Thursday 27 October 2011

Gems from 1916

1916 - a year like any other? We have proof that at least in Trinidad and Tobago, clocks ticked a little different then. Here some astonishing facts of ‘Franklin’s Yearbook of 1916’, which show aspects of normal, everyday life 84 years ago!

The western world was at war. It was the war to end all wars, expressing the wishful thinking of all nations at war. England was at war with Germany, and as such, German-immigrant-owned business were liquidated. Franklin lists the  ‘Official Managers of Alien Enemy Businesses (in liquidation):
Paul H. Scheerer & Co. - John R. Wilson
Schjolseth & Holler - William Scott
Wessels Bros. & Von Gontard - Thomas Boyd (POS), Ralph Sammy (SF)
Hugo Hoffmann - Arthur Greig
A.S.Laing & Co. - H.C. Ghent
S.E. Jacobson - John R. Wilson
C.A.Belling - dito
Max Reimer - dito
Max Reimer (cocoa estate) - M. J. Leotaud
House properties of Mrs. J.A. Scherer - John R. Wilson

On the same page as the liquidated German businesses are listed the indenture fees of 1916 - just a couple of months before indentureship was ended. £7.5.0. was payable in installments of £2.0.0. on allotment, £2.0.0. on the second year, and £1.0.0. in each of the three following years (minors to be half of the above).

Where have all the shaddocks gone??? Ask anyone older than 50, and they will tell you the variety of pre-independence fruits that was available in Trinidad’s markets. Today, many of them have simply vanished - the trees were not indigenous to Trinidad, and when political changes brought about a move away from plantation life, the orchards died.
Franklin lists them in order of their seasonal appearance:
All the year - banana, breadfruit, cassava, coconut, lime, plantain, pumpkin, sweet potato, soursop, tania, yam
January to March - Ground nut, sapodilla, sapote
April to June - star apple, cashew, cherry, Jamaica plum, tamarind
April to September - mammy apple, pine apple, guava
July to September - balta, granadilla, kenip, mango, governor plum, hog plum, java plum, sapodilla, sapote, rice
July to December - sugar apple, christophene, cucumber, melongene, tomato
October to December - golden apple, belle apple, citron, grapefruit, shaddock, papaw, ochro, pigeon pea
October to March - custard apple, orange, maize

It was the era of the steamship. Coming back to the First World War, it was the era when Britain had converted its flotilla from burning coal to burning petrol to fuel their steam engines, thus making Trinidad’s petrochemical industry really important for the first time. Trinidad and Tobago were linked to the world via various steamship agencies, as listed by Franklin:
The Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. provided a fortnightly service of twin screw mail steamers, poetically named Caraquet, Chaleur, Chignecto and Chaudière between Canada, the British West Indies and Demerara. For $10, one could travel around Trinidad, to Tobago and back on the R.M.S. Belize.
The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique arrived here around the 9th of every month from Europe via the French Antilles. Most notably, this would have been the line of choice for many immigrants from the Middle East, who came here via Marseilles, France!
The East Asiatic Line traded between Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Le Havre, London, the West Indies, Demerara and Suriname.
The Lamport & Holt Line would send ‘large steamers of the Vestris and Vauban type’ to Trinidad from Buenos Aires or Santos, and one was able to hop on board and continue to New York via Barbados with them.
The Caribbean & Southern Steamship Co. traded between Mobile in the U.S.A. and the Leeward and Windward Islands.
F. Leyland & Co. had a completely different route again: from Liverpool via Barbados to Venezuelan and Mexican Gulf ports.
La Veloce Line hailed from the Mediterranean as well. It covered a trip that is today, in the age of aviation, only something for the very, very, very rich: Genoa (Italy), Marseilles (France), Barcelona (Spain), Teneriffe, Barbados, Trinidad, La Guayra, Curacao, Puerto Colombia, Port Limon and Colon.
The London Direct Line was a no-nonsense all-British line, London-Barbados-Grenada-Trinidad-Demerara.
The Royal Dutch West India Mail sent its ‘Koninklijke West-Indische Maildienst’ steamers from Amsterdam to destinations in Suriname, Venezuela, Trinidad, Haiti all the way to New York. Every three weeks, one could also take one of the Maildienst steamers to Cartagena and Colon.
The Harrison Line operated in conjunction with the Leyland line, connecting Liverpool with the Caribbean and New Orleans.
Trinidad and New York operated familiar-sounding vessels: the Maraval, the Matura and the Mayaro. Every two weeks bound for the Big Apple!
Glasgow Direct shuttled between the British West Indies, Glasgow and (during crop time) London.
The Prince Line, Ltd., traded between New York and Brazilian and Rio de la Plata ports in Argentina. Its advantage was that it went directly north from Trinidad to New York on the way back from South America.
Houston Line steamed from South American ports to Cuba and American ports.
And finally, the Venezuelan Line did just that: steamers of the Compañia Anonima de Navegación Fluvial and Costanera de Venezuela ran between Trinidad and Ciudad Bolivar, calling at Orinoco ports and covering the sea coast of Venezuela.
All aboard!

One thing that seems very strange to us today is that opium and ganja were not illegal in 1916. One had to be licensed to sell it, yes, and custom duties were imposed. Here are the rates:
Customs Tariff for opium and ganja:
Including mixtures and preparations thereof, the lb - 15s.
Tincture of opium for medicinal purposes, the gallon - 6s.
Under the entry ‘Goods prohibited except subject to the restrictions on importation’ one finds:
Ganja - unless in ships of at least 30 tons and in packages of at least 20 lbs., forming part of the cargo, and duly reported, and subject to such Regulations as the Governor may provide.
Opium - unless in ships of at least 100 tons, and in packages of at least 20 lbs., forming part of the cargo and duly reported. (Note: Ganja and opium must be warehoused.)
The bonded warehouse had a rent attached to it. Again, this rent was subject to the article warehoused. For ganja and opium there was a fee of 4d. per case or other package not exceeding 100 lbs.

Another interesting aspect in the age when telephones were still luxury and radio unheard of was the signaling from the North Post to the Harbour Master’s Office in Port of Spain to identify every movement off the North coast of Trinidad, in the bocas and in the Gulf of Paria. The illustration shows what some of these signals looked like. The Harbour Master would have gazed at them through his binoculars and noted them in his log book. Each ship had to fly certain signal flags as soon as it was in eyesight of the coast, identifying the type of vessel, its cargo, its port of departure and destination, as well as other things that might be of interest. Since there was no oral communication between the Harbour Master’s Office and North Post, every aspect of the vessel’s movement, character and ‘behaviour’ had to be transmitted in signals.

