Friday 29 May 2020

Welcome to the Virtual Museum of the City of Port of Spain

This exhibition, mounted at Fort San Andres in Port of Spain, is dedicated to the memory of John Newel Lewis, architect and artist who devoted himself to the recording and illustrating of the 19th century buildings of the city. 

The Spanish Fort San Andres in Port of Spain was once part of the defence of the town. The cannons pointing at the sea bear silent witness to those exciting years.

During these times of the Coronavirus pandemic, when schools in Trinidad and Tobago and all over the world are closed, we would like to take teachers and students on a virtual tour of the Museum of the City of Port of Spain, which was located at Fort San Andres and is currently (as has been for a while) closed to the public. 

You can double-click on the images and enlarge them, and download them for the information contained in them. We hope that you will take the virtual tour and get a lot of information about our capital, our home city, the city of our ancestors! The text that accompanies the visuals on this blog post will act as your "virtual tour guide".

The Museum was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2003, and opened by then  Minister of Culture the Honourable Pennelope Beckles and Mayor of Port of Spain, His Worship Murchison Brown. It is dedicated to the memory of architect John Newel Lewis HBM, who made himself deserved by his involvement in the carnival arts and the documentation of the architectural influences of Port of Spain. The National Museum led by then curator Vel Lewis oversaw the project. The content and design was conceptualised by Gérard A. Besson HBM, D.Litt (h.c.), using images from the Paria Publishing Archives. The three-dimensional objects in the display cases were drawn from the collection of the National Museum. Some were sourced with the kind assistance of Ross Bynoe of Yesteryear Antiques. We also received spontaneous donations by from a wide cross section of people for the exhibits. The building of the exhibits was done by Peter Sorzano of Signs & Designs Ltd. and his team, with contributions from Peter Tardieu.

The exterior of Fort San Andres with cannons and City Gate in the background.

So let's take the tour of the Museum of the City of Port of Spain!

The entrance area of the Museum.

We first show you the entrance of the Museum, a long corridor with a window in it that allows you to get a first glance into the exhibition itself. "History is a window! A window into our past that offers a view of the future."

The "Negro Figuranti" that accompany the visitor into the exhibit are coloured drawings by Richard Bridgens, done in the 1830s  in Trinidad of Trinidadians.

The composite Map/Timeline in the entrance area of the museum is based on illustrations by John Newel Lewis. It shows the migration of peoples to Port of Spain and their built heritage over the last 500 years.

An interior of the Museum

Turning the corner, you are finding yourself in a pleasant atmosphere. The high ceilings and tall windows of the Museum let in light and air, and the hardwood floor gleams with shafts of light. The large, colourful panels hang suspended from the ceiling on invisible wires, and allow you to walk around them and discover what's on the obverse and reverse of them. Many exhibition boxes of three-dimensional, historical objects and curiosities add to an overall atmosphere of being in a place where history was made.

Part 1: Pre-Columbian & Spanish Trinidad

The first panel talks about a time before the Spanish presence in the Caribbean. The area where Port of Spain now stands was known as "Conquerabia" or "Place of the Silk Cotton Trees". It was inhabited by the First People who came and went between the South American mainland and the island chain. This panel gives some impressions of how they lived.
Cultural artefacts of the First People

The display box of cultural artefacts of the First People shows pre-Columbian pottery shards, a stone tool, and a woven basket. Did you know that the First People had developed a weaving technique that allowed them to even carry water in a basket?

From 1498 to 1797, Trinidad was a Spanish colony. The panel "The Conquistadors" gives a timeline of the earliest Spanish Governors, Renaissance men who saw themselves as discoverers, adventurers, privateers and navigators, in short, as "Conquistadors" in search of "El Dorado". And while gold was never found in Trinidad, pearls were, which, together with the capture and sale of tribal people by the Spanish as slaves, formed the first economy of Trinidad.

If you want to read the text on the panels, double-click on the image!

