FAMILY HISTORY Told by Dorothy Isabel Carter, nee Mathison, of Trinidad, West Indies
My family is West Indian of mixed Spanish, French, Irish, Scottish and English blood. My father’s father and mother were first cousins, and the first Mathison to go out to the West Indies was their grandfather, Kenneth known to the family as “Major Kenneth” , although he went out to the West Indies as an officer in the Royal Navy.
“Major Kenneth” was born in Aird, Isle of Skye, in April 1790. He was the 3rd son of Kenneth Mathison, born 1750, and his wife, Catherine, nee Mackenzie. Our family in Trinidad corresponded with cousins in Skye until Grandpa Mathison’s death in 1914. My eldest aunt was christened Margarita, but because two old cousins in Skye always wrote of her as “Baby Maggie” she came to be called that by her family. A pity, Margarita is so much prettier.
Great-great-grandfather Kenneth joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman and in 1806 was sent out to the West Indian Station. The following extract from a Foreign Office List, published in London in 1867, gives details of his career from then until his death in 1866.
“Major Kenneth Mathison joined the Fleet on the West Indian Station under Sir Alexander Cochrane, the Earl of Dundonald, June 2, 1806, and continued on the station in active service until February 1810; was appointed a Lieutenant in the Loyal Trinidad Battalion of Militia, August 16, 1811; Captain in the North Naparima Cavalry and Infantry of Trinidad, April 151815; Major Commandant of Sea Fencibles, March 12, 1816, which regiment he commanded until June 1831 when it was disbanded and he retired with his rank.
During the years 1818 and 1819 he was employed by the Governor of Trinidad on the Spanish coast with the Brig of War, Fly, the Sloops of War, Brazin and Esk, and with the frigate Tribune. He was Superintendent of the disbanded African Soldiers settled in Trinidad in 1839 and 1840. Was appointed Unpaid Vice-Consul at Angostura in Venezuela, February 13, 1841, which post he held until January 29, 1845. Was appointed Vice-Consul at Bolivar, in Venezuela, February 27, 1847 to March 16, 1866 when he died” .
During the period when great-great-grandfather Kenneth was on active service with the British Navy in the West Indies many naval battles were fought in those waters between the British fleet and the combined French and Spanish fleets. In 1797, by a treaty which ended a series of such engagements, Trinidad, which until then had been a Spanish possession, was ceded to Britain. The Spanish governor at that time was Don Jose Maria Chacon, and he handed over the island to Sir Ralph Abercrombie, who thus became the first English governor of Trinidad. Sir Ralph Abercrombie was succeeded in the same year by Brigadier-General Thomas Picton, who was Governor until 1803, and in 1802 started the local Trinidad Militia. In 1803 Trinidad was put into the control of a three-man Commission the Commissioners being Colonel William Fullerton, Brigadier-General Thomas Picton and Commodore Samuel Hood, R.N. In the following year a new Governor, Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Hislop was appointed, and he remained in office until 1811. Sometime during this period the Earl of Dundonald’s Squadron, with young Kenneth Mathison on board, arrived at Trinidad. The exact date of this arrival is not known, but it must definitely have been before 1809, because in 1809 Kenneth married a Spanish girl, Senorita Isabel Berries. The Berries family had been living in Trinidad or on the South American mainland since the 16th century, and claimed to be descended from a Spanish conquistador, Don Antonio de Berrio, who had become the first Spanish civil governor of Trinidad in 1592. (See Appendix 1 for the history of Antonio de Barrio).
Why Major Kenneth gave up his naval career to remain in Trinidad is not known for certain. Family tradition said that it was because the then Governor of Trinidad took a great liking to him and persuaded him to do so, arranging his transfer to the Trinidad Militia with his naval commander, Lord Cochrane. It seems to me more probable that it was because Kenneth had fallen in love with and married a local girl; and the fact that he did not join the Trinidad Militia until more than a year after he left the navy seems to bear this out. In all probability there is some truth in both these suppositions. Whatever the reason, his leaving the navy must have been with the approval of his commanding officer, because Lord Cochrane acquired much land in Trinidad, which is still known and administered as The Dundonald Estates, and Lord Cochrane appointed Kenneth Mathison to be his Trinidad Agent —which post was handed down from father to son until 1957, when Uncle Sandy (my father’s older brother and Mercy Green’s father) died, leaving no male Mathison to carry on after him.
The history of Don Antonio de Berrio which I have written in Appendix 1 is taken from a book on the history of Trinidad, “The Loss of El Dorado”, by the Trinidad-born Indian author, V S Naipaul. From this book it would appear that the de Berrio family vanished from the Trinidad scene with the death of Don Antonio’s eldest son, Fernando. But though we have no written evidence to support our claim to be descended from Don Antonio, I prefer to believe the strong family tradition that Isabel Berries was descended, as her family claimed to be, from the second son of Don Antonio.
