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Remembering Christopher Columbus

Sunday, July 15, 2012
Back in Times
The anchor of Christopher Columbus at the National Museum in Port-of-Spain, where it has been displayed since 1912.

In 1985, the Discovery Day holiday was abolished and replaced with Emancipation Day, which celebrated the end of slavery in the British Empire. Discovery Day was once celebrated in every village, with fetes, dances and even horse races on the beach at Moruga and Icacos.


On July 31, 1498, Alonzo Perez, native of Huelva in Spain, sighted three points of land from the mast of the brigantine Vaquenos. Perez was part of the crew that sailed from Spain that same May, under the command of the intrepid adventurer and discoverer of the new world, Christopher Columbus. Upon receiving the intelligence that land had been sighted and a description thereof, Columbus immediately christened the new land “La Trinidad” in honour of the Holy Trinity.


It never ceases to amaze me as a historian that our children are still taught that Columbus discovered Trinidad while at the helm of the Santa Maria, followed by the Nina and the Pinta, even though all three had been sunk by the time he sailed on his third voyage of discovery in 1498.


After making several anchorages and encountering hostile natives off Icacos, Columbus sailed into the Gulf of Paria, past Chacachacare and then out of the history of the island. He himself never actually set foot on the soil, since he was afflicted by painful attacks of gout. He did, however, leave behind one great relic to mark his presence.


On the night of the 2nd, according to EL Joseph (1838), “a remarkable swell occurred which alarmed the crews exceedingly.” This swell is occasioned by a change in the tide which causes water to rush into the Gulf of Paria. This current—later called La Remou—caused the anchor of the Vaquenos to be severed from its cable and it was lost. The soil at Icacos is mainly sand and silt deposited over thousands of years by the Orinoco floods, so the spot where the anchor was lost became dry land.


In 1877, labourers on Constance Estate unearthed a large anchor almost 200 feet from the shoreline. It was cleaned and exhibited by the estate owner, Francois Agostini, who sent it to fairs in Rome, Paris and Chicago, where it was positively identified as a bronze anchor of 15th-century Spanish origin, undoubtedly Columbus’.


Upon its return to Trinidad, the anchor was proudly displayed on the estate, before being given to the Royal Victoria Institute (now the National Museum) in Port-of-Spain in 1912, where it was installed in the courtyard. In the 1920s, a devastating fire gutted the building, destroying many irreplaceable artefacts, but the anchor survived.


When the museum was re-opened in 1928, the anchor was again a star attraction. It may still be seen today, sporting a length of its original chain and a brass plaque telling a little of its history. It is a proud connection with the great discoverer that few Trinidadians know exists.


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