Tuesday 30 August 2011


From the Diary of a Retired Naval Officer, Commander C.E.I.R. Alford, who lived in Tobago, which was later made into a charming travel book in the 1930s.
We read of his visit to Fort King George, overlooking Scarborough, 452 feet above sea level. The old barracks in his day hardly a tourist attraction, overgrown. The wind in the tall trees, the silence, humming with birdsong and insects. The row of ancient cannons, standing in the ruined embrasures, pointing mutely out over the town as he says “in silent contemplation of the past”.
Below the hospital to the left of the old prison and behind it are the condemned cells. In 1801, a slave riot was quelled by a clever strategy. The ringleader and a number of his associates were caught and taken to prison. The ringleader was then hung in full view of the town and, when dead, his body was lowered. A few minutes later the crowd again saw a body swinging aloft, to be lowered in due course and followed by another and another, until, to their terrified eyes, all the captured men had been hung. Actually however, only one man suffered death, the ringleader, for it was his body that was raised and lowered repeatedly on the gibbet.
The old fort contained some twenty guns in those days. Many of them have been removed to other sites, and there are only one or two of the great grapeshot mortars left. One of these is engraved “Great Charge, 9 pounds, range 2,800 yards”. The fort was active during the Napoleonic wars in the Caribbean and watched the harbour in Rockley Bay.
It is remembered that a ship attempted to sneek out under cover of darkness. The fort opened fire. Her captain was forced to bring her to, as a shot could have taken his main mast down. Carlton P. Ottley, writing in the same period, relates that after “centuries of war, peace finally came to Tobago. The old guns continued to serve a very useful purpose in keeping the people of Scarborough and the surrounding countryside informed of the time for closing their business places, and also for retiring for the night.”
Ottley tells us in his ‘Tobago Legends and West Indian Lore’ that nightly, whether rain or shine, on the stroke of eight, one of the cannons would boom out. This was the signal for all the rumshops in the town to shut their doors, and so would all heads of homes.
The sound of the gun meant the end of activities for all. The children who had been playing in the full moonlight went home. It was the same for the lovers sitting among the ruins of the fort, and neighbours resting on the doorsteps, and for the young man who had come to court his bride: when the eight o’clock gun boomed, everybody went home.
A man by the name of Clay was the last timekeeper to fire the gun. Unfortunately, he blew off one of his arms one night, but this did not gainstay him from his post.
The story is told how he got the time from the wardens office clock. Well, one night the clock had stopped. Clay had no idea and had not noticed. By the time he had discovered this, it was nine o’clock. He fired the cannon all the same. This was the cause of much confusion, and it was several days before the ‘time’ was re-established in Tobago.
Commander Alford describes Plymouth as a town abandoned in the 1930s. He remarks on the old grave, whose enigmatic inscription reads “Within these walls are deposited the bodies of Betty Stivens and her child. She was the beloved wife of Alex Stivens, who to the end of his day will deplore her death, which happened on the 25th day of November 1783 in the 23rd year of her life. What was remarkable of her was she was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgences to him.”
It is interesting to note Ottley’s reference. There is in the archives of the Anglican church in Scarborough an old register of baptisms, marriages and deaths 1781 - 1817. On page two of this old volume reads: “Three mulatto children of Alexander Stivens, one son by the name of Alexander and two daughters, one by the name of Sally and the name of Mary. The date September 25, 1781.” There is no record of marriage to a Betty Stivens who lies beneath the stone. Perhaps she was a faithful slave who by her goodness had endeared herself to her master Alexander Stivens, who in turn dared to do on her death what he could not do while she lived - pay tribute to her qualities as a devoted wife and fond mother of his children. But who knows for sure?