When Grandma Mathison died in 1935, Aunt Maggie, as eldest of the family, burnt a whole big trunkful of family letters and documents, many of which had in all probability been lying there from Major Kenneth’s time, because Grandma was a great hoarder which Aunt Maggie was not. I took a look at some of the papers as Aunt Maggie was superintending their destruction. To me they were quite unintelligible, the paper brittle and yellow with age, and covered over with closely written manuscript in Spanish. So I did nothing to try and save any of them. Now I feel sick to think of all the history, both family and otherwise, which went up in smoke that day in the backyard of 22 Victoria Avenue. The Berries family in 1809 were not a lot further away in time from Don Antonio than we are now in 1978 from them; and I think it highly probable that amongst the papers burnt that day there would have been found some written evidence of their descent from Don Antonio. Great-great-grandfather Kenneth Mathison and Isabel Berries had 5 sons and 5 daughters. Grandpa Mathison was the only child of the second of their sons, Alexander, and Grandma Mathison was the eldest daughter of the third son, James Buckley, who had 9 children.
Grandpa Mathison’s father married another Spanish girl, Margarita de Leon (pronounced dey Leeong), who was descended from yet another Spanish conquistador, and one even more famous than Don Antonio. This was Don Juan Ponce de Leon, who went out to the West Indies as a companion of Columbus on his Second Voyage, and became the first Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico and the discoverer of Florida. (See Appendix II for more about Don Ponce de Leon). Here we may assume proof of descent, because in the early 1930s an American, who was writing a thesis on Don Ponce, turned up in Trinidad and sought out two of Grandpa Mathison’s cousins, a couple of old ladies whom we called Cousin Elvira and Cousin Hercelia (the H is silent). These de Leon cousins were living on the last remnant of the de Leon estates in the beautiful, and in those days still remote, Maracas Valley, high up in the Northern Range, a line of beautiful wooded hills which extend along the north cost of Trinidad. From the American the old ladies learned that they were the last descendants of Don Juan Ponce de Leon still to bear the family name. He had tracked down several other descendants of Don Ponce, scattered throughout the Americas, but in every other case the family name had changed. Unhappily Cousin Elvira and Cousin Hercelia had no brother, only one married sister, so the de Leon name died out with them. I remember them well. The used to make frequent trips from Maracas to the “big city” of Port-of-Spain, and whenever they came in they would visit my grandmother and aunts as “Guyana Cottage” , the very uncottage-like town house of Grandma and Aunties Maggie and Fefita, No.22 Victoria Avenue. I met them there on many occasions, and happened to be staying at Grandma’s the day they came in, twittering with excitement about the American’s visit. On an earlier occasion when they had come to visit Grandma they brought with them a small collection of jewellery which they said had belonged to the “old de Leons”, and which they wanted Grandma to have. Grandma subsequently divided the jewellery between Mother (most of i which my two sisters now have), Auntie Feta (whose share came to me), and Auntie Maggie (whose share went to the Taits). The de Leon cousins spoke very little English, and when they were visiting Grandma’s the conversation was carried on in Spanish, which All Daddy’s family spoke fluently. They were completely bi-lingual, it depended whether they were with their English -or Spanish-speaking friends which language they used. Amongst themselves they sometimes spoke in one, sometimes the other, more often a mixture of the two, frequently starting a sentence in one language and finishing it in the other. Their exclamations were all Spanish. Grandma particularly often had to use a Spanish work when she couldn’t think of the English one. She spoke with quite a noticeable Spanish accent, the rest of the family had normal Trinidad accents. Mother did not speak anything but English, and made no attempt to speak Spanish, or even to understand it, so Daddy only spoke Spanish when he was with his family, never unfortunately, to us. As a girl I could speak a little Spanish and understand quite a lot of it, but that has all gone now.
Grandma Mathison’s father, James Buckley, who died in 1902, also married a Spanish girl, Senorita Juana Josefa Alvarez, who died in Venezuela in 1867. They were married in Venezuela in 1847. I have given her wedding ring to my daughter, Elizabeth. On the inside is the inscription “J. B Mathison, Junio 1847″ .
When Major Kenneth moved to Venezuela in 1841 most of his family went over with him, and it was in Venezuela that James Buckley met Juana Josefa Alvarez. The Alvarez family had gone to live in Venezuela from Spain only one generation before, so there is no exciting conquistador history attached to them. All I ever heard about them was that they were a well-to-do family from Spain.
When Major Kenneth went to Angostura, which is deep in the interior of Venezuela, as Unpaid Vice-Consul most of his family went with him, as I’ve said, and very few of them ever returned to Trinidad. There must be many distant cousins still in Venezuela, descendants of Kenneth Mathison and Isabel Berries, but we have now completely lost touch with them. My father’s brother, Uncle Sandy, did keep in touch with one branch of the family, but that time calling themselves Mattithong (this is phonetic, I do not know how they spelt it). When his daughter married an Englishman, Tim Green, the cousins in Venezuela sent her a beautiful coffee-pot of English silver, hall-marked for 1850, which they said was a family piece of the old Mathisons”.
