and taken out of their hands because of their character.

An upstanding, handsome man, a lawyer by training, he had been born Krishna Deonarine. That morning, the 28th June 1937 to be exact, as he walked past the police sentry standing crisply at attention before the guardhouse at Government House in Port of Spain. He had some years before become Cola Rienzi.
Trinidad, not Tobago, was gripped in crisis. The grinding poverty, the outright racism of both the British and the "local whites", had alienated the working class long ago. The confrontation that now challenged the colonial administration and the moneyed interest had to do with the destruction of human dignity and self-respect in that overwhelming force was about to be brought to bear.
As he walked up the long, curving, dappled driveway, surrounded by rolling lawns and birdsong, the peaceful atmosphere seemed like another world. Its calm suspended time and place. Its order inferred confidence and power.
To Rienzi, the tropical adaptation of European elegance seemed like a stage set, designed to unnerve the insecure and to convey the awkwardness of not belonging there. The government had expected strike action for June 22 in the oil belt. In response, police and volunteers had been moved south on the 18th. As the sun lowered into the placid Gulf of Paria, the police had moved to arrest Uriah Butler at Fyzabad when he was in the process of addressing a meeting of workers. Butler escaped. Inspector Bradburn was killed and so too Carl King, a police corporal who was burnt to death.
The governor, Sir A.G.M. Fletcher, went south to see for himself. Already there were two British warships on the scene. There was significant property to be protected. Within days, the strikes had spread to the sugar areas and Port of Spain. Government workers had joined in. 350 special constables "of all races" were enrolled to protect the capital. There was a reward posted now for Butler and a massive manhunt was on for the man who had mobilised the masses.
Butler did not want, however, to vanish. He did not want to be out of touch with the workers in these most crucial times. He knew well the power of the imperial forces arranged against him. He needed to be out in the open to control events, and he needed protection from the authorities.
Rienzi took the low and wide flight of steps quickly into the  marbled shade of the Victorian mansion. The tall mahogany doors swung open to receive him. The young, clear-eyed British officer gestured in an cultured manner towards the door through which the governor would arrive shortly and indicated a low seat where Cola was to wait upon the governor's pleasure.
Historian Michael Anthony, writing many years later, felt that this was where Cola Rienzi performed a most outstanding role, not merely because he was Butler's friend and comrade, but on behalf of the entire labour movement. Rienzi, Anthony wrote, asked the government for a safe conduct for Butler. Governor Fletcher, however, held that in the colony's interest it was crucial for the oilfield strike to end and that until the strike was called off, there could be no talks with Butler. Rienzi pressed on, pointing out Butler's legitimate right to call upon his followers in the oil belt to stop work in support of obviously just demands. But in pursuit of peace, Rienzi promised that he would press Butler to hold off the strike.
Governor Fletcher was adamant that there could be no safe conduct for Butler.
"This was the little interlude when Rienzi, had he been an insincere and self-seeking man, could have walked right in, usurped Butler's position, and taken over whatever labour movement there was by installing himself as the chief of the labour movement," writes Anthony. "He had already gained the confidence of the oilworkers and the authorities ... but Rienzi was anxious to see Butler come back amongst the oil workers and he felt that the time was now."
A.C. Rienzi was Butler's "accredited emissary" and was regarded by the Colonial Office as a communist agitator. The stalemate deepened when Butler wrote "deeply" regretting that as a result of a "referendum" he was not in a position to call off the strike and that the workers were prepared to put up a last ditch fight to secure at least a general allround increase in their wages as a prerequisite to going back to work.