Woodford's Years

Despite the fact that Spain controlled Trinidad for more than two hundred years, no public buildings and no churches were left behind from that era built of stone. Those were the days of a thatch and wood culture in Trinidad, conveying a sense of impermanence.
The French settlers introduced a timber style in the late 18th century, particularly in the estate houses, which had timbered frames and thatch roofs. The English on the other hand, started to build in stone and brick. It was their way of demonstrating political strength, especially in public buildings.
Philip Reinagle, a British architect, lived in Trinidad during the early 19th century, and worked for governor Sir Ralph James Woodford’s administration (1813 - 1829). This was a period of both construction and re-construction, in that the town of Port-of-Spain was being rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1808, as well as being extended and enhanced.
Philip Reinagle was responsible for the design of boththe Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. History tells us that originally Trinity Church was built of wood and stood on the corner of Prince and Frederick St. It had been built around 1801 and burnt down in 1808. A new church was built in Woodford Square, then called Brunswick Square, taken down and re-erected in its present position, since it should not have been placed in the square in the first place! There were petitions presented to protest against its erection.
The petitioners complained that the square was private property, and in order to compensate the owners for taking it as public grounds, the owner was allowed to charge an extra heavy price for the lots bounding the square. They felt they had a vested interest in the square, and they also felt that the placing of a protestant church there was not in keeping with the original arrangements. It spoilt their view! They appealed to His Majesty’s Council to prevent this breach of their privileges and rights. They were successful: Trinity Cathedral was dismantled and rebuilt where it stands today.
Proprietors around Brunswick Square
Francisco Bermudez
Manuel Piar
Manuel Valdez
Lincenciado Gaspar Marcano
Casimiro Isava
Juan Bautista Videau
Jose Manuel Navarro
Jose Rauseo
Juan Bautista Cova
Rafael Mayz
Manuel Mago
Ramon Machado
Agustin Armario
Jose Rivero
Luis Vallenilla
Bernardo Olivier
Carlos Penalosa
Antonio Alcala
Froilan Peralta
Vidente Villagas
Jose Serpa Bruzual
Patricia Rubio
Bernardo Bermudez
Dr. Manuel Matamoros
Manuel Isava
Mateo Guerra Olivier
Jose Maria Otero
Francisco Marcano
Manuel Nillaroel
Francisco Rivas
Jose Maria Amaya
Jeronimo Carbon
Pedro Domingo
Bruzal de Beaumont
Vicente Gonzalez
Pedro Meuias
Jose Leonardo Brito
Francicso Penalosa
Rufino Peralta
Jose Manuel Torres
Ignacio Certad
Valentin Garcia
N. Carreno
Luis Marcano
(Source: Master of the Rolls and Deputy Keeper of the Public Records Office, London)
The Catholic Cathedral, on the other hand, is possessed of a somewhat more docile past. In 1757, the new govenor Don Pedro de la Moneda decided to leave the delapidated old city of San Jose de Oruna (St. Joseph) and to establish himself in the swampy, makeshift ‘port town of Spain’, where things for various reasons were looking up.
In those days, Port of Spain had one church, which stood on the site now occupied by Tamarind Square. Standing not far from the ‘puntilla’, the landing place, it was built of wood and clay, had a shingled roof, was painted white on the outside and prettily decorated on the inside. This early church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the name of the Immaculate Conception.
With the conquest of Trinidad by the British in 1797, the importance of the town grew, and its population increased. With Governor Woodford’s administration in place, Philip Reinagle was instructed to design and build a church for the catholic congregation. On the 24th March 1816, with rites fitting the occasion, the Governor laid the foundation stone of the Roman Catholic Cathedral.
Both sites chosen for these churches could not be easily bettered. The catholic one stands on the main axis of the main square, and the anglican in a large area near to the seat of government, bordering the other principle square in the city. Architect John Newel Lewis, H.B.M., observes in his book ‘Ajoupa’ that they “seem to avoid visual demonstrations of authority, so that instead of two great, imposing, solemn monuments, we have two churches, sincere and charming, but which do not dominate.”
The city of Port of Spain grew and improved under Sir Ralph’s administration. In 1813, just after his arrival, he ordered the footwalks of the town be paved with macadam. He straightened the streets and their paving was done under the direction of the Surveyor General. Each householder was being assessed for the amount of paving cost he had to bear. There was much grumbling and discontent by the people who were taxed! The work done, however, has stood the test of time. Woodford turned our capital into the most stately town in the West Indies. As traveller Henry Coleridge wrote in 1825:
“Port of Spain is by far the finest town I saw in the West Indies. The streets are wide, long, and laid out at right angles; no house is now allowed to be built of wood, and no erection of any sort can be made except in a prescribed line. There is a public walk embowered in trees (...), and a spacious market place with a market house or shambles in excellent order and cleanliness. The Spanish and French females, their gay costume, their foreign language, and their unusual vivacity give this market the appearance of a merry fair in France.”
Under Woodford’s direction, both Brunswick Square and Marine Square were laid out in 1816. He even imported trees! Baron Schack, the town engineer, was made responsible for this.
Woodford was a handsome man of only 29 years of age when he took up his post in 1813. An old lady whom I interviewed more than 20 years ago told me that he attracted much attention from the pretty little society ladies of the day. She went to relate how these ladies would promenade in front of his new residence at St. Ann’s and “shake their bustles” for his attention.
Woodford supervised the work being done in the town. Mounted and wearing a large straw hat, he became a familiar sight, getting the name ‘gouverneur chapeau paille’. He was responsible for the purchase of Paradise estate in 1818, which gave us the Queen’s Park Savannah. David Lockhart was appointed as the first curator of the Botanical Gardens, and he and Woodford laid it out. By the time of his death in April 1829, after fifteen years of service, the economy, the efficiency of the militia, the regular and open administration of justice, the general health of the town and the cleanness of the streets, buildings and markets all bore testimony to his endeavour.
Thr first governors of Trinidad, all military men, were Brigadier-General Thomas Picton (1797 - 1803), Comissioners Colonel William Fullarton, Brigadier Thomas Picton and Commodore Samuel Hood (1803 - 1804), Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Hislop (1804 - 1811) and Major-General W. Munro (1811 - 1813). They were concerned with maintaining order internally and being prepared, at all times, for an external threat.
The western world was at war. In the period from the French Revolution (1789) to the first decade of the 19th century, Europe was assailed by a brand new world force in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte (1769 - 1821), the great military man, was born in Corsica and became the emperor of France by a ‘coup d’etat’ in 1799. In his warfares against Austria, England, Italy and other places in Europe, the established order of many places in the world changed. In the Treaty of Amiens, for example, signed by the French Republic and war-weary England in 1802, England was allowed to retain Ceylon and Trinidad but relinquished Egypt, Malta and the Cape of Good Hope; France agreed to evacuate Naples in Italy; and the independence of Portugal and the Ionian Islands was recognised.
In Trinidad at that time, a civil conflict was brewing which reflected the military conflicts in Europe. Under the Cedula of Population, the document which had created a population for this island in 1783, local people - white and non-white - were granted certain rights. In the Articles of Surrender of 1797, the British had accepted these rights, which allowed Free Blacks and People of Colour along with their fellow countrymen of European descent to inherit property, hold commissions in the local forces, practice professions and apply to the crown for grants of land. They were also exempt from certain taxes. Many of these Free Black people were slave-owning proprietors of large sugar estates.
Not all of them, mind you, became very well off. They lived in ‘petit maisons’, surrounded by pretty gardens. Their lovely ‘café-au-lait’ complexioned daughters grew into beautiful, graceful and accomplished young ladies. Their sons were sometimes educated in France or at Edinborough. Some became doctors, others, because their parents could afford it, took the grand tour of Europe.
They affected the style of European aristocracy and were in a sense so by virtue of their education, training and wealth, and in some cases their familial connections to titled people of a previous generation, something which was very important in the value system of the time. The Free Blacks and People of Colour became indeed the aristocrats of the New World.
This ‘state of grace’ was challenged after Trinidad’s military governors departed. The arrival of Sir Ralph Woodford instituted a new order in the colony. Woodford came from a background that had benefitted financially and politically from England’s European successes and from the change in the ruling dynasty from what was left of the House of Stewart to the German Hannoverian Georges. To describe him as a ‘parvenu’ or even ‘nouveau riche’ would be to misunderstand the social order from which Woodford came. There was, however, a wind of change.
Gone were the days of an almost surreal life and life style in these frontier colonies, where pirates roamed free and islands changed hands sometimes from day to day, and where bloody revolution took its toll. Plantation life, slavery itself, produced a kind of wild disorder, expressed in miscegenous relationships which had produced a whole new type of people in the Americas.
From young Sir Ralph’s world view, all this ‘disorder’ born out of Trinidad’s vicarious origins had to be calmed, structured, ordered and simply made more civilised. It was relatively easy to impose this sense of order upon the cityscape. For example, he removed the tropical rainforest in the immediate vicinity of his new government house at St. Anns, and had a Botanical Garden planted with imported trees. This demonstration of colonial control could be compared, with a little imagination, with the proliferation of hamburger restaurants today, imposing a new orderliness, this time modelled after North American fast food culture.
Trinidad’s society was a different matter. It was not like Barbados, for instance, where 99% of the population were of African descent and 1% were white, these divided into the upper class British and the servant class British.
In the case of Trinidad, almost everybody was a foreigner in Woodford’s eyes. Most of the whites were French, several were Irish, many were German and ask for the Spanish grandees, well, you could not even tell if they were white! Many of these people were well off, and a few even very rich. But the most difficult to deal with were the Free Black people. To Woodford, they seemed to be in everything. Notwithstanding the acceptance of the cedular code under the articles of surrender, the military governors who preceded him had tried to enforce all the anti-colour rules as they existed in other parts of the British Caribbean. Humiliating laws were enacted, quite new here, but familiar enough elsewhere. For instance, Free Black people had to carry a lighted torch when out a night. Port-of-Spain was as dangerous a place then as it is now, and they could not carry even a stick or a cane to protect themselves. After 9.30 p.m., a curfew was imposed on them, and they had to pay a special tax to have a ball. Picton stripped all the coloured militia officers of their commissions.
These new laws, promoted by the military governors and executed by Woodford, came into existence for basically two reasons: firstly, there was an economic reason why the British administration was far less sympathetic to the Free Black people than the Spanish government under Chacon had been. The Spaniards were in need of rapid development, and the Free Coloureds brought with them expertise, slaves, and worked the land hard to open up the island.
The other reason was that the British administration viewed people of African descent as dangerous, given to revolutionary thinking, and holding republican ideas. Like the French, they could not forget the horror of Ste. Domingue, the civil war that ended in the independence of Haiti and the destruction of the planters. It had begun with an uprising by the Free Coloureds to gain civil rights. They knew that amongst the Free Blacks who had come to Trinidad, were many republicans and those who supported the French Revolution.
The ‘half-breed’ children of the estates and their descendants were literally a ‘mixed bag’: some were loyal to the British crown, wanting ‘the good life’, while others, disaffected for all sorts of reasons, wanted bloody revolution. In fact, many of the republicans had moved on to the real conflict taking place in Venezuela, and the Free Blacks who were in Trinidad had a stake in the status quo. Bearing in mind the times, however, the British and the white French creoles did not want to know.
Dr. Carl Campbell sums up the difference in aims between the military governors of 1797 - 1813 and Woodford in these terms:
“The soldier governors used military terror to keep the fragmented population in order, but Woodford, the first civilian governor, de-emphasised military force in favour of the institutionalisation of racial prejudice. His intention was to establish a settled society, institutionally fixed, racially defined and graduated in terms of social rank. To Woodford, the Free Coloureds had been allowed to get out of hand. They were too numerous, too rich, too immoral, too intimately associated with whites, too insubordinate and too ungrateful. If it had not been for the British government, he would have undermined their economic position by setting legal limits to their land ownership.”
Woodford was stopped, however, he could put social pressure on the Free Blacks. He tried to prevent marriages between them and whites. He never addressed black respectable people as ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’. He prevented their advancement wherever he could.
This style was adopted only too quickly by the whites. It was from this point that the easy familiar modus operandi, which had existed previously between the two elites of the island, began to go downhill.
Under this pressure Free Black people found themselves sitting in the back of the church with the slaves, even on the coastal boat. The last straw came when a law was passed in 1822 that would make it possible for a Free Black person to be flogged for a minor offence on the word of a city magistrate, who was usually a white slave owner. It was at this stage that one of their own emerged to challenge this other side of Woodford. HIs name was Jean Baptiste Philipe.
(to be continued)
Caption for Trinity: “The church itself is one of the most elegant and splendid things in the empire; i is wainscotted with various rich woods of the island, and the pews are arranged with not more regularity than with a liberal consideration of the feelings of the colored people. These last sit in the area towards the western end, and the difference of their accommodation from that of the whites is scarcely perceptible.” (..., 1825)

