“A place where history comes alive among the dead.”
This is how Education and Outreach officer of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, Marlon Green describes the Lapeyrouse Cemetery in Port-of-Spain.
Green led a tour of about thirty people through the cemetery yesterday. The cemetery is located on the outskirts of the capital city on 20 acres of land that was once a thriving sugar estate.
Its architecture includes graves, tombs and mausoleums modelled after chapels that may bring to mind the set of a horror film at first glance but on closer inspection, one realises that many of those who helped shape and mould T&T are buried within its walls.
The walk lasted just over an hour and Green spouted historical facts and even a little wisdom when questioned by attendees.
He took the group to plots that serve as the final resting place for the French Dominican Sisters, nuns who came to Trinidad in 1860s to care for lepers on the island of Chacachacare.
Green said years later, the nuns were responsible for forming the Notre Dame school, which later became Holy Name Convent.
In another street, the expansive and beautiful mausoleum of the Siegert family left many of the group in awe.
Dr Johann Siegert created Angostura Bitters in 1824 while in Venezuela to treat stomach ailments. When he and his family settled in Trinidad years later, Siegert purchased the Woodbrook Estate from the island’s richest man at the time, William Burnely. Many of the streets in Woodbrook are named after the Siegert family.
Burnely’s grave is located on a street away but unlike the Siegert’s, the monument marking his spot is faded and moss-covered.
Marlon Green, Education Officer at the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago points to a grave with historical importance during a tour of the Lapeyrouse Cemetery in Port-of-Spain, yesterday.
Green said Burnley was once considered the richest man on the island and the largest slave owner. Burnely is also credited as being one of the first to suggest Indian indentured labourers be brought to the islands to replace slaves on the plantations.
When one member of the group remarked on the condition of Burnley’s grave, Green said: “In as much as we are taking a historical tour through Lapeyrouse, it also reminds us of our own position in life that at some point, in spite of what we accumulate here on Earth, there comes a point when we go either above or below and if you don’t have someone taking care of your stuff after, it is really like the wise King Solomon said, ‘It’s all vanity.’”
A short distance away was the grave of Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani—the man described as the pioneer of the nationalist movement in T&T. Artist Michel-Jean Cazabon was also buried in Lapeyrouse and his grave is marked by a small painting on the tombstone. Cazabon died in 1886 at the age of 75 and his works are internationally renowned.
But among the graves of the nation’s greats also lie two mostly-unmarked mass graves, where hundreds were buried in 1853 after they died from cholera. Louis De Verteuil, who is credited to have cared for hundreds of cholera patients, also lost three of his children to the disease. Those three were not buried in the family tomb in Lapeyrouse but placed in one of the unmarked graves.
De Verteuil and his family would later install plaques to remember his children along the wall that borders the mass graves.
Even as many bore sombre expressions on learning the fate of their countrymen who went before them, Green was able to share a lighter story as well.
He said among the symptoms of cholera was a coma-like state before death. One man was mistakenly taken to be buried, only to move at the last minute, proving he was alive after all. At that time, the cemetery also had a problem with feral goats, that tore into graves and disturbed the final resting places of the dead.
The lucky man was given a job to capture the goats and stop their rampage and earned himself the nickname “Lapo” for his troubles.
Green told Guardian Media that the Trust will continue its Lapeyrouse Tours in the coming weeks as there is a long wait-list of people who want to take the tour.
Green said the Trust also has tours upcoming in Paramin, on Nelson Island and in Rancho Quemado.