Sunday 2 April 2017

The Water Riots of 1903

“De brave, de brave 
De brave, de brave 
Many were sent to eternity 
In the riots of 1903.”   

A large crowd gathers outside the Red House in Port of Spain in protest to the proposed bill.
Photograph—Mr. & Mrs. Peter Stone. (Book of Trinidad)

The southern wing of the Red House prior to the Water Riots. Photograph—Mrs. Hélène Farfan. (Book of Trinidad)


The adjourned meeting of the Legislative Council was held at noon on Monday, 23rd March, 1903, His Excellency the Governor Sir Alfred C. Maloney, K.C.M.G., presiding… Admission to  the Council Chamber was from an early hour refused the general public, strong guards of police, armed with sticks being posted at all entrances. In addition to the usually provided accommodation, 150 chairs had been hired and ranged all round the room. As noon approached, some 50 to 60 of these began to be occupied, the large proportion being government officers. In the meantime an immense crowd of the general public filled Brunswick  Square and Abercromby Street, as well as the grounds to the west and along St. Vincent Street and, headed by the Committee of the Ratepayers Association, they proceeded to the main entrance to the building and demanded admission. The doors which had been closed against them were all guarded by strong bodies of police. Lieut-Col. Blake refused to allow anyone to pass.

A ticket to the public gallery of the Legislative Council  (Book of Trinidad)

In the same Friday morning there appeared in the Gazette an official notice in the following terms, with regard to the admission of the public to the Council Chamber on the following Monday:—
‘Public notice is given that, on account of the limited accommodation in the Council Chamber, and the great inconvenience caused when the members of the public are anxious to attend the debates, admission to those parts of the Chamber not appropriated to the use of the members will in future be given by tickets only, in accordance with the practice of the Imperial Parliament…
Tickets will be issued… in the order of application, at the office of the Clerk to the Legislative Council…
Special arrangements will be made for the Press.
(Sgd.) Harry L. Knaggs,
for the Clerk of the Legislative Council.

On the next day, Saturday, 21st March, a mass meeting was convened by the Ratepayers’ Association in Brunswick Square, for the purpose of discussing this ‘ticket regulation,’ which was declared on high legal authority to be illegal…
(22nd March, 1903)

The Red House in flames. Photograph—O.J. Mavrogordato. (Book of Trinidad)

The advanced members of the Association then asked for permission to enter the Council Chamber and were met by Col. Blake, standing one pace in front of the constables, who informed them that he was instructed by the Governor to oppose any attempt to forcibly enter the building. Admission would be, as had been announced, by ticket only. He was backed by an armed squad of police and would oppose force by force; and the degree of violence of the one would be measured by that of the other… The challenge was accepted by one or two members who, partly pressed forward by the surging but orderly crowd, partly advancing with hands and arms  raised high above their heads to show that no violence was intended, came into contact with the Colonel and were forced back… Mr. Lazare then from the top of the steps informed the crowd what had taken place, and begged them to let their protest take a quiet and peaceable form most likely to recommend itself to the English people whom they might depend upon to see that they got ample justice for, the wrongs and outrages that were being heaped upon them… He begged them to refrain from any further acts and merely remain about the grounds of the building while the debate proceeded. The crowd then drew off to the square, where speeches were delivered urging that strict order be observed… In the meantime, the rising temper of the people was not lessened by the discovery that orders had actually been issued to the fire brigade to turn three firehoses upon them should they assemble outside the Council Chamber. Shortly after, the order was given to Lieut. Whiteman to turn on the hose but this he refused to do, saying he was appointed to put out fires, not to drench crowds, and   presently the cheering, the singing of the national anthem, and the lessening of the crowd gave a clear demonstration of the resolution of the public protest. Shortly before noon, all the stores and business places in the town closed as a further mark of protest against the action of the Legislative Council. Immediately after 12, the Governor, accompanied by his private secretary, drove down to Government House, closely guarded by police and, protected by a similar guard, proceeded to his office where there had been stationed another 35 armed constables. Accompanied by the Colonial Secretary, with Captain Dutton, A.D.C., His Excellency entered the Council Chamber and took his seat; at the same moment ten more armed constables entered the room and took up positions with the rest. Amidst every mark of public demonstration against the proceedings and a momentarily growing scene of popular excitement, the Legislature came to order, and the Clerk rose to read the minutes of the proceedings of the previous Monday’s meeting.

