History: 1850-1899

The history of Tobago in the second half of the 19th century


In 1850 exports from Tobago were: 47,730 cwt sugar; 114,684 gals rum; 3,255 cwt molasses. Cultivation of cotton was advocated. In 1851 the population was 14,378 and in that same year, the British Government sent 292 liberated Africans from St. Helena to settle in Tobago.

The Land Tax was introduced in 1852 and British troops were withdrawn from Fort King George in 1854. The islanders were left to make their own defence and control law and order. However, the British Government promised to keep a ‘vessel of war' within call, in case of trouble. The Police Force was augmented and armed Volunteer Corps established. A plot to destroy Scarborough, promoted by immigrant negroes from Barbados, was discovered and dealt with.

In 1855, British Imperial Customs Officers were replaced by Colonial Officers under the Treasurer. An Executive Privy Council, consisting of one member of the Legislative Council and two elected members, was introduced. A Legislative Assembly was appointed by the Lt. Governor.

Bacolet bathing beachThe first public Hospital was opened in 1856 and two years later Tobago adopted the Encumbered Estates Act of 1854. Commissioners were appointed in London for the sale of lands by creditors or the owner. An equitable distribution was made to all creditors from the proceeds of the sale and a new, unassailable, grant issued for the property allowing it to pass to those with the capital to work it, or those prepared to sell the estate in small lots.

In 1860 the authority of the Imperial Post Office Department was vested in the Executive Government of Tobago. By 1861 the population was 15,410 with exports of sugar at 59,05 cwt; rum 109,047 gals; molasses 1,207 cwt. A further 225 liberated Africans arrived from St. Helena, in 1862, to augment the labour force. 23,195 lbs of cotton were exported in 1865 and the sale and export of the commodity became regulated.

A tax on dogs was introduced in 1867 and caused riots. In 1870, an Italian Roman Catholic Mission was set up at Mason Hall. A year later, the Franchise was extended to $5.00 to holders of property. The Concurrent Endowment Act was passed in 1872, by which the Church of England ceased to be the established church of the colony. Annual grants of money were made to the Anglican Church, United Brethren (Moravians) and Wesleyans.

ScarboroughIn 1874, the Single Chamber Act was passed, under which the Legislative Assembly was to consist of six nominated and eight elected members. The Privy Council was reduced to two members. There were riots in the Windward Districts in 1876. In 1877, a new Constitution Act Tobago decreed that Tobago was to be administered as a Crown Colony and the elective principle abolished. The last meeting of the Privy Council was held in December of that year. In 1880 the British Government ceased to provide the salary for the Lt. Governor and the offices of Administrator and Colonial Secretary were combined. The population at that time was 18,051 with exports of sugar at 65,467 cwt; rum 26,050 gals; and molasses 7,780 cwt.

By 1882, labour was very scarce. There were 32 distilleries on the island, but only 17 were working. Tobago had no public debt by 1883. The Agriculture Society held its first show and the opening day was declared a public holiday. At this time, two-thirds of the island was covered with forest. A Royal Commission (Crossman Commission) arrived from London, having been sent to the West Indies to enquire into conditions in Tobago and the other Islands.

CharlottevilleIn 1884 news was received that the firm, Messrs.A.M.Gillespie & Co. of London, had stopped payment. For many years this firm had carried on business in Tobago as commission merchants and ship owners. They had a virtual monopoly of agriculture and shipping interest, owning about four-fifths of the sugar estates. This event brought about the financial collapse of Tobago. Estates were sold for ten shillings an acre. Peasants took advantage of this offer, but this left little labour for the estates.

The Royal Commission recommended, in 1885, that Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Tobago be made into one colony, provided that the proposal was acceptable to the majority of the inhabitants. This met with much opposition, so the matter was dropped. Later in the year, Barbados was made a separate colony and the other islands became the Windward Group, with a Governor in Grenada. Each Island retained its Legislature, presided over by a Resident Administrator. There was a sugar crisis in the West Indies in 1886. Tobago was in a state of depression due to lack of capital, immigrant labour and cultivation of the soil. Modern methods were necessary for the development of the island. By an Order in Council, dated October 20th 1888, Tobago was made subordinate to Trinidad, as from January 1st 1889. The island was to be administered by a Resident Commissioner, who was ex officio a member of the Trinidad Legislative Council and appointed by the Governor of Trinidad.

Courland Bay jettyIn 1890, the population of Tobago was 18,353 with revenue of £8,695 and expenditure of £9,253. Imports were £23,403 and exports £19,371. Crops produced that year consisted of: sugar 22,382 cwt; rum 3,432 gals; molasses 7,360 cwt; coconuts 543,312; cacao 31 bags.

By 1898 the island was broke and in debt. It became a ward of Trinidad. "Tobago's humiliation was complete." (Eric Williams: History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, p150). The Botanical Garden was started in 1899 and cultivation of cocoa began at Richmond.

Tobago Satellite Map

Enjoy interactive satellite maps of Tobago. If you have Google Earth download the map here. If not, click the map below to view in a browser window.

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Page Updated: 18 Aug 17