The captions to this photograph reads "British fire engine at the Fire Service Headquarters in Port of Spain". (March 1962)
T&T’s history in photos
From 19th century to 1962...
Richard Charan firstname.lastname@example.org
Rampersad Mootilal is not the crying kind of man. Grandson of Indian indentured immigrants, “Mootie” has long stopped shedding tears to express pain or loss. At 78, he has lived to see the death of his wife, two of his four children in their infancy, both parents, and three of his siblings.
Mootie said he was not an emotional man. He lives in a wooden house added to the one of his parents, and accepts his circumstances.
The house at Warrenville, built back in the 1960s, has an unimpeded view of the Caroni floodplain and the Northern Range as its backdrop.
Mootie has never been prosperous and never expects to be. He has lived off the land - from rice fields to garden to sugarcane plantation - and he has never taken a “vacation”, or left the island of Trinidad. Here he was born and here he will die, he said.
Mootie is also not a sentimental man, but he wept last week. And all that it took to break him was a photograph, a faded black and white image. It shows two men in the act of threshing sheaves of rice against a crude but sturdily built bamboo platform in a rice field under a cloudy sky.
In the image, a third man approaches with a bundle, and a boy, arms folded, looks to him. Mootie did not know the people in the photograph, taken near St Augustine Village in 1955. But for someone with no family photographs, except on identification cards, the image of the rice farmers took him back to a time when he, too, did this, for too many years.
The Express spent several days in Warrenville, St Augustine and Caroni, showing this photograph and other similar images to the older residents of the area.
The photographs are stored in the British national archive, which holds more than 1,000 years of records. The images are from the Colonial Office library photographic collection and the Central Office of Information British Empire collection of photographs. They were added to Flickr (a photo and video hosting website) last year, with an invitation that viewers take on the role of researcher.
“We need your comments and feedback to help bring this collection to life so that we can share your Caribbean stories and histories with global audiences... In many instances, we know little about the contents of the photographs or the people depicted in them. This is one of the reasons why we have published them online and asked people to comment and share their knowledge” the National Archive UK wrote.
A total of 357 photographs from Trinidad and Tobago have been posted.
The images span a period from the 19th century to Independence in 1962. Some of the photos have captions and specific dates for when they were made. Others have been lost in time.
It’s a diverse mix. There are breathtaking views of a young Port of Spain and the hills of Laventille, images of the Queen’s Park Savannah, the public buildings and churches and main streets of the city dating back to between 1870 and 1890, the reservoir that existed in the Maraval Valley, the still tree-lined walkways of the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, the Governor’s Residence (now President’s House) in its glory days, an unrecognisable Marine Square, the city suburb, the tram lines crisscrossing Fredrick Street, the train sheds in Port of Spain, the Dry River, and images of the city in 1939, and Macqueripe Bay, as the world ticked down to World War II.
There is a photograph of the bungalows of Techier Village, Point Fortin, where the daily paid employees of United British Oilfields of Trinidad (UBOT) lived. There are multiple images of the slums that existed around Port of Spain that were replaced by housing development that now have become crime hotspot.
There are images of life in the Carerra Island prison, one showing the prison band called the Light Classic Orchestra, another showing the Training School for Prison Officers at Golden Grove. There is a photo with the caption “Government’s Works and Hydraulics Department has provided an adequate standpipe water service for this new village. Mr EJ Clovis, Acting Assistant Warden, County Caroni, discusses progress of a house with residents” at Frederick Settlement, Caroni, one of many images of the area taken in 1949. There are incredibly detailed photos of the Water Riots and Red House fire of 1903, and pictures of The University of the West Indies, British West Indies Airways and San Fernando General Hospital (in 1955), and the now defunct Police Marine Branch.
More important than the places frozen in time by these colonial-era photographers are the anonymous people who appear in the images. It is the reason that the Express went to Warrenville first. To find Elsinia. She is in a photograph which shows an intimacy not often seen. The date recorded is June 5, 1949. The photographer got her full name—Elsinia Sunday Singh and her age as six years old. The name is unusual. It may or may not be accurate. She is being held by two bearded men. It could be her father and grandfather. The younger man kisses her wrist. She laughs. The photo is taken. The Express could not find her. If she is alive today, she would be a 70-year-old. It’s left up to Express readers to tell the story of Elsenia, and help us go in search of the identity and circumstances of these people in the hundreds of other images that are part of who we were.
The entire collection of photographs can be viewed at: www.flickr.com/photos/nationalarchives/collections/72157630635006206/