The Mathison family is distantly related to the Siegert family, makers of the well-known Angostura Bitters, and it is possible to surmise that one of the reasons why Major Kenneth moved to Angostura was because of his family connection with Dr J G B Siegert, who was already living there. The family connection could very possibly have been that Dr Siegert was married to a sister, or a cousin, of Isabel Berries. When I lived in Trinidad it was recognised by both the Siegerts and ourselves that we were related, but I never thought at the time to enquire how the relationship had come about. One just took it for granted. It seems more likely that Major Kenneth would have been already living in Angostura when the British Government appointed him as their Unpaid Vice-Consul there, than that he was sent over from Trinidad to that purely honorary position. Yet the date when it happened does make it sound as though he did go over to Angostura to take up the post, as he was superintending disbanded African soldiers in Trinidad in 1840, and was appointed to the Vice-Consularship in Angostura in February 1841. Maybe his connection with Dr Siegert made him willing to accept the post. They were certainly both in Angostura at the same time.
Dr Siegert was practising medecine in Venezuela, and as a physician he saved the life of a local Indian boy. In gratitude the boy’s mother gave Dr Siegert the recipe for a native herbal remedy. This potion Dr Siegert first produced himself in 1824 for medicinal purposes. It proved so popular that by 1830 it was being market ted world-wide as the well-known Angostura Bitters. . The town of Angostura, after which the bitters is named, was re-named Cuidad Bolivar in 1846, after the great South American Liberator, Simon Bolivar, who created the State of Venezuela in 1830. From the fact that Major Kenneth’s consulate position changed from unpaid to paid Vice-Consul so soon after the re-naming of the town this would imply that the town had grown in importance.
Grandpa Mathison, Alexander, was born in Trinidad in 1837. Grandma Mathison, Isabel Camilla, was born in Cuidad Bolivar in 1850. Grandma was very proud of the fact that she was a British subject by birth, even though she had been born in Venezuela. This was because she was born at her grandfather’s house, which, as it was the British Consulate, had the Union Jack flying overhead and counted as British soil. It must have been a big house because Grandma often told us the exciting story of the time when Cuidad Bolivar was captured by rebel forces during one of Venezuela’s frequent revolutions, and the rebel general commandeered the Consulate and took it over as his headquarters. Great-great-grandfather Kenneth was in no position to oppose the rebels, so very wisely gave in to them, and he and his family squashed into a few rooms at the back of the house and gave the rest of it up to the rebels. Grandma was quite a little girl at the time, but she remembered it all quite vividly the fierce- looking soldiers, the military finery of the even fiercer-looking general and his officers, the smell of smoke and the noise of shooting. Apparently the general was very polite and assured Major Kenneth that nothing in the house would be ill-treated. And he was a good as his word because when the scene of battle shifted and the rebels left the town as suddenly as they had entered it, nothing in the house had been damaged. The only thing the rebels had done was consume all the stores of food and drink which they could lay their hands on. The only damage to the house was several broken window panes and pock-marks made by bullets to the plasterwork on the outside.
Major Kenneth must have been both a strong-willed and a bigoted Scottish Protestant, because although he and all his sons married Spanish Catholic women, he managed to see to it that not only his own children, but most of his grandchildren were baptised and brought up as Protestants! One of the few members of his family who opposed him in this was his son Alexander, who had married Margarita de Leon. To the fury of his father he allowed their baby son to be baptised a Catholic. But Major Kenneth was to have his own way in the end even there. Margarita died in 1838, when Grandpa was only three years old, but his father let him continue to be brought up in the Catholic faith as his mother had wished. Three years later, still furious about it, Major Kenneth left for Venezuela.
Five years later, in 1846, when Grandpa was II years old, his father also died. Immediately he heard of his son’s death Major Kenneth made tracks for Trinidad, collected his grandson and took him back to Venezuela. I do not know why the de Leon grand- parents let him go. Perhaps Major Kenneth was too powerful for them, or perhaps they too were dead. So many people died of yellow fever in Trinidad in those days.
As soon as Major Kenneth got Grandpa to Cuidad Bolivar he had him re-baptised as a Protestant, and the following year, in order no doubt, to eradicate still further his Catholic beginning, he sent the 12 year old boy to a Lutheran College in Germany, where he stayed until he was 18. I have often wondered why he did not send Grandpa to Scotland? As a result of his years in Germany, Grandpa was always very pro- German. He spoke German as fluently as Spanish and better than English, and had a succession of German governesses for his four daughters. So they grew up speaking German as well as Spanish and English, but never spoke it again after Grandpa died. The 1914-1918 War made German unpopular! I am glad for Grandpa’s sake that he died early in 1914, before the war with Germany broke out. When Grandpa left the Lutheran College he spent a year travelling about Europe with a tutor —this was from 1853-1854, and then he returned to Venezuela. Grandma was then 4 years old.
