When the British armed forces under Admiral Ralph Abercromby seized Trinidad from Spain in 1797 it inherited a very weak defence and communications network. The whole of the island was virtually unprotected, with the exception of pitiful batteries hastily erected in the 1780s by Don Jose Maria Chacon at Gasparee Island, Pointe Gourde and Laventille (Fort Chacon). The ancient Fort San Andres (now the Museum of the City of Port-of-Spain) was worse than useless, with its tiny rampart and small cannon.Governor Thomas Picton–a hard military commander–erected in 1798, a stone Martello Tower in Laventille which was soon known as Picton's Folly, since it offered no protection to the town, rather commanding a tenuous land approach through the swamps and hills.
In 1804, Governor Thomas Hislop finally constructed a proper defence post at La Vigie, which he named Fort George after King George III. On the heights overlooking Las Cuevas and facing the Caribbean sea, Fort Abercromby was erected.Here, on June 7, 1805, the commanding officer sighted a mighty war fleet. At the time, England was an enemy of Republican France and the hapless officer thought he had spotted the French Navy en route to despoil British Trinidad. Without consultation, he spiked his two cannon (rendering them forever useless as weapons) and fled with all haste to Port-of-Spain to carry the grim news–only to discover that the ships he saw belonged to the fleet commanded by none other than the heroic Lord Horatio Nelson, who was patrolling the Caribbean in search of the French. There is no record of what reprimand was meted out to the commander of Fort Abercromby for his foolhardiness.
The incident did highlight the need for an effective communications system, both for civilian and military purposes. The days of telegraph were far away, so on a high point overlooking the Diego Martin Valley, a small wooden house was erected and a queer pole next to it with several balls and flags suspended on crossbars.In the Spanish days, a sporadic watch had been posted here because of its vantage point. A similar facility was erected at Fort George (where a signal house was later installed, being designed by an African prince) and yet another on the PoS waterfront at Fort San Andres.The Diego Martin signal station became known as the North Post and was the first point at which incoming shipping was sighted. Using a coded signalling system, it communicated using the balls and flags with Fort George, the message being eventually transmitted to Port-of-Spain via Fort San Andres. The signalmen used brass telescopes to sight the readings.The North Post was described in 1887 by JH Collens as follows: "There is a choice of two roads, one leading to the North Post, the other to the Blue Basin; let us begin with the former.
At the end of the level we have before us what Brother Jonathan would term 'rising ground.' It is a pretty steep ascent, not by any means practicable for a trap, nor indeed for every description of horse and rider; 20 minutes, however, honestly expended, will bring you to within a short distance of the summit, where the slope becomes more gradual, as though nature had wisely arranged that one of her masterpieces should not be spoiled by having the faculty of enjoyment on the part of the sight-seer deadened through fatigue."At length the North Post reached, you are 740 feet above the sea-level, and then what a glorious vista opens to view! Looking seawards it is simply sublime–to the East and within a mile may be descried a few small islets, the sea breaking over them in milk-white foam. Farther in the same direction Tobago may be discerned, while due North, distant 90 miles, the dim outline of Grenada and some of the Grenadines may be distinctly made out on a clear day. From this point of vantage all vessels approaching the island are seen many miles off, and their arrival telegraphed by signal to Port-of-Spain via Fort George."
The North Post continued to be used right down into the 20th century even after telegraph communication arrived on these shores, and though the days of the signal pole are long gone, it is still essential to the national communications network, since TSTT has erected a satellite receiver on the site of the original signal station. The windswept ridge affords excellent views of the Caribbean Sea and the Bocas de Drago.