The Antique Saints of Trinidad

Few genuine relics remain from Trinidad’s Spanish period. One of them is to be found in the church dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat. This little wooden figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the ‘Black Virgin’, is said to be a copy of a statue of Our Lady in a shrine in Montserrat, Spain.

“In Tortuga, the ‘Black Virgin’ is placed in a side chapel reserved for its veneration,” writes Sister Marie Therese in her excellent book ‘Parish Beat’. “People come from all parts of Trinidad to pray at her feet, beseeching favours. At a date close to September 8th, her feast is celebrated. No one knows, really, when the little wooden figure of the ‘Black Virgin of Montserrat’ was brought to Tortuga, but it is presumed that it came through a Capuchin missionary from Spain.”

It is interesting to note that the earliest missionaries, the Catalan Capuchin priests, first arrived in 1687. The last Aragon Capuchin came in 1758. This serves to give an idea of the age of the ‘Black Virgin of Montserrat’.

Another remarkable figure of veneration is that of La Divina Pastora at Siparia. Sister Marie Therese relates:

“Siparia was one of the missions of the Spanish Capuchins who came from the Santa Maria province of Aragon in 1756 - 1758. Devotion to the divine shepherdess is centuries old, originating in Spain. It is said that in 1703 Our Lady appeared to a Capuchin known as the Venerable Isidore. In this visitation he was instructed to spread devotion to her under the title of ‘Our Lady, Mother of the Good Shepherd’. This devotion was introduced in Venezuela in 1715 and the first church was built in her honour in an Amerindian mission.”

The date of when the devotion to her was introduced to Trinidad is not known. There is, however, a parish record that states that the statue of La Divina Pastora was brought from Venezuela to Siparia by Spanish priest, who said that the statue had saved his life. This record dates from 1871.

The statue may well be over 100 years older than that date. Perhaps it had travelled from Spain to Venezuela in 1715, perhaps it had been taken into safekeeping by the priest in those turbulent years of Venezuela’s post-revolutionary period, when much of the church property was destroyed in the wars.

Santa Rosa de Lima was canonised in 1671. She was born in Peru of Spanish parents and became a nun in the Dominican order. She devoted her life to the sick and the destitute, and is remembered even today by the tribal people of the high Andes.

In 1757, the Capuchins of Aragon founded a mission at Arima and dedicated their work to this first New World saint, Santa Rosa. Some 30 years later, this mission was enlarged to accommodate the tribal people who had been displaced from Tacarigua, Caura and Arouca.

Dating from an early period, a figure said to be that of the saint was brought to the church. It had been discovered by villagers in the high woods, and has been the focus of veneration ever since.

Sister Marie Therese records the words of Fr. Thomas:

“In 1813, the youthful Sir Ralph Woodford attended the Santa Rosa festival. On this joyous occasion, the church is decorated. During the service, a cannon was discharged at intervals. At the end of the mass, ceremonial dances were performed in the church to the accompaniment of the cuatro and the chac-chac. The four leading Caribs of the mission bore the statue in procession, immediately followed by the Carib queen, who was dressed like a bird of paradise.”

According to H.A.A. de Verteuil, the king and the queen of the Caribs in the early 19th century were usually young people. The church was elaborately decorated with produce, and people came from afar to view the ceremonies. An excerpt from a report by Don Domingo de Vara to the Spanish king in 1595:

“The Indians for their labour will gain instruction in the matters of Our Holy Faith and shelter and protection, as though our children, so that they may recognise and appreciate the great work which our Commander does in bringing them to the obedience and protection of His Majesty. From this, those who wish to go will learn that we intend to populate these lands and not to depopulate them; to develop them and not to exploit them; to control them and not to destroy them. Those who do not accept this are warned that they will suffer the anger of God who has clearly shown that those who rob and maltreat the Indians, perish in the land they try to desolate, and their riches, acquired by deceit and tyranny, are lost in the sea and their families perish and are forgotten."