Don Antonio Sedeño was the first of the Spanish Governors of Trinidad. On this panel, you can see a Dutch chart showing the islands of Trinidad and of Tobago, a sketch done by John Newel Lewis of what Don Antonio's fort  may have looked like, and an engraving of pearl fishing in the Gulf of Paria in the 16th century.
Puerto de España in the late Spanish and early English period, the 1790s, was a hub for the burgeoning plantation economy of the island. This panel shows a number of illustrations of life in Trinidad in the early 1800s. The Spanish presence in Trinidad has continued to the present. It is remembered in the name of our capital city & in  San Fernando, various places, towns and villages, food and festivals and most importantly in the Spanish family names that have proudly survived for more than six hundred years.
The last Spanish governor of Trinidad, Don José María Chacón, is remembered  by the national flower, the "Chaconia", and by Chacon Street in Port of Spain that still bears his name. He arrived in Trinidad on the 1st September, 1784,  as the the 38th governor in a succession that covered a period of some 250 years of Spanish rule

 2: European planters,  Free Blacks & People of Colour, the majority of whom were French speaking, start arriving in Spanish Trinidad from 1783.

Trinidad's population in 1783:
Whites                                                  126 
Free Coloureds                                   295 
Slaves                                                    310 
 Amerindians                                   2,032

(Source, L. M. Fraser, History of Trinidad, Book 1)
The French presence in a very sparsely populated Spanish Trinidad began in 1783 when on the behest of Grenada-born Philippe Roume de St. Laurent, the Spanish Government granted a "Cedula for Population". It invited Catholics from anywhere in the world to come to Trinidad and receive there land grants based on the quantity of enslaved people they  brought into the island. This Cedula is, de facto, Trinidad's first constitution, as it sets out the legal and economic framework that determined how the colony would be governed.  A unique document for its time, it guaranteed, under Spanish law, that Free Black people and free mixed race people, who also brought with them enslaved Africans, would have the same rights and privileges as the European settlers.  Since in those years, many of the formerly French islands in the Caribbean had been ceded as prizes of war to the British the people of those islands, Grenada, Tobago, Dominica,  St Vincent and later St Lucia, were mainly Catholic, French speaking-Antillean people, both white and free black and mixed race people, came and received lands in Trinidad, which was then still largely covered in virgin jungle. The influence of these French speaking people shaped and coloured the cultural and economic life of Trinidad & Tobago for well over 150 years.

Port of Spain, or as it was then called "Puerto de España", was really just a small hamlet in the mangrove-rimmed mud flats at the river mouth of the Rio Santa Ana in those days. However, the influx of hundreds of people from the French Antilles, be they white, free black, or people of colour, who brought a large quantity of enslaved African people to clear the jungle and establish plantations, opened up the plantation economy in Trinidad and Port of Spain grew swiftly to become a busy port town. 

The Cedula for Population of 1783 gave social and economic opportunities to Free Blacks and People of Colour that other places did not. The majority of them being Catholic & French acculturated settled in Port of Spain, & in the Naparimas. They became the basis for the original middle class of Trinidad. They gave to the island a distinct French Antillean flavour & culture that was to last well into the 20th century. In those early years newspapers were in French & English and so too was trade as were Court room proceedings!
With the French Revolution breaking out in 1789, and "Madame Guillotine" also finding its way to the French Antilles, the influx of French people into Trinidad increased. Port of Spain became quite a volatile melting pot, comprising French aristocratic families who escaped the Guillotine, black and white republican revolutionaries, some from as far away as Haiti, runaway slaves, deserters of foreign wars, and many other people as listed on this panel who had resisted slavery & imperialism. The roots of a culture of resistance were laid in those years.

This exhibit shows a poster as was commonly used to advertise a slave market. The drawings of people were done by Richard Bridgens in the 1820s, which means that they are the oldest depictions of Africans living in Port of Spain. The panel also gives an extract of the will of Michael Loreilhe, a French planter, who in a manner not untypical for the times leaves bequests to enslaved people.

With the influx of tens of thousands of African enslaved people who were brought to Trinidad from the other islands or directly from Africa, Port of Spain's population  grew incrementally. Many of the enslaved were employed as domestics, grooms, gardeners, nannies and other occupations by the townsfolk. They brought important cultural practices to the town, like music, dance and drumming, wakes, food choices, and many other African practices. In 1807, the trade in slaves was abolished throughout the British Empire, of which Trinidad and Tobago were a part since 1797, and in 1838, the cruel and dehumanising practice of African slavery was finally abolished altogether by the British Government.

