TRINIDAD

No scenery can be more picturesque than that afforded by the entrance
to Port of Spain, the chief town in the island of Trinidad. Trinidad,
as all men doubtless know, is the southernmost of the West Indian
islands, and lies across the delta of the Orinoco river. The western
portion of the island is so placed that it nearly reaches with two
horns two different parts of the mainland of Venezuela, one of the
South American republics. And thus a bay is formed closed in between
the island and the mainland, somewhat as is the Gulf of Mexico by the
island of Cuba; only that the proportions here are much less in size.
This enclosed sea is called the Gulf of Paria.

The two chief towns, I believe I may say the two only towns in
Trinidad are situated in this bay. That which is the larger, and the
seat of government, is called the Port of Spain, and lies near to the
northern horn. San Fernando, the other, which is surrounded by the
finest sugar districts of the island, and which therefore devotes its
best energies to the export of that article, is on the other side of
the bay and near the other horn.

The passages into the enclosed sea on either side are called the
Bocas, or mouths. Those nearest to the delta of the Orinoco are the
Serpent’s mouths. The ordinary approach from England or the other
islands is by the more northern entrance. Here there are three
passages, of which the middle is the largest one, the Boca Grande.
That between the mainland and a small island is used by the steamers
in fine weather, and is by far the prettiest. Through this, the
Boca di Mona, or monkey’s mouth, we approached Port of Spain. These
northern entrances are called the Dragon’s mouths. What may be the
nautical difference between the mouth of a dragon and that of a
serpent I did not learn.

On the mainland, that is the land of the main island, the coast is
precipitous, but clothed to the very top with the thickest and most
magnificent foliage. With an opera-glass one can distinctly see the
trees coming forth from the sides of the rocks as though no soil
were necessary for them, and not even a shelf of stone needed for
their support And these are not shrubs, but forest trees, with grand
spreading branches, huge trunks, and brilliant coloured foliage. The
small island on the other side is almost equally wooded, but is
less precipitous. Here, however, there are open glades, and grassy
enclosures, which tempt one to wish that it was one’s lot to lie
there in the green shade and eat bananas and mangoes. This little
island in the good old days, regretted by not a few, when planters
were planters, and slaves were slaves, produced cotton up to its very
hill-tops. Now I believe it yields nothing but the grass for a few
cattle.

Our steamer as she got well into the boca drew near to the shore
of the large island, and as we passed along we had a succession of
lovely scenes. Soft-green smiling nooks made themselves visible below
the rocks, the very spots for picnics. One could not but long to
be there with straw hats and crinoline, pigeon pies and champagne
baskets. There was one narrow shady valley, into which a creek of the
sea ran up, that must have been made for such purposes, either for
that, or for the less noisy joys of some Paul of Trinidad with his
Creole Virginia.

As we steamed on a little further we came to a whaling establishment.
Ideas of whaling establishments naturally connect themselves with
icebergs and the North Pole. But it seems that there are races of
whales as there are of men, proper to the tropics as well as to the
poles; and some of the former here render up their oily tributes.
From the look of the place I should not say that the trade was
flourishing. The whaling huts are very picturesque, but do not say
much for the commercial enterprise of the proprietors.

From them we went on through many smaller islands to Port of Spain.
This is a large town, excellently well laid out, with the streets
running all at right angles to each other, as is now so common in new
towns. The spaces have been prepared for a much larger population
than that now existing, so that it is at present straggling,
unfilled, and full of gaps. But the time will come, and that before
long, when it will be the best town in the British West Indies. There
is at present in Port of Spain a degree of commercial enterprise
quite unlike the sleepiness of Jamaica or the apathy of the smaller
islands.

I have now before me at the present moment of writing a debate which
took place in the House of Commons the other day–it is only the
other day as I now write–on a motion made by Mr. Buxton for a
committee to inquire into the British West Indies; and though
somewhat afraid of being tedious on the subject of immigration to
these parts, I will say a few words as to this motion in as far as it
affects not only Trinidad, but all those colonies. Of all subjects
this is the one that is of real importance to the West Indies; and it
may be expected that the sugar colonies will or will not prosper, as
that subject is or is not understood by its rulers.