Nothing much has changed in 200 years

Very early Port of Spain
Port of Spain was probably not founded by the Spaniards at all. “There is no reason to suppose that its importance to the indigenous inhabitants was not supplemented in time by the activities of migrants, refugees and transients,” writes architect John Newel Lewis in his book ‘Ajoupa’. The tribal people had a name for it; they called it ‘Conquerabia’. The Spaniards merely referred to it as ‘Puerto de los Hispanioles’.
By 1560, the Spanish placed troops there. Historian P.G.L. Borde says in his book ‘The History of the island of Trinidad under the Spanish government’ that there was a fort and a trading post. The mangrove swamps that we can glimpse at today off the foreshore for example, covered all of today’s downtown Port of Spain. Huge silk cotton trees and other forest giants grew, and housing consisted almost entirely of open ajoupas, scattered here and there in bush. There was a small,mud-walled enclosure with a shack inside, a flagpole, two or three cannons and some dishevelled, unshaven Spanish soldiers. The Caribs came and went; there was some traffic with the mainland and up the Orinoco river a couple of times per year.
In 1680, when the French naval commander Comte D’Estrées visited, he reported that there was no Port of Spain at that time, only a military post, an earthen mound with two guns and some fishermen’s huts. In 1690, governor Don Sebastien de Roteta reported in writing to the King of Spain:
“Already six houses have been made and others have been started. There is already a church in this place, so that it was unnecessary to build a new.”
It was hard for the Spaniards to establish a settlement. The natives were always restless, even hostile, and that is to put it mildly! Even the ‘pacified’ ones “were in the habit of showering scorn and abuse upon the Holy Faith and ridiculed with jests the efforts of the Holy Fathers”, as the alcaldes of Trinidad reported to the King in December of 1699.
But notwithstanding something of a permanent settlement, meaning permanent occupation, did begin around 1700.
A fragment of a letter survives in Tom Cambridge’s collection, written by Martin Perez Anda y Salaza. It says in part that a church was erected in 1722 with the assistance of the parish of the town. But in truth, the place was a port, not a town. It was around the grass market, Besson Street, or thereabouts, that there was activity. Traders from ‘down the main’ and illegal immigrants came and went; contraband goods were stored in temporary shelters.In 1739, there was fear of smallpox. Newel Lewis comments that this laissez-faire, free-for-all style is a characteristic of Port of Spain up to the present.
In 1768, an area around what is known today as George, Nelson and Duncan Streets and about as far west as Frederick Street was settled. A plaza was staked out in conformity to the King’s ordinance of 1573 for the laying out of towns in the Spanish colonies. There was an Amerindian village called Cu-Mucurapo nearby.
By 1777, Philippe Roume de St. Laurent, a Creole from Grenada who was seeking new land to settle, could report that there were eighty houses made of light cane, plastered with a mixture of mud and grass, then whitewashed and covered with with thatch. He goes on to say: “The Governor lives here.”
The problem with the mud buildings, whether fort or house, was of course that the rainy season dissolved them. They ran and bent, and when dry season came, they dried up and cracked and became completely misshapen. Also, the bush never ceased to grow. The alligators ate the dogs and the chickens.
With the arrival of the French in 1783, the pace of development accelerated. Better port facilities came about as there was much landing of cargo, both animate and unanimate. The jetty was lengthened, the mangrove cut away, and most important the Rio Santa Anna was diverted. Captain Ricketts of Barbados wrote in 1788 (Public Records Office, quoted in ‘Ajoupa’):
“The present capital of the island three years ago contained only a few mud houses; the inhabitants of which were fishermen. Now it contains 600 houses, mostly built of wood, and shingled. They are laid out in eleven streets at right angles of a good width, but unpaved. They are very dirty after rain. The number of inhabitants is about 3,000, of which 1,500 are supposed to be white.”
Monsieur Picot de Lapeyrouse established the first sugar cane estate on the island. The Otaheite variety of cane had been introduced by St. Hilaire Begorrat in the 1780s.
Benoit Dert became the first worshipful master of the freemason’s lodge ‘Les Frères Unis’, which was brought by himself and others form St. Lucia in 1795.
The Spanish authorities could hardly handle the locals - much less the high style emigré French creoles. Noone really expected that the French Revolution would send whole communities of French creoles with their slaves, ‘octaroon’ mistresses and ‘pass-for-white’ children tumbling in backwater Trinidad by the the 1790s. In that period, the town grew not as a result of town planning, but inspite of it.
The town was a haven for the flotsam and jetsam of the Caribbean in 1797. It was peopled by half-caste Spaniards, broad-nosed zambos, high-strung mestizo women, French republican soldiers, retires pirates, French nobility and the ghosts of the conquistadors who had died in the previous centuries in search of El Dorado, eaten by the anthropomorgai people in the jungles of Guiria.
All this disorder gave the English their chance. With war generally in the air and Governor Chacon fearful of republicanism, they took the island in 1797 without hardly a shot being fired. Although it was recorded that the guns at Fort St. Andres fired round after round.
But they too had many problems with the mixed population, squatters, vendors, transients, more traders, free Africans, itinerant mainlanders and illegal immigrants. Bearing all the above in mind, one comes away with the feeling that nothing much has changed in the last 200 years in Port of Spain!

Banking Part Three

Trinidad, with its frontier town elan, hetergeneous population, and despite its confusion and the wars of the early 19th century, the dislocation of people during emancipation in the late 1830s, and the arrival of a whole new culture from the Indian sub-continent shortly after, was doing very well commercially by the 1880s.
The very diversification of its population itself spoke of people who had come for one or the other economic reason. The people of African descent, brought by the French and other catholics for opening up the forest and planting the first agricultural crops of cotton and sugar, had after the British conquest been added to by Scottish merchants, importing sugar factory and plantation equipment, as well as a range of household furnishings and fashionable objects.
The cultivation of cocoa was another industry that stimulated the export sector in the 1890s. The French creoles had bounced back after fifty years and had become both cocoa planters and exporters-importers.
The insurance industry took root at this time. Together with other crops, cane and cocoa gave Trinidad a two-tier economy: one worked mainly by the arriving Indians, increasingly attached to British interest in the canefields, and the other operating on the level of artisans and tradespeople like shoemakers, pot solders, ice salesmen, knife sharpeners (remember? “Sharpening knives and scissoooooors!”), all the way through to to ubiquitous clerks in the Frederick Street stores, to real ‘big shots’ like William Gordon Gordon, who built ‘Knowsley’ around the Savannah, and Leon Agostini, who built White Hall and started the Chamber of Commerce.
In that time of economic growth, the Colonial Bank’s old way of doing business in the West Indies was challenged by the West Indian Royal Commission for their excessively restrictive lending policies. The commission was told by several peasant witnesses, black people and ‘cocoa pagnols’, of the necessity for loans to expand their small operations.
René de Verteuil, one of the larger planters, recommended the setting up of an agricultural bank. The embryonic working class was also unhappy about the lending practices of the Colonial Bank. Walter Mills, a spokesman of the Trinidad Workingman’s Association, made a plea for the establishment of a government savings bank. Obviously, business was good.
The savings bank, or Penny Bank, as it was called, came into existence and attracted thousands of small deposits. However, it was not a lending agency. This badly needed service was attended to by the growing phenomenon of the ‘sou-sou’ in the Afro-Franco community. The more chancy ‘whe whe’ was there for the ‘investor’, while the Indian village life possessed ‘chaitey’, a form of sou-sou.
The Colonial Bank, limited by its charter, could not expand its modus operandi, and other banks which were not so restricted reaped the benefits.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the Royal Bank of Canada had made a successful entry into the West Indian economic arena. It opened a branch in Port of Spain in 1910, acquiring the Union Bank of Halifax which had come to Trinidad in 1902. Royal Bank of Canada quickly developed a good customer base in Trinidad, consisting especially of the importers of goods from Canadian trading companies, and others who opened savings accounts or accessed loans under the bank’s cautious lending policies.
In 1911, C.E. Neill of the Royal Bank of Canada in London proposed the acquisition of the Colonial Bank’s assets in the West Indies. The ‘Court’, Colonial Bank’s board of governors, considered the idea. Some welcomed it, but nothing came of it. However, this state of affairs was the truest indicator of a need for change.
During this period, another Canadian Bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia, attempted to establish itself, but the endeavour was burdened with distress. The death of two of their senior people, not to mention the aggressive techniques employed by the two other institutions, elbowed the Bank of Nova Scotia out of Port of Spain again.
Recognising the potential of San Fernando, Royal Bank of Canada established a branch there in 1912. Small farmers, cane farmers amongst the freshly un-indentured Indians, public servants and teachers became an important source of deposits. Apart from the good banking techniques displayed, it is obvious that the island’s economy was becoming substantial, varied, stable and underpinned by a growing and thrifty middle class. Especially in the south, the natural resources of asphalt and petroleum would bring greater prosperity to the people, which reflected itself in the banking business. It is also conceivable that many coloured customers felt more comfortable with Canadian clerks, who were themselves colonial subjects of the British crown, and with whom many small depositors might have felt more at ease than in the august halls of the British Colonial Bank.
The Colonial Bank act of 1916 extended the institution’s powers. “It meant that British corporations could carry on business as a banker in the United Kingdom or in any state, colony or dependency in the British Empire,” writes Richard Fry in his authoritative ‘Bankers in West Africa’ (quoted in ‘From Colonial to Republic’). “We have one clue to the riddle why the Colonial Bank suddenly felt, after eighty years of reasonably profitable work in the Caribbean and in the middle of a world war (1914 - 1918), that it must seek wider horizons. Its chairman in 1916 was Sir W. Maxwell Aitken M.P. (soon to become famous as Lord Beaverbrook), the Canadian who came to England to launch a crusade for the rebirth of the British Empire.”
He was not alone. F.C. Goodenough, chairman of Barclays Bank Limited, shared his expansionist views. ‘A close working arrangement’ was sought with the Colonial Bank, and talks between the two banks commenced in late 1917.
Over the next eight years, a world system of association in the form mostly of assimilation and merging, together with the organisation of corresponding banks, was created. At a special meeting of the proprietors of the Colonial Bank after the rearranging of its share capital it was decided to change its name to Barclays Bank (Dominion Colonial and Overseas) D.C.O. A new dispensation in world banking had been inaugurated, one that had its roots right here in Trinidad.