The History of the Flag and other National Emblems of Trinidad and Tobago

Dr. Eric Williams said in his ‘Broadcast to the Nation’ on Independence Day, August 31, 1962:
“Our National Flag belongs to all our citizens. Our National Coat of Arms, with our National Birds inscribed therein, is the sacred trust of all our citizens. ... Let us always be able to say, with the Psalmist: ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’.”
Williams’ appeal for unity is by no means new in the cosmopolitan society of Trinidad. More than 200 years ago, long before the first arrival of Indian, Chinese, Portuguese or Arab immigrants, even before the British settled here, Sir Ralph Abercromby, who took Trinidad from the Spanish crown, gave the island of Trinidad its ‘Old Motto’, a verse from the Latin Aeneid of Virgil, Book IV, line 112: ‘Miscerique probat populos et foedera jungi.’
(He approved of the mingling of peoples and their being joined together by treaties.)
[After the famous Roman poet Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro, 70 - 19 B.C.), who wrote: 'Miscerive probet populos, aut foedera iungi’.]
The concept that a group of people uses a flag, a song and maybe a verse as a symbol for pride, patriotism, reverence and a sense of belonging can be seen in the widest sense as a western concept. It goes back to army warfare, when the legionaries or soldiers had to be able to identify who is where and where is who by coloured pieces of material affixed to long sticks - the idea of a ‘flag’ was born. The ‘Coat of Arms’ was another highly visible identity mark for men who were covered from head to foot in protective metal. Friend or foe looked very similar in armour, yet were identifiable by their coat of arms on their shield. Little by little, as regions were welded together by generations of warfaring tribes and family feuds, those flags and coats of arms became symbols for all the inhabitants of that region.
The original Amerindian inhabitants of the Americas had no idea of flags or coats of arms, at least not in the European sense. They would paint symbols on their skin, and worship certain totems as symbolic for their tribes. When the Europeans - in Trinidad’s case, the Spanish, in Tobago’s case, the Dutch - came to these shores, one of the first things they did was to unfold the standard of their respective royal house. In the case of Spain, this procedure was enhanced by the firm planting of yet another symbol on the beach of Erin Point: a wooden cross, in the name of His Most Catholic Majesties, King Ferdinand and his wife Ysabel of Spain. It must have seemed a strange spectacle to the Amerindians who witnessed it, but being master embroiders themselves, they must have surely appreciated the fine workmanship in the Royal Standard of Spain that Columbus brought: the gold castle of Castille and the lion rampant, appliquéed on red and silver. With the cross, the Amerindians had probably no relationship whatsoever, having never seen it before. With the ‘requerimiento’, Columbus declared their land as Catholic, Papal and a grant to his King.
Columbus himself was made governor of Trinidad, and indeed, admiral of the whole Caribbean. Thus, he also unfurled his own flag in Trinidad, a green cross on white ground with the letters ‘F’ and ‘Y’  (for Ferdinand and Ysabel). Columbus was thus the first governor of Trinidad and Tobago, which the discoverer saw from far away on the horizon and named ‘Bellaforma’. Columbus had a coat of arms as well, which was bestowed on him after his first voyage in 1493. It comprised the golden castle of Castile and the lion rampant of the Spanish standard, with some gold islands, waves of the sea and his own arms. Later on he altered the coat of arms slightly, and the image reproduced here goes back to Oviedo, Historia de las Indias, 1535.
Columbus might have been the first governor, but the first resident governor to come here was Don Antonio Sedeño in 1530. He settled in Cumucarape (today Mucurapo) and doubtlessly flew the Spanish standard over his ajoupa. Some 60 years later, in 1592, Domingo de Vera founded San José de Oruna (St. Joseph) as the first capital, and the flag of Spain again was hoisted there. It was the time of the conquistadors, and Governor Antonio de Berrio, who followed his agent de Vera to San José, intended to use it as a safe haven for the exploratory trips into the South American mainland in search of El Dorado. In 1595, San José was ‘conquered’ by a British conquistador, Sir Walter Raleigh, but Trinidad did not (yet) become a British possession. The Spanish flag remained on the staff, fluttering a bit sadly above the smoking cinders of San José de Oruna in Raleigh’s wake. Somehow, its pride was a bit tarnished, since Dutch and English flags were unfurled in small enclaves in the south, Punta de Galera and Moruga. In the 1650s, Governor López de Escobar put an end to those ‘alien’ settlements.
Not so in Tobago, which changed hands frequently. Dutch, French and English flags succeeded each other. In 1628, Jan de Moor started the first settlement where Plymouth now is, called it ‘New Walcheren’ and, if he was so inclined, would have hoisted the Dutch flag. In the following centuries, the Dutch flag would have given way to the English, Spanish and French flags, and intermittently even the Courland standard - crayfish on scarlet ground - would have graced the island.
Around the turn of the 19th century, both Trinidad and Tobago finally remained in British hands. From 1606 - 1800, the British flew the ‘Grand Union Flag’ wherever they went, which was amended slightly in 1801 and remained so until today.
It was not until 1959, more than half a century after the annexation of Tobago with Trinidad,  that the twin-island Crown Colony received its first distinctive flag. The Colony Flag had the Union Flag on the top left corner and the Armorial Ensigns (with the aforementioned Latin motto) on blue ground.  The days of the British Empire were slowly coming to an end, and the day of the inauguration of the Cabinet system in Trinidad, the 10th July 1959, the Colony Flag was hoisted. Interestingly, the Armorial Ensigns had been given to Trinidad and Tobago only a year earlier, on the 13th October, 1958. It shows a seascape with a mountain in the middle, a jetty and ships on the water, flying the Colony Flag.
The design of the Armorial Ensign of 1958 was based on the Great Seal of the colony of 1803, which looks just like it and bears on its circumference the words: ‘Sigillum Insulae Nostrae Trinitatis’ (Seal of Our Island of Trinidad). On the reverse the seal reads: Georgius Tertius Dei Gratia, - Britanniarum Rex, Fidei Defensor’ (George III by God’s Grace, King of Britannia, Defender of the Faith’).
Tobago’s Great Seal dates from at least 1815, also from the reign of George III. It shows on one side four ships, three at anchor and one sailing. A coconut palm is on the left, hills, buildings and more palmtrees are in the background. A sun with rays and a face smiles above all. The motto is: ‘Pulchrior evenit’ (‘It emerges more beautiful’). The Flag Badge of Tobago is similar, with one ship, a hill and a palmtree in the foreground. Interestingly, albeit the fact that after Tobago’s unification with Trinidad in 1889 the common governor of both islands flew the Trinidad Flag Badge emblazoned on the Union Flag as his standard, the Tobago Flag Badge was impressed upon currency notes of the government of Trinidad and Tobago until many decades later.
On June 8, 1962, it was announced in London that Trinidad and Tobago would be granted independence on the 31st August of that same year. Feverishly, a new flag needed to be designed. A committee was appointed to choose a design and a new motto, and in no time - on 26th June, to be precise - the committee submitted a design, which the Cabinet approved.
Since then, the official flag of Trinidad and Tobago is on a red field, a bend dexter sable bordered silver’. And while there may be as many symbolic meanings of this design as there are people in T&T, the official one of 1962 reads:
“The Black represents for us the dedication of the people joined together by one strong bond. It is the colour of strength, of unity of purpose, and of the wealth of the land. Red is the colour most expressive of our country. It represents the vitality of the land and its peoples, it is the warmth and energy of the sun, the courage and friendliness of the people. White is the sea by which these lands are bound, the cradle of our heritage, the purity of our aspirations and the equality of all men under the sun.”
(Source: ‘Our Flag’ - Independence Publication - Gov. of Trinidad and Tobago, 1962)

Tuesday 25 October 2011


He was the fifth generation of his family to hold the rank of colonel in the regiment that bore his name. His people, like many Irish and Scottish aristocrats, had allied themselves to the French throne, serving the kings as statesmen and soldiers, fighting for the Catholic cause in the wars that ebbed and flowed across Europe from the reformation to the French Revolution.
Service to the crown had now brought him to this island in the contested west. The cannon, silent, regarded the sunset, a golden ball sinking quickly into a warm tropical sea, not without splendour.
He turned towards the house, the smell of wood smoke and the sound of the laughter of his officers playing at whist in the huge verandah. He smiled and waved, walking past the barefooted man in dark blue livery, trimmed in gold, whose freshly oiled feet and legs reflected in the highly polished floor.
He took the staircase quickly, the yellow glow of the drawing room receding. He heard the tinkle of the crystal chandelier, the wind was rising. he turned the large brass knob in the tall white door and stepped into the darkened room. It contained just a bed, large with turned posts of a rosy brown - coloured island wood of the same colour and texture of her skin. The thickness of her lips always surprised him with their fullness, the fineness of her eyes often amazed him with their brilliance. She took him in at a glance, she possessed the wisdom that women sometimes have when they love to distraction.
In the morning light, the night was like a dream. Roume awaited him in the mahogany-furnished office. The vast desk was arranged to display a map of the island. Together, they planned the building of the windward road, a spectacular work that neither of them would finish. It would involve hundreds of slaves over the next five years and would link Port Louis, as Scarborough was now called, to Tyrrels Bay and beyond, and facilitate the development of the rich river valleys whose names reminded him of the English countryside. He had not met his predecessor, the Vicomte d'Arrot, who had succeeded de Blanchefort, who had taken the surrender from the British governor Ferguson after a heroic land battle. Ferguson gave surrender only after they had started to burn the plantations. Lt. Governor George Ferguson had been congratulated on the gallant defense of the island by its conquerors.
Dillon had come to appreciate Philippe Roume, a creole from the island of Grenada. Roume had been named 'ordinateur', adjudicating over the island's Anglo-French system. He brought a sense of order to the chaos of the conflicting land laws. As a creole, he had a feeling for the land and the slaves that worked it. He had also introduced him to the island's beauty, and had spoken passionately of these islands in a futuristic sense.
Dillon realised that Roume was hardly a European anymore, as the salt of the Caribbean now ran in his veins. Through energy and vision, the young creole had created the opportunities of the establishment of a French population on the Spanish island of Trinidad. Now he served the French king's interest on this island, Tobago.
In the Great Bay, called by the English Rockly Bay, a brigantine, freshly arrived, was discharging a cargo of colonists. Under the French administration, which was to last 12 years, some 540 Europeans and 300 free coloured people with some 14,170 slaves would come. Exports in 1789 would be 2.5 million pounds of sugar and 1.5 million pounds of cotton. It was in this period during his stewardship that to be known as to be 'rich as a Tobago planter' was an indication of considerable wealth.
After luncheon, Dillon took siesta. His hammock was slung so low that it almost touched the gallery floor. His linen shirt was opened to the waist. She sat at his feet, waiting to be read to from a book of stories by La Fontaine. She loved the French language and would look at his mouth as he pronounced the sometimes strange and indefinable words. She had only patois. She would have two sons for him, and from one generation to the next, they would pass the heirlooms left behind by the governor, even when the memory of their significance and eventually themselves had been lost. His name would live on in testimony of their love: Dillon of Tobago.
A footnote: Arthur Count Dillon, returned to France to serve his king in his hour of peril, losing all in the revolution that would devastate his land.
Philippe Rose Roume de St. Laurent continued to serve France's interest in the Caribbean in Haiti as one of the commissioners of Toussaint L'Ouverture. He married his Tobago lover Miriam Rochard in Haiti.
In 1790, Scarborough was destroyed due to the mutiny of revolutionary French troops who set the town ablaze. Shortly afterwards, a hurricane caused severe damage throughout the island. On the 15 April, 1793, the British under Admiral Sir John Laforey and General Cornelius Cuyler captured the island.