I think I may assume that the intended purport of Mr. Buxton’s
motion was to throw impediments in the way of the immigration of
Coolies into Jamaica; and that in making it he was acting as the
parliamentary mouthpiece of the Anti-Slavery Society. The legislature
of Jamaica has at length passed a law with the object of promoting
this immigration, as it has been promoted at the Mauritius and in a
lesser degree in British Guiana and Trinidad; but the Anti-Slavery
Society have wished to induce the Crown to use its authority and
abstain from sanctioning this law, urging that it will be injurious
to the interests of the negro labourers.

The “peculiar institution” of slavery is, I imagine, quite as little
likely to find friends in England now as it was when the question of
its abolition was so hotly pressed some thirty years since. And God
forbid that I should use either the strength or the weakness of my
pen in saying a word in favour of a system so abhorrent to the
feelings of a Christian Englishman. But may we not say that that
giant has been killed? Is it not the case that the Anti-Slavery
Society has done its work?–has done its work at any rate as
regards the British West Indies? What should we have said of the
Anti-Corn-Law League, had it chosen to sit in permanence after the
repeal of the obnoxious tax, with the view of regulating the fixed
price of bread?

Such is the attempt now being made by the Anti-Slavery Society with
reference to the West Indian negroes. If any men are free, these men
are so. They have been left without the slightest constraint or bond
over them. In the sense in which they are free, no English labourer
is free. In England a man cannot select whether he will work or
whether he will let it alone. He, the poor Englishman, has that
freedom which God seems to have intended as good for man; but work
he must. If he do not do so willingly, compulsion is in some sort
brought to bear upon him. He is not free to be idle; and I presume
that no English philanthropists will go so far as to wish to endow
him with that freedom.

But that is the freedom which the negro has in Jamaica, which he
still has in many parts of Trinidad, and which the Anti-Slavery
Society is so anxious to secure for him. It–but no; I will give the
Society no monopoly of such honour. We, we Englishmen, have made our
negroes free. If by further efforts we can do anything towards making
other black men free–if we can assist in driving slavery from the
earth, in God’s name let us still be doing. Here may be scope enough
for an Anti-Slavery Society. But I maintain that these men are
going beyond their mark–that they are minding other than their own
business, in attempting to interfere with the labour of the West
Indian colonies. Gentlemen in the West Indies see at once that the
Society is discussing matters which it has not studied, and that
interests of the utmost importance to them are being played with in
the dark.

Mr. Buxton grounded his motion on these two pleas:–Firstly, That
the distress of the West Indian planters had been brought about by
their own apathy and indiscretion. And secondly, That that distress
was in course of relief, would quickly be relieved, without any
further special measures for its mitigation. I think that he was
substantially wrong in both these allegations.

That there were apathetic and indiscreet planters–that there were
absentees whose property was not sufficient to entitle them to the
luxury of living away from it, may doubtless have been true. But the
tremendous distress which came upon these colonies fell on them in
too sure a manner, with too sudden a blow, to leave any doubt as to
its cause. Slavery was first abolished, and the protective duty on
slave-grown sugar was then withdrawn. The second measure brought down
almost to nothing the property of the most industrious as well as
that of the most idle of the planters. Except in Barbados, where the
nature of the soil made labour compulsory, where the negro could no
more be idle and exist than the poor man can do in England, it became
impossible to produce sugar with a profit on which the grower could
live. It was not only the small men who fell, or they who may be
supposed to have been hitherto living on an income raised to an
unjustly high pitch. Ask the Gladstone family what proceeds have come
from their Jamaica property since the protective duty was abolished.
Let Lord Howard de Walden say how he has fared.