Friday 26 August 2011

The Lost Portraits

Vidia Naipaul remarked that in the 1800s the Caribbean was somewhat like the Middle East today. All the important people went there.
And truly, the list is impressive. Admiral Lord Nelson sailed from the Gulf of Paria to the Battle of Trafalgar in pursuit of the French admiral Villeneuve. A few years before, the Comte de Grasse, a famous French admiral, sailed these waters, as did the Comte d’Estress, Rodney and Vaughn. Sir Ralph Abercromby, who captured this island from the Spanish, died at the battle of Alexandria in 1801, where he commanded the British army. General Picton gave his life at the battle of Waterloo. Don Cosimo Churruca also died in the wars in Egypt. He had established the first meridian of longitude in the New World in Trinidad in 1792, by the observation of the planets.
Very little remains as reminders of those heroic years, and sad to say the few things that did survive have but all been lost, for example, the portraits that once hung in Port-of-Spain’s old Town Hall. It is recorded in Conrad Bismark Franklyn’s papers that on the 24th and 25th of March, 1808, that a great calamity had befallen Port-of-Spain, and a devastating fire destroyed the whole town. The houses in those days were wooden with thatched or shingled roofs, and as a result burnt quickly. Amongst the many buildings that were gutted by the fire was the Cabildo Hall. Fortunately, the ancient records of this august body were saved, and so too were the portraits of Sir Ralph Abercromby and Sir Thomas Picton. The Town Hall in those days was situated in Charlotte Street, a little way from Queen Street, on the right going up.
The portraits had been done in crayon, which was the fashion in those days, by John Russell. Russell had been known as the painter to the British royal court at St. James, and had painted both George III and his son, the Prince of Wales.
In 1815, the Cabildo purchased a house on the corner of Brunswick Square (now Woodford Square) and the pictures were hung there. They were eventually copied in oils and decorated the main hall. Sir Thomas Hislop’s portrait was also commissioned and hung in the hall.
After the death of Sir Ralph Woodford, the Hon. Ashton Warner brought to Trinidad the full-length portrait of Woodford. This had been done by Sir Thomas Lawrence, the most famous portrait painter of his day, whose work is collected by Queen Elizabeth II.
Another significant portrait was that of acting governor (1821 - 1823) Sir Aretas W. Young. This portrait was painted by M. R. Eckstein, a local man. Lord Harris too had his portrait painted by another local artist, E.D. Faure.
With the exception of the portrait of Woodford, all of these were destroyed by fire when the town hall burnt down in the 1940s. Apart from the great loss suffered as a result of the destruction of these very valuable works of art, a part of the ancient record of our country was also lost. The lost portraits would have contained information that would be useful to students and historians today.
One remarkable piece of art that has come down to us is the life-size monument by the renowned sculpture by Chartrey, which was erected in Trinity Cathedral in memory of Woodford, by the inhabitants of Trinidad as “a lasting memorial of his many public and private virtues and of their respect and gratitude”.