The Dutch establishment in the Caribbean

 The Dutch establishment in Tobago in the 17th century was a serious endeavour to maintain a presence in the Caribbean. As a base of operations for their ventures into the Guyanas and in pursuit of profit, the Dutch were not very distracted by gold. As Professor Phillip Sherlock put it:
“To get at the heart of  West Indian history, we must strip away the romantic nonsense about buried treasure and pirates leading carefree lives in hidden harbours. The magic words are not gold and silver, but salt, sugar, tobacco, logwood.”
Gold and silver drew the Spaniards to Mexico, Peru and Colombia. They neglected Trinidad, because it possessed no gold or precious minerals for them. They paid little regard to Jamaica, because it was fit only for the rearing of horses and the breeding of cattle. There were, however, other commodities that proved as precious as gold, and these attracted other nations to the Caribbean. The Dutch, for example, during the 1600s shut off by Spain from her Portuguese sources of salt, turned to the Caribbean. Dutch  prosperity and power rested on their herring trade, which required a steady supply of salt for curing the fish that was sold throughout Europe.
The Dutch knew that there were large deposits of salt near to Cumana in Venezuela, and from their foothold on Tobago they launched expeditions to the eight mile long lagoon that was separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land. The sun beat down mercilessly on this hot, desolate place, but in spite of the intolerable heat salt was taken from the rim of this salt pond, where over the millennia it had formed as a result of the sea water’s evaporation.
Tobago had been an important port of call for the Dutch from the early 17th century. Unlike so many other islands of the West Indies, it never became a Spanish possession. It had been visited by British seamen in 1580, and a Dutch captain, Joachim Gijsz, on his way back to Holland from Brazil in 1627, stopped there. One of the important commodities that brought the Dutch out to the Caribbean were dye wood trees, fustic and log wood. The log wood is a slow-growing tree, brownish red at the core. This core yielded a fast dye, dark blue or purple in colour. In the 1600s, clothmakers in Flanders and England used log wood to colour their wool. Much sought-after, it soon sold for £100 per ton.
Mahogany was introduced into Europe from the Caribbean. Great stands of mahogany once grew in Tobago, overlooking the calm bays as they did in most parts of these islands. The Spaniards learnt the use of mahogany very soon after they came to the New World. In fact, the oldest known sample of their work is a cross in the cathedral at Santo Domingo, dating back to 1514. The Spaniards built ships from mahogany. They found the wood of the islands harder, with a richer colouring and very finely grained. Philip II of Spain used mahogany in the building of his vast gloomy palace, the Escorial, outside Madrid.
Tobago was a Carib stronghold. Columbus had encountered the Caribs on various islands. He testified of their courage and determination. “they are a wild people, fit for any work, well proportioned and very intelligent.” The Caribs were also strong on other islands as well. They held St. Vincent in such strength that the island was one of the last of the lesser Antilles to be settled by Europeans. Complicated treaties were made, the last of which was in 1773 after the British had been in St. Vincent for more than 10 years. There was money to be made in these islands, and they were considered strategic. In Grenada and in St. Lucia, the French and English fought each other for possession. The sharpest conflicts took place in the 1790s. One of the most skillful of the French revolutionary leaders in the Caribbean was Victor Hugues, a man of extraordinary energy, who stirred up the slaves and the Caribs against the English.
In the years immediately before Hugues arrived in the Caribbean, the English expanded sugar production in St. Vincent in preference to cotton. Sugar rose from 3,200 tons in 1787 to over 14,000 tons in 1828. This meant larger quantities of slaves to be brought in. Hugues urged rebellion in the slave population. He also encouraged the black Caribs of St. Vincent to rise in revolt. The black Caribs of St. Vincent are part African and part Carib, and come about as the result of a slave ship going aground on the island. The slaves found refuge with the Caribs, and their descendants continue to live there to this day.
In the uprising, urged by Victor Hugues in the 18th century, the black Caribs though fierce and courageous, suffered for their rebellion and many were deported to British Honduras (now Belize). To learn more about the islands, read John MacPherson’s excellent geography book ‘Caribbean Islands’.

Monday 24 October 2011

The Hosay Riots

 One of the more turbulent periods in Trinidad’s history was towards the end of the 19th century. This was a time when crown colony rule was challenged on many levels. The ‘Cannes Brulee Riots’  pitted the police against some of the island’s best stickfighters and white French creoles spearheaded a reform movement that brought them into confrontation with the colonial administration. But it was the Hosay Riots of 1880 that blood was shed to the extent that it was described as a massacre.
From 1845 to 1917, tens of thousands of Indians were shipped to this island to work in the cane. Amongst the multitude of faces of the bedraggled that stumbled ashore at the lighthouse jetty after the period of quarantine at Nelson island, there were those of a different timber.
Sharp-featured, bearded, harder, moving to the beat of a different reality, the Shiite minority was even a minority within the minority of Muslims who arrived in Trinidad. They brought with them a unique festival, a commemoration that marked a death.
The protector of immigrants, the official who oversaw the activities, work and welfare of the Indians, remarked that smoking ganja “helped to put the people into a state of exaltation on the day of the festival and with the drinking of rum it all degenerated into a mob as excited and wildly noisy and quarrelsome rowdies.”
Plantation servitude, endless hours of back-breaking work, the terrible homesickness, loneliness, frustration, disappointment and a multitude of other unrecorded factors were the cause for terrible emotions. Some of the Indians released them in the ferocious drumming, chanting, dancing, light and colour extravaganza that is the mourning ritual of Hosay. Whatever the reason, Hosay by 1880 had acquired a sort of symbolic value in the eyes of the Indians. Their cultural and national life and their self esteem were concentrated in the celebration of Hosay, a Mohurrun festival. Fr. Anthony de Verteuil, former principal of St. Mary’s College and renowned historian, wrote in his book ‘Years of revolt’:
“Every year the Hosay festival was celebrated on the 10th day of Mohurrun, the first month in the Islamic calendar, in order to coincide with the anniversary date on which imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, was slaughtered at Kerbala, Iraq, some 1,370 years ago.”
Hosay was brought to Trinidad by the Shiahs, a sect within Islam representing perhaps 5% of the world Muslim population. Hosay itself was taken into India by the Islamic mogul conquerors more than 800 years ago. The faith of the Islamic invaders was adopted by many Hindus and adapted, for many of the converted did not completely give up their traditional and customary forms of religious expression. In this manner, the austere forms of this observance originating in Muslim Persia, became in India and as a result of transportation to Trinidad and occasion for colourful processions and the production of ‘Tadjahs’, drumming, elaborate rites and ceremonies. Great tadjahs were constructed on the estates, replicas of the tombs of the martyrs, and both Hindus and Muslims assisted financially. The building of the tadjah was passed down as an inherited craft from generation to generation., The creation was sometimes a result of a promise to God, or was a devotion to avoid misfortune.
The processions, the wild drummings, the spinning red and blue ‘moons’, the seizing of the day was alarming to all aspects of creole society both black and white.  Memories of the Indian mutiny of just over 15 years before, when tens of thousands of English were massacred in India by both Muslims and Hindus, was fresh in the minds of the administrators. The other classes saw it as an opportunity to point out just how alien the Indians were. Against the reality that in 1881 there were 48,820 Indians in Trinidad, 31.8% of the population, and bearing in mind that almost all the Indians were adults and most of them male and concentrated in particular areas, the alarm felt and expressed was not entirely without reason. Clashes had been taking place for several years between the Hosay of adjoining estates, beginning at St. Joseph and eventually all over the cane belt. The reaction to this by the Sunni sect, the majority of Muslims was the penning of a letter to the Governor Sir Stanford Freeling, condemning the Hosay and distancing themselves from it and the appeal for its discontinuance.
The result was that the celebration was to be controlled, in fact regulated, and the processions were not to be allowed to enter the towns. During this period of the 1880s, there was increasingly for the first time labour unrest on the cane estates arising from various conditions, the most onerous being the nature of task work, but also actual living conditions. Tensions were rife because of the lack of women. Also by this time there were in fact a large percentage of Indians who had either served out their indentureship or had grown up here and were so acclimatised that they had left behind the subservient character of the freshly arrived indentured.