Mr. Buxton has drawn a parallel between the state of Ireland at and
after the famine and that of the West Indies at and after the fall
in the price of sugar, of which I can by no means admit the truth.
In the one case, that of Ireland, the blow instantly effected the
remedy. A tribe of pauper landlords had grown up by slow degrees who,
by their poverty, their numbers, their rapacity, and their idleness,
had eaten up and laid waste the fairest parts of the country. Then
came the potato rot, bringing after it pestilence, famine, and the
Encumbered Estates Court; and lo! in three years the air was cleared,
the cloud had passed away, and Ireland was again prosperous. Land
bought at fifteen pounds the acre was worth thirty before three crops
had been taken from it. The absentees to whom Mr. Buxton alludes were
comparatively little affected. They were rich men whose backs were
broad enough to bear the burden for a while, and they stood their
ground. It is not their property which as a rule has changed hands,
but that of the small, grasping, profit-rent landlords whose lives
had been passed in exacting the last farthing of rent from the
cottiers. When no farthing of rent could any longer be exacted, they
went to the wall at once.

There was nothing like this in the case of the West Indies.
Indiscretion and extravagance there may have been. These are vices
which will always be more or less found among men living with the
thermometer at eighty in the shade. But in these colonies, long and
painful efforts were made, year after year, to bear against the
weight which had fallen on them. In the West Indies the blow came
from man, and it was withstood on the whole manfully. In Ireland the
blow came from God, and submission to it was instantaneous.

Mr. Buxton then argues that everything in the West Indies is already
righting itself, and that therefore nothing further need be done. The
facts of the case exactly refute this allegation. The four chief of
these colonies are Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad, and Jamaica.
In Barbados, as has been explained, there was no distress, and of
course no relief has been necessary. In British Guiana and Trinidad
very special measures have been taken. Immigration of Coolies to a
great extent has been brought about–to so great an extent that the
tide of human beings across the two oceans will now run on in an
increasing current. But in Jamaica little or nothing has yet been
done. And in Jamaica, the fairest, the most extensive, the most
attractive of them all; in Jamaica, of all the islands on God’s earth
the one most favoured by beauty, fertility, and natural gifts; in
Jamaica the earth can hardly be made to yield its natural produce.

All this was excellently answered by Sir Edward Lytton, who, whatever
may have been his general merits as a Secretary of State, seems at
any rate to have understood this matter. He disposed altogether of
the absurdly erroneous allegations which had been made as to the
mortality of these immigrants on their passage. As is too usual
in such cases arguments had been drawn from one or two specially
unhealthy trips. Ninety-nine ships ride safe to port, while the
hundredth unfortunately comes to grief. But we cannot on that account
afford to dispense with the navigation of the seas. Sir Edward showed
that the Coolies themselves–for the Anti-Slavery Society is as
anxious to prevent this immigration on behalf of the Coolies, who in
their own country can hardly earn twopence a day, as it is on the
part of the negroes, who could with ease, though they won’t, earn two
shillings a day–he showed that these Coolies, after having lived for
a few years on plenty in these colonies, return to their own country
with that which is for them great wealth. And he showed also that the
present system–present as regards Trinidad, and proposed as regards
Jamaica–of indenturing the immigrant on his first arrival is the
only one to which we can safely trust for the good usage of the
labourer. For the present this is clearly the case. When the Coolies
are as numerous in these islands as the negroes–and that time will
come–such rules and restrictions will no doubt be withdrawn. And
when these different people have learned to mix their blood–which
in time will also come–then mankind will hear no more of a lack of
labour, and the fertility of these islands will cease to be their
greatest curse.

I feel that I owe an apology to my reader for introducing him to an
old, forgotten, and perhaps dull debate. In England the question is
one not generally of great interest. But here, in the West Indies, it
is vital. The negro will never work unless compelled to do so; that
is, the negro who can boast of pure unmixed African blood. He is as
strong as a bull, hardy as a mule, docile as a dog when conscious of
a master–a salamander as regards heat. He can work without pain and
without annoyance. But he will never work as long as he can eat and
sleep without it. Place the Coolie or Chinaman alongside of him, and
he must work in his own defence. If he do not, he will gradually
cease to have an existence.