Great-great-grandmother Isabel died that same year, as Grandma’s parents went to live at the Consulate. So Grandpa saw a lot of his little cousin, and became very fond of her. He used to make a great fuss of her, bringing her presents and playing with her, and Grandma thought he was simply wonderful —which opinion she never changed for the whole of her long life. One day when Grandma was 5 and Grandpa was riding her on his knee her mother chided her for being too noisy. Grandpa said “That is right. You bring her up carefully, because when she is grown-up I am going to marry her” .I cannot believe that he meant it seriously at the time, but Grandma took it completely seriously, and from then on called herself “Sandy’s little wife” and considered herself engaged to him. When Grandma was 15 she was sent to England, to a school in Tunbridge Wells, kept “for the daughters of gentlemen” by two German ladies , the Misses Trevanas, who were relations of German friends of Grandpa. The school was still going a generation later and Grandpa sent his own daughters over to it in their turn. Grandma was reputed to be remarkably pretty, petite and fascinating as a girl, and this I can well believe, as she was a very attractive and fascinating little old lady. While she was at school in England more than one young man is said to have been in love with her, but she would have nothing to do with any of them, because her heart was firmly with her big cousin, Sandy, and all she could think about was going back to Venezuela to marry him. There was a popular music-hall song at the time about a miller who cared for nothing but his mill. The refrain went. “The miller is faithful to his mill, and the mill belongs to the miller still” The girls at Grandma’s school altered the word “miller” to “Sandy” and nicknamed Grandma “The Mill ” . Luckily for her, Grandpa did remain “faithful to his mill” because , when Grandma left school at 17 and returned to Venezuela Sandy who , was then 32, was still a batchelor. He and Grandma became properly engaged almost immediately, and were married in the following year, 1868, on 16 August. I wish I knew whether Grandpa really did wait for Grandma all those years, or whether it was just chance that he did not fall in love with anyone else while she was growing up, and particularly while she was at school in England. Whichever it was, their marriage was a very happy one.
They had 6 children, Aunt Maggie, born 1869, who never married and died in 1940; Aunt Cecelia, born 1871, who married Alfred Taitt, an Englishman in the colonial service in Trinidad. She died in 1897 when her first baby, Kenneth, was born; Auntie Feta, my godmother, was born 1873, who never married, suffered most of her life from asthma, and died in 1941; Uncle Sandy, born 1874, who did not marry until he was over 50, had just one child, Mercy, and died in 1957; Aunt Isabelita, called Itucu by her family, born 1876, never married and died in 1910; and Daddy, James Patrick Norman, born 1878 and died in 1958.
Aunt Maggie fell in love with an Englishman who was working in Trinidad. He seemed equally in love with here, and when his job took him away from Trinidad, promised to return to marry her. She had a couple of very affectionate letters from him, and then silence. She never heard from him again, and retired from the world with a broken heart. Not long after Aunt Cecelia died in childbirth and as she was dying she asked Aunt Maggie to look after her baby son. Aunt Maggie had the baby’s cot taken to her bedroom and put beside her bed, and from that moment she gave all her devotion to Ken and brought him up just as though she was his real mother. Ken did not call her mother, he called her Mags, but he certainly loved her as a son, and when he had children of his own (he married Helen de Gannes and had Helen, who married Cecil Quesnel, Dick, Lilias, who married James ~Ailne, a Canadian and Gillian, who married Glyn Jones, a Welshman) they all called her Grannie. Ken’s father was Warden of Couva, a country district, and it would have been very difficult for him to have Ken with him, so he must have been very thankful to be able to leave him in the care of Aunt Maggie. Not long after he went to England on leave, and brought back and English wife, and they had 10 sons and a daughter, so Ken never lived with his father, but stayed in his grandparent’s home with Aunt Maggie, where he seemed to me more like a young uncle than a cousin, as he was 16 years older than I.
Now to return to great-great-grandfather, Major Kenneth. He remained a widower for 8 years, then, at the age of 72, he horrified his family by marrying again. What really horrified them was that he took as his second wife a young half-Indian peasant girl of 23! ! He lived for only 4 years after his second marriage, but in that time he and his young wife, Agueda Cierto, had 3 children! two girls and a boy. Apparently the only member of his family who would have anything to do with the old man after his second marriage was Grandpa, who was fond of his tyrannical old grandfather and sorry for his young wife. So when Major Kenneth was dying he left his wife and 3 small children in Grandpa’s care. Agueda died in 1872, only 6 years after Major Kenneth, and Grandpa then took his three little half-aunts and uncle completely into his care. When he and Grandma left Venezuela for Trinidad in 1881, he took the three little ones with him. Daddy, the youngest of Grandpa’s own family, was only 2 at the time, so he did not remember life in Venezuela at all, but Auntie Maggie and Auntie Feta remembered it well and told me many tables of there life there, all of which I have forgot ton, except the ghastly ritual which took place in Venezuela in those days whenever there was a death in the household. Black curtains were put up at the windows, all mirrors were reversed to face the wall, and all the pictures had black bows draped above them!
