THOSE priceless photos taken of the Indian indentured labourers on their arrival at the human processing depot on Nelson Island show an impoverished people exhausted, dispirited and wary of their future on the mainland.

But by the end of their five-year indentureship, the majority would choose to stay, accepting Crown land instead of the free trip back to the Motherland.

However, it is a little known fact that not all who made the voyage from India came on contract. Some paid their passage and arrived on the island free of encumbrance, says genealogist Shamshu Deen who has researched and found the roots, in India, of many Trinidadians.

The rich Indian immigrant who built a mansion

Bishnu Dial holds a photograph of his deceased father Prem Dial, who helped build the great house. PHoto: Dexter Philip

Then there is the case of man named Mandary who met wife Ooozerone on the voyage to Trinidad in 1856, and returned to India 22 years later with their four children.

Within two years, the family (without Mandary who had since died) returned to Trinidad on November 8, 1882 aboard the vessel, the Scottish Admiral. Among the children was Prabhu, who would take the name Prabhudial Maharaj, and make his fortune in the cocoa planted in east Trinidad, a wealthy Indian at a time when most of his race lived in barracks and shacks.

The industry that was King cocoa, crashed in the 1920s, but not before Prabhudial built what would become his legacy. In 1918, the year after the end of Indian Indentureship, he began constructing the family home.

He chose a gentle slope at Sangre Chiquito, with a long driveway leading to the main road heading to Manzanilla, a spot that invited the traveller to consider the elegance of the house but discourage anyone from coming too close.

The rich Indian immigrant who built a mansion

The great house at Sangre Chiquito, belonging to the Dial family. Photo: Dexter Philip

It took him two years to build, and he spared no expense. And when it was completed, it rivalled any of the east coast great houses (several of which still survive) which were influenced by Trinidad's British, French and Spanish heritage.

Prabudial Maharaj would have two marriages and at least twelve children before his death. His first-born, Prem Dial (1898-1966), who was bequeathed the house, also had two marriages that produced seven children.

The second to last child, Vishnu Dial (born 1949) now owns the home and lives there with a brother and their families. And he knows the place is something special.

Dial said: “I have lived my entire life here. It was already old when I was born. My father told me that it took two years to build, and they used the very best material. The front walls (mortared and shaped to look like bricks) have thousands of river stones, and the fretwork was patterned after what my grandfather saw in India”.

There was a detached kitchen at the back made of tapia walls, to prevent an accidental fire from torching the place, and concrete cistern for storing rainwater.

Nearby were the coca drying and store houses, where the beans would be bagged for transport into Sangre Grange, where it would be weighed, sold and transported out of the area by rail. Those buildings are gone now and the attic can no longer be accessed, but surviving it all was the antique Ansonia Octagon clock, older even than the house, under which generations of Dials marked time. Pillars shaped into hands holding a sphere, stand at the base of the staircase.

The rich Indian immigrant who built a mansion

The Ansonia Clock Co. Octagon pendulum clock, older than the house itself. Photo: Dexter Philip

Why Prabhudial had commissioned the sculptures is lost to time, but the family would like to believe it to be a message from a man who then “had the whole world in his hands”.

Restoration architect and executive president of the Citizens for Conservation group Rudylynn Roberts knows more than most, about the country's architectural heritage.

She said of the Dial family house: "The house is a typical George brown influenced great house with a central porte cochere and gallery. This gallery is enclosed with jalousies and windows suggesting a British influence. The Building is wood framed with adobe masonry infill, lime and river sand and gravel with a high organic content. The front of the house is rendered to look like masonry blocks. It is built above the ground, perhaps (five feet) at the front, allowing proper ventilation for the timber floor structure.

The wood wall sill is prominent and part of the architectural detailing. The house sit on masonry piers with the front foundation wall scored like large blocks to match the front walls. The Classical styled entrance staircase is at odds with the building, and may or may not be original. An examination of the materials would help to determine this.

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This masonry staircase with its heavy classical balusters and top rail is covered by a delicate exquisitely graceful wooden porte cochere. The handmade fretwork, matching in pattern with the designs on the inside of the house is reminiscent of Mughal architecture detailing from Northern India. Flowers and vines intertwining carved into stone or inlaid as at the Taj Mahal (in India) were probably the inspiration for this design. I am not sure about the central motif, but it does somewhat resemble one used on temples in North India. The sunburst in the doorway is a design or figure commonly used in architectural ornaments and design patterns.

It consists of rays or “beams” radiating out from a central disk in the manner of sunbeams. Here part of a sunburst, a semicircular shape, is used with the rays getting wider further from the center as was typical of 19th Century architectural decoration.

The sunburst motif is characteristic of Baroque church metalwork, especially monstrances and votive crowns, and Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles as well as church architecture. A sunburst is frequently used in emblems and military decorations and widely used in Caribbean Architecture.

The front elevation windows are a typical composition of fixed and adjustable timber framed ventilation. These casement windows with adjustable wooden jalousies on either side, fixed fretwork in a fanlight above the window and small panes of glass over the top of the entire composition.

These small panes of glass are a popular “arts and crafts” detail. Along the side is a Demerara Window, again typical of the period and detailed as benefiting a Great House. The back of the house is much simpler, with smoothly plastered walls and simple fenestration. The high roof is graced with finials at the gabled ends and the roof changes angle above the half polygon shaped front room. Again this detail is typical of the houses of the Victoria Square district in Port of Spain.

The attic is ventilated by pivoted gable end windows with fixed wooden jalousies at either side. As with the area under the main floor, this ventilated attic kept the roof timbers dry, protecting the structure from wet rot and termites”.

Citizens for Conservation will be pleased to learn that the Dial family has no intention of destroying or altering what has stood at the spot for almost a hundred years".

The rich Indian immigrant who built a mansion

Vishnu Dial holding the hat worn by his deceased father, Prem Dial. Photo: Dexter Philip

“I will not break it. It will be passed on to the children” said Vishnu Dial.

NOTE: Richard Charan is a writer and Multimedia Editor with CCN. You can contact him at richcharan@gmail.com

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