We are now speaking more especially of Trinidad. It is a large
island, great portions of which are but very imperfectly known; of
which but comparatively a very small part has been cultivated. During
the last eight or ten years, ten or twelve thousand immigrants,
chiefly Coolies from Madras and Calcutta, have been brought into
Trinidad, forming now above an eighth part of its entire population;
and the consequence has been that in two years, from 1855, namely,
to 1857, its imports were increased by one-third, and its exports
by two-thirds! In other words, it produced, with its Coolies, three
hogsheads of sugar, where without them it only produced one. The
difference is of course that between absolute distress and absolute
prosperity. Such having hitherto been the result of immigration into
Trinidad, such also having been the result in British Guiana, it does
appear singular that men should congregate in Exeter Hall with the
view of preventing similar immigration into Jamaica!

This would be altogether unintelligible were it not that similar
causes have produced similar effects in so many other cases. Men
cannot have enough of a good thing.

Exactly the same process has taken place with reference to criminals
in England. Some few years since we ill used them, stowed them away
in unwholesome holes, gave them bad food for their bodies and none
for their minds, and did our best to send them devilwards rather than
Godwards. Philanthropists have now remedied this, and we are very
much obliged to them. But the philanthropists will not be content
unless they be allowed to pack all their criminals up in lavender.
They must be treated not only as men, but much better than men of
their own class who are not criminal.

In this matter of the negroes, the good thing is negro-protection,
and our friends cannot have enough of that. The negroes in being
slaves were ill used; and now it is not enough that they should all
be made free, but each should be put upon his own soft couch, with
rose-leaves on which to lie. Now your Sybarite negro, when closely
looked at, is not a pleasing object. Distance may doubtless lend
enchantment to the view.

As my sojourn in Trinidad did not amount to two entire days, I do not
feel myself qualified to give a detailed description of the whole
island. Very few, I imagine, are so qualified, for much of it is
unknown; there is a great want of roads, and a large proportion of it
has, I believe, never been properly surveyed.

Immediately round Port of Spain the country is magnificent, and the
views from the town itself are very lovely. Exactly behind the town,
presuming the sea to be the front, is the Savanah, a large enclosed,
park-like piece of common, the race-course and Hyde Park of Trinidad.
I was told that the drive round it was three English miles in length;
but if it be so much, the little pony which took me that drive in a
hired buggy must have been a fast trotter.

On the further side of this lives the Governor of the island,
immediately under the hills. When I was there the Governor’s real
house was being repaired, and the great man was living in a cottage
hard by. Were I that great man I should be tempted to wish that
my great house might always be under repair, for I never saw a
more perfect specimen of a pretty spacious cottage, opening as a
cottage should do on all sides and in every direction, with a great
complexity as to doors and windows, and a delicious facility of
losing one’s way. And then the necessary freedom from boredom,
etiquette, and Governor’s grandeur, so hated by Governors themselves,
which must necessarily be brought about by such a residence! I could
almost wish to be a Governor myself, if I might be allowed to live in
such a cottage.

On the other side of the Savanah nearest to the town, and directly
opposite to those lovely hills, are a lot of villa residences, and it
would be impossible, I imagine, to find a more lovely site in which
to fix one’s house. With the Savanah for a foreground, the rising
gardens behind the Governor’s house in the middle distance, and a
panorama of magnificent hills in the back of the picture, it is
hardly within the compass of a man’s eye and imagination to add
anything to the scene. I had promised to call on Major —-, who was
then, and perhaps is still, in command of the detachment of white
troops in Trinidad, and I found him and his young wife living in this
spot.

“And yet you abuse Trinidad,” I said, pointing to the view.

“Oh! people can’t live altogether upon views,” she answered; “and
besides, we have to go back to the barracks. The yellow fever is over
now.”

The only place at which I came across any vestiges of the yellow
fever was at Trinidad. There it had been making dreadful havoc, and
chiefly among the white soldiers. My visit was in March, and the
virulence of the disease was then just over. It had been raging,
therefore, not in the summer but during the winter months. Indeed,
as far as I could learn, summer and winter had very little to do
with the matter. The yellow fever pays its visit in some sort
periodically, though its periods are by no means understood. But it
pays them at any time of the year that may suit itself.

