Port-of-Spain in the latter half of the 19th century, from about the 1840s to the 1900s, was becoming a prosperous town.
|Map of 1837
The business sector was located along the northern and southern sides of Marine Square (today Independence Square) from the foot of Picadilly Street in the east to the St. Vincent Street wharf in the west, with lower Frederick Street partially occupied with retail establishments.
The colony’s economy was based on agriculture, and its principal exports were cocoa and sugar. There were the expected vicissitudes in the prices of these but, notwithstanding, the export-import businesses thrived. There were dozens of well-established merchant houses. There was the Colonial Bank (ancestor of today’s Republic Bank) ten or twelve steamship agencies, several insurance companies and many well-appointed hotels. Interestingly, the first school of Port-of-Spain was the Mico Institution. It was one of the 300 “normal” schools established in the Caribbean during the post-Emancipation era. Beginning in 1835 elementary schools were established in the British Colonies in the West Indies, by the Lady Mico Charity. The building is still in existence, on the right hand side of Pembroke Street, just up from Knox Street. The first secondary school was founded in Port-of-Spain in 1836 by the Little Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph de Cluny, St Joseph’s Convent, a school for girls.
The first inland Postal Service came into being in 1851. The Meat Market was on Charlotte St. and the Central Market just behind it on George Street.
|The tram on Marine Square crossing Henry Street.
THE TOWN COUNCIL
The town had not merely grown since the disastrous fire of 1808, but had actually flourished, as the foundation for its development and management had been put into place in 1840 with an Ordinance for ‘regulating the powers and constitution, and settling the mode of election of the members of the Corporate Body called the ‘Illustrious Cabildo’ of the town of Port-of-Spain, and changing the name thereof to that of the ‘Town Council of Port-of-Spain’. On the 6th June, 1840, the new Council met for the first time.
Modernity was in the air when the first cargo of ice arrived on Boxing Day 1844, and large crowds went to see ice for the first time being delivered to the Ice House on Marine Square.
Port-of-Spain’s growth also created the opening up of new residential neighbourhoods such as New Town. New homes, large and small, were built on streets named in the memory of past governors Woodford and Picton, and of colonial administrators Charles Warner, Attorney General, and Edward Marli.
The Port of Port-of-Spain handled some 28,001 hogsheads, 3,157 tierces and 7,65 barrels of sugar amoun ting to 67,542,660 lbs; 10,709 puncheons, of 110 gallons each, and 121 tierces of molasses; 5,008,920 lbs of cocoa; 74,416 lbs of coffee; and also small quantities of cotton and indigo. The total value of these exports was £390,009. Imports amounted to £548,471, while the revenue of the colony was £95,733 and the expenditure £106,316. This was one of our earliest recorded budget deficits. (A tierce is an old measure of capacity equivalent to one third of a pipe, or 42 wine gallons.)
Trinidad’s first trial by jury took place in December of 1844. It was a matter of receiving goods under false pretences–an offence hitherto not punishable under Spanish Law. The jury, after retiring for a few minutes, returned an unanimous verdict of guilty and the guilty party received a sentence of twelve months.
1845 saw the Cocorite Leper Asylum opened and a petition praying for direct representation of the people in the Legislature was addressed to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Also in that year the first East Indians arrived on the Fatel Rozak. Later that year an earthquake caused the bells of Trinity Church to ring at 12.40 p.m. It was the 6th of September.
On the 1st of October, 1849, the Port-of-Spain Gazette reported that “a considerable crowd composing people of the lowest order assembled in front of the Government Buildings” (today the Red House). They were protesting a clause in the gaol regulations which, among other things, provided that debtors should have their hair cropped close, and wear a prison dress, and assist in gaol work. It soon became apparent that the police could not control the increasingly hostile crowd. The Riot Act was read, the order to fire was given, four of the five muskets were discharged, and four persons fell wounded, two of whom later died. Governor Lord Harris called in the 88th Regiment and a company of the 2nd West India Regiment. With the aid of some six hundred special constables and a volunteer horse patrol of seventy strong, they were soon able to restore order in the town.
The first system of primary education in Trinidad emerged in 1851 when Lord Harris, having established the Wards system across the island, called on each Warden to open at least one school. The first Ward schools were established in districts around Port-of-Spain.
