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Tobago linked to Trinidad by necessity
We sometimes forget that before 1889, Tobago was a separate colony from Trinidad, responsible for its own affairs. A planter militia existed from 1770 as a control mechanism against slave uprisings. Every white male over 21 was required to join the militia, which carried ranks and uniforms. Tobago is an island which preserved its West African heritage against the onslaught of chattel slavery, and its people were little inclined to put up with the oppressions of colonialism.
In 1854, all British troops on the island were recalled, being replaced by a scanty police force. In 1876, unrest erupted on a cocoa estate near Roxborough. The manager of the estate was attacked, chased into the high woods and never seen again. The estate house was burnt down. As disorder spread, the five policemen in the village led by Corporal Belmanna reacted. Belmanna was a Barbadian, hated as a bully. A scuffle ensued between the police and rioters, and allegedly, a civilian was shot.
The mob went berserk and the police fled, barricading themselves in the station. Surrounding the building, the mob threatened to burn it down if Belmanna was not handed over. Corporal Reid lowered himself through some gaps in the floorboards and hid himself under the edifice. Tobago was facing total anarchy. A frantic message was dispatched by boat to Barbados, where the Royal Navy maintained a fleet of warships.
Meanwhile, back in Roxborough, Belmanna had been seized by the insurrectionists. He was beaten badly and mutilated. A woman, called Ti Piggi (because of her porcine appearance) was said to have gouged out Belmanna’s eyes and then stabbed him fatally. The corpse was then set alight.
Reid was found in hiding, dragged out and thrashed. The other four policemen in the station were also assaulted, stripped and humiliated. One was made to sit atop a stool in the middle of the road while being pressed to consume the liquid of 20 coconuts before being released.
For a week, the rioters held sway, until a warship hove into sight. Using tact, its captain sent a boat ashore with an emissary who thanked the rioters for “keeping the peace” and not destroying public property. He invited the gang aboard to be decorated for their “service.” The rioters fell for the ploy and boarded by the dozen. When the captain was satisfied that the ship could hold no more, the insurrectionists were clapped in irons and taken to Scarborough to stand trial.
As a result, the colonial authorities realised that Tobago, weakened by recession and unrest, had to be allied to another colony. This led to the political linking of Trinidad and Tobago in 1889. The riot also had the effect of reviving the militia, which from 1877 had a detachment in Roxborough. The new militia also included many blacks, as it was realised that integration was a more sensible alternative to violence. The Tobago Militia lasted until 1913, when it was disbanded for the last time.
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