At this time a part of the Savanah was covered with tents, to which
the soldiers had been moved out of their barracks. The barracks are
lower down, near the shore, at a place called St. James, and the
locality is said to be wretchedly unhealthy. At any rate, the men
were stricken with fever there, and the proportion of them that died
was very great. I believe, indeed, that hardly any recovered of those
on whom the fever fell with any violence. They were then removed into
these tents, and matters began to mend. They were now about to return
to their barracks, and were, I was told, as unwilling to do so as my
fair friend was to leave her pretty house.

If it be necessary to send white troops to the West Indies–and I
take it for granted that it is necessary–care at any rate should
be taken to select for their barracks sites as healthy as may be
found. It certainly seems that this has not been done at Trinidad.
They are placed very low, and with hills immediately around them.
The good effect produced by removing them to the Savanah–a
very inconsiderable distance; not, as I think, much exceeding a
mile–proves what may be done by choosing a healthy situation. But
why should not the men be taken up to the mountains, as has been done
with the white soldiers in Jamaica? There they are placed in barracks
some three or four thousand feet above the sea, and are perfectly
healthy. This cannot be done in Barbados, for there are no mountains
to which to take them. But in Trinidad it may be done, quite as
easily, and indeed at a lesser distance, and therefore with less cost
for conveyance, than in Jamaica.

At the first glance one would be inclined to say that white troops
would not be necessary in the West Indies, as we have regiments of
black soldiers, negroes dressed in Zouave costume, specially trained
for the service; but it seems that there is great difficulty in
getting these regiments filled. Why should a negro enlist any more
than work? Are there not white men enough–men and brothers–to do
the somewhat disagreeable work of soldiering for him? Consequently,
except in Barbados, it is difficult to get recruits. Some men have
been procured from the coast of Africa, but our philanthropy is
interfering even with this supply. Then the recruiting officers
enlisted Coolies, and these men made excellent soldiers; but when
interfered with or punished, they had a nasty habit of committing
suicide, a habit which it was quite possible the negro soldier might
himself assume; and therefore no more Coolies are to be enlisted.

Under such circumstances white men must, I presume, do the work. A
shilling a day is an object to them, and they are slow to blow out
their own brains; but they should not be barracked in swamps, or made
to live in an air more pestilential than necessary.

My hostess, the lady to whom I have alluded, had been attacked most
virulently by the yellow fever, and I had heard in the other islands
that she was dead. Her case had indeed been given up as hopeless.

On the morning after my arrival I took a ride of some sixteen miles
through the country before breakfast, and the same lady accompanied
me. “We must start very early,” she said; “so as to avoid the heat.
I will have coffee at half-past four, and we will be on horseback at
five.”

I have had something to say as to early hours in the West Indies
before, and hardly credited this. A morning start at five usually
means half-past seven, and six o’clock is a generic term for moving
before nine. So I meekly asked whether half-past four meant half-past
four. “No,” said the husband. “Yes,” said the wife. So I went away
declaring that I would present myself at the house at any rate not
after five.

And so I did, according to my own very excellent watch, which had
been set the day before by the ship’s chronometer. I rode up to
the door two minutes before five, perfectly certain that I should
have the pleasure of watching the sun’s early manoeuvres for at
least an hour. But, alas! my friend had been waiting for me in her
riding-habit for more than that time. Our watches were frightfully at
variance. It was perfectly clear to me that the Trinidadians do not
take the sun for their guide as to time. But in such a plight as was
then mine, a man cannot go into his evidence and his justification.
My only plea was for mercy; and I hereby take it on myself to say
that I do not know that I ever kept any lady waiting before–except
my wife.

At five to the moment–by my watch–we started, and I certainly never
rode for three hours through more lovely scenery. At first, also, it
was deliciously cool, and as our road lay entirely through woods,
it was in every way delightful. We went back into the hills, and
returned again towards the sea-shore over a break in one of the spurs
of the mountain called the Saddle; from whence we had a distant view
into the island, as fine as any view I ever saw without the adjunct
of water.