The government sensed that it had won the day. Adrian Cola Rienzi left government house as the evening shadows lengthened. The blackbirds called plaintively in the quiet, windless trees.
This was merely one high moment in a significant career in the life of a man who burned with zeal to improve the standard of living for the working class in Trinidad and Tobago. The 1920s and 30s were the crucible in which significant leaders of labour emerged. Captain Arthur Cipriani was by far and away the most remarkable of these. Rienzi joined the labour movement and was swift in making his presence felt in the nascent trade union movement. Himself, Uriah Butler and Cipriani made a formidable trio of Indian, African and European ancestry. Rienzi, however, was the one most filled with impatience. He thought of his two compatriots as men of words and of himself as a man of action.
Rienzi formed the Trinidad Citizens League which appealed essentially to the sugar workers who were of course mainly East Indian. The TCL too was branded communist by the colonial government. Butler, in the meantime, took his message to the workers in the oil belt, most of whom were of Africa descent. Rienzi became the legal representative of Butler's party. He worked assiduously during Butler's absence to group together all the workers in the oil industry, as Michael Anthony remarks, "to give them courage and at least a sense of direction". In this, he was successful. He was not present at the first meeting of the newly formed Oilfield Workers Trade Union on July 25, 1937, but he was asked nonetheless by them to become their President General. Afterwards, he was elected president of the Trade Union Council. In January of 1940, Rienzi launched a paper, the "Vanguard". Anthony records his words from an editorial:
"During the latter part of 1939, the capitalist democracies launched what we now know is another imperialist war. Then as now people were called upon to give their lives for King and Country, then as now they were told it was a war to make the world safe for democracy... Yet these great exponents of democracy have a colonial empire in which millions of their subjects are denied the elementary principles of democracy."
As Anthony goes on to quote Rienzi:
"The intensification of the class struggle in south and central Trinidad, in two of our major industries, namely, sugar and oil, has made it exceedingly necessary that the workers in these parts should have an organ of their own."
The Vanguard in those days was edited by Donald Moses and was published from 16 Coffee Street, San Fernando. Its pages denounced crown colony rule and went on to predict its passing.
It hurt Rienzi that Butler was not given a safe conduct. In fact, Butler was sentenced to 2 years in prison in September of 1937 and re-arrested when war was declared. Rienzi worked to maintain the ranks during this period of Butler's incarceration. He fought a general election in 1938, in which he won the San Fernando seat in the Legislative Council. Rienzi tabled a motion to make June 19, the day that Inspector Bradburn and Carl King were killed, a public holiday in place of Empire Day, May 24. Cipriani was appalled and declared: "We do not want a day for the making of false heroes."
Krishna Deonarine, Arthur Cipriani and Uriah Butler were in their time the standard bearers for the labour movement. Their struggle was one not only for better wages. It was one that mainly had to do with escaping the yoke of crown colony rule and the demeaning life of not merely racial prejudice but actually being considered somewhat less than human by the colonialists.
Their battle was not only to defeat the imperial power that exploited the worker and the produce of the land, but also to liberate the workers themselves from the inherited "mental slavery".
A difficult and thankless undertaking. Adrian Cola Rienzi was a legislator long enough to see the  crown colony system pass away. He saw the advent of adult franchise. He became Mayor of San Fernando from 1939 to 1942. After his retirement from public life, Rienzi lived in a quiet style until his passing in July 1972, doubtlessly in the certain knowledge that he had fulfilled his personal legend, a tribune or protector of the people's interest.


