SIR EDWARD BEETHAM, THE WATER RIOTS, THE HISTORY OF ARIMA AND TWO PLACES OF WATER
Francis Morean @ 31st October 2018
(This is the fourth in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)
Sir Claud Hollis, the Governor of Trinidad and Tobago from 1930 to 1936, had taken an abiding interest in the history of Trinidad and in the welfare of the indigenous peoples. It is not clear whether he had given any official attention during his tenure to the question of their land rights although it was being purused by the then Arima Mayor, F.E.M. Hosein, with whom I have already shown, he was on very good terms.
By the time of the arrival of Sir Hollis in Trinidad and Tobago, the Governors of the islands were more preoccupied with the control and regulation of Crown Lands than with any of the historical land issues which had preoccupied their counterparts in the first half of the nineteenth century.
According to a Government publication during the time of Sir Hollis, “The Crown lands of the Colony are vested in his Majesty the King jure coronae, and all questions in connection with their administration, and disposal are dealt with by the Governor himself as Intendant of Crown Lands.” The interests of Sir Hollis had gone much further beyond the matters of Crown Lands and administrative affairs.
Maybe it was because his wife had been the descendant of the Bassanta family, who had played an important role, not only in the development of Trinidad, but also in the history of Arima. Some of her ancestors were in fact interred in Arima soil. This may have contributed to the special affection which he had shown for the town. It was something which he had revealed to the Mayor shortly before his departure in 1936.
As noted in the third part in this series “His friendship with Mayor Hosein and with the Carib Queen, Ma Werges also brought him regularly to the place of water, as Arima was known. It was his initial visit to Arima in 1930 and his friendship with Ma Werges which had led to the tradition of an annual grant being made by the Governors for the assistance of the Carib Queen with expenses incurred in the hosting of activities at her residence during the Santa Rosa festivities.”
It was also known that F.E.M. Hosein had been addressing the issue of lands for the Caribs of Arima, but I have found no records which indicate that there was any official correspondence on the matter between himself and the Governor. This however does not mean that they did not exist.
In his analysis of the history of Trinidad under the Spanish Crown, Sir Hollis had noted that “Notwithstanding the stipulation in the Articles of Capitulation that all public records were to be left in Trinidad, the majority of these records were apparently sent to Caracas. The Libro Becerro (the Trinidad Domesday Book) and the Protocol of Deeds relating to the transfers of land were however not removed.”
He went on to indicate that “The history of the Spanish Protocol of Deeds is interesting. In August, 1931, the Chief Justice, Sir Charles Belcher, called my attention to a large number of brown paper parcels stored on open shelves in the Government Registry. These parcels, he said, were believed to contain Spanish documents. Some of the parcels were opened for my inspection, and it was found that, while much of the material had been destroyed by insect larvae, a good many of the documents could be preserved from further documentation. As I thought that it must have been believed in the past that the papers were worth preserving, and as it was possible that they might contain matter of interest from a historic point of view, I took steps to have them fumigated and treated with book poison…[……]…Some of the volumes had been entirely ruined by water (the result probably of the destruction of the Government Offices by fire in 1903), and in others there were gaps where inferior paper had been used or where vermin had concentrated their attacks. … […..]……These records have been referred to on previous occasions. Fraser (Vol. II, p. 57) states that in 1804 Colonel Rutherford, the Commissary of Population, called attention to the perilous state of the Public Records, and though little was done at that time, steps were taken to remedy the evil in some degree under the government of Sir Ralph Woodford.”
Sir Hugh Clifford, the Colonial Secretary in Trinidad and Tobago in 1903, in a farewell address to his colleagues in the Public Service of Nigeria where he had subsequently worked, had also observed that “The Red House, which was the depository of archives dealing back to the priceless records of the Spanish Government – from amongst which might be extracted, for example, the stirring story of Sir Walter Raleigh’s raid on San Jose – had all gone up in flames on the occasion of that memorable riot.” The Red House had not only been on fire in 1903. It had also become a place of water as firemen and government made valiant efforts to put out the blazing flames.
