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The Tobago Gaol—PART 1

Saturday, November 19, 2016
Back in Times
Scarborough in the 1870s.

Around 1769 the capital of Tobago moved to Scarborough from Studley Park and thus needed some sort of garrison. By May 1770, barracks, a powder magazine, military hospital and cistern had been erected on Scarborough Hill on the site of a French battery known as Fort Castries.

The garrison and its military hospital suffered badly from the nearby swamp in Bacolet which spread malaria and yellow fever with the clouds of mosquitoes which descended in the evening. Moreover, alcoholism seemed to decimate the soldiers. This citadel failed to defend the island from a French recapture in 1781 despite a gallant defense by the governor and his regulars and militia.

The Treaty of Amiens in 1802 formally ceded Tobago to France, but 1803 was the year for the return of the British who finally held on to their colony by way of treaty in 1814. Thereafter followed a period of peace wherein the complex at the fort performed many civil functions, including accommodating the gaol.

Both the fort and garrison are described thus in 1837: “Fort King George is on an eminence above Scarborough, the ascent to which is steep, though a good carriage road leads to the summit, which is just a mile from the court house. From many miles round, in every direction, the eye rests upon this fort, and the view from it is extensive.

It is small, but compact: contains good barracks, a hospital, magazines, stores, and seven large tanks supplied by rain water, of which they always contain a sufficient quantity for the use of the garrison, excepting in seasons of great drought.”

The West India Regiment remained encamped at the stockade. In 1854 post-emancipation Tobago was enjoying a period of bucolic serenity and it was decided to withdraw the military garrison from the island and replace it with a civilian militia and police force.

The decision was recounted thus in 1866: “It was in the month of January, 1854, that the troops composing the garrison of Fort King George, and kept there by the British government for the protection of the island, were withdrawn—her Majesty's Government having resolved to concentrate the forces stationed in the smaller islands at Barbados, and to leave those colonies to their own resources for the preservation of internal peace and order.

It was, however, promised by the home government that provision should be made for a ship of war to be constantly within call of Barbados, for the conveyance of troops to any of the islands in case of necessity; and all the military buildings, with a proportion of small arms in the several colonies whence the troops were removed, were placed at their disposal.

“An act was passed on the 11th January, immediately before the troops left, titled An Act to augment the Police Force, by which an efficient armed police, consisting of an inspector-general, a superintending sergeant, two sergeants, six corporals, and twenty- four privates, were embodied.

These were instructed in the use of the firelock and in military movements, so as to render them, as far as their numbers would permit, not only civil constabulary, but an available military body. At the same time an act was passed to legalise the embodiment of armed volunteer corps.

These measures of defence proved neither unnecessary nor premature, as a plot to burn and pillage the town, murder the white inhabitants, and violate the females, was discovered by the confession of an accomplice.

“Two of the ringleaders, emigrant negroes from Barbados, named Joseph Arthur and Thomas Millington, were arrested and tried for a conspiracy; and, being found guilty, were sentenced to two years' imprisonment, to pay each a fine of ten pounds, and on the expiration of their imprisonment to find security for their good behaviour for six years, and to continue in prison until such security should be given. This sentence was, in effect, one of imprisonment for life, from the inability of the parties to give the required security; but Millington, being threatened with blindness, was released from prison by Governor Shortland; and on the 5th April, 1858, Governor Drysdale, by an exercise of the Eoyal prerogative of mercy, released Arthur from confinement. This measure, although at the time strongly opposed by the local authorities, was approved of at Downing Street; and Arthur is now a steady and respectable man of his class in the island.”


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