I should imagine that a tour through the whole of Trinidad would
richly repay the trouble, though, indeed, it would be troublesome.
The tourist must take his own provisions, unless, indeed, he provided
himself by means of his gun, and must take also his bed. The
musquitoes, too, are very vexatious in Trinidad, though I hardly
think that they come up in venom to their brethren in British Guiana.

The first portion of our ride was delightful; but on our return we
came down upon a hot, dusty road, and then the loss of that hour
in the morning was deeply felt. I think that up to that time I had
never encountered such heat, and certainly had never met with a more
disagreeable, troublesome amount of dust, all which would have been
avoided had I inquired over-night into the circumstances of the
Trinidad watches. But the lady said never a word, and so heaped
coals of fire on my head in addition to the consuming flames of that
ever-to-be-remembered sun.

As Trinidad is an English colony, one’s first idea is that the people
speak English; and one’s second idea, when that other one as to the
English has fallen to the ground, is that they should speak Spanish,
seeing that the name of the place is Spanish. But the fact is that
they all speak French; and, out of the town, but few of the natives
speak anything else. Whether a Parisian would admit this may be
doubted; but he would have to acknowledge that it was a French
patois.

And the religion is Roman Catholic. The island of course did belong
to France, and in manners, habits, language, and religion is still
French. There is a Roman Catholic archbishop resident in Trinidad,
who is, I believe, at present an Italian. We pay him, I have been
told, some salary, which he declines to take for his own use, but
applies to purposes of charity. There is a Roman Catholic cathedral
in Port of Spain, and a very ugly building it is.

The form of government also is different from that, or rather those,
which have been adopted in the other West Indian colonies, such
as Jamaica, Barbados, and British Guiana. As this was a conquered
colony, the people of the island are not allowed to have so potent
a voice in their own management. They have no House of Commons or
Legislative Assembly, but take such rules or laws as may be necessary
for their guidance direct from the Crown. The Governor, however, is
assisted by a council, in which sit the chief executive officers in
the island. That the fact of the colony having been conquered need
preclude it from the benefit (?) of self-government, one does not
clearly see. But one does see clearly enough, that as they are French
in language and habits, and Roman Catholic in religion, they would
make even a worse hash of it than the Jamaicans do in Jamaica.

And it is devoutly to be hoped, for the island’s sake, that it may be
long before it is endowed with a constitution. It would be impossible
now-a-days to commence a legislature in the system of electing which
all but white men should be excluded from voting. Nor would there be
white men enough to carry on an election. And may Providence defend
my friends there from such an assembly as would be returned by French
negroes and hybrid mulattoes!

A scientific survey has just been completed of this island, with
reference to its mineral productions, and the result has been to
show that it contains a very large quantity of coal. I was fortunate
enough to meet one of the gentlemen by whom this was done, and he was
kind enough to put into my hand a paper showing the exact result of
their investigation. But, unfortunately, the paper was so learned,
and I was so ignorant, that I could not understand one word of it.
The whole matter also was explained to me verbally, but not in
language adapted to my child-like simplicity. So I am not able to say
whether the coal be good or bad–whether it would make a nice, hot,
crackling, Christmas fire, or fly away in slaty flakes and dirty
dust. It is a pity that science cannot be made to recognize the depth
of unscientific ignorance.

There is also here in Trinidad a great pitch lake, of which all the
world has heard, and out of which that indefatigable old hero, Lord
Dundonald, tried hard to make wax candles and oil for burning. The
oil and candles, indeed, he did make, but not, I fear, the money
which should have been consequent upon their fabrication. I have no
doubt, however, that in time we shall all have our wax candles from
thence; for Lord Dundonald is one of those men who are born to do
great deeds of which others shall reap the advantages. One of these
days his name will be duly honoured, for his conquests as well as for
his candles.

And so I speedily took my departure, and threaded my way back again
through the Bocas, in that most horrid of all steam-vessels, the
‘Prince.’