One can only wonder how much the Water Riots had served to destroy the history of a town, which, for many years had been generally believed to have meant “the place of water”. In a very ironic manner, the resistance of the citizens of Port-of -Spain to the planned increases in water rates in 1903, had helped to destroy much of the history of another group of aggrieved citizens.
As I noted in the first part of this series, “Sir Beetham on his first official visit to Arima in August 1955, had alerted Arimians of the need to preserve their history.”
A report on his visit to Arima was published in one of the local newspapers and a full transcript of the article can be seen below.
As an aside it should be noted that Sir Beetham was also connected with another place of water, the Laventille Swamp. At the time of the arrival of Sir. Beetham in Trinidad, the North-western portion of the swamp was known as Shanty Town and was occupied by squatters who resided in hovels. This was in close proximity to La Basse (later incorrectly called the La Basse), a low-lying area, which was used as the city dump. Efforts were being made at the time to remove and relocate the residents. They had also invited him to visit the area to see the conditions under which they lived. His name later became officially associated with the area. “The Beetham” in fact has a lot of history, but more of that at another time and in another place.
PRESERVE HISTORICAL RECORDS – BEST WAY TO BUILD UP A WEST INDIAN CONSCIOUSNESS
The Governor, Sir Edward Beetham, is sure that nothing would assist in building up a West Indian consciousness so much as the collection of historical data and records of West Indian history and a continuous effort to ensure its adequate documentation in writing, films and sound records as the years go by.
Speaking at the Town Hall on his first official visit to Arima yesterday, he sympathised with the council on the disappearance of the original of the Royal Charter, granted by Queen Victoria, by which Arima was created a borough.
This loss prompted him to the general reflection that “we in the West Indies have not been so zealous as we might have been in safeguarding our historical treasures.”
Sir Edward said he had found great difficulty in collecting historical data relating to such a comparatively modern building as Government House.
Accompanied by Lady Beetham and Mr. Michael Webb-Bowen, A.D.C., Sir Edward was met at the western entrance of the town by the Mayor, Councillor Rafael Chin Aleong. The party proceeded to the Town Hall, where he was introduced to the members of the Council, and their wives Mr. Harry P. Caracciolo, Town Clerk, and Mr. Henry Perreira, Town Superintendent.
GUARD OF HONOUR
Before he entered the Town Hall he inspected a guard of honour drawn up under Superintendent S. Cozier, who was assisted by Assistant Superintendent Clive Sealey. He also inspected 50 members of the Special Reserve Police under Inspector Canterbury, members of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Voluntary Fire Brigade and Boy Scouts.
Arima, the Town of the Caribs, was decorated. Union Jack and bunting flew from business places and homes and the Town Hall itself was closed for usual business and it was the first time the Police Band played in the town for an occasion of the sort. The band was under Capt. Rupert Dennison.
Lady Beetham was presented with a bouquet by 13-year-old Joan Lee King, daughter of Alderman Hugh Lee King, on behalf of the townsfolk.
Invitees included headteachers of the district, businessmen, former councillors, together with Dr. I. W. Burke, Mrs. Burke, Mr. J. Superville, acting Commissioner of Local Government; Lt-Col. R. Erskine-Lindop, acting Police Commissioner; Major T. Ogier, acting Deputy Police Commissioner; Superintendent Michael Gregory and Assistant Superintendent Brathwaite.
ADDRESS OF WELCOME
On their way to Port-of-Spain the Governor’s party stopped at the Arima Fire Station, where they saw the units in action, and then at the District Hospital where they were greeted by Dr. J. Roopchand, acting District Medical Officer.
An address of welcome, read by the Town Clerk, recalled that on August 1, 1888, by Royal Charter, Arima became a borough – something unique in the West Indies.
The borough’s relationship with the Central Government had always been most cordial and the town looked forward to continuance and improvement of this state of affairs.