When I was a girl the eldest of Major Kenneth’s second family was still alive and in Trinidad —my great-great-great-aunt! ! She did not die until 1940, although her father had fought in the Napoleonic Wars! So I remember her well. She was an immensely fat old lady, whom we called Tia (aunt) Louisa. my sisters and I were sometimes taken to visit her by Auntie Maggie and Auntie Feta. I can see her clearly, sitting in a rocking chair on the varandah of the small house she lived in, in “down-town” Port-of-Spain. She was so fact she hardly ever walked, just sat all day, rocking, and fanning herself with a palm-leaf fan. She had never learned English, and jabbered away to us children in Spanish, and gave us a delicious Venezuelan sweet called Pappilong. This was made from palm sugar, not cane sugar. It was the colour and flavour of dark, soft brown sugar, very finely grained, and hardened into the shape of an ice-cream cone. They came wrapped in a twist of brown paper, which you peeled back as you nibbled and sucked at the cone to its last delicious grain. Pappilongs came in all sizes, from great big ones, which were used in the kitchen for sweetening, like the old-fashioned sugar-loaf, to the small ice-cream cone size, and like all Trinidad children, we adored them. There were two other reasons why we enjoyed our visits to Tia Louisa. She had a fascinating collection of dolls of every sort and size, which she kept on shelves and in cabinets in her bedroom. Some of them she had since she was a little girl in Venezuela. When she died the dolls went back to Venezuela, to the grand-daughter of her sister whom we did not know. The other fascination was an enormous crucifix, fully life-size, which hung on the back wall of her small sitting-room, the figure of Christ painted in all the gory realism of Spanish-American religious art. So much for Major Kenneth’s Protestantism!
While I am thinking about pappilongs I must tell you something about the other Venezuelan delicacies which we used to enjoy at Grandma’s whenever they were available, i.e whenever the boats came across from Venezuela. “Carne frita’! was a luncheon dish, made from shredded dried horse meat, which was served mixed with very highly seasoned scrambled egg, and was delicious. “Pastelle” was a delicious mixture of, again, highly seasoned, peppery minced meat, onion, olives, capers and raisins, folded into an envelope of very thinly rolled out corn-meal paste. This is then wrapped in another envelope of banana leaf, tied with string like a parcel, and boiled in salted water. The pastelles came to the table, one for each person, still wrapped in their banana leaves, and were opened out on the plate and eaten with a fork from the leaf. It is impossible to describe the subtle and delicious flavour given to the corn-meal by the banana leaf, you could never taste a genuine pastelle unless it had been boiled in a fresh banana leaf. ” Ayakas” and “Empanadasl’ were very similar to each other, except that Ayakas were the shape and size of a small mince pie, and Empanadas the shape and size of a small Cornish pastie. Both were made of corn-meal paste, rolled less thinly than for the pastelle, and made of much more coarsely ground meal. They were filled with a very savoury and peppery minced meat and fried in hot fat, which gave them a delicious crisp, crunchy crust. Grandma’s cook used to buy the horsemeat in the market on the days that the Venezuelan boats were in, and cook the Carne frita at Grandma’s. Pastelles became a Trinidad national dish. They were made locally in several places, usually by families of Venezuelans living in Trinidad, and no Trinidad feast was complete without them. But for some reason the Ayakas and Empanadas could be obtained only from the Venezuelan women vendors who came across in the trading schooners. They used to walk through the streets of Port-of-Spatn with large wooden trays balanced on their heads, and in the trays piles of freshly-cooked hot, golden and crip Ayakas and Empanadas covered with a white cloth. They soon got to know the houses where they were always welcome, and always came to Grandma’s. We would hear the familiar high- pitched cry in the street I’ Ayaka calenda, ayaka hot pie” , and the maid would go running out to welcome the vendor in. Then the woman would set her tray down in the back gallery and we would all cluster round, even the servants, and eat the delicious pies, hot from the tray. The pies were always fresh and crisp and hot, and it never occurred to me until not to wonder when and where they cooking had been done? The most delicious cheese I have ever eaten also came from Venezuela. It was a cheese made entirely by hand, whatever that means, and for that reason was called ‘Caeso dey Mana’l (literally, Cheese of the Hand). It was the most expensive of the Venezuelan cheeses, a very white, crisp, almost flakey cheese, yet not a bit dry. The nearest cheese to it which I have come across in England is Caerphilly, but that does not have as delicious a flavour or texture as the Caeso dey Mana.
One very interesting character who used to come to Grandma’s was an East Indian woman called Veronique. (In Trinidad the Indians from India are always called East Indians to distinquish them from the South( American Indians, who are called Indians). Veronique was a masseuse, and she came to Victoria Avenue about once a month to massage Grandma’s back for an old injury, I never knew what, which used to give Grandma backache. Veronique was quite old, at least she looked old to use children, thin and wrinkled and toothless, but she was very spritely, and looked magnificent in her full Indian costume of skirt, blouse and sari, a row of gold coins across her forehead, long gold earrings dangling from her ears, a large gold nose stud on the side of her nose, gold bracelets up both arms, from wrist to elbow, silver bracelets around her ankles, and bare feet. However rich they might be, Indian women never wore gold at their feet. Veronique spoke very broken English in a high-pitched, sing-song voice, and whenever we children were at Grandma’s she insisted on patting our heads and kissing us on both cheeks. Margie and Pat were half-frightened of her and put off by the strong smell of coconut oil which accompanied her —a very typical East India smell. They used to escape whenever possible and hide, if they heard here approaching, but I was so fascinated by her exotic appearance that I put up gladly with the kisses and the coconut oil.