The exhibition box shows some implements that would have been typically used by the enslaved people in Port of Spain: an oil stove, a mortar and pestle, and an antique clothes iron.
Some  of the European-descended French who came to Port of Spain under the terms of the Cedula belonged to the nobility of Europe. One of them, the Valleton de Boissière family, are featured on this panel. From this French family came merchants, planters, legislators, highly decorated soldiers, a world famous author, medical doctors and an illustrious son of the soil, Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, the first prime minister of an independent Trinidad and Tobago.

This  grave stone once formed part of a de Boissière tomb in a private cemetery in Debe Road, Maraval.

If you want to read the text on the panels, double-click on the image!

Part 3: Port of Spain becomes British

Exhibit with a commemorative plate, remembering the first 100 years of British rule in Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1797, Trinidad was conquered by the British, eventually becoming a Crown Colony. The influence of Great Britain shaped the modern history of Port of Spain. This section of the Museum explores some of the historical personalities and milestones of the transition from Spanish to British Trinidad—during which for many decades the population continued to speak French and Patois and where Spanish Laws continued to exist  in a British colony up to 1849!

Continue your stroll among the exhibits!

Trinidad's population in 1803:
                                 Whites             Coloured
English                       663                  599

Spanish                      505                1,751

French                     1,093                2,925
                               ––––––             –––––
                                                              2,261                5,275              8,536

                           Enslaved Africans                                                  20,000

This display box shows the torture of a young woman of colour, Luisa Calderon whose foot was lowered on a spike in order for her to admit to larceny. It is said that this "picton-ing" later led to the colloquialism "picong", meaning giving somebody a hard time.

The General Hospital in Port of Spain was originally a military barracks called the Orange Grove Barracks. It was  constructed in 1803-04 by General Hislop, the second military governor of Trinidad.

Total number of enslaved  African in Trinidad in 1813 was 25,696. Of these 11,633 were Creole slaves, that is, born on the estates or in households. These can be broken down thus: 7,088 born in Trinidad, 2,576 from British Colonies, 1,593 from French Colonies, and 376 from other places.

(Source, B. W. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834.)
Total number of enslaved African in Trinidad: 13,984. Comprising :–
Ibo, South Eastern Nigeria: 2,863
Congo, Congo: 2,450                             
Moco, Cameroons: 2,240                         
Mandingo,  Senegambia: 1,421
Kormantyn, Ghana, Gold Coast, Fanti, Ashanti, others: 1,068
Kwakwa, Ivory Coast:  473
Sierra Leone, Temne: 169, Susu: 145, Kissi: 63
Ibibio, South Eastern Nigeria: 371
Raddah, Dahomey: 281
Chamba, Nigeria: 275
Fulani, Northern Nigeria: 171
Popo, Dahomey: 112
Hausa, Northern Nigeria: 109
Yoruba, Western Nigeria: 10
Various tribal groupings: 818

With the exception of the Observatory at Laventille (recently named Fort Chacon), and the foundation of Fort St. Andres there are no buildings in Port of Spain that actually date back to Spanish times. This panel gives some examples of buildings that are close in date to the 18th century, with a map of the city in the early 19th century. The Observatory at Laventille was where the first meridian of longitude, the 63rd, was established by Don Damian Churruca in 1795. It was the first in the New World to be established by the observation of the stars.

This interesting composite map shows the growth of the city from being Puerto de España, to Port d'Espagne as the French inhabitants called it, to Port of Spain as it was renamed by the British.

If you want to read the text on the panels, double-click on the image!

Part 4: Port of Spain's Architecture in the early 19th century

During the mid 19th century, Port of Spain's architecture gave it a distinct French-Antillean flair, similar to towns like St. Pierre in Martinique or New Orleans in the USA. The grace of the arcaded buildings has today all but vanished in Port of Spain. The Panel shows some of the buildings on Marine Square (today Independence Square) and drawings by John Newel Lewis.
In the later 19th century, a Scottish architect and builder named George Brown came to Trinidad and influenced the architecture of Port of Spain with the "Lantern Roof". This panel shows some of the buildings he built and his influence visualised with drawings by John Newel Lewis.