Sir Edward and Lady Beetham were thanked for their visit and an invitation to return was extended to them whenever they wished.
Replying, Sir Edward said:
“Mr. Mayor, Alderman, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlement, I wish to thank you on behalf of my wife and myself for the very kind welcome we have received in your borough this morning, and for the good wishes you have extended to us for the happiness of our stay in the Colony and for the success of my term of office as Governor of Trinidad and Tobago.
“I have been most interested to hear that records relating to Arima date back to the very early days of the colony’s history, although there is apparently some doubt as to the exact origin of the borough’s name.
“I have learned with even greater interest that in 1888 Arima was created a borough by a Royal Charter granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, the only one so created in the whole of the West Indies.
“Seventeen years ago a distinguished predecessor of mine, Sir Hubert Young, attended the Jubilee Celebrations of your Borough, and it was during this time, at a special meeting of the Council, that the chain of office, which you Mr. Mayor now wear, was presented to Mr. Ralph Vignale, the Mayor at that time, who, I understand, is very happily present here this morning.
“Although Arima has passed through many vicissitudes of fortune, from its rich cocoa days to a brief period during the last war when it became a town of thriving activity, it has never, I believe, been reduced to putting its Mayoral chain into pawn, as I was informed the other day, has happened to a neighbouring municipality; neither is your Council so suspicious of its Mayor and his chain of office that it has found it desirable to provide a police escort to ensure that such an occurrence shall never happen again!
“But I have been given to understand, Mr. Mayor, that your Council has suffered a misfortune in that the original of your famous Charter has disappeared. I commiserate with you on that loss, and it prompts me to the general reflection that we in the West Indies have not been so zealous as we might have been in safeguarding our historical treasures.
“Fire, which has destroyed so many records, atmospheric conditions, the ravages of insects are only a few of the many difficulties to contend with in this regard. The approach of Federation may be an opportune moment to review our archives and our methods of their preservation.
“In the United Kingdom records have been carefully preserved and guarded for hundreds of years, and, in more recent times, special steps have been taken for the storage and preservation of historical films and sound records. Our descendants in 100 years’ time would find great historical interest in a sound film of say the opening of the First Federal Parliament, but there is little likelihood of their being able to view it unless we begin to evolve now a long-term policy with this end in view.
“I have found great difficulty in collecting historical data relating to such a comparatively modern building a Government House, and I am sure that nothing would assist in building up a West Indian consciousness so much as the collection of historical data and records of West Indian history and a continuous effort to ensure its adequate documentation in writing, film and sound record as the years progress.
“I appreciate it exceedingly, Mr. Mayor, that you have not used this happy occasion to put forward your problems and complaints, of which, as in every municipality, you no doubt have many. There will, as Your Worship suggests be other times and occasions when the opportunity for so doing may well arise.
“I look forward to further visits to your Borough and, in particular, to attending one of your race meetings, of which I have heard much, at the end of this month.
“May I, in again thanking you for your welcome, wish you success and prosperity in all your undertakings.”
It is quite noteworthy that Governor Beetham raised the issue about the uncertainties concerning the origin of the name of Arima. I would address that issue in a subsequent post.
Meanwhile however I wish to just quote a bit from the welcome speech made by F.E.M. Hosein in 1930 when he welcomed Governor Hollis to Arima. Waxing poetically and ostentatiously he proclaimed that Arima, “bounded on all sides with crystal streams like a veritable garden of Eden, dotted about with numerous springs of pure and living water and covering an extensive area of well-drained lands, gently sloping south-wards to the Caroni River, marked it out as designed by natives as the headquarters, a high capital of the indigenous inhabitants.”
He also noted, that “Placed on a plateau more than 100 feet above sea-level, with the Arima River on the east and the Mausica River on the West and South and intersected by the natural watercourses on the East, West and South, she has the advantage of being both well-watered and well-drained, conditions which no town in the colony and few, if any inland villages enjoy.”
Quite interestingly, just a few years later Hosein was singing a different song and I would also explore that in some future posts.