My father, James Patrick Mathison, married Henrietta Emily Rochford in Port-of-Spain in 1908. Mother was the eldest of 6 children of Robert Rochford and Elisabet Pouchet.
I know less about my Mother’s family history than I do about Daddy’s because no-one of Mother’s generation took any interest in it. In nearly every family, and certainly in the colonial families, there is someone who is the family historian for their generation, and I am for our family now, and Auntie Feta was in her time. Mother said that their family historian when she was a girl was an unmarried sister of her mother, who lived with them –My great-aunt Anna Pouchet. Apparently Aunt Anna knew lots of details of her family history, and often tried to tell it to Mother and her sisters and brothers, but none of them was sufficiently interested to sit and listen, and even teased her about living in the past. Unfortunately Aunt Anna died and I was 6, so I only remember her dimly and missed the chance of being able to give her an appreciative audience at last. So the following is all that I have been able to gather.
Mother’s family connection with the West Indies appears to start at the end of the l8th century, when the de Tetron family escaped from France at the time of the French Revolution and took refuge in the West Indies, as did the ancestors of so many of the French West Indian families, and it was to Trinidad that the de Tetrons came. Trinidad then had been a Spanish colony for nearly 300 years, but Spain had done little with it, and the few Spanish families on the island were content to cultivate the fertile valleys of ~Aaracas and Santa Cruz, and go no further afield than their capital at San Jose. The present capital, Port-of-Spain, was then only a small fishing village. Then in 1777 the island was visited by Phillip de Saint- Laurent, a member of one of the aristocratic French families who had helped to build the French empire in Louisana and the Caribbean. Saint-Laurent was very favourably impressed with Trinidad and immediately saw its possibilities for French colonists. He bought some land in Diego Martin, and then set off for Spain to petition the king to permit the French colonists and others free entry into the island.
As a direct result of this petition, the Spanish Government issued a Cedula of Population in 1783 offering grants to land to new colonists, with the one stipulation that they must be of the Roman Cathelic faith. The publication of the Ceduia resulted in a large influx of French nationals, both white and coloured, with their slaves, from the neighbouring French islands, and this influx was further increased when the Revolution broke out in France in 1789 and many of the aristocratic French families who fled from France joined their compatriots in Trinidad.
The de Tetron family acquired a large tract of land in the north-western part of Trinidad. One of the large bays on that part of the coast is still called Tetron Bay, and in the First Boca, which is a narrow sea passage between the mainland and the first of a string of small islands which stretch towards the north coast of Venezuela, there is a big, very steep-sided rock sticking up out of the sea, which is known as Madame Tetron’s Tooth. How many of the de Tetron family came to Trinidad, and exactly when, I do not know, but there was at least one daughter, because she married an Englishman, Robert Hartle, whom she met in Trinidad.
What took Robert Hartle to West Indies is not known but he joined the British Forces out there in 1801. This I do know for certain because I have the document (sadly insect-eaten) which is the commission granted to him in that year.
On one side of the document, which is a large sheet of paper, which had been folded up like a road-map, but is now framed, are the words:
Assist: Surgeon Robert Hartle
68 Regiment 22nd of October 1801
The other side reads:
“By His Excellency, Sir Thomas Trigge
Knight of the Most Honourable Order of Bath, Lieutenant-General and Commander in Chief of
His Majesty’s Forces in the Windward and Leeward Carribbee Islands, Etc. , Etc. , Etc.
To Robert Hartle, Gent
By virtue of the power and authority in me vested, (I) do hereby constitute and (ap)point you to be Assisstant Surgeon to (the) 68th, or Durham, Regt. (of) Foot, Commanded by Lieutenant-Gener(al) Sir Thomas Trigge,K( )
You a(re) therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the (duties) of Assist: Surgeon by d(oing) and performing all and all manner of things thereunto b(elonging). And you are to ob(ser)ve and follow such Orders and Directions, from time to time, as you shall receive from your Colonel, or any other your superior officer, according to the Rules and Discipline of War.
Given under my Hand and Seal at Arms at Headquarters Martinique, the Twenty-second day of October –One Thousand and Eight- By His Hundred and One –and in the 4lst year of Excellency’s the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George, the Command Third, by the Grace of God of Great Britain France and Ireland, King, Defender of the signed Faith, and so forth.
R A Darling
Martinique has always been a French possession, but the British must have taken temporary possession of it, by treaty, or capture, at the time of his commission, for it to have been a British Head- Quarters. An interesting bit of research which I very much regret not having tried to do when I lived in Trinidad, would have been to find out what part the Durham Regiment of Foot played in the fighting in the West Indies? And whether they were at any time stationed in Trinidad or Tobago? As this would help to determine when and where Medemoiselle de Tetron was likely to have met Robert Hartle.