1813 saw the arrival of Trinidad's first civil governor Sir Ralph Woodford, Bart. Woodford (after whom Woodford Street is named) set about changing the Spanish/French town into a more British town, establishing the Queen's Park Savannah and Brunswick Square (now Woodford Square), building Trinity Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and laying out the Royal Botanic Gardens.

If you want to read the text on the panels, double-click on the image!

Part 5: Port of Spain Acquires Modern Institutions in the 19th Century

The second room of the Museum, dedicated to Modern Times

As you continue your tour of the Museum of the City of Port of Spain, you now enter into the second room of the exhibit. This room is dedicated to the modernisation of the town in the 19th and into the 20th century. With the growth of the plantation system after the emancipation of the enslaved under the British colonial government, the city of Port of Spain grew and its commercial and administrative institutions developed at a rapid rate: the banking system, the insurance industry, the Town Council, the transport system, the Police and judicial systems, and several other institutions came into being.

In the Victorian era, Port of Spain became a "Crown Jewel" in the British Empire, a colonial capital on par with others like Delhi, Hong Kong or Lagos. The pomp and circumstance of the British Empire was regularly rolled out with the visits of dignitaries and during imperial holidays. The panel also introduces some of the early local Town Council members after whom some streets are named in Port of Spain.

After the abolition of slavery in in 1838, the British Colonial Government looked for replacement labour to work in the plantations in the Caribbean. From 1845 to 1917, an indenture scheme that brought labourers from India began. From then until 1921, over 110,000 persons arrived from the Indian sub-continent, shaping Trinidad & Tobago and the capital,  Port of Spain with their culture and traditions.

The Beginnings of Indentureship
From before the Emancipation Act of 1838, the British government began to experiment with the importation of indentured labour into Trinidad to work the sugar estates. Small numbers of Chinese and later Portuguese from the Atlantic islands were introduced in the opening decades of the 19th century.  However, as is known, these did not prove suitable for agricultural labour and tended towards commerce. The British then turned to India as a source of labour.
According to historian Donald Wood in "Trinidad in Transition" East Indians numbered:- “by 1851, (six years after indentureship began) 6 % (4,169) of the population of 69,609; in 1861, 15.9 % (13,488) of the population of 84,438 and the largest immigrant group; in 1871, 25.1 % (27,425) of a population of 109,638, and with 4,545  born in Trinidad itself. Over 20,000 East Indians were still working on the estates in 1871, either completing their industrial residence or on other forms of contract.” 
By 1901, Indians and their descendants made up 33% of the population. The indentured Indians were drawn from a variety of casts, sects, religions and backgrounds and also from different parts of the Indian subcontinent, and as such were in themselves a heterogeneous population. Trinidad’s ethnic mix was well underway to being unique.
With the enslaved becoming free, and the necessity to pay labourers on the plantations, in homes and businesses, commercial banks started to establish themselves in Trinidad. The first one was the Colonial Bank in 1837, whose successor bank, Republic Bank, is in operation until today.
Exhibit depicting typical implements of the commercial sector in 19th century Port of Spain: a manual type writer, a stamp carousel, an ink and pen stand.
A wonderful old wooden cash register and some of the precious glass bottles that were used over and over in the dispensing  of beverages and medicines.

Interior of the room "Modern Times"
One of the very interesting panels in the exhibit is the one about the past mayors of the City of Port of Spain. You will recognise many familiar names, since several streets in the city and environs were named in their honour.

Some past mayors of Port of Spain, with Michael Maxwell Philip featured as the first man of African descent to be a mayor of Port of Spain, and Audrey Jeffers as the first woman in public life.
This map shows all the streets in Port of Spain named in honour of Mayors and other local dignitaries.
Probably the most illustrious public personality of the outgoing 19th and early 20th century was Captain Arthur Andre Cipriani, sportsman, soldier, trade unionist and eight times Mayor of Port of Spain. His statue stands on Independence Square.
The exhibition box accompanying the transport panels shows some beautiful old brass lanterns as they were once used on horse-drawn carriages.

Public transport in Port of Spain was actually quite well solved in years gone by.  Steam boats traversed the Gulf of Paria and sailed around the entire island stopping off at various bays to handle agricultural produce. Trams and omnibuses connected the city centre with the suburbs. And trains traversed the island from Port of Spain to to Arima and Sangre Grande to San Fernando to Rio Claro, and was used to transport produce and people.
This panel features a lot of very interesting pictures of the trams and carriages, omnibuses and horse-drawn transport, of Port of Spain and its environs! From mule-drawn trams to electric trams and motorcars, Port of Spain was always a bustling, noisy port city.

