Sunday, January 21, 2018

The riots of Roxborough

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OLD POLICE STATION: The old Roxborough Police Station, the site of the Belmanna riots in 1876, is now used for community-related events.

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Tobago's character, its names and places were born out of warring, treaties and changes in governance.

Originally settled by Amerindians from the South American mainland, the island was fought ever by the Dutch, Spanish, British, French, settlers from Latvia, and buccaneers well into the 18th century.

The fighting ended (except the one between the Tobago House of Assembly and Central Government) when in 1803 the British captured it from the French.

Apart from wars, the island has had its fair share of riots and insurrections. Among the five known were the Belmanna Riots of 1876.

Disgruntled workers on the Roxborough Estate and other areas were at the time protesting bad working conditions when they were attacked by the police.

During the riot, Mary Jane Thomas, a Barbadian worker, was shot and killed by Corporal James Henry Belmanna, a police officer attached to the Roxborough Police Station.

Armed later with cutlasses, sticks, stones and other missiles, a group marched to the station, disarmed and beat police officers and killed Belmanna, according to the history books.

As rioting continued, the Roxborough Courthouse was wrecked, canefields and estate buildings burnt, and chaos was the order of the day.

A British warship and soldiers were eventually summoned to the scene to quell the disturbance.

After the riot, 16 persons were convicted for the murder of Belmanna and another 30 were imprisoned for rioting, it is recorded.

The then Tobago House of Assembly met and passed a resolution asking the British colonial government to devise a form of government conducive to its welfare. This request resulted in the abolition of the Tobago Constitution Act of 1876, and the granting of Crown Colony status for the island.

Gerard Holder, 75, who now lives close to the former Roxborough Estate where the riot took place, recalled his parents telling him about the incident.

He said, "Since the Belmanna incident, all the buildings associated with the riot have become very popular. Every day somebody coming up here to ask all kinds of questions."

The police station building where Belmanna was killed still exists. It is, however, now used by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs to conduct social intervention programmes.

Perhaps one day it may become a heritage site. The town's economy is largely dependent on agriculture.

Cocoa is planted in most areas, except on the hills where food crops are grown. The nearby Louis D'or agricultural station conducts experiments in growing clonal cocoa and the Roxborough Estate is one of Tobago's largest cacao plantations.

The cocoa beans produced on the estate are processed into cubes and shipped to markets in England and mainland Europe. Sheep and goat rearing is carried out on hillsides in the village, and a limited amount of fishing is done.

Roxborough is 17 miles from Scarborough. Situated along the narrow and winding Windward Road, it is the gateway to Tobago's nature reserves.

Roxborough was also once home to John Paul Jones, regarded as the father of the United States Navy. According to artist and historian Adrian Camps-Campins, "In 1772 the Roxborough Estate was owned in partnership, among others, by Archibald Stuart and a young Scotsman from Kirkcudbrightshire, by the name of John Paul Jones, who was a sailor, hero and Father of the American navy."

Jones became a famous captain in the American War of Independence. He died in Paris in 1792. In 1905 the US Congress paid for the transfer of his body to the US, where it was placed in the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Roxborough's strategic position as the gateway to Charlotteville, the North Coast Road, and the magnificent falls at Argyle also makes it an important stop-off point for visitors.