Where he got his name from
Adrian Cola Rienzi is now, as it is often the fate of many significant individuals who are possessed by "Zeitgeist", the spirit of their era, all but forgotten. From his youth, he had immersed himself in the reading of history and from very young had defined for himself his own personal legend, which focussed upon an Italian patriot and reformer who had lived some 600 years before: Cola di Rienzi (c. 1313 - 1354). The Italian patriot had been born in Rome of humble parentage. At the age of 30, he went wit a deputation to Avignon to beseech Pope Clement VI to return to Rome. In 1347, Rienzi successfully incited the citizens to rise against the rule of the nobles. Rome's senators were driven out, and Rienzi suddenly held dictatorial power. Rienzi requested the Italian states to send representatives to Rome to divise rules for the common good of the country. With nobles and finally also the Pope against him, Rienzi's tribunal ended after seven months and he had to flee to Naples. There he immersed himself in a religious life for two years. In 1349, he decided to get back into political reforms, only to be taken prisoner by the emperor of Rome and sent to Avignon. The new Pope Innocent VI sent Rienzi back to Rome to crush the power of the nobles. Rienzi succeeded and aimed at re-establishing his authority. In August 1354, he attempted a sort of triumphal entry into Rome, and was murdered on this occasion.

RIENZI, Adrian Cola, B.A., LL.B., Barrister-at-Law, Second Crown Counsel, Trinidad and Tobago. Born: l9th January, 1905. Only son of Deonarayan Tiwari and Lutchmin Devi. Married. Education: C.M. School, Naparima College, Trinity College, Dublin. Middle Temple, England.
Elected  President of Workingmen's Association  at age 19. Met Gandhi during Round Table Conference in London. Worked with Shapurji Saklatvala on various London Committees. One of the Joint Secretaries who convened the third lndian Political Conference in London, 1933.
Founder of Oil, Sugar and Transport Workers' Trade Union. President  of Trade Union Council 1938-44. Mayor of the Borough of San Fernando for three consecutive years, 1939-42. Member of Legislative Council, 1938-44. Member of Governor's Executive Council, 1943-44.
Attended as a Delegate from the W.I. the World Youth Congress at New York, 1938. Served on almost every important Government Commission and Statutory Board, 1938-44. Prepared and presented Workers' Case before the Oilfield Arbitration Tribunal presided over by the late Sir James Bailey.
Represented the Workers before Forster and Moyne Commissions. Served on Planning and Housing Commission, Control Board, Trinidad Transport Board, Joint Sugar Board, Oil Conciliation Board, and the Franchise Commission. His Minority Report received the approval of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and aroused widespread Indian protest against the Language Qualification as a condition to use the ballot.
Clubs: India Club (President). Address: " Bourgainville, " London Street, San Fernando.
(from: Indian Centenary Review, Kirpalani, Sinanan, Rameshwar, Seukaran, edts., 1945)

Monday, 13 February 2012

Trinidad and the Empire


The Seas around us hold our destiny

From climatic conditions over naval decisions to the petrochemical industry: our fate was always intertwined with the oceans around us.

