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The King of Monos Island I

Published: 
Sunday, December 25, 2016
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MONOS ISLANDS

Monos Island is now best known as a holiday resort, but for the latter part of the 18th century and well into the 1920s it was an actual community with public officers, a chapel, and families who resided there all year round. The bays of the island were each occupied by a family, foremost among them being the Tardieus who were the great whalers and fishermen of Trinidad in a bygone era.

Brave, hardy and hospitable, the Tardieus were well known as boat builders as well as fishermen and were synonymous with Monos for nearly two centuries.

Outsiders were few in the isolated island paradise. In 1849 one of the Tardieu girls married a ruddy Scotsman named William Morrison.

He settled in La Vallette (later called Grand Fond) Bay and held the post of government bailiff (sort of like a ward officer charged with collection of rates and taxes) at the puling salary of one pound 18 pence per month.

As such, he farmed and fished to support his wife and family, and who live like the Swiss Family Robinson in their solitude.

The great English author, Charles Kingsley visited Trinidad and Monos, too in 1870. He was enchanted by the lifestyle of Morrison and his brood and soliloquised thus:

“We beached the boat close to the almond-tree, and were welcomed on shore by the lord of the cove, a gallant red-bearded Scotsman, with a head and a heart; a handsome Creole wife, and lovely brownish children, with no more clothes on than they could help.

“An old sailor, and much wandering Ulysses, he is now coast-guardman, water-bailiff, policeman, practical warden, and indeed practical viceroy of the island, and an easy life of it he must have.

“The sea gives him fish enough for his family, and for a brawny brown servant. His coco-nut palms yield him a little revenue; he has poultry, kids, and goats’ milk more than he needs; his patch of provision-ground in the place gives him corn and roots, sweet potatoes, yam, tania, cassava, and fruit too, all the year round.

“He needs nothing, owes nothing, fears nothing. News and politics are to him like the distant murmur of the surf at the back of the island; a noise which is nought to him. His Bible, his almanac, and three or four old books on a shelf are his whole library.

“He has all that man needs, more than man deserves, and is far too wise to wish to better himself.

“I sat down on the beach beneath the amber shade of the palms; and watched my friends rushing into the clear sea, and disporting themselves there like so many otters, while the policeman’s little boy launched a log canoe, not much longer than himself, and paddled out into the midst of them, and then jumped upright in it, a little naked brown Cupid whereon he and his canoe were of course upset, and pushed under water, and scrambled over, and the whole cove rang with shouts and splashing, enough to scare away the boldest shark, had one been on watch off the point.

“I looked at the natural beauty and repose; at the human vigour and happiness: and I said to myself, and said it often afterwards in the West Indies: It is not true that nature is here too strong for man.

“I have seen enough in Trinidad, I saw enough even in’ little Monos, to be able to deny that; and to say, that in the West Indies, as elsewhere, a young man can be pure, able, high-minded, industrious, athletic : and I see no reason why a woman should not be likewise all that she need be.

“A cultivated man and wife, with a few hundreds a year—just enough, in fact, to enable them to keep a Coolie servant or two, might be really wealthy in all which constitutes true wealth and might be useful also in their place; for each such couple would be a little centre of civilisation for the Negro, the Coolie and it may be for certain young adventurers who, coming out merely to make money and return as soon as possible, are but too apt to lose, under the double temptations of gain and of drink, what elements of the “Gentle Life” they have gained from their mothers at home.”

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