The Red House, as it is called today, was first built between 1844–1848. As the seat of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, it underwent modifications over the years. In 1897, it got the red colour that it has until today. In 1903, it was burnt by an angry mob during the Water Riots, which unfortunately caused a lot of our historical documents to go up in flames as well.

If you want to read the text on the panels, double-click on the image!

Modern times were coming to the city of Port of Spain in the form of many inventions of the industrial revolution: an ice factory, the telephone, and electricity.
Old-fashioned kitchen utensils on display.
Cocoa - the golden bean! Port of Spain acquired some beautiful buildings, a lot of professional jobs, and a fragrance all on its own when the cocoa trade boomed in the outgoing 19th and early 20th century. The Magnificent Seven, the mansions built around the Queen's Park Savannah stem from this time, along with the now almost vanished gingerbread houses of Woodbrook, New Town and Belmont.
The Courts of Law and the Police Service were important institutions established by the British Colonial Government in the city of Port of Spain. This panel gives a summary of some milestones and shows interesting photographs of the Police and Judiciary over the years.
A selection of elements of the uniforms of the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Port of Spain became quite a fashionable place! Elegant ladies' fashions were appreciated by all segments of the society. Photography studios captured people from all walks of life in their finery. Newspapers depicted the styles of the metropoles, and skilled tailors and seamstresses adapted them to tropical climes and the pockets of their customers....
This exhibit shows a lovely old sewing machine.

If you want to read the text on the panels, double-click on the image!

Part 6: Port of Spain Carnival

Carnival is definitely a Port of Spain affair! Here is the cradle of the steelband, here people invented calypso and sang "Fire Brigade Water the Road", here sailor mas was first modelled in the 1920s after the sailors of the American Great White fleet, here is where moko jumbles stalk the sidewalks at Carnival, where blue devils and pierrot grenades jump about, and where the Beast once bristled its scales and couldn't get wet stepping over water running in a canal. 

The Steelband was born in East Port of Spain in the 1930s and 40s. Forged from a re-purposed oil drum, it is a testament to the inventiveness and musicality of the people of Port of Spain, whence it journeyed around the globe, adding the sweet sound of pan to music all over the world.

The roots of Carnival costuming in Port of Spain goes back to the French presence. It is essentially a Catholic festival and was embraced by the Afro-French settlers, and other Caribbean immigrants of the city.
Port of Spain was always a port of call for the Royal & American navies, and sailors have inspired Carnival mas since the 1920s, when the Great White Fleet visited the town. In the Second World War, Trinidad became host to hundreds of thousands of British, American and Canadian military personnel, whose presence shaped a generation of Hollywood and Military-inspired music and mas.

Well, this excursion into Carnival in Port of Spain brings us to an end of the stroll through the Virtual Museum of the City of Port of Spain! Didn't you feel that it was like walking around the pages of a very large picture book?
To re-cap, let's provide you with some time lines, which may also assist you in writing papers, doing further research, or looking up the correct dates for various historical events (remember to just double-click on them to enlarge and read):

Chronology of selected events 1500s and 1600s

Chronology of selected events 1700s
Chronology of selected events 1800s

Chronology of selected events 1900s
1851 82,978—    
1861 99,848+20.3%
1871 126,692+26.9%
1881 171,179+35.1%
1891 218,381+27.6%
1901 273,899+25.4%
1911 333,552+21.8%
1921 365,913+9.7%
1931 412,783+12.8%
1946 563,222+36.4%
1960 834,350+48.1%
1970 945,210+13.3%
1980 1,079,791+14.2%
1990 1,213,733+12.4%
2000 1,262,366+4.0%
2011 1,328,019+5.2%
2019 1,363,985+2.7%
Source: [1]

Goodbye and come again!

Please visit our other virtual museums by clicking on the links below:

The locomotive outside Fort San Andres, once part of the extensive railroad system of Trinidad connecting towns and villages to the city of Port of Spain.

Click here to see the booklet about museums and exhibitions designed and built by Paria Publishing.

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