Easter Special: The Missions

It is recorded in the gospel of Mark that Christ said: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the good news to all creation.”
With this injunction firmly entrenched, Christian missionaries set out to change the world. And in truth, they succeeded. Fanning out from Palestine in the Near East, the ‘good news’ was taken westward by St. James, brother of the Lord, to Spain with another relative, Joseph of Amerithia, reaching the British isles. St. Thomas, also known as Jude, travelled to Central Asia, to Edessa, where it is said that the first church was built, and then to India, where he was martyred. Martyrdom was central to the theme in that time, as Peter, Paul and Stephen so met their deaths along with untold thousands of Christians.
The occupation of Spain by Muslim armies before the end of the first millennium of the Christian era posed a significant threat to the warm heartland of Central Europe. It was more than five hundred years before the Moors could be driven back to Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar.
The zeal of reconquest, inspired by the church triumphant, brought missionaries sailing in the wake of Columbus to the New World. The religious orders, especially the Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians, were quick to send ‘labourers to the new fields’. Within 25 years of the establishment of the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, Trinidad received its first missionaries, Frs. Francisco de Cordova and Juan Garces. Within months, they were martyrs.
It was difficult for the Caribs to tell the difference between the strangers who came with bell, book and candle to pray, and those who arrived with sword and shot to capture and enslave. To them, the strangely-behaved Spaniards must have seemed one and the same.
Some 45 years went to pass before another try was made with the ‘good news’. In the 1560s, the saintly Louis Bertrand O.P. tried in the islands of St. Vincent, Tobago and Trinidad to convert the fierce Carib tribes. He was not successful and was recalled to Spain.
For the island people, the appalling intrusion by these aliens forever disrupted their cultural evolution and their days of great peace living in their ancient forest. Venturing endlessly in great migrations from mainland to island and from island to island, guided by the stars and their hearts’ desire: all this came swiftly to an end with the advent of the Europeans.
Capuchins of the ‘Strict Observance’ came to Trinidad in 1571 with conquistador Don Juan Ponce of Seville. His mission of conquest faltered in the swamps of Mucurapo. The arrows of the Caribs, tipped with poisonous machineel, killed the Spaniards’ precious horses. The smell of human flesh being cooked drove even brave men to flee in fear. They left.
Five years later, two Jesuits, Frs. Llauri de Vergara came, survived, and journeyed up the Orinoco to Santo Tome of Guyana.
In Trinidad, unknown thousands of tribal people were captured into slavery. Hundreds more lost their lives when the Spaniards made them dive for pearls in the Gulf of Paria; many others were killed in the several attempts of ‘pacification’.
Gone forever were the happy years of their own cheerful massacres, conquest of islands and stealing of wives. Already they were fading across the narrow sea to the mainland, whence they had come hundreds of years before - a sad reversal.
But notwithstanding that, they still numbered in their tribes brave ones who looked out from their mountain villages at the small clearings in the forest, where the strangers, dressed in white, worked small fields, prayed and chanted, and in their own fashion attempted to be kind.
One can say that by 1591, the first ecclesiastic foundation was made. Don Antonio de Berrio came to Trinidad and created San José de Oruna (St. Joseph), bringing with him several priests.
On a piece of flat land overlooking the Caroni planes, the great forest was removed, and with mud and the leaves of the carat plant a little ajoupa village was formed. A convent with a church was constructed with a thatch roof, tall forest trees for uprights and vines binding the beams together. De Berrio also built a hospice for the friars, to which he gave the name of his patron San Antonio.
The Capuchins took possession of their convent in 1593. Two years later, San José was overrun by Sir Walter Raleigh. Three or four years later, 2,000 colonists arrived from Spain with ten priests. The Caribs, the weather, the lonely desolation of the longest rainy season they ever experienced, rotted the carat roofs and melted the mission walls. Mildew covered everything. The Europeans began to die. They too left - Trinidad was not easy!
Francisco Leite was born in Cumana, New Granada (now Venezuela) in the 1620s. A pious man, possessed of great kindness, he was also able to speak several native dialects. He formed a plan to pacify the tribal people with kindness, generosity and persuasion. He petitioned the King in Spain for priests, whom he could instruct in the language of the country, and whom he would accompany into the high woods of Trinidad, inhabited by the fiercest tribes.
The missions of the Catalan Capuchin friars were to prove much more successful than past attempts. Ten friars arrived in August of 1687, two came out later.
Brave hearts with the certain knowledge of God on their side, the friars made their way along the footpaths that crossed the island into its interior, sweating in their heavy woollen cassocks, tonsured heads peeling in the hot sun. Their Carib bearers were painted red with roucou against the insects, naked, chatting in their own language, and unpredictably dangerous. It was already common knowledge that Spaniards tasted better than the Dutch or the English!
The friars organised missions at Aricagua (San Juan), Tacarigua, Arouca, along the Royal Road in the north of the island. In October of 1687, a mission was established at Savana Grande (Princes Town) and one on the wooded slopes of Naparima Hill. This they dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady, which later became the mother mission in Trinidad. San Fernando was to grow around it. The Catalan Capuchins also established themselves at Savonetta and Montserrat.
In the dry months of 1688 they established a chapel on the banks of the Arena river, which flows into the Tumpuna, in a sandy area halfway between this river and the Tamanaque mountain. It was called San Francisco de los Arenales. Two years later, the friars set up missions at Mayaro, Guayaguayare and Moruga.
The missions soon had little villages like satellites in their company. The thatched church with mud walls, very crude, earthen floor, was decorated with statuettes of saints, brightly painted and imported from Spain. Always facing a little square, the church dominted the huts. Its Latin cross threw a shadow, which moved with the sun across the dirt road.
The missions to the tribal people were essentially agricultural. Vegetables were grown, lifestock kept. The people living in the missions were engaged in weaving and plaiting, making useful things, such as hammocks and sieves, and in cassava growing, which was their staple diet. The forest then was thick with gigantic trees and magnificient orchids. It teemed with bird life that flew in flocks or perched and soared in solitary splendour. There were timid deer and huge morocoys that moved with prehistoric slow motion. Agoutis and armadillos roamed the undergrowth, as did the deadly mapapie.
Days were regulated by prayer and work, which was considered sacred. To what degree discipline was imposed on the Amerindians, no one knows. The bell tolled, the day’s work commenced, and it tolled when it ended.
On 1st December, 1699, three priests were martyred by the tribal people at San Francisco de los Arenales. The martyred were brought to St. Joseph’s church and interred under the floor near to the western door. The Indians subsequently were hunted by the Spaniards, crossed the island to the east coast where they committed mass suicide. Mothers, babes in arms, old folks and young men were drowned by the surging breakers of the Atlantic Ocean.
Churches in Tobago in the 18th and 19th century
compiled by Sister Marie Therèse in ‘Parish Beat’
1781 Anglicans establish mission
1787 The Brethren of the Protestant Episcopal Church, also called the Moravians, found a mission on Riseland estate
1790 A tropical storm sweeps the island and destroys the missions
1818 The Society of Wesleyan Methodists establishes a mission
1845 Moravians return and reopen their mission. Prebyterians who had come to make a try at evangelisation in Tobago leave the island. Methodists arrive and open missions at Mt. St. George and Mason Hall.
1846 Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Barriou, a French Dominican of the Catholic Church in Trinidad, visits Tobago. A record mentions his purchase of land in 1846 and again in 1850 in view of establishing missions in Tobago.
1870 Rev. Fr. André Violette, another Dominican of Trinidad, visits Tobago and ministers to the people. He performs the baptism of one Catherine Creigh on March 5, 1870, the first one recorded in the registers of the Catholic Church in Tobago.
1885 The Dominican Fathers of Port of Spain decide to send visiting priests to Tobago on a regular basis about three or four times a year.
1892 (Catholic) priests build a church in Scarborough. It is blessed and dedicated to St. Joseph on January 31. The same year a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart is built by Rev. Fr. Reginald Sarthou O.P. in Delaford. This priest also baptises a person at Patience Hill that year.
1895 Catholic mission opened at Goodwood.
1897 Fr. Reginald acquires one rood and nine perches of land in Goodwood to build a church.
1898 School-chapel blessed on October 10 at Mason Hall and built by Fr. Reginald.