The mid-19th century saw some dangerous health threats to the population of Port-of-Spain. In the 1850s the population of Port-of-Spain was 18,501. An outbreak of Asiatic cholera in the months of August to October 1854 affected some 4,200 people or almost 25 percent of the city’s population. The deaths from cholera were 2,112. In the space of nine weeks from the 13th of August to the 27th of October, 57 percent of the infected populace died.
St. Joseph’s Convent circa 1880s was the home
the d’Heureaux family of 18 Kent Street.
THE BOROUGH COUNCIL
The population of the colony in 1853 was estimated at 76,500. The Town Councillors presented a petition to the Governor-in-Council (Lord Harris) praying for a new constitution based on the same principles as those embodied in the English Municipality Corporation Acts. This was granted, and by Ordinance No. 10 of 1853, which provided for the ‘’Regulation of Municipal Corporations in the Island,’’ the name ‘Town Council’ was changed into that of the ‘Borough Council of Port-of-Spain.’
The new Council met on 31st August, 1853, with Louis A. A. de Verteuil, M.D., as Port-of-Spain’s first Mayor (De Verteuil Street in Woodbrock is named in his honour).
Michael Maxwell Philip returned to Trinidad on the 2nd of January 1855 to practice at the local bar, he became the first Mayor of Port-of-Spain who was not of European descent, 1867-1870. He was Solicitor-General, 1871-1888 and acted as Attorney-General in 1873 and in 1885. Maxwell Philip Street in St. Clair is named for him.
Secondary education for boys commenced in 1859 when the Queen’s Collegiate School was started, and in 1863 St. Mary’s Collage opened its doors.
Under the auspices of the new Borough Council a lecture on “Electricity and Magnetism”, a novel topic at that time, was delivered by Mr. Humphrey at the Town Hall. The Race Stand on the Queen’s Park Savannah was built and the Port-of-Spain Water Works inaugurated to bring water to the town from the Maraval Reservoir. A system of sewerage for Port-of-Spain was commenced but not completed, only one district being connected with pipes.
To deal with perennial flooding of the town during the rainy season the Wharf Extension project was commenced to counteract the heavy silting along the Port-of-Spain seashore. It was completed under the direction of Mr. Sylvester Devenish. Flooding is a problem in Port-of-Spain that somehow has never been solved!
The fountain in Brunswick (Woodford) Square was presented to the municipality of Port-of-Spain by Gregor Turnbull in March of 1865. At its inauguration, the Creole Band performed under the auspices of Leon D. O’Connor, then Mayor of Port-of-Spain. A street in Woodbrock is named for him. The 1880s saw the City’s carnival celebrations turn riotous resulting in almost all the oil lit street lanterns being broken.
THE TOWN COMMISSIONERS
On 18th January, 1899 as the outcome of a long controversy between the Council and the Government, Ordinance No. 1 of 1899 was passed in London abolishing the Borough Council of Port-of-Spain, and substituting it with a new corporation under the name of the ‘’Town Commissioners,” the four members of which were all nominated by the governor, Sir Hubert Jerningham, K.C.M.G. Jerningham Avenue is named in his honour.
The railway, which first made its appearance in 1846, was in 1876 extended to include Arima, followed by a tram service in Port-of-Spain that made its appearance in 1883. Modernity was in the air, or should I say in the ear as the first telephone rang in the city in 1885.
THE TOWN BOARD
On 1st of May, 1907, the then three local authorities of Port-of-Spain, viz: The Town Commissioners, the Water Authority and the Sewerage Board, were by the Port-of-Spain Town Board Ordinance 1907, merged into one body known as “The Port-of-Spain Town Board,” also a wholly nominated Corporation. At an Extraordinary Meeting of the Legislature held on 22nd August, 1913, the governor, Sir George Le Hunte laid on the table a dispatch, No. 286 of 29th July 1913, from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, approving of the resolution passed by the Legislature on 25th June previously to the effect that the nominated system be gradually superseded by some measure of election of members by the rate-payers; and the governor then announced the appointment by him of a committee of sixteen members to consider the details of the proposed change in the construction of the Town Board.
CONSTITUTION OF THE CITYBy the Port-of-Spain Corporation Ordinance, No. 24 of 1914, (now Chap. 224 of the Revised Edition of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago), Port-of-Spain is constituted a Municipal “City,” and its inhabitants are declared to be a body corporate under the title of The Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Port-of-Spain.”