Mother said that Aunt Anna had told her that Robert Hartle was a French Royalist, who enlisted in the British Forces to fight against Napoleon. That would certainly explain his presence in Martinique in 1801. But Hartle is a much more British than French sounding name, and more important than that, knowing the set-up in Trinidad society of the British-descended and the French-descended families, I find Mother’s family very much within the circle of families of British descent, which I feel sure would not have been the case had Mademoiselle de Tetron married another French Royalist. On that count I feel prepared to say that Great-great-grandfather Robert Hartle was English. (Actually second generation English from Barbados and a well known naval doctor RLC)
Mother also said that Robert Hartle served as a naval surgeon on a British ship during the West Indian sea battles, so it is very possible that the 68th Regiment was based on board one of the British battleships and fought in the hand-to-hand naval engagements which was the custom at that time.
The next thing I know is that when the war was over, great-great- grandfather Robert and Mme de Tetron settled in Trinidad and had 4 daughters. Robert Hartle was a wealthy man, and the four little girls were brought up in great luxury during their early years. Unhappily, while they were still quite young both their parents died of the ever-prevalent yellow fever, their father within three months of their mother. On his death-bed Robert Hartle appointed his best friend to be the guardian of his daughters and trustee of their estate. But he made a very bad choice, for within a very few years the “best friend” had robbed the girls of everything he could and decamped from Trinidad, leaving them practically penniless. Mother was told of this by her mother, Grannie Rochford, who no doubt had it from her mother, who was one of the four unfortunate girls.
When she grew up Grannie Rochford’s mother married a Frenchman, Henri Pouchet, whose family had also emigrated to Trinidad from France at the time of the Revolution, but who was of less aristocratic family than the de Tetrons. Henri Pouchet and ? Hartle (fancy Mother not knowing the christian name of her grandmother! (Actually Henrietta RLC)) had 5 daughters, of whom great-aunt Anna was the eldest, and Grannie Rochford was the second. Another sister was Louisa, whom we called “Auntie Rooks” .She married a Major Charles Rooks, an Englishman who came out to Trinidad to be an officer in the local police force, and rose to become the head of it. The 4th sister, Mamie, married an American called Scandella. She died when mother was still a child. The youngest of the sisters was Emma, Aunt Emmie who never married. She also lived with Grannie Rochford after Grandpa’s death, and after Grannie died Aunt Emmie continued tolive in the family house until her death in the late 1930s.
Grannie Rochford was named Elisabet, and called Lise (pronounced Leese). She married Robert Rochford and they had 6 children, of whom Mother was the eldest. Not much is known about Robert Rochford, who died when Mother was 16, except that he was of Irish stock and mad about horse-racing! I do not even know whether it was he or his parents who first went out to Trinidad, but it seems likely to have been his parents. Mother had no memory of her Rochford grand- parents, but she did clearly remember two young uncles, her father’s brothers, both of whom died young –probably yellow fever again! It sounds more likely that the three young men were either born in Trinidad, or taken there by their parents when they were young, rather than that they all emigrated to Trinidad as very young men — although that is possible.
The next thing I know is that Grandpa and Grannie Rochford were living comfortably on an estate in the country, owned by Grandpa, (inherited from his parents?) And that he and a friend were joint owners of a race horse, and the two young men spent most of their time and money training and racing this horse –which invariably lost! Grandpa Rochford gambled more and more heavily in his effort keep the horse running, and got deeper and deeper into debt, until finally not only his share of the horse, but also the estate, had to be sold to pay his debts, and he found himself with a wife and two small children, no home, no job, and no money! Fortunately he was very friendly with the then Governor of Trinidad, who came to his rescue, and gave him a job in the Harbour Master’s Department. Very soon after that he became the Harbour Master, which post he held until his death in 1898.
The Harbour Master’s office in Port-of-Spain was then at the top of a light-house! When the light-house was built it stood at the edge of the sea, but by Grandpa Rochford’s day a wide strip of land had been reclaimed from the sea, and the light-house stood, as it does today, about! mile inland. Grandpa sometimes went down to his office on a Sunday morning, and when he did so he often took Mother with him. One day in 1887 when Mother was 5 years old she went down to the Harbour Master’s with her father, and while he was busy with some papers, she got outside on to the open gallery which runs around near the top of the light-house, 40ft. above the ground, leaned too far over the railings, on to which she had somehow managed to climb, and fell the 40ft. to the ground below! The only thing which saved her life was that she fell into the middle of a large pile of road-menders gravel, which broke her fall. As it was, she was carried home unconscious, with very bad concussion, and spent the following six weeks in a darkened room, the gloom of which is the only memory she had to the accident. Luckily she made a complete recovery and suffered from no after effects of any sort.