Trinidad in the World View Part One

The Immortal 45
Our huge neighbour to the west, whose mountains we see on rainwashed days, a paler blue than the sky, is to too many Trinidadians an unknown entity. ‘Down the main’, to Venezuela, seems a far and distant journey.
Just over two hundred years ago, however, this island of ours was a province of that great country, whose history, sometimes dramatically linked with our own, has had an effect on world politics itself.
During the 1800s, just after Trinidad’s Spanish governor Chacon capitulated to the British, the Spanish and Portuguese possessions on the South American continent were divided into five gigantic areas of rule:
a) the vice royalty of New Spain, taking in modern Mexico and Central America, to which Trinidad belonged as an island province;
b) the vice royalty of New Spain, taking in modern Mexico and Central America, to which Trinidad belonged as an island province;
c) the vice royalty of Peru in the west;
the vice royalty of Peru in the west;
d) the vice royalty of La Plata in the south east and
the vice royalty of La Plata in the south east;
e) the Portuguese possession of Brazil.
These vast administrative areas were only very lightly imposed upon settlements and small cities in a vast land mass, covered by the largest forested area on the globe. They were isolated, lonely and sometimes abandoned; some were surrounded by snow-capped mountain ranges. Some of the largest river systems in the world created vast deltas, swamps bigger than the whole of England. The continent contained stone age people, some only recently discovered, as well as advanced civilisations who had mastered precessional astronomy.
The immensity of distances at a time when footpower, horsepower and sail were the only way to travel, can just barely be imagined. Also almost impossible to imagine was the immensity of the loot that was removed by the Spanish and Portuguese, the riches in gold, silver and precious stones that were taken away to Europe. But most awesome of all was the complete destruction of unknown civilisations and the complete subjugation of peoples, once their ruling elite had been destroyed.
With the conquest of the ancient cultures over and done with, there was at the very top a small ruling elite sent from Europe, headed up by a viceroy, his court, and a Spanish bureaucracy. The local ruling class was comprised of the colonial-born Spanish creoles. There were large local populations, Amerindian peoples, now christianised more or less, certainly downtrodden, a large slave population and a growing community of mixed people.
Apart from grievances against Spanish rule, this population was subjected to outside influences that contributed to revolution and overthrow of Spain’s colonial empire. The intellectual base for revolution had been put into place in the 18th century. The European Enlightenment affected the New World as well. The French Revolution (1789), its natural result, was much discussed by the wealthy, European-educated Spanish creoles and upper class mestizo families. The viceroys were perhaps a little more isolated in the old, elaborately decorated palaces of Caracas and Bogota. The French Revolution and the subsequent wars truly revealed the extent of the decline of Spain, a former power which had established a worldwide empire.
With the capture of Trinidad by the British in 1797 and following destruction of the Spanish fleet eight years later at Trafalgar, the Spanish creoles knew for sure that Spain could not contain their revolution movement. The catalyst for revolution in the South Americas was Napoleon Bonaparte. He deposed the Spanish Bourbon king and installed his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain. Uprisings in Spain occured; the French emissiaries who came with the news of the change of dynasty were rejected in Caracas. At first, the colonies rallied around the Bourbon monarchy and against the French ursurpers.
Once such a degree of independent action had taken place, it was now only a matter of who was going to take over the revolution. A man named Francisco de Miranda emerged, who had been born in Caracas in 1750. As a young man, he had been educated in Europe, and had taken in his dose of classical education and the Enlightenment. He had been closely connected to the secret societies which were very popular at the time. When he was incarcerated by the revolutionaries in Paris, he was able to take a library into prison. Miranda had previously commanded an army on the Rhine. He was a friend of the Russian poet Pushkin and an acquaintance of Prince Potemkin of Russia, and sometimes a lover of Catherina the Great.
He attempted revolution in 1806 in the South Americas from Washington, no doubt aided and abetted by the freshly hatched revolutions there. It failed. He immediately tried again. By that time, there were several juntas, comprising military strongmen and fiery speakers, whipping up support on all levels.
In Venezuela, the leadership of the junta was taken up by the most significant man of the time in Latin America, Simon Bolivar. Like Francisco de Miranda, Bolivar had been born in Caracas, he in 1783. Like Miranda, he had travelled in Europe, came from a wealthy patrician family, and felt keenly for his country. Liberty, egalitarianism, a profound sense of fraternity dominated Bolivar’s thoughts.
In 1810, Bolivar was in England, and so too was Miranda. They returned together. General Miranda assumed control of the forces. The country by that time had been somewhat pacified and the revolutionary forces faltered. There were counter revolutions; today, the turmoil in the country is hard to understand from the distance in time. In July 1812, Miranda capitulated to the Spanish powers. He was sized by Bolivar’s supporters, and later died in Spain.
Simon Bolivar found refuge in Haiti, where in Port-au-Prince he was supported by Toussaint L’Ouverture. Under Tousaint, the blacks had revolted in terrible wars of retribution. Toussaint’s revolution was already being challenged by the Emperor Bonaparte.
Roume de Saint Laurent, Trinidad’s coloniser, married Miriam Rochard, his coloured, Tobago-born sweetheart in the presence of Toussaint, with Tousaint’s brother as his witness. These were all men of the time.
Bolivar retuned to fight another day. He went to Cartagena, then to Bogota, and maintained the insurgency against the royalists.
Santiago Mereño came from a wealthy family who owned properties on the island of Margarita. He too was an educated young man, fired by revolutionary zeal. He was married to the daughter of Geraldine Carriage, also known as Sir Gerald Fitzpatrick Carry,the owner of Chacachacare.
In British-held Trinidad there were several revolutionary movements, some supported by Lt. Col. Picton. There were secret societies, whose membership contained freethinkers with ideas, framed by the Enlightenment and personal experiences that had been tempered in the revolution. Santiago Mereño’s charismatic personality drew these minds to him. Carry’s island became the training ground for a small force of would-be insurgents, intent on taking a guerilla war into Spanish-held Venezuela in the dry season of 1813. Central to the plot were a wealthy planter named Manuel Valdez, Jean Baptiste Bideau, Jean Besson, two of the Bermudez family, Pial, Armurio, Azure and a few others. They are described as the ‘Immortal 45’.
They sailed across the Grand Boca from Chacachacare in an assortment of craft ranging from pirogues to dinghis, seized the coastal town of Guairia and battled their way into Maturin. The raid of the ‘Immortal 45’ tipped the balance of power. Bolivar was delighted and recommenced the war. This was the second stage of the wars for the liberation of South America.
In 1813, Bolivar crossed the Andes with just a few hundred men. Elements of the ‘Immortal 45’ from Trinidad were also at his side. Bolivar entered Caracas in August of that year and rallied all patriotic people to his cause. Simon Bolivar’s hope that Venezuela would become part of a great confederation of United South American States is still to be realised, in the same way that a Federation of Caribbean States is still to many a hopeful ideal.

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Life back then

Historical Events - April

1st Inland postal orders come into use in 1905
2nd Wm. W. Cairns, C.M.G. becomes governor, 1874
3rd Port-of-Spain Brotherhood formed with 66 members, 1910
4th Siparia Races, 1913
5th Lt. Gov. Walker arrived, 1860. Princess Marie Louise arrived, 1913
7th Lord Brackley’s Team left, 1905. Sporting Chronicle started, 1907.
9th Presentation by governor to Lt.-Col. J.H. Collens on retirement, 1914
10th Foundation stone of Greyfriars Presbyterian Church laid, 1837
11th J. Bell Smyth died (Eng.), 1905 General Sir I. Hamilton inspects forces, 1911
13th Governor Sir Henry George McLeod arrived, 1840
14th John Joseph died, 1901. First wireless mast erected on wharf, 1913
16th Athletic Sports Scarborough, 1906. Harrison Col. Cricket Team arrived, 1909
17th Gregor Turnbull died, 1879
18th Princess Marie Louise opened New Marie Louise Hall R.V.I., 1913
19th St. Hill’s Cricket Team arrived, 1899
20th John George Haynes died, 1910 Princess Marie Louise left, 1913
21st Klark-Urban Dramatic Co. began