French Revolution

 Historian Donald Wood writes in his publication ‘Trinidad in Transition’ that “Trinidad is a product of both the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.” The dozens of French names, denoting families of all shades and conditions that continue to exists amongst us, attest to this. Some of the old royalist families came here before the French Revolution of 1789. They were apart of the French colonial establishment in the New World, who were drawn here by the remarkable conditions being offered by the Cedula of Population of 1783 some 6 years before storm of the Bastille in Paris. Others, both European and mixed royalists and republicans also arrived in that period. But with the advent of the wars between France and Britain, and later with the terror of the revolution itself, many more came to this island, being involved in various professions and establishing themselves on various levels of the society.
By the time of the British conquest in 1797, one could say that the French in Trinidad were representative of all aspects of French life, pre-revolution as well as post-revolution. There is no single simple reason for this enormous event that was the French Revolution. It was the most spectacular and the most important social upheaval in Europe. In much the same manner that the establishment of the Vatican’s hegemony over Europe in the opening centuries of the Christian era defined a change, so too did the revolution in a very real manner mark the end of one reality and the start of another - a change in both practice and principle.
It went further than the American Revolution, which preceded it by a few years. It altered everything, both politically and socially. It was actively propagandist and aggressive in that it challenged the old order of things outside of the boundaries of France with both ideas and armies.
In the 20 years of war, it carried revolutionary ideas throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Its influence impacted on places that its armies never reached, and its philosophy and thoughts were to express themselves in sentiments of democracy and nationalism, whether liberal, radical or socialist, which were to dominate the next century.
One of the several strands that gave rise to the French Revolution of 1789 was the growth of the middle classes. Increasingly, wealthy and educated living in the cities traveled and became open to ideas. They represented the new forces in society, who were not in sympathy with the existing values and institutions which for all intent and purpose had to do with a by-gone age and did not really include them. They were ambitious, and the effects of the ‘age of enlightenment’ introduced new ideas into science and philosophy.
It was out of this emerging ‘new people’ that the revolution was to draw its thinkers, writers and leaders. It was they who wrote the ‘Rights of Man’, a declaration that indicted the old aristocratic order and proclaimed  new world order. In the long run, it was the middle class who benefited after the dust had settled. Particularly after the upheavals, wars and massacres, the institutions created during this period, for example the decimal system, contributed to the definition of modern times. but the revolution was not only about the middle classes at war with an intellectually bankrupt aristocracy and an absolutist and corrupt monarchy that may not have been in itself bona fide.
It also involved many elements of the overall French society, peasants, the urban lower classes, victims of the arrogant church authorities who were disdainful of their flock’s true needs for centuries. The intrinsically outdated, unfair privileges of an upper class that had not only lost its way, but also lost its reason for existence, also spurred on revolutionary sentiments.
The fate of the middle class revolutionaries and their policies were often dependent upon the acquiescence of the lower classes. Together they shaped the dynamic that was to drive the revolution. Conflicts arising between the crown and the aristocracy precipitated the calling of an assembly known as the estates-general, a general council of all the different levels of society which was to meet in May 1789. To prepare for this, for communities all over France to elect representatives, there were thousands of meetings held all over the country. These agitated, noisy and sometimes violent gatherings, especially of the lowest orders, were to be represented along with the nobility and the clergy. The preparation for the estates-general caused grievances to be aired against a backdrop of great poverty, unemployment and dissatisfaction with the overall establishment. The king, Louis XVI, was a simple person to put it mildly. He was not possessed of the significant charismatic qualities necessary for dealing with a difficult situation. Queen Marie Antoinette was shallow and vain. She was also very indiscreet in her personal life, giving opportunity for her enemies to further undermine the position and authority of the crown.
Various circumstances came together during the period of the estates-general sittings which provided an opportunity for the king to allay himself with the people against the nobility and the clergy. He, because of his indecisiveness, missed these chances. Louis XVI was also a prisoner of his time and of the institution that he personified. The opportunity missed, the people dominated the day and instead of the estates-general being representative of the estates of the realm, it became representative of the people of France.
The people sized the day. In Paris, a mob of the poor, dispossessed and criminal elements of the city, stormed a prison called the ‘Bastille’ on the 14th July 1789 and freed the prisoners. Grainstores were sacked. Rumours that the army was to be called out flung the entire country into turmoil. Several attempts were made to institute reforms with regard to the constitution, the church, the rights and privileges of the old nobility, and to the monarchy itself. Interestingly, some still obtain. But the very nature of revolutions is that once they get underway a total loss of control occurs. By 1792, the state of affairs was terror. 40,000 were guillotined in a matter of days. Maximilien Robespierre (1758 - 1794) led a dance of death that saw the execution of several hundred thousand people to the extent that he even executed the executioners. Every aristocratic family who did not flee lost if not all but most of its members. Property was confiscated and the church lost its authority.
In a matter of five or six years, the kingdom of France, an institution that had its origins in the first centuries of the Christian era, was swept away. The grand parade of kings and princes that had set the style for the monarchs of Europe ended on the platform that held the guillotine. Several Trinidadian French families lost many members of their family during the revolution. The de Verteuils, for example, come from the nobility of the Vendée who fought the revolution to the last and whose young son took service with the English as was with General Abercromby when Trinidad was taken from Spain and stayed on. On the other hand, there were other French people, such as the de Boissières, whose relatives in France though aristocratic supported the more rational aspects of the revolution, but who for safety’s sake sent their sons out to the Caribbean and to Trinidad. These stayed as well.
The revolution altered the status quo in Europe and the Caribbean. It also paved the way for another remarkable epoch that also impacted on Trinidad and Tobago - the Napoleonic era.