I have what has been a very fine quality Meerschaum pipe which belonged to Grandpa Rochford. The bowl is a horse’s head, beautifully carved, with flowing mane and flaring nostrils, and the stem is of amber. It was given to Grandpa by a Norweigan sea-captain. Mother said that her clearest memory of her father was of him sitting in the front gallery in a big iron-framed rocking chair, smoking his pipe and relaxing at the end of the day. I remember that rocking-chair well and had many a rock in it whenever I visited Grannie Rochford, and afterwards Aunt Emmie. It became the favourite chair of Mother’s batchelor brother, Uncle John, and he always sat in it whenever he came up from his job as Postmaster of San Fernando to spend the weekend with Aunt Emmie. Grandpa loved his pipe and took great pains to ,1 colour!’ it correct ly .He coloured i t to perfection; when Mother gave it to me it still had a beautiful, rich chestnut brown shine all over it. Unfortunately it suffered sadly from being packed away for 8 years with all the rest of my belongings which were left behind when I came to England in 1943. I felt everthing carefully packed away in a handsome carved Chinese chest, which was also one of my prized possessions. Unhappily, insects got into the chest –or came over from China already in it! And when Mother opened the chest 8 years later, to bring my things to me in England, on her first visit after the war was over, she nearly had a fit! The lining of the chest had been almost completely eaten away, and everything in the chest was covered with a thick brown deposit, which fortunately washed off most things, but totally ruined some of them. The precious Meerschaum pipe had lost most of its colour, and the insects had bored several holes right through the bowl. In spite of which, it is still a very handsome object, and I still treasure it.
After he lost his estate Grandpa Rochford never gambled so heavily again, but though he managed to keep out of debt, he never managed to give up his addiction to horse-racing, and continued to gamble more heavily than he could really afford. So when he died in 1898 he left Grannie very badly off, and she had a hard struggle to bring up not only he own 6 children, but 3 belonging to her sister, Mamie, who died when the 3rd was born. Very soon after Aunt Mamie’s death her American husband packed up and left Trinidad, in effect abandoning his three children, for they never heard from him again, so Grannie and Grandpa adopted them and brought them up with their own family. The result was that on Grandpa’s death Grannie was left with a family of 9 children, Mother, the eldest being only 16, and very little money.
They moved into a small house in Picton Street, small because none of the rooms were very large, but it still had 5 bedrooms –which they certainly needed! Mother had to leave school, to reduce the school fees, and do what she could to help at home. Like all young ladies of that time she could paint a little –quite well really. We had several of her landscapes, painted in oils, at home in Brighton, and they were really quite well done. She also played the piano a little, and was very good at embroidery and other fancy needlework. She was particularly clever at trimming the large, elaborate hats which were so fashionable at the time, and after she left school she earned her pocket money trimming hats for all her friends. In those days in Trinidad it was the family to which you belonged not the amount of money you had, which made you socially acceptable, so Grannie was able to continue her friendship with the wife of the then Governor of Trinidad, Sir H E H Jerningham, who was Governor from 1897 to 1900. As a result of this friendship Mother had the wonderful experience of making her debut at a fantastic ball at Government House, standing beside Lady Jerningham in the reception line, and being introduced to all the eligible young men as they filed past!
Girls in Trinidad, even in my young day, as in English society which we copied, were not recognised as being officially grown-up until they had made their debut at a dance to which they went in a party given by their parents. If the parents were very wealthy the dance was held at their own home, but with most girls the parents took a party of their own and their daughter’s friends to one of the big annual dances, held either at a private club, in Port-of- Spain or on one of the oil-fields, or in one of the big hotels. If the girl had been abroad to school, as by my day most of us did — and in those days there was no flying home for the holidays –she made here debut very soon after getting back to Trinidad. It was a good way of introducing her into the group of young people whom her parents hoped she would join, and which she usually did. To make one’s debut was a very exciting occasion. The debutante wore white, felt like a million dollars, and danced the first dance with her father. My debut party was held at the Paramount Hotel, the big hotel in San Fernando, which is the big town of the south and the second largest town in Trinidad. The occasion was the annual dance of the Southern Football Club, of which Mother’s bother, Uncle John, was the President. Uncle John lived at the Paramount and for his football club, and it was largely to please him that the dance was chosen for my debut. Luckily its timing was just right –two weeks after I got home from school in England. I remember I wore a white lace dress which I had brought out from England especially for the occasion. It was floor length and slim-fitting over the hips, then flaring out from the knees, with a rounded neckline very low in the back and a broad sash of white satin. Grannie Rochford has not wanted Mother to make her debut until she was 18 –and must have wondered how she was going to stand the expense of the party! Then, just before Mother was 18, Lady Jerningham planned a fantastic ball for Government House and persuaded Grannie to let Mother make her debut at it. It was to be a “Ball Blanc” , which meant that everything about it had to be in white. Government House, with its white marble floors in the large entrance hall and its lovely, wide, sweeping staircase, also of white marble, and the huge ballroom, lit by beautiful old crystal chandeliers, was the perfect setting for such a ball. And not only were the decorations to be in white, all the guests attending the ball had to wear white. For the ladies this was no problem. It merely meant that the new ball gown, which they would have had made for the occasion anyway, would be in white (and if they wished they could always dye it afterwards). But for the men it meant a complete evening suit in white, made for this one occasion! However that apparently daunted non-one’ enthusiasm for the ball. On the night there was everywhere a profusion of white flowers, of which there are very many beautiful varieties in Trinidad, and the refreshments also carried out the white theme. Mother said that it made a completely unforgettable evening. I went to many super balls at