The Hon. Sir Henry Alcazar, the leading coloured Barrister and Legislator of the period.
Photograph —Mrs. Hélène Farfan. (Book of Trinidad)

Lt. Emmanuel Lazare

As the Clerk began to read, Mr. Alcazar rose to a point of order…as to whether it was in pursuance of any standing orders of the Legislative Council, requiring all meetings of the Council to be in public that this day’s meeting was held. He referred to the ticket regulation and, without at present going into the question as to whether it was not, as many persons considered ultra vires for the president to make such a regulation, he stood on the point that standing order 4 required all meetings to be held in public and he understood that a number of members of the public had been excluded today from this meeting.
Some discussion arose and the colonial secretary, having inquired what exactly was before the house, Mr. Alcazar formally moved the adjournment of the house.
Mr. Goodwill seconded.
The motion was lost by a vote of 14 against 6, Messrs Fenwick, R.S. Aucher Warner, Marryat and McLelland voting with the officials.
Mr. Alcazar:—I rose to move the adjournment as a protest and to discuss a public grievance, and upon such a motion it was most inappropriate and improper that the officials should have voted. I now give notice of protest against the vote; I beg to notify Your Excellency that I leave this Council and decline to take any further part in its proceedings.
Mr. Alcazar then left the Chamber.
Messrs. Goodwill, Gordon and Leotaud also gave notice of protest against the vote.
His Excellency then read his formal ruling on the question of order as to the ‘ticket regulation,’ that he maintained his right to act as he had done.
Mr. Gordon then rose and said that after what had fallen from His Excellency, he felt it incumbent upon him, with great respect, to follow the course taken by Mr. Alcazar. He could not consent to remain at a Council whose standing orders and regulations could be varied at the irresponsible whim of the Governor.
Mr. Gordon then left the Chamber.
After a pause,  the order of the day was proceeded with the Clerk reading the minutes of the previous Monday’s meeting.

The Southern Wing gutted by fire. This photograph was taken by Mr. H. Stone, Acting Registrar, who, with the help of the firemen, saved the records in the Registrar General’s Office. Photograph—Mr. & Mrs. Peter Stone. (Book of Trinidad)

The debate on the second reading of the waterworks ordinance was resumed… His Excellency rose and proceeded to read a lengthy address to the Council on the history of the bill. During the reading, the crowds around the building outside had been growing more and more noisy and turbulent —the singing of the national anthem, Rule Britannia, the beating of drums, the blowing of whistles and the cries of women carrying flags, were on the increase. Almost all the windows in the lower storey had been broken and, after a while, an accident occurred which acted like a spark upon a train of powder. And in a moment a most regrettable riot had broken out. For some offence, a woman on the Red House lawn was arrested by a constable, who was immediately struck by a couple of stones flung by some small boys. Thereupon the constable released the woman and was at once attacked by her, too. Members of the crowd closed on her and dragged her and the boys away; but the evil was done. In a moment, stone-throwing was widely taken up by the crowd. Stones were pelted in a terrific shower into the Council Chamber through the glass doors and windows. People and police alike fled from the eastern galleries into the Chamber, and the Council came to a standstill. So hot became the shelling that in a few minutes, the whole of the unofficials had to rise and seek shelter, as did the reporting staff also, behind pillars, bookcases, etc. Presently the crowd to the west of the building got wind of the proceedings on the east and at once, without question, started to pelt stories too. Then the entire Council rose and moved for shelter to the inner galleries around the fountain courtyard in the interior of the building. For fully ten minutes was the fusillade kept up, several people in the building being hit. After a while the crowd broke in through the east and west iron gates into the inner courtyard, overpowering and driving back the squads of constables who had been hastily summoned to oppose them, and the whole crowd proceeded to stone the Council and the other fugitives from the Council Chamber who crowded the inner balconies. A suggestion was made to His Excellency to stand forward and state to the crowd that he withdrew the ordinance; but this he declined to do. The Governor, his A.D.C., Major Collens, the Press representatives and others then took shelter in the small vacant office behind the Education Department on the upper floor, the whole party seeking what shelter they could behind presses and bookcases with which they barricaded the doors from the showers of stones and broken glass which assailed the room. It was the Director of Public Works and Mr. Fenwick who were the two members of Council for whom, judging by the occasional cries heard, the most apprehension was to be felt. What became of the latter is not clear but Mr. Wrightson was, with much difficulty, smuggled out of the room by a strong guard of police, disguising himself in a police tunic and helmet. In a similar way was the Attorney-General gotten safely over, and both remained at the police barracks. For the Governor, however, and those with him, for a good while there seemed no way of escape, it being impossible to venture out of the room. Presently, the news came —and was immediately after confirmed by the penetration of the pungent smell of smoke into the room—that the Red House had been fired. The discovery was made from the brigade station opposite that fire was set in the Registrar-General’s Office (under which the Governor and party were imprisoned), the Survey Office and the Hall of Justice simultaneously. Fanned by a gentle breeze, the flames spread so rapidly that in a few moments it was decided by the whole part, including the Governor, to risk the blows from the showers of stones which were still flying, rather than risk the fire. The door into the Council Chamber was opened and the rush of dense black smoke into the room where the party was imprisoned at once justified the wisdom of the decision to move on. At the same moment, a sound of firing from the police immediately followed the reading of the riot act by Mr. A.S. Bowen, in the presence of Colonel Brake, caused a sudden cessation of the stone-throwing. The whole party then ran down the Colonial Secretary’s main staircase into the crowded streets, and the Governor was rushed under a strong police guard right across into the police barracks and kept there till he could be sent privately up Edward Street to St. Ann’s; while Mr. Wrightson, also under a strong police guard and surrounded by a guard of armed   sailors who had been fetched from the warship in the harbour, was rushed to the wharf and sent off in a small boat and kept on board H.M.S. Pallas… Although the riot was checked by the first volley fired and the crowd at once began to disperse, it was noticed that volley after volley was fired, and that, too, quite indiscriminately in all directions… The killed were afterwards found to have numbered 16, while 42 at least were wounded, some of them at quite a distance from the scene of the riot.
(25th March, 1903).