What makes Tobago different

 There was a big crowd. In the distance, I could see a woman with one big breadfruit on her head, another carried a large tin trunk tied with a broad pink ribbon. Just further back, a man in top hat and tails, white trousers and home-made spats escorted an elaborately dressed lady who had assumed, despite her age and size, all the coyness of a bride. Another person had a vintage Singer sewing machine on her head, and she was followed by yet another with a truly antique chamber pot that would assuredly fetch a couple dozen pounds at Sotherby’s. Tambourines were played with energy, and several fiddlers produced a cacophony of noise that sounded like a bagpipe band tuning up.
It was a Tobago wedding in a village on the leeward side, not far from Castara. It was a private affair, no media, no tourists. Somebody’s Gang Gang, long dead, had already prophesied the future of both bride and groom. (I believe she was the one with the Singer.) The prophecy was produced in a trance in the voice of the joint of the joint ancestress of the bridal couple, who had died in the same year of the Belmanna Riots, a century previously. Tie Piggy was her name.
Tobago, until just a few years ago, was truly unique. It was a place where a wedding was a WEDDING, echoing the 19th or perhaps 18th century ritual. For both Europeans and Africans, there was real magic - not the one with rabbits and stuff like that. Fairymaids could take your son, and when he came back, you would have to take him by a river and beat him with a fowl. Mermaids could make you rich and learned - for a price. Tobago had evolved from a prize of war, contested over by countries on both the North and Baltic seas, to a pirates’ paradise, to a desert island. European powers came and went and left their cannons in the sun. People stayed despite the wars, and became Tobagonians. It did not really interfere with them or their property, they just changed hands when the estates changed owners. They assimilated, syncretised and absorbed. Moravian churchmen and Methodist pastors instilled a sort of Puritanism in the post-emancipation period.
Life in Tobago always had to do with land and the process by which the land passed from the old slave masters, local and foreign, to the descendants of slaves. Land brought independence to the small farmer. But as the plantations system faded and the official economy bottomed up, Tobago was annexed to Trinidad as a ward, and ultimately, Tobagonians formed another segment in the overall segmented society; a society whose segments are determined by economies that have brought people from all over the world to work. Sugar, cocoa, coffee, oil, banking, commerce: let’s look at the sequence of events that led to annexation.
It is an easy assumption to make, but it would be a mistake to assume that Tobago and Trinidad’s colonial experiences produced the same sort of society by the early decades of the 20th century. True, the Dutch had created a colonial establishment in Tobago by the 1630s, with 6 sugar factories. However, by 1763, when the island had been ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Paris, Tobago had experienced some 50 years of abandonment, so-called neutrality or deserted island status, the stuff of the popular novels of the day, Crusoe island.
In effect, apart from the now dislocated Amerindians and a handful of mixed people and remnants of slaves, the place had ‘gone to bush’. In 1777, sugar was exported to Britain, and there was some indigo, coffee and cocoa. The French in Tobago in the 1780s opened up the windward coast by building a road. Some wealth was created in the period when Governor Dillon ran the island’s administration. Basically, both Trinidad and Tobago made a fresh start in the sugar plantation economy by the 1800s, but this is where the similarity ends. The investment that went into Trinidad’s cane production may be compared to Cuba or British Guyana. Tobago was more like Dominica. Trinidad and land, capital and labour especially imported.
After emancipation in 1838, the support system in Tobago started to evaporate. As sociologist and historian Dr. Susan Craig remarks: “Slavery, imperial monopoly and protection from competition were all removed.” The introduction of free trade, the collapse of the West Indian Bank, plus a hurricane in 1847 seemed to dislocate Tobago’s plantation economy. Increasingly, estates in Tobago became the property of Britain’s merchant houses, to the extent that a single merchant consignee in London bought out all of the 16 estates, sold under the West Indies Encumbered Estates Act in 1868. There was, however, a movement by Tobagonians to buy up estates. For example, in 1863, of the 71 estates in full cultivation, 58 were in the hands of local resident proprietors. These were of all shades. In fact, people of very modest means could buy estates in Tobago.
“This was an indication of the extent to which abandonment of land, under-utilisation and overall backwardness had crept in by the end of the 19th century. Of the 57,408 acres alienated for plantations, no more than 10,000 were ever at one time under cultivation in the 19th century,” writes Dr. Craig in her book ‘Smiles and Blood’.
The island’s economy had all but ground to a stop. There was no money to bring the telegraph line to the island. Tobago remained unconnected to the other islands and the world. There was no money to pay the Royal Mail Packet Boat. Just about every public facility, water, roads, the hospital, the jail, the jetty, schools, public buildings “presented a picture of extraordinary decreptitude and neglect. “
Social unrest erupted in Roxborough, the so-called Belmanna Riots.
The Tobago planters were quite willing to let go of the Assembly and go for Crown Colony Rule. At least, aid would be forthcoming and there would be strong government forcefully applied. But Tobago’s lingering financial twilight was about to plunge into the ‘red’. Dr. Craig puts it into context as follows:
“By 1884, there was no effective change in the circumstances of the island. In 1884, the Treasurer of Tobago, L.G. Hay, listed 80 estates of which 13 were in the hands of the merchant house, A.N. Gillespie and Co.; 5 belonged to Messrs. Thomas Reid and Sons of London; and another 3 were the property of Alexander Davidson and Co. of Scotland. But when Gillespie and Co. collapsed in 1884, the entire sugar economy in Tobago crashed with it, since their monopoly was exercised via advances and loans to the planters. Gillespie and Co. seem also to have controlled McCall and Co., the leading merchants on the island. The McCalls were the largest planting family in Tobago from the early 1870s to the crash of 1884. In 1878, John McCall, the senior partner in their business, declared that he was ‘the owner or attorney of 33 estates’ in Tobago. Some of the other merchants - the Keens, Blakeleys, Hendersons and Agards - were also estate owners; and many of the planters and managers ran estate shops. There was, thus, a well-entrenched planter/merchant oligarchy in Tobago, but the hidden hand controlling the entire system was Gillespie and Co.”
This collapse changed the class structure of Tobago altogether. The old plantocracy began to fade. The nature of land ownership would never be the same. Both white and coloured people came in from Trinidad and bought up land. Coconuts replaced cane. The annexation of Tobago to Trinidad came into existence in 1884 with mixed emotions on both sides. It solved some problems and introduced new difficulties. However, it benefited the ordinary black Tobagonian peasantry. There was a sort of flowering. Land became increasingly available. One would hesitate to use the word wealth, but a little money made the rounds. For example, by 1936, the number of properties under 10 acres was 7,714. Between 10 - 50 acres there were 230 holdings, and 23 holding from 50 - 100 acres, as well as 76 estates of 100 acres. The grandsons of slaves were able to buy estates.
95% of the population owned land. This meant that workers were not dependent on the estates for work. They offered a few hours a day (a task) and only a few days a week. The warden’s report for 1936 states that “it appears that those who rely solely upon their earnings in cash from working on the roads or on estates as a means of livelihood and cannot fall back upon their stock rearing and gardens are indeed a minority.”
What made Tobago so quaint, so old-fashioned in a unique manner, was the nature of village society, the network of families and community ties, and the retention of traditions. The point of Dr. Susan Craig’s interesting little book ‘Smiles and Blood’ is that because Tobago had produced by the 1930s a landed peasantry not involved in wage labour it had missed out on the strikes, riots and labour unrest that had flashed across the Caribbean in that period. Tobago did no possess a proletariat. In its isolation, one is tempted to say, blessed isolation, Tobago had not been visited by Marxist polemic which bred envy and jealousy and caused people to covert their neighbour’s goods, and which also lay fertile ground for racial hatred. There were no ‘tribal’ divisions in Tobago with a view to create scapegoats. Land, ancestral land, was sacred. It had been paid for in blood, sweat and tears. It had produced food, an income and a sense of security and self-respect. All this makes Tobago different.

Friday 21 October 2011

Address of Governor Ferguson to the Public relative to the Capture of Tobago

 “The capitulation oƒ Tobago, having been published in the last ‘Gazette’ without any part of my dispatch to the Secretary of  State which accompanied it, it may be expected that I should give the public some account of the siege and capture of that island, and it may perhaps be thought the more incumbent upon me to do so, as Sir George Rodney, in his letter of the 29th June, to the Secretary, has misstated several facts respecting that event, and insinuated that it had surrendered without making any defense.
Early on the morning of the 23rd of May, I received information that the enemy’s squadron had been seen to windward the evening before, and that it was then approaching the island. I instantly dispatched Captain Barnes of the ‘Rattlesnake’ with the intelligence to Sir George Rodney. Captain Barnes was fortunate enough to find the fleet at Barbados, and he delivered my dispatch, on board the ‘Sandwich’ at 12 o’clock on the night of the 26th May.
About 10 o’clock in the morning of the 23rd, the squadron brought to off Minister Point, hoisted French colours, and immediately got their troops into boats with an intention to land at Minister Bay, but finding the sea very high, and receiving some shot from a gun at Minister Point which would have annoyed them in landing, they returned on board. They then endeavoured to get into Rockly Bay, but the current carrying them to leeward, they went round the west end of the island. This squadron consisted of the ‘Pluton’, of 74 guns; the ‘Experiment’ of 50; the ‘Railicuse’ of 32; the ‘sensible’, a flute of 32; the ‘eagle’, of 14; and four sloops, under the command of the Chevalier Albert de Rious.
Next morning (the 24th), the enemy affected a landing at Great Courland Bay with very little loss, the temporary battery there of three eighteen pounders was almost entirely without cover, and so injudiciously situated that ships could fire upon the back part of it, before a gun from it could bear upon them. The ‘Pluton’ brought to within four hundred yards of this battery, and kept up so constant a fire that in a very short time the party were driven from it, having been scarcely able to bring a gun to bear upon her. But a gun at Black Rock under the direction of Major Hamilton of the militia being at a greater distance, continued to fire upon the ‘Pluton’ for a considerable time and killed many of her men.
Upon quieting the battery, our troops were posted on the heights upon each side of the road leading from Courland to Scarborough to harass the enemy their march, but the French general, with great judgment avoided the defile, and leaving the road, ascended the height upon his right. He there kept his men still above him. This advance party exchanged a few shots with some of our regulars, but as they were at a considerable distance from each other, there were only two of our people killed. Upon this occasion, Mr. Collow offered to set fire to his canes to distress the enemy, but some rain which had fallen in the night unfortunately prevented their burning so rapidly as to have that effect. Mr. Collow’s magnaminity, however, is not the less deserving of praise, s the troops were much fatigued with the hard duty they had undergone that and the previous day, and as there was likewise reason to believe that the enemy would attempt to cut off our retreat to Concordia, the place of our rendezvous by detaching part of their army round by another road, it was judged proper to carry the troops thither in the evening.
General Blanchelande, governor of St. Vincent, who commanded the French troops in the meantime dispersed papers among the planters, expressing his surprise at their deserting their houses, and informed them that their plantations would be plundered and confiscated if they did not return to them in 24 hours. These, however, had no effect upon the inhabitants, who were determined to retire with me to Concordia. The General at the same time sent a flag of truce to inform me that he had landed with 3,000 men to conquer the island, and he offered to give any terms if I would capitulate. But his offer was rejected, and his excellency was requested not to trouble me again upon that subject. In consequence of which he dispatched a cutter that night (the 24th) to Martinique for a reinforcement.