Who controlled the high seas during the colonial era was always of great significance to us in these islands. When Sir Winston Churchill in 1913 as First Lord of the Admiralty altered the British ocean-going fleet from coal furnaces to oil burners, the economic future of Trinidad was forever altered.
If Admiral Lord Nelson's flotilla had encountered the French battlefleet in an unfortunate manner in the Gulf of Paria in 1805, we may all be French-speaking today. Or, for that matter, had Admiral Apodaca attacked Admiral Sir Henry Harvy's squadron as they sailed through the Dragon's Mouth instead of burning his fleet in Chaguaramas Bay in 1797, Spanish might be spoken here.
The seas around us hold our destiny. A significant period in the history of Trinidad and Tobago occurred at a time when we were hardly mentioned on the maps and charts of the world. Spain and Portugal had been given the New World, the entire western hemisphere, by the pope of the day, oblivious to the fact that it was not his to give away in the first place. This was challenged by the non-Catholic princes of Europe, particularly England. At the source of the circumstances lay the proverbial root of it all: money.
Had circumstances gone in favour of Spain, the direction of history would have changed. In the wake of the discoverers Columbus, Vespucci and others, came the adventurers Cortes, Pizzaro and de Berrio, to name but a few. These were followed by the privateers, bandits and buccaneers, many of whom were English seamen like Morgan, Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh.
Spain was then an underpopulated, comparatively backward European country which had recently driven out its intelligentsia, that is, the Jews and the Arabs. She had become enormously wealthy by her new colonies in the New World. Out of the mines of Peru and Mexico came gold and silver. From the Gulf of Paria came pearls of great worth. Vast areas of the southern continent, as yet without names, yielded emeralds and rubies. The power of the Spanish empire was so fortified by these riches, that King Philip could equip his armies and his navy as no other power had done before.
This was well appreciated in the ruling circles of England. Recently Protestant under Henry VIII, Spain, a powerful Catholic neighbour, posed a threat to the island nation. So long as Spain controlled the wealth of the New World, she could launch and equip battlefleets against England.
To get a piece of the treasure from Americas, England therefore had to arrest it at its source or capture it from the Spanish ships on the high seas. England's economy in those years, the 1580s, was agricultural. She had to strengthen her finances. The virgin Queen Elizabeth I accordingly sanctioned a quantity of unofficial expeditions against Spanish interest in the west. This brought Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh into the Gulf of Paria. Raleigh burnt down Port of Spain, captured Trinidad's capital, St. Joseph, kidnapped the Spanish governor and took him up the Orinoco river in search of El Dorado and the City of Gold.
Sir Henry Morgan raided out of Jamaica the Spanish-held coastlines of Mexico. British privateers would lie in hiding in Tobago's Pirates Bay, so as to spot Spanish treasure fleets making for the Galleons Passage, the narrows between Trinidad and Tobago in order to capture treasure beyond their wildest fantasies.
Avoiding open war, these raids continued. However, they made no lasting impact on Spain. It was only John Hawkins who rebuilt the British navy and put into place the sound foundation that would make it master of the open sea in the coming 17th century.
Sir Winston Churchill, writing in his "History of the English-Speaking Peoples", remarks:
"The Spaniards had long contemplated an enterprise against England."
They knew that England stood in the way of their reconquest of the Netherlands. Spain commenced the building and the assembling of a fleet. These preparations were delayed for a year by Drake's famous raid on Cadiz in 1587. He wrote that he had "singed the King of Spain's beard". In May of the following year, the armada was ready. 136 ships were assembled, carrying 2,500 guns and more than 30,000 men; 20,000 of them soldiers. There were 20 galleons, 44 were merchantmen and 8 were Neapolitan galleys. These were the main ships.
The Spanish armada set out to sail up the channel with a view to land on the south coast of England. They were under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. Hawkins' redesign of Britain's fighting ships was about to be tested. In fact, the best that they could put against the Spaniards was a fleet of 34 ships of the line plus another 150 privately owned vessels.
The British stationed small squadrons all along the southern coast. In the meantime, an Atlantic storm that had been broiling for several days swept the Spanish fleet, dismantling two 1,000 ton ships.  The storm in passing through the channel, forced the British to put out to sea.
If the Spanish Duke had attacked the English vessels to leeward of his ships as they struggled to clear the land, he would have caught them at a disadvantage, but instead, he followed his orders and sailed up the channel. The English, however, just managed to get their fleet to the windward of the Spaniards and for nine days hung on to the Armada as it ran before a gusty westerly while pounding away with their long-range guns at the lumbering galleons.
On July 23, the wind dropped and both fleets lay drifting off Portland Bill. The Spaniards attempted a counter-attack with the Neapolitan galleys rowed by hundreds of slaves. Sir Francis Drake took advantage of light wind and swept in upon the main body, forcing them to give way "until they flocked together like sheep".
During the following night, the English launched ships full of dynamite to drift in the direction of the enemy, then set them alight, abandoning them as quickly as possible. Massive explosions shook the very air. The Spanish captains cut the cables that held their ships at anchor and made for the open sea. There were many collisions in the dark.
Over the following several hours, both winds and tide worked against them. Finally, the Spanish turned to face their pursuers. A long and desperate fight raged for eight hours. Ships lashed together as men fought it out hand to hand, sword to sword, musket to musket. Breaking free, their main van sailed northward with one thought in mind: home. This time, the westerly winds helped although they were wrecks. Then a shift came. They were forced to make for Ireland for fresh water - they had already cast their horses and mules overboard.
The English had not lost a single ship. A handful of men had given their lives. The Spaniards had lost half their fleet. The British struck a gold medal upon which was inscribed: "God blew and they were scattered". This victory over Spain was the shining achievement of the Elizabethan age. England had emerged as a first class sea power. She had resisted the might of the greatest empire since Roman times.
This, in fact, was a turning point in the history of the world. There were still many battles to fight against Spain, France and later against Germany, and many tribes and nations to conquer and overthrow to make the British Empire. But in the final analysis, it was England that won the wars. That is why she calls herself even now, after her decline, Great Britain.

Tobago from English to French


Tobago was once a part of the first, original British Empire, like Jamaica, Barbados and the American colonies, but distinct from India, South Africa or Trinidad.
Tobago has several layers of history, which is why you can stand with your face to the wind, overlooking a truly lovely sweep of the blue seas and lush landscape, with the ruins of an early 17th century Dutch windmill just behind you and a great old rusting cannon, marked for a Georgian king who died in the 1820s, at your feet.
You get a feeling for the past and of ancient things, of the creek and "whoosh" of the mill's four wings, its huge 40 ft sails turning in the very same air in which you now stand. The lines of ox carts bringing the cut cane to be ground, the work songs of slaves going to the fields, living, dying, unmarked and unrecorded lives and deaths by the tens of thousands who toiled the Tobagonian soil.
The great estate houses have all but vanished. In the 19th and 20th century, buildings were put upon their old ballast block foundations, and if you have the time and look very carefully, you may find an old piece of iron, maybe some links of chain, a huge hook, a broken hinge, a great copper caldron in which sugar may have been boiled.
Tobago possesses a profound sense of times already past.  In 1769, Port of Spain was a mud and thatch assemblage of huts built in a swamp, just as the Caroni swamp is today, with a handful of Spanish people, forty or fifty of them, a few slaves, all so poor that their living conditions were hardly different from each other.
Tobago, on the other hand, was well into its third, possibly fourth establishment. Its population was arranged with 10,800 slaves, 1,050 free blacks and 2,300 Europeans. Already the upper regions of its central main ridge were designated as "woods for the protection of rains". The treaty of Paris of 1763, which marked the end of the Seven Year War, now made Tobago British. By Royal Proclamation in 1764 the island was divided into parishes. In April 1768, a Legislative Council was convened. Trinidad would not see anything like that for almost 100 years. 54,000 acres of land were sold. This produced £154,000, at a period when the entire establishment in Trinidad, the European men could just arrange one suit of proper clothes between them all (just in the event of visitors from abroad)! This shows how poor Trinidad was in the pre-Cedula days.
Plantation development in Tobago commenced in earnest with the sale of 500 acres at Courland Bay. The first export of sugar came from Bushy Park in St. Mary's Parish. The drive for development was on. The 10,800 slaves bore the brunt of the actual labour of clearing the forest for the planting of a variety of crops, while enduring the appalling conditions of slavery. They cultivated sugar cane on a large scale.
It is hardly surprising that there were several slave revolts during the late 18th century in Tobago. These were more often than not started by the newly arrived slaves. The first slave revolt in 1770 spread from Courland Estate to Mt. Irvine and Riseland; in 1771, two insurrections were put down by the militia. In 1774, the slave revolt on Queen's Bay Estate was also suppressed. The plantation economy, centered as it was on the system of slavery, perceived the slaves as merely a factor in the production of crops, a commodity like axles for carts or grinding wheels for windmills, expensive to buy, requiring upkeep and maintenance, not to be unnecessarily misused or destroyed, but basically - albeit expensively - replaceable.
There was very little money on the plantations. Food, shelter and clothing were provided by the estate. It was self-sufficient in the crafts and skills necessary to maintain its work, stock and tools. Transactions between the estates and London were handled by bills of exchange and a system of credit.
The services necessary to provide for the shipping  and sale of goods and for the management of income were provided by the merchant banker, who operated out of London. He provided the ships that would transport the products of the estates to England and made arrangements for a constant supply of slaves from the west coast of Africa. These were procured by African merchants, mostly Muslims.
The proceeds of the goods sold in England were used to settle the planters' financial commitments and arrange for supplies and stock. Any residuals were credited to the accounts of the planters with the merchant houses. Produce served as the unit of account and medium of exchange and thus was regarded as a form of money.
In 1776, Tobago's economy suffered a serious setback, as hordes of leaf-eating ants destroyed thousands of acres of sugar cane, ravaging plantations in the windward parishes. This forced a change to the cultivation of cotton, which proved to be an early and timely attempt at diversification and, during the next 15 years or so, up to 15,000 acres were changed to cotton cultivation.