A couple of men of the Lancashire Fusiliers, sent for by the Governor, from Barbados, arrived on Wednesday evening by the three-masted schooner Sunbeam, having been towed up from the Bocas by the Iere and Paria. An immense crowd gathered to witness the landing and was at first driven back by the police:—
But on the advice of Supt. Sergt. Peake and a naval guard of 12 men from H.M.S. Pallas the crowd was allowed to reform, and in a most peaceful and orderly manner watched the landing, easily controlled by the sailors.
(27th March, 1903).

The Special Commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State to inquire into the recent riots in Port of Spain, arrived on the H.M.S. Trent on Tuesday morning the 28th April, 1903… accompanied by Mr. H.M. Vernon as Secretary, and Mr. W. Walpole, shorthand writer…The first sitting was held on Wednesday the 29th at the Princes Building, which had been specially fitted up for the purpose. The grounds around the building and to the north on the Queen’s Park Savannah presented a very pretty, if unusual, scene of military activity. A double row of white conical tents were ranged right across marking the encampment of the Lancashire Fusiliers who, to the number of 21, exclusive of another 210, in barracks at St. James, came over from Barbados. In the centre was mounted one maxim gun. The appearances of counsel were:—
For the Government: The Hon’ble Vincent Brown (Attorney-General), Mr. R.S. Aucher Warner, Mr. L. A. Wharton.
For the Ratepayers Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and the United Committee, and relatives of the killed:—The Hon’ble H.A. Alcazar, Messrs E. Scipio Pollard, E.A. Robinson and C.J. McLeod.

The report of the Commission was dated 2nd July, and was at once sent out by the Colonial Office; it was a lengthy document, and was published in extenso in the Gazette. Its findings were:—
1. That the riot is to be attributed to public opposition to the proposed waterworks ordinance, stimulated by falsehoods and incitements to violence of certain speakers and the Mirror newspaper.
2. That there was excessive and unnecessary firing by some individual members of the police force.
3. That two, if not three, persons were brutally bayonetted and killed by the police without any justification whatever.
4. That the Executive Government failed to take adequate measures to correct misrepresentations about the draft ordinance.
5. That there is a regrettable and serious division between a large and influential portion of the community of Port of Spain and the Executive Government regarding public affairs.
6. That there has been most deplorable delay in prosecuting the rioters… and the taking of steps to enable the police who committed outrages to be also prosecuted; but most significantly, they also recommended the reference of the draft ordinance to a select committee.
(July 1903)

Edgar Agostini, K.C.

The Hon. Mr. Louis Wharton, K.C.