The 17th century saw the foundation of an English colonial empire in the Americas and a great expansion in trade, both in terms of volume and content. The 17th century, the 1600s, also saw in England a change of dynasty. James II of England, a Catholic prince, had two Protestant daughters, and as such the Protestant power structure in England was not particularly put out. But when a son was born to the king and queen, seven prominent Englishmen signed an invitation to William of Orange, ruler of Holland, a grandson of Charles I and husband of James’ eldest daughter Mary to come to England and to save the country.
James II of the house of Steward fled to France. The battle of Sedgemoor waged prior to the fleeing of the king and produced many prisoners of the crown. Some were shipped to Australia and many to the Caribbean, Barbados in particular. Amongst those was a man called Henry Pitman. Prison conditions in Barbados were dreadful, and Pitman convinced of his eventual death in prison, made his escape to the west coast of that island. He eventually built a raft and fitted it with a sail that he had made from flotsam, and filled the bladders of many goats with water and laid in a store of smoked goat meat.
With these meager supplies strapped to his raft, Pitman set sail from Barbados one moonless night to be carried in every direction the wind and the currents would take him. After many days at sea, he saw on the horizon early one windy morning land, and doing the best he could with his ungainly craft he eventually landed, almost dead, on a wide, sandy beach. The setting sun was lighting the sea mists to gold, rising up to the thick green layer that fringed the shore.
Over the next several months, Pitman survived mainly on the unsuspecting giant sea  turtles that he killed. He saw the remains of habitations and the wreckage of windmills with rusted machinery and torn sails. He also found skeletal remains of a man who had died in terrible battle. At night, he saw the fires of what must have been the ‘wild people of the mountains’, whom he, try as he might, never met in the daylight.
One day, many months after the great sea turtles had stopped coming to the beach to lay eggs, Pitman was half-crazy from loneliness and hunger. He saw as if in a dream a brigantine anchored in the wide bay. He was saved! Several years later, in 1689, Henry Pitman published his adventures in London.
Pitman called the island ‘Tortugas’. He reckoned it to be at 11˚, 11” north. In fact, he had landed in Tobago during one of the periods of respites from war and contention. Tobago had become neutral in 1684 by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. At that time, its population had been a motley bunch of survivors of previous attempts of conquest and colonisation. These, the first Tobagonians, were the products of discovery, slavery, was and abandonment. They were indeed the first children of the New World.
Many fascinating stories have emerged from this period in the history of Tobago about castaways, the lone survivors of some terrible battle, massacres and shipwrecks. Captain John Poynti’s account of a visit to Tobago in 1682 which was undertaken in conjunction with the Duke of Courland to boost the island as a settlement, is a detailed account and entitled ‘The Present Prospect of the Famous and Fertile Island of Tobago”. It was published in 1683.
Another famous castaway of this period was a man named Alexander Selkerk, who was marooned on Juan Fernandes island in 1704 and was not rescued until 1709. Selkerk personally told Daniel Defoe about his adventures which Defoe published in 1713. Sailing the world and visiting far-flung islands captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands all over Europe. Reading about these adventures in popular novels was en vogue. There was no television, and few pictures or visuals of any sort came into the hands of people. The world that seemed to be unfolding as described by writers like Defoe, was a fascinating revelation, probably as compelling as the internet today!
With such rich first-hand material, Daniel Defoe could hardly resist writing the stirring adventure of Robinson Crusoe and his native friend Man Friday, who is often portrayed as African. There is no doubt that Tobago was the island that Defoe used to place his hero, for we read that sailing from Brazil, Crusoe and his companions were blown off course by a terrible storm that lasted 12 days and that they had found themselves in 11˚ north latitude and were “gotten upon the coast of Guiana ...” Crusoe was cast ashore on a lovely island and lived there for some 25 years, before meeting Friday who told him “the land which I perceived to the west and north east was the great island Trinidad”.
The extent to which this story ‘sold’ Tobago in the 18th century can perhaps be seen when several years later, under the Treaty of Paris, Tobago was once more in British hands.
With so many assets and the Treaty of Paris guaranteeing its sovereign ownership by Britain, Tobago became an attractive proposition.
By a Royal Proclamation of 1764, the island was divided into parishes. A town was to be founded in each parish, although this was never materialised. Georgetown, overlooking Barbados Bay, was selected as the capital, and the first town to be laid out. In April 1768, the first meeting of the Legislative Council was held; the site, however, proved unsuitable and by 1769 the capital was moved to Scarborough on Rockly Bay.
An assembly building was constructed, which is still in existence. Areas were set apart for fortification; the land was laid out into allotments and advertised for sale; some 54,000 acres were sold and this produced the respectable sum of £154,050.
All this was directed by a Master Simpson who was the chief surveyor at that time. The three appointed commissioners for the sale of the land were William Young, William Hewitt and Roderick Wynne. By 1776, John Byres was the chief surveyor and completed his map of the survey of Tobago. The auctioning off of lands was long since been completed.
An interesting feature of the 1764 Tobago settlement programme was a conservation plan, where certain woodlands were set aside from the remainder of the island to ensure the water supply. This became the first forest reserve in the West Indies. The tract of forest, the upper reaches of the main ridge, was designated “Woods for the Protection of the Rains”. It remained untouched by man for more than 200 years.
The first Lieutenant Governor of Tobago was Alexander Brown, Esq., who landed at King’s Bay on 12 November, 1764.
The first lot of land sold in the Courland Bay Division was 500 acres at Courland Bay to Mr. James Simpson.  A further 11 lots in the Barbados Bay Division were sold at the same time. The first export of sugar in 1769 was from Bushey Park in St. Mary’s parish, which at that time belonged to a Mr. Gedney Clarke. During this period of fairly intense development, the population stood at 2,300 Europeans, 1,050 free black and people of various colours and mixtures, and 10,800 African slaves.
The slaves, bearing the brunt of the actual physical labour of clearing the primeval forest for the planting of a variety of crops while enduring the appalling conditions of slavery, also cultivated sugar cane on a large scale. It is not surprising that there were several slave revolts during this period, invariably started by newly arrived slaves. The conditions of the slaves had vastly improved by this time, although legislation governing their behaviour was very strict. The first slave revolt in 1770 spread from Courland Estate to Mt. Irvine and Riseland. In 1771, two insurrections were put down by the militia. In 1774, the slave revolt on Queens Bay Estate, the property of Sir William Young, was also suppressed.
Tobago thus repopulated, retooled and reorganised, moved towards a future that was to be as tempestuous as its recent past. But this was the foundation for modern Tobago, as strange as it may appear. A lot of old masonry that exists, such as windmills, fortifications and estate wells, could date from this time. Thanks to neglect, a lot has survived!

Thursday 20 October 2011

Governor Fargo

A ‘fargo’ was a truck, a heavy duty British-built vehicle, used in the pitch lake at La Brea in the years before the last war. ‘Fargo’ was also a stevedore, a black Tobagonian. Tall, built large, a strong young man who could bend a shilling between his thumb and forefinger.
He had been born Alphonso Philbert Theophilus James at Patience Hill in Tobago in 1901. He went to the Roman Catholic School in the village and worked in his stepfather’s garden. The Tobago in which he grew up in still lingered in the 19th century twilight, and the bashful giant of a boy, in search of a little more education had to fit in as a ‘pupil teacher’, gleaning what he could in the fields of knowledge by being around the more educated, the more self-assured. Copies of the Port of Spain Gazette, sometimes weeks old, found their way into the hands of the young man at Patience Hill.
The year was 1919. Trinidad and Tobago’s contingents were returning from the wars in Europe. The air was full of stories of the adventurous tales of foreign travel, far away places with strange sounding names. With the money he had saved, the furthest James could travel was to Trinidad. Jobs such as they were, were in the oil belt, and he journeyed south to see what he could get. From tranquil Tobago he soon found himself in the turmoil of Trinidad of the 1920s. The men who had come home from the trenches had seen the great leveler of war at work. For them, the stereotype of master and servant in terms of skin colour was gone. The word ‘socialist’ had entered the lexicon of terms of the common man. The repatriation of men who had worked on the Panama Canal brought the flash and spending of ready cash to the eyes of some who had only known the large silver coins of the British empire, and the almost square low denominations of the Colonial Bank. The spread of Garvey’s ideas amongst the working class, the influence of the ‘Left Book Club’, and the emergence of the new papers such as ‘The Beacon’ and the ‘Teacher’s Journal;’ all made for the quickening of political consciousness.
A.P.T. James landed a job as a stevedore at Brighton Lake Asphalt. He lived at ‘quarters’ for government workers in the ‘New Jersey’ area. The iron grip of the Great Depression had found its way to Trinidad by the late 1920s.  There was generally a fall in wages, retrenchment and a steady rise in cost of living. ‘Black Pride’ was heightened by the news of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. In the boxing ring, Joe Lewis’ triumph over Max Baer and Primo Carnera in that year was seen as victories for the black man. James aligned himself first with Captain Arthur Cipriani and the Workingmen’s Association, and eventually with the Federated Workers Trade Union (F.W.T.U.) under the guidance of Albert Gomes and Quintin O’Connor. He worked for the union and established  branch office at La Brea.
James represented not only stevedores, but oilfield workers on the whole. His energy was tremendous, and his charisma attracted people to him.
He made money and spent it. Women loved him. His vanity was not his greatest charm. He had married his village sweetheart before leaving to seek his fortune, and did not fail to support her, but his life’s path now took him far afield. He got a divorce and subsequently remarried ‘a La Brea girl’.
James’ involvement with the labour movement of the time did not hinder his enterprising spirit. In 1941, he won a contract to supply labour to the oil fields. He became a stevedore contractor during the war years and worked from his office at 47 Henry Street in Port of Spain. The harbour of the city and at Brighton was the hub for all transatlantic shipping originating in the south Atlantic. The convoys of merchant men came and went despite the ongoing threat of submarine attacks. Port of Spain in the war years had assumed for the gentlefolk of the town, an astounding character. Thousands of American army personnel thronged its streets. Gangsterism, unknown before, dominated gambling and prostitution. Men like Boysie Singh controlled the city, our very own home-grown murder incorporated!
A.P.T. James made a fortune. He also made a lot of children. He limed in the Chinese shop at La Brea playing checkers. He often won back from his workers what he had only just paid them. But he was generous and as people said “His loans were very soft”. James bought property, houses, an estate, a hotel. He bought land in Tobago and his friends and relatives were allowed to build homes on it.
He owned thoroughbred race horses and financially supported many trade unions, paying their bills and the salaries of the executive. His contribution to the Democratic Labour Party was such that it was rumoured that he had financed their campaign in 1961. Andre Philips, who wrote a short biography on A.P.T. James in 1993, recounts that James in the company of his friends attended a ‘social’ fete in Port of Spain when the barman refused his ‘black friends’ at the bar. James bought the whole bar for them. His hard work and common touch in Tobago earned him a seat on the Legislative Council in 1946. He would be returned in two subsequent elections in 1950 and 1956, until in 1961, when he lost to the P.N.M.
In the Legislative Council, he acted as deputy leader of the opposition, when Bhadase Sagan Maraj was away. He served the Butler Party, the Caribbean Socialist Party, the Trinidad Labour Party and the D.L.P.
It was under the banner of the Butler Party that Fargo along with Timothy Roodal and Chanka Maraj sat in the expanded legislature of 12 elected members. James became a deputy leader of the party during Butler’s incarceration in the 1940s. Their relationship, however, soured, and James allied himself with Dr. Patrick Solomon’s Caribbean Socialist Party. His contemporaries were ... Victor Bryan, ... Norman James, musician Raymond Quevedo (‘Attila the Hun’), .. Ray Joseph and ... Dr. David Pitt.
James worked for Tobago like no one had ever done before. Carlton Ottley wrote:
“Tobago neglect was halted to a minor extent when there appeared on the scene a Tobagonian who deserves honour in the island’s hall of fame.”
Andre Phillips concludes his paper on A.P.T.:
“Alphonso P.T. James died of a stroke on January 5, 1962, after a seven hour long struggle for survival, only a month after the elections. As he lived, so did he die - a fighter to the end.”
Fargo A.P.T. James is today, like so many others in this country that is made up of people with incredible short memories, an almost unknown figure. Ridiculed by those who came later, his memory is maintained only by a handful of friends and relatives. This is a great shame, because now, at this time, we are in need of heroes, role models to point the way, to say to young people: “Watch me, I did this, all this, my way.”

