Last week, we looked at the story of the battle for Guadeloupe wherein the interloper British forces were expelled by a brutal fighting force under the island's former French administrator, Victor Hughes in 1794. The British Commander, Major General Dundas, had succumbed to yellow fever shortly before the recapture and was interred at Fort Matilda, overlooking Basseterre town. Hughes was unforgiving to his old adversary Dundas even in death, since the latter's remains were exhumed from their burial place and thrown in a river. It is possible that the corpse was retrieved, cremated and sealed in a stone urn and from here, it disappears from history.
On the subject of a suitable tribute to Dundas, his brother Charles who was treasurer of the navy, petitioned that a memorial be dedicated to his honour. This was successfully carried as Charles was a MP. The application was granted and an ornate cenotaph erected in St Paul's in London for which Charles was publicly thankful. A humble marble tablet was also inscribed and sent to the West Indies to some unknown correspondent who held the urn with Major Dundas' remains. This was in the year 1795.
Fast forward to 1839 and James Ross, a master mason was working on the renovation of a house on Edward Street in Port-of-Spain. His labourers were removing a pile of loose stones and rubble and made the discovery of a marble memorial tablet and urn.
The former was inscribed thus :
To the memory
Major-General THOMAS DUNDAS.
who, with great professional abilities,
and with a mind generous and brave,
fell a sacrifice to his Zeal and Exertion
in the service of his King and Country
on the third day of June, MDCCXCIV.
in the forty-fourth Year of his Age.
His Remains were interred
in the principal Bastion of FORT MATILDA,
in the Island of GUADALOUPE,
in the Conquest of which
he bore a most distinguished share,
and in which he Commanded at his death.
This Tablet was Erected
by a few of his Brother Officers
as a mark of their high Esteem
for his many valuable qualities
and their regret for his Loss.
On the find itself, an observer present at the time wrote:
"It is worthy of remark that the spot on which this tablet, etc., were found is near to a house once occupied by an ordnance store keeper of the name of Edwards. Two broken screws of brass were found sticking in the holes of the tablet, by which it would appear this memento had been already somewhere suspended; some pieces of stone or wall were also found adhering thereto. With reference to the memorial itself, the urn was found to be in a perfect state, while the tablet, it would appear, had a small piece detached from the corners by accident, and one of the pilasters is unfortunately missing. It is, however, hoped these trilling deficiencies can be without difficulty replaced, and that in testimony of the services of the gallant and lamented General it will find a place in the Protestant Cathedral of Trinidad, or (what would be more consonant to the feelings of the Dundas family, so memorable in the annals of their country , for " deeds of arms") that this tributary relic to the warrior be brought over to the Mother Country, and find a niche among the other revered memorials of our illustrious dead, or near the tombs of his ancestors."
The memorial was quite a find and it can only be speculated how it arrived in Trinidad. The urn and tablet of Major General Dundas was accorded the honour of a place in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1840 near the massive sculpture of Governor Sir Ralph Woodford (1813-28) by Richard Chantrey. In a postscript carried in a London paper that year (in an article recounting the death of Dundas) it was mentioned:
"It may be gratifying to readers to learn that this monumental tablet has been restored and is now erected in a conspicuous position in the Protestant Cathedral in Trinidad near that of the late, noble minded and generous hearted Governor Sir Ralph Woodford, the only real governor the isle of Trinidad has yet had the good fortune to possess."
When next you go to Port-of-Spain and can spare the time, take a walk into the cool interior of the Holy Trinity Cathedral and scan the walls for the urn and tablet of Major General Dundas, for you will be in the presence of the last vestige of a violent chapter of Caribbean history.