Punctually at half-past ten yesterday morning, the special sessions of the Supreme Criminal Court, ordered by the Governor to be held for the trial of 22 persons indicted for riot on the 23rd March last, were opened by His Honour Mr. Justice Routledge in Greyfriars Hall, Frederick Street. In addition to the usual strong guard of police sent down to every sitting of the sessions, a feature which excited considerable remark was the presence of 26 rank and file of the Lancashire Fusiliers, under rifles and fixed bayonets, a somewhat unusual show of military ferocity in the precincts of Greyfriars Hall…
The Hon’ble V. Brown, with the Hon’ble L.E. Agostini and Mr. L.A. Wharton, prosecuted, instructed by Mr. A.D. O’Connor and Messrs E. Scipio Pollard and G. Johnson, instructed by Messrs. E. Maresse-Smith and J.A. Lassalle, appeared for the defence…
The trial lasted for a week, and it was on the afternoon of the 30th July that the jury retired at 4.30 after a most emphatic charge by the judge. Ten minutes afterward they returned into court. In the meantime, the square opposite the Hall, and the length of the pavement on either side of the street as well as Knox Street had filled with a dense crowd, composed of all classes of the community… A strong guard of police appeared and took up positions at various points of the Hall while a detachment of Fusiliers with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets were posted about the yard and outside the judges chambers. The jury again retired after further directions… Close upon three hours passed and no verdict had been returned. The closely-packed Court House, which was fortunately lit by electricity, grew more and more filled and all waited anxiously for what seemed likely to be an abortive verdict. At 7.15, the Acting Chief Justice returned into Court and the jury came back. After the usual questions, nine prisoners were unanimously declared not guilty, one prisoner was found not guilty by 7 to 2, and one not guilty by 8 to 1; the jury was not unanimous as to any one prisoners guilt. By a majority of 8 to 1 they convicted another; as regards the other three, they were divided 6 to 3. The judge refused to accept the verdicts, to the fact that after three hours, a majority verdict either way could be taken. The judge held he was only empowered, not compelled, to do so. The jury retired, His Honour intimating that he would take the verdicts or discharge the jury at 9 p.m. He then formally discharged those who had been acquitted, and as each reached the street he or she was received with round after round of cheering. Punctually at 9 p.m. the judge returned to Court and, to the surprise of all, the jury returned a verdict in two more cases, one guilty by 7 to 2 and one not guilty by 7 to 2. In the remaining case that of Lolotte Borde, they remained 6 to 3… The following sentences were passed:—
Joseph James and Lilla Assing, 5 years each,
Abraham James, 4 years,
Octave Romain and Johnnie Blades, 5 years each.
(21st -30th July 1903)

The arrival of the troops. Photograph—Mrs. Hélène Farfan. (Book of Trinidad)

It was not until the December sessions that the trial of Messrs. J.C. Maresse-Smith, H.N. Hall, E.M. Lazare and R.R. Mole, on the charge of inciting to riot, was held. Mr. Vincent Brown, with Messrs. Edgar Agostini and L.A. Wharton prosecuted, for the Crown:—Mr. Alcazar and Mr. A.E. Hendrickson, instructed by Mr. H.M. Iles, defended Maresse-Smith; Mr. E. Scipio Pollard, instructed by Mr.  L.J.A. Lassalle, defended Hall; and Messrs. A.E. Robinson and W. Blanche-Wilson, instructed by Mr. T.M. Kelshall, defended Lazare.
The instructions of the Secretary of State to the prosecution of Mr. Mole were not given effect to, it was understood on the strong advice of the local law officers. The trial ended on the 18th December in a unanimous verdict of acquittal for all three accused.
(19th December, 1903).

The H.M.S. Pallas of the South Atlantic squadron brought the British troops to Trinidad.
Photograph—G. Duruty. (Book of Trinidad)

One of the earliest victories of the riot was the transfer of the management of the water-works and sewerage system to a Board of mixed official and unofficial personnel; and the Gazette of the 30th September, 1904, records the holding of the first meeting of the new authority, composed as follows:—
Hon. R.G. Bushe (Auditor-General) Chairman
Hon. W. Wrightson (Director of Public Works)
Hon. D. Slyne (Receiver-General)
Dr. C.F. Knox (Acting Surgeon-General)
Dr. G.H. Masson
Mr. Alfred G. Siegert
Mr. L.A. Wharton
Mr. B.H. Stephens
Mr. H.Y. Vieira
with Mr. J.A. Lamy, barrister-at-law (Town Clerk) as Secretary. (30th Sept. 1904).

No comments: