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Trinidad Island, West Indies

TRINIDAD ISLAND, WEST INDIES, the most southerly and, with the exception of Jamaica, the largest of the British West Indian Islands. Pop. (1901), 236,397. It is situated 6 m. E. of the coast of Venezuela, between 10 3' and 10 50' N. and 60 39' and 62 W. Its average length is 48 m., its breadth 35 m. and its area 1754 sq. m. In shape it is almost square, but it throws off two peninsulas westward from its north and south' corners. Corozal Point projecting from its north-western and Icacos Point from its south-western extremity enclose the Gulf of Paria. To the west of Corozal Point lie several islands, of which Chacachacare, Huevos Monos and Monos Caspar Grande are the most important. The surface is level or undulating, excepting in the north and south where there are ranges of hills, with eastern and western axes, prolongations of the Venezuelan coast ranges. Of these the northern is the more elevated ridge, its highest point being Tucuche Peak (3100 ft.). The southern hills attain an elevation of 600 ft. A small ridge runs east to west by south through the centre of the island, from Manzanilla Point to San Fernando, having an isolated elevation in Mt Tamana (1028). The hills of the northern and southern ranges are furrowed by innumerable ravines, and are clad to their summits with dense forests. There are numerous small streams, none navigable, and all flowing either east or west.

In its geology, as well as in its flora and fauna. Trinidad differs little from the mainland, with which it was probably at one time connected. There are four mineral springs and several mud volcanoes, but the two most striking natural featuresare the Maracas Falls, and the Pitch Lake. The Maracas Falls are situated at the head of a valley of the same name, to the north-east of Port of Spain, where the river leaps in a foaming torrent over a sheer wall of rock, 312 ft. high. The Pitch Lake lies some 38 m. by water south-east of the capital, in the ward of La Brea. It is circular in form, about 3 m. in circumference, and 104 acres in extent. Underground forces acting on the pitch cause it to rise in unequal masses, which are rounded off like huge mushrooms, separated from one another by narrow fissures, in which the rainwater collects and forms pools. Near the centre of the lake the pitch is always soft and can be observed bubbling up in a liquid state. When the Sun is hot the lightest footfall leaves an impression and the pitch emits an unpleasant odour. The soil of the surrounding district is charged with asphalt, but is very fertile, while the road to the neighbouring port of La Brea, running on a bed of asphalt, moves slowly towards the sea like a glacier The lake is worked by a company which exports the asphalt to the United States; paying royalty to the local government on every ton exported.

The mountain range which runs along the north coast is formed of clay-slates, micaceous and talcose schists, and crystalline and compact limestones, constituting the group called the Caribbean series, the age of which is unknown. The rest of the island is composed of Cretaceous, Tertiary and Quaternary strata. The Cretaceous beds rise to the surface in the centre and are flanked to north and south by the later deposits. Owing to the rarity of satisfactory sections the relations of the various divisions of the Tertiary formation are still somewhat obscure; but they are grouped by J. B. Harrison into (i) Nariva and San Fernando beds, = Eocene and Oligqcene; (2) Naparima marls = Miocene and (3) Moruga series = Pliocene and Pleistocene. The Naparima marls consist of a lower division containing Globigerina and an upper division with Radiolaria and diatoms and are clearly of deep-sea origin. The bitumen of the Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits appears to have been formed by the decomposition of vegetable matter. Salses or mud volcanoes occur upon the island, but there is no evidence of true volcanic action in Tertiary or recent times, except the presence of occasional bands of pumiceous earth in some of the Tertiary deposits, and the pumice in these cases was probably derived from a distance.

The presence of oil in large quantities in Trinidad had been suspected for many years, and early in the 20th century the government undertook a geological survey to determine the probabilities of an industry. This survey revealed the presence of a series of anticlines at payable depths in the southern division of the island, and experimental borings by three companies at La Brea and Point Fortin in the south-west and Guayaguayare in the south-east proved the presence of oil in large quantities. In 1910 the commercial exploitation of Trinidad oil was being rapidly pushed forward.

The soil of the island is exceedingly rich, and well adapted to the growth of tropical products, especially of sugar and cocoa, which are its staples. The planting of new lands is rapidly progressing, the greater part of the unsold crown lands (various blocks of which have been formed into forest or water reserves) being covered with forests, containing a valuable supply of timber. Poisonous and medicinal herbs grow everywhere. Owing to the variety of its resources, Trinidad has suffered less from general depression than the other islands in the British West Indies. It exports cocoa, sugar, rum, molasses, coffee, tobacco, coco-nuts, fruit, timber, dyewoods, balata gum, india-rubber and asphalt. Large quantities of tonga-beans, the produce of the mainland, are cured in bond at Port of Spain. The manufacture of bitters (Angostura and others) is an important industry, as is also the raising of stock. In addition Trinidad has a large carrying trade with the neighbouring republics, and rivals St Thomas (q.v.) as a centre of distribution for British and American merchandise through the West Indies and Venezuela.

Lying in the tract of the trade winds and being practically a part of the mainland, Trinidad is immune from the vicissitudes of climate to which the other Antilles are exposed. It is never visited by hurricanes and its seasons are regular, wet from May to January, with a short dry season in October known as the Indian summer and lasting usually about four weeks, and dry from end of January to middle of May. The average annual rainfall is 66-26 in. and the mean temperature is 78-6 F. A volunteer force was established in 1879, and now consists of infantry, garrison artillery and three companies of Light Horse stationed in Port of Spain, San Fernando and St Joseph. Elementary education is given chiefly in the state-aided schools of the different denominations, but there are a number of entirely secular schools managed by the government. The Presbyterian schools are conducted by a Canadian mission. Instruction is free, but in some few schools fees are paid. Agriculture is a compulsory subject in all the primary schools. Higher education is provided by the Queen's Royal College, a secular institution, to which the Presbyterian Naparima College and the Roman Catholic St Mary's College are affiliated. Attached to these colleges are four scholarships of the annual value of 150 for four years, tenable at any British university. The religious bodies, both Christian and pagan are exceedingly numerous. The Roman Catholics (with an archbishop at Port of Spain) and the Anglicans, with the bishop of Trinidad at their head, are the more powerful bodies. Of the inhabitants of the island, one-third are East Indians. Immigration from India is conducted under government control, and the prosperity of Trinidad is largely due to the contract labour obtained under this system. Of the rest the upper classes are Creoles of British, French and Spanish blood, while the lower classes are of pure or mixed negro origin, with a few Chinese. English is spoken in the towns and in some of the country districts, but in the north and generally in the cocoa-growing areas a French patois prevails, and in several districts Spanish is still in use. English money is legal tender, as also is the United States gold currency. Accounts are kept in dollars by the general public, but in sterling by the government. There is a complete system of main and local roads constructed or under construction; there are about 90 m. of railways, and practically all the towns of any size can be reached from Port of Spain by rail. Steamers ply daily between Port of Spain and the islands at the northern entrance to the Gulf of Paria and between San Fernando (the southern terminus of the railway) and the south-western ports of the island, while two steamers of the Royal Mail Company under contract connect Port of Spain with the other parts of Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain is also in direct communication with Southampton.

The colony (Trinidad and Tobago) is administered by a governor assisted by an executive council and a legislative council of twenty members of whom ten are officials sitting by virtue of office and ten are unofficials nominated by the Crown. Port of Spain, the capital, is situated on the west coast on the shores of the Gulf of Paria. It is considered one of the finest towns in the West Indies, its streets are regular and well shaded, its water supply abundant, and an excellent service of tramways connects the various quarters of the town. It has two cathedrals, a fine block of public buildings containing the principal government departments, the courts of justice and the legislative council chamber, many other large government buildings, a public library, and many good shops, while one of its most beautiful features is its botanical garden, in which the residence of the governor is situated. The harbour is an open roadstead, safe and sheltered, but so shallow that large ships have to He at anchor half a mile from the jetties. It is, nevertheless, the place of shipment not only for the produce of the entire island but also for that of the Orinoco region. The population is about 55,000. The other towns are San Fernando (pop. 7613), also on the Gulf of Paria, about 30 m. south of the capital; and Arima (pop. 4076), an inland town 16 m. by rail east of Port of Spain.

Trinidad was discovered by Columbus in 1496. It remained in Spanish possession (although its then capital, San Jose de Oruna, was burned by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595) until 1797, when a British expedition from Martinique caused its capitulation. It was finally ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.

See F. Eversley, The Trinidad Reviewer (London, 1900); Stark's Guide-book and History of Trinidad (London); the Journal of the Royal Colonial Institute, passim; and for geology, G. P. Wall and J. G. Sawkins, Report on the Geology of Trinidad (London, 1860); J. B. Harrison and A. J. Jukes-Browne, " The Oceanic Deposits of Trinidad " (British West Indies), Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. (London, 1899), Iv. 177-189; R. J. L. Guppy, " The Growth of Trinidad, " Trans. Canadian Inst. (1905), viii. 137-149, with plate. The last paper gives a list of all the more important works and papers on the geology of the island.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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