In 1778, with the American colonies in rebellion, an American squadron attempted a raid on Tobago. Their squadron comprised two ships of the line, three brigs and a schooner. They were engaged by the British battleship H.M.S. Yarmouth. During the encounter, the American ship Randolph was blown up with her crew of 315 men. The remainder of the squadron withdrew.
Tobago produced in 1780 35,122 cwt. of sugar, 1,868 puncheons of rum and 1,518,000 lb. of cotton, 20,600 lb. of indigo and 1,600 lb. of ginger. There were 1,637 working cattle and 946 horses. Almost 24,000 acres of land had been cleared. Notwithstanding, Tobago with its length of just 26 miles and width of seven, was not an important possession from an agricultural point of view. However, its value to the British crown lay in its strategic military and naval position. It lay well to windward, which was important in the age of sailing ships. Any force collected there could easily be launched against any of the islands, including even Barbados. A battle fleet coming from Tobago would have a speedy opportunity to fall upon an enemy beating against the prevailing wind.
Tobago was basically out of the hurricane area and had excellent harbour for the ships of those days. It has been felt by historians that the defense of the island was neglected in this period, and that the fortifications such as Fort George in 1777 and the small redoubts listed below came a bit late.
The island could boast of a militia of some 350 men. There were two companies of the 62nd regiment and later two companies of the 48th regiment. The French involvement with the rebellious American colonists eventually led to open war between France and England in 1778.  In that year, the French Admiral Comte d'Estaing was in the West Indies with a squadron having 9,000 soldiers on board. He was unable to save St. Lucia from capture by the British, but was able to take St. Vincent and Grenada from the English. The English planters in Tobago saw this as a catastrophe in the making.
A French squadron of nine ships of the line were sighted off the island on 23rd May, 1781. The British under Lt. Governor George Ferguson surrendered only after a gallant 10-day struggle against overwhelming odds.
Ferguson had upon sighting the French, immediately mastered all able-bodied men, some 427, comprised of planters, militia, sailors and regular troops. The French first attempted a landing a Minister Bay, named by the Dutch Luggart's Bay, but high seas drove them off. They tried again at Rockly Bay. Once again the weather proved too bad for a landing.
The following day, they succeeded in putting ashore 3,100 men at Great Courland Bay. Major Hamilton of the militia, who had manned a two-gun battery at Black Rock across the bay, was able to bring the French ships under heavy fire, until he was forced to retire.
Lt. Governor Ferguson in the meantime had retreated and regrouped his men at Concordia, on the heights above Scarborough, and not far from Mason Hall, fighting a guerrilla action all the way.
The French general Philbert Blanchelande in hot pursuit demanded their surrender, having set up a battery at French Fort, which was then a cotton plantation overlooking Concordia. A French attack on the English position failed in the night, as the French lost their way.
Ferguson and his small band refused to surrender, requesting the French general "not to trouble me again upon this point". From the heights of Concordia, Ferguson was able to see more French troops landing in Plymouth and was forced to wait until the dead of the night to fall back to the base of the main ridge, Caledonia Estate. He did this so well that when the French stormed his position the next day, they found that he had gone.
Ferguson fell back through the forest and steep mountain sides and fortified a mountain top position so as to make a final stand. By this time, the French landed some 400 men at Man-of-War Bay, intent to take Ferguson from the rear. Still, the British resisted. It was only when the French started to burn the plantations that Ferguson's force, many of them planters in short of ammunition and food, decided that the wisest course of action would be to surrender. the French congratulated the English on their gallant defense. The conditions and the laws laid down by the English were left unchanged, although Scarborough was renamed Port Louis.

Redoubts in Tobago
Great Courland: two 18-pounders and one 6-pounder
Little Courland: one 18-pounder and one 9-pounder
La Guiria Bay: two 6-pounders
Queen's Bay: two 9-pounders
Bloody Bay: one 6-pounder
Englishman's Bay: one 6-pounder
Castara Bay: one 6-pounder
Sandy Point: two 18-pounders, two 9-pounders
Fort Granby: two 18-pounders, one 9-pounder, four 6-pounders with three 5.5"-mortars