John Paul Jones

The American naval commander John Paul Jones drew his provisions from the French port of Brest, so as to raid the Scottish and English coasts. In a war that by 1777 had become a world war, the fight for freedom by the American colonies was just one of several theaters of war, in which the traditional protagonists - Catholic France and Protestant England - contested for world power.
It was a world war in the sense that decisive battles on land and sea were fought in India, in the Caribbean, in North America, Spain, Germany and Austria. Its repercussions were felt a century and a half later when the German Kaiser took up arms essentially against Great Britain, who had been previously victorious over both Spain and then France, in a war that was meant to end all wars.
Commander John Paul Jones was a most significant player during the American wars of independence. As a naval commander, he fought for the cause of independence of the American colonies from Britain. He was as significant as Admiral Horatio Nelson was for England, or Admiral Count d’Estrée for France. In a very real way Jones was the only player in the fledgling navy of the United States.
18th century imperialism was based on the theory that colonies existed for the good of the mother country, that they should supply the mother country with raw materials and receive back her finished products, and that they should trade with no foreign countries and nor foreign ships. This was not a wicked plan invented by the British for the purpose of oppression, but rather the way of doing things, accepted by all European countries. It was at a great cost to Britain that she was able to dislodge France from Canada in a seven year long war. This upset the balance of power in North America. The colonists woke up one morning to find themselves safer. The protection that Britain had provided them was over, but certain responsibilities remained on both sides.
The war to safeguard her colonies in North America had cost the British government £350,000 per year for 12 years, and it wanted at least some of it back. A stamp tax was imposed, which brought in about £60,000 per year. But the colonists had been at war too, they had also fought for their land. The violence of their indignation was explained not only by the stamp tax, but also by restrictions on colonial trade which had, because of the war, become quite lax.
The British had condoned smuggling, gun running and contraband when it suited the war effort. But now, with the necessity to raise money for the war debts, they had to impose the law with a firm hand.
Captain John Paul Jones was a Welshman who sailed the trade routes in the 1770s. He cruised a vast triangle from Plymouth England to Plymouth Tobago to Plymouth Massachusetts. He carried cod, timber and animal pelts one way, sugar, rum, molasses and tobacco another way, and calico, cotton, iron, nails, sugar cane machinery and finished goods yet another way. In those days, when he commanded the brigantine ‘Betsy’, his name was John Paul. He acquired the name Jones in Tobago under very unusual circumstances.
One windy October morning in 1773, the ‘Betsy’ drew in her gallants and folded her mains, and with jib and foresails she tacked towards her mooring in Rockly Bay. The signals flying from her mizzen halyard displayed the signals informing Fort King George that her cargo would be unloaded and that she would receive fresh cargo and make haste to sail to her home port, Plymouth in England. This was the cause of immediate consternation in her crew.
Several of the men were Tobagonians and glad to be home for Christmas. When John Paul announced that they would be paid not in Tobago but in England, the crew became enraged. Mutiny was the next obvious move. Captain Paul was a tall, strong man, young and vigorous and as it turned out, deadly. The first sailor who jumped upon his bridge, cutlass in hand, got 10 inches of cold steel straight through the heart. He dropped dead upon the deck of the ‘Betsy’. His second mate drew two loaded flintlocks, cocked and leveled them at the furious Tobagonian sailors.
Pandemonium reigned on board as the crew decided who was for the captain and who against. By that time, the customs cutter had come alongside and with armed officials from the harbour master’s office on board, some calm was restored. Captain John Paul was taken ashore for an interview with Lt. Governor Sir William Young.
In a letter, kept at an archive in Washington, John Paul describes the incident to Benjamin Franklin as unfortunate and goes on to relate the substance of his conversation with Sir William. The British Governor explained that there was no authority on the island to try an admiralty case, although it might have been possible to convene a vice-admiralty hearing. A civil case called by the local magistracy, comprised of Tobagonians, might not act in his favour - after all, he had killed a Tobagonian, and in a civil case, his plea for self-defense might not hold up.
After the talk to the governor, the ‘Betsy’ secretly weighed anchor and sailed away noiselessly into the darkness of the tropical night. Those of the Tobagonian crew and family members of the slain man who might have looked for John Paul the following day, only found only that the book in the harbour master’s office at Scarborough was signed John Paul Jones, skipper. Rather than facing charges for murder, John Paul had taken on a new name, which he would in fact carry to his death. The upset crew of the ‘Betsy’ never got paid for their work on the Atlantic, and skipper Jones was never seen in Tobago again.
Jones, however, was not only a scoundrel with a flaring temper. He was a mercenary. The navy in which he later served in the fledgling United States of America comprised a mere 16 fighting ships, while the British had more than 600. Yet, America’s most triumphant moments came at sea. In ship against ship fights, American frigates outclassed British ships, and American privateers captured 1,344 vessels. But the U.S. navy was too small to prevent an ultimate British blockade of the Atlantic coast, and it was on the inland lakes - Erie, Ontario and Champlain - that U.S. ships won their most strategic victories. Thereafter, a ship building race, the U.S. battle fleet more than held its own. By such stirring naval actions as the battle of Lake Erie, the U.S. prevented the British from gaining control of the lakes. 


 Longitude, those fine lines that run from the top of a map to the bottom, is described as the distance east or west of a standard meridian and is measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. This knowledge was 500 years ago and until the 1790s as esoteric as time travel is today. The sea farers of long ago risked falling off the edge of the world.
They were driven by avarice, possessed by courage and a knowledge of the sea, and they depended on ‘dead reckoning’ to understand the distance east or west of their home port. This was done by the heaving of a log of wood overboard. The captain would observe how quickly his ship sailed away from this bobbing, swirling marker and keep a record of this time in his ‘log book’, checking the direction of his course by a compass or by looking at the stars at night if he could find them. Bearing in mind fickle winds and sea currants, he would work out where in the world he was. A very dangerous business! He could miss his mark, and crash into reefs. He could run out of water and food. Long ocean voyages deprived men of vitamin C, which caused scurvy and terrible death. Lack of knowledge of longitude also caused serious economic problems, especially in times of war, when all shipping was using the known, safe passages or lanes. The quest for longitude was an urgent and desperate issue.