Performances, 1913
22nd Lord Harris arrived, 1846
24th Edward Everard Rushworth D.C.L. (Administrator) 1866
25th Governor Le Hunte and party left for Bolivar, 1912
26th Governor Moloney and party visited Sangre Grande coal borings,1902
27th Prudentia arrived, first oil tank steamer (loading 1,128,755 gals), 1911
29th James Drennan (San Fernando) died, 1905
30th Conrad F. Stollmeyer died, 1904. Government took over Floating Dock, 1910
Source: Franklin’s Yearbook of 1916
Tobago Chronolgy Part 3
compiled by C.R. Ottley
1841 First steamship of Rlyal Mail Steamship line arrives
1843 Metayer system of sugar cultivation established at Prospect estate
1847 Hurricane sweeps the island
1851 Governor Ross dies as a result of falling from his carriage
1852 Land tax introduced
1854 British troops withdraw from Fort King George

1855 Constitution amended. Privy Council and Executive Council set up
1856 First public hospital built
1871 Franchise estended to all land-owners
1872 Disestablishment of the English church
1874 Single chamber act introduced. Twon houses of parliament replaced by Tobago Legislative Council
1876 Belmanna riots at Roxborough. Police routed. Tobago becomes a Crown colony. Legislative Council abolished.
1885 Barbados separated from federation. Tobago’s headquarters moved to Grenada. Grenadians settle in large numbers.
1889 Tobago linked with Trinidad under a Commissioner.
1899 Tobago made a ward of Trinidad
1900 First telephones installed.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Head first through the Wall

Born March 25th, 1911 in Port-of-Spain, Albert ‘Bertie’ Maria Gomes, politician, writer and publisher, was an Aries who lived up to the stereotype of his horoscope: never afraid to go head first through the wall!
Bertie Gomes was one of those ‘born Trinidadians’ who fitted in everywhere in the 1940s and 50s, but somehow didn’t. Perhaps because he was of Portuguese descent: in those times, this population minority was generally poor, and even though they were European, they were not socially accepted by the British elements of society, and the French (creoles) ostracised the Portuguese because they were not catholic. Until a Portuguese became very rich, and his son would come back from schooling in England with a British accent, looking like a sort of Italian to the ‘aristocracy’, few British or French would have allowed their daughter to marry him.
Bertie, however, was one of those personalities who made the stereotyping work for him. Dr. Brinsley samaroo understands him well in saying:
“Gomes is the man caught between two worlds - the attraction of the cocktail circuit on the one hand and on the other, the Portuguese who, as a result of his experience of segregation in the U.S. (1928 - 1930) and his Belmont boyhood, identifies with the ‘black soul’. This identification made him the defender of baptists, shouters, panmen and calypsonians [and of the folk art, particularly dance expressed by Beryl MdBurnie].
Wenzel Brown, an American who visited Trinidad in the late 40s, reports in his book ‘Angry Men, Laughing Men’ that Gomes was the ‘idol of the calypsonians’ and also ‘one of the principal butts for their tease’ and he quotes Lion:
“Oh what an awful thing
to see Gomes in a lion skin.”
Having grown up in Belmont, and educated at Pamphylian High School and City College in New York, Bertie could ‘talk the talk’ as one would say today. In colonial times, good rhetoric abilities were considered ‘the armoury of the human mind’, and while people paid very close attention to the degree of acculturation to European/British cultural values that was expressed in language, they also appreciated boisterous talk in politicians and calypsonians. For ordinary people to take you seriously, you had to talk big. And you had to make sense to them, too.
Bertie was able to do this, and his manner of speech struck home. Like many Trinidadians between the wars, his heart and mind was close to the working class.
Political Career
In the 1930s, when Bertie was a young, fiery voice, the colonial government was allowing a modification in politics. Gomes demanded workers’ rights, more pay, and criticised the colonial power structure with revolutionary arguments. Being the presidnet of the Federated Workers Trade Union, he eventually got elected into the Port-of-Spain City Council in 1938, in which he served for nine years. In 1945, he was elected a member of the Legislative Council, and made a member of the Executive Council in 1946. From 1950 - 1956, Gomes was re-elected to the Legislative Council and served as the pre-Independence Minister of Labour, Industry and Commerce. He was leader of the conservative Party of Political Progress Groups (POPPG).
From 1958, he served as a member of the West Indies Federal House of Representatives, which dissolved with the break-down of the federation in 1962.
When the POPPG was defeated by the only nine-month old People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 1956 election by winning 13 out of the 24 seats (that is, 1,458 votes more than the POPPG), Gomes took the defeat very hard and left Trinidad to live in England.
Literary Career
Bertie was the charismatic centre around which the truly brilliant and literary-minded West Indians gathered. He was the co-editor of ‘The Beacon’ from 1931 - 1933, and in the 1940s assumed editorship of ‘The People’. Both magazines were important literary developments which had spun out of the people. Everything that was not libelous was printed - from an interview with Joseph Staling by an American member of the socialist international, to biting short stories, written by Raoul Pantin’s father and Alfred Mendes. Out of Bertiee’s milieu arose such literary figures as C.L.R. James and Gertrude Craig. As one critic put it, they designed “the decisive establishment of social realism in the West Indian novel” as in Ralph de Boissière’s ‘Crown Jewel’ or in C.L.R. James’ lambasting of Dr. Sydney Horland, a geneticist at I.C.T.A. in the Beacon’s pages for making racist remarks.
A true lover of good literature, Bertie was there to publish fledgling Trinidadian writers. He was also the chairman of the Management Committee of the Public Library. A poet and author himself (and the owner of a pharmacy), Gomes was a columnist in the Sunday Guardian in the late 1940s and early 1950s, writing columns of social commentary, arts and literature. Other writers were invited to publish in his columns. Two books ‘All Papa’s Children’ and his autobiography ‘Through a Maze of Colour’ reveal his wll-informed, analytical, albeit aggressive and very subjective writing style, and in some passages make the reader whinny with laughter.
“The Second World War saw the birth of the ‘steel band’. It was both an innovation in musical expression and a social explosion in Trinidad. It also provided an unparalleled instance of Puritan humbug. It would be impossible to trace the origins of the steel bands. These must always remain shrouded in mystery and a subject of endless speculation - all things considered, a not surprising genesis for this musical aberration and gimcrack orchestration, whose romantic odyssey spans an arc of picaresque adventure that began in the slum areas in Port of Spain, recently reached Cape Kennedy, and is still orbiting.” (Excerpt from ‘Through a Maze of Colour’)
Albert Gomes, bigger-than-life, carrying more than 300 pounds in his days, lived in England until his death in 1978.
Name Changing
Poor immigrants often experienced name changes upon arrival in the colonies. Like the Chinese Scotts or the Chinese Bessons, the Gomes’ also experienced a name change. Bertie’s name changed from d’Abreau to Gomes because of extenuating circumstances. Listen to this colonial story.
“My paternal grandmother was previously married to a gentleman named Gomes; and when he died, she met and married my paternal grandfather whose name was d’Abreau. Antonio Gomes, her son of the first marriage, migrated from Madeira to Trinidad and achieved some success in business. He sent for his half-brother, my father, who took up employment in Antonio’s shop. The fact that he carried a different name - d’Abreau - left him open to suspicion of illegitimacy. When this anomaly became the subject of vulgar taunts hurled at him accros the counter of the shop by customers, my father decided that the solution was to adopt his half-brother’s name. Thus it was that d’Abreau, our proper name, was abandoned, and we got stuck with the name of Gomes. This would not have happened to ‘white people’!”