"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep." (Psalm 109)

He snapped the battered Bible shut. The salty wind, more than his eyes could bear, and looked astern towards the Madre de Jesus trailing in his wake. She was a tiny thing on the very edge of the horizon. Above, the sky, a faultless bowl of the purest blue, formed a perfect circle. Around and about, the endless rolling of the waves and a steady south-easterly wind carried him with every ticking minute away. Proof, they say, is an idol before which every mathematician tortures himself. He was a mathematician, and he was in search of truth. He was also an astronomer, and as such felt convinced of the certainty of the stars.
Born in Spain in 1759, he had been described as a handsome, melancholy, learned man, and was by his nature a problem solver. He was endowed with two incompatible qualities - restless imagination and a patient tenacity. He was well known as a scientific navigator and a model Spanish officer, with the rank of vice-admiral. He had been seconded for duty with the expedition formed to fix the longitude of various important points in the Americas in relation to Cadiz. He had been further honoured by being put in charge of that section dealing with the Antilles and Mexico. On the 17th June, 1792, he had sailed from Cadiz with two brigantines. He was 33.
Trinidad de Barlovento, to the windward, appeared to starboard as a low blue smudge of mountains, then a shattered gap of tiny islets, marked 'Boca del Drago', then, from the mainland, a rugged peninsular like a finger, pointing at the island which had the appearance on the chart of a cowhide laid flat. It was square to the points of the compass, having four coastal regions or 'bandes'. Rolling with the pitch of the Atlantic breakers, the brigantines sailed the length of the island's 'bande de l'est', its eastern coast. Seeking the comparatively safe passage of the Columbus Channel, marked Boca de Sierpe, the Serpent's Mouth, and entered the vast and placid Gulfo de Baline, the Gulf of Whales, on the 21st of July. To stand down gently before a refreshing breath to the hamlet marked ‘Porto de los Hispanioles’, named by his parents with some imagination and perhaps an apprehension of his future profession.
He was called Cosmo Damien Churruca. The little habitation on the verge of a vast tropical wilderness contained some warehouses, mud and thatch dwellings, a wooden church, a landing attended by a small redoubt of five guns that was connected to the mainland by a mole or land bridge. It was peopled by a lunatic assortment of foreigners of every possible sort, condition and combination of skin colour, and overflown by huge griffin vultures that had been imported from Spain for the purpose of sanitation.
Riding in the company of the governor to his ‘palace’ along the Plaza del Marina, Churruca noticed a busy commerce and saw many French who appeared to be gentlemen. Don José was also a naval officer of the same rank and age, and within days and in his company he commenced a survey to ascertain the best spot to establish an observatory.
To the east of the town was a low ridge, thickly wooded and known as Laventilla or the Lavant, named for the east winds. This was chosen as the site, and a winding road cut along the rocky ridges led to it. George B. Airy, Great Britain’s sixth astronomer royal, penned these lines in praise of his fellow travelers “who with vigour unequaled, unyielding devotion, surveyed every coast and explained every ocean, in frigid and torrid and temperate zones.
This Churruca did, as his charts attest to this day. With perfect elevations, the four coastlines of the island of Trinidad are faithfully depicted. It was, however, on the slopes of Laventille hill that he made geographical and astronomical history. After testing and standardising his instruments, he observed on the 2nd January with great precision the immersion of the third satellite of Jupiter in the disc of the moon, and also that of the first satellite. This most unwieldy lunar method demanded accurate astronomical observations, and could only be achieved by true genius. From his observations he fixed for the first time an accurate meridian in the New World. On the 28h January, 1793, he dismantled his observatory, and sailed for Spain on the 21st October of that same year. At Cadiz, he made an accurate observation of the entrance of the star of Aldebaran into the disc of the moon with its exit. This, with his observations in January in Trinidad, enabled him to link the New World with the Old and to fix the absolute longitude of the observatory at Laventille, the first point ever so fixed in the New World. Observatory Street in Port of Spain still retains a memory, and the observatory at Laventille, now a police communications post, is called Fort Chacon.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

History through the wrong end of the telescope

History could argue that independence in 1962, much like the emancipation of the slaves in 1834 was essentially an economic decision. Both decisions taken by Great Britain in the wake of terrible wars. In the case of the emancipation of the slaves, England had been at war with France for some 2 ears. These two empires struggles for control of the sea lanes and contested over the hegemony of the Americas and South-East Asia. The wars that had commenced during the French monarchy went right on through the revolution and culminated with exile of Napoleon Bonaparte to St. Helena, an island in the mid-Atlantic.
With this victory came the birth of the British Empire as we knew it. The islands in the Caribbean sea were ultimately portioned out between the great powers, and Trinidad and Tobago became by the turn of the 19th century British possessions under separate administrations. Tobago was a old slave economy, strategic in terms of transatlantic sailing routes, but with Pax Britannica firmly in place not so vital as it once was. Trinidad was different. Only just in its first phase of development, with only 17 or 18 years at the time of the conquest in 1797 as an island whose economy depended on slave labour. But the economic realities of maintaining slave economics were swiftly passing and there was a pressure in England from the  more enlightened to free the slaves.
In any event, in the case of the islands taken from Spain and France in the Caribbean, the best agricultural lands already developed and owned by, as far as the English were concerned, foreigners: the French planters. So why not free the slaves and get the land cheap?
The period of Crown Colony Rule in these islands extended from the 1800s to the 1960s. It was, despite various economic and social vicissitudes, and incubatory experience. Along protracted twilight seen today like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Trinidad described as and experimental colony, experienced several waves of emigration. the old Afro-French culture grew at a certain pace, syncretically absorbing the good, the bad and the ugly elements of each other's historical experience. The relatively newly arriving Indians, from 1845 were in a sense apartheided n the cane estates and viewed, if they were remarked upon at all, as transients.
The shock of two apocalyptic world wars in quick succession rearranged this protracted slumber, and in the awakening dawn of the post-war period. Great Britain, victorious in a war that had threatened to end western civilization as we know it, was literally bled white. The flower of two generations had died on Flanders' fields, Verdun and in the trenches of France, and then 20 years later in North Africa, Burma and in the skies over London. England could not afford an empire, even if there were sufficient men to run it.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Kikuyu in Kenya were killing white farmers. In India, the Mahatma Gandhi was leading millions to the sea to make salt and Archbishop Makarios was fighting a war for the independence of Crete.
With the cold war icing up great Britain was no longer a world power to be reckoned with.
The islands in the Caribbean were not a problem. They were essentially an expense. There was too, a moral issue, in much the same way that the possession of slaves in the early 19th century was something of an embarrassment, so too the possession of colonies by the mid-20th century was perceived as a thing of the past.
In Trinidad and Tobago, largely as the result of the multi-ethnic nature of the society, quite unique in the Caribbean, the various segments had tended to develop somewhat separately. The remnants of the French plantocracy had evolved in business. By and large, the people of African descent who worked in the civil service as clerks or administrators on the lower levels, became teachers or lawyers and doctors. The Indians were mostly still in cane cultivation and agriculture. Other ethnic segments fitted in and did their best.
A reaction to colonial rule had long since played a role in the body politic of the island. A few individuals of European descent joined by coloured professionals and intellectuals had agitated for social justice in various ways. Urban upheavals from the 1840s on through to the 1930s virtually from generation to generation, had challenged Crown Colony Rule only to be put down with force. Out of this quite genuine struggle had emerged institutions such as the Workingmen's Association, the cooperative Bank, the building and loan association. They liked to see themselves as reformists, being soundly middle class they could not imagine themselves as revolutionaries.
From Philip Rostant to Mzumbo Lazare, to Cipriani, Uriah Butler and Albert Gomes: for close to 100 years the reform movement of this country produced civil rights leaders. As the Indians began to emerge in the 1900s, men such as Saaran Teelucksingh, Ajodhasingh and Badase Sagan Maharaj joined the ranks, calling for social justice and just rights for 'a fair day's pay for a fair day's work'. It was against this backdrop and in this post-war period, that a new political dynamic emerged which arranged itself around one man. Independence of Trinidad and Tobago will always be association with Dr. Eric Williams, who made his commitment clear when he said:
"I was born here and here I stay, with the people of Trinidad and Tobago who educated me free of charge for nine years at Queen's Royal College, and for five years at Oxford, who have made me whatever I am ... I am going to let down my bucket where I am, now right here with you."
This was Williams' entry into the political arena of 1955. In many ways, he was the inheritor of the 19th century reform movements, but he was also a man of the moment. Williams was the hopes and dreams of every mother come true, at least amongst the descendants of the Afro-Creole population. He was sufficiently arrogant to deal with the British administrators and politically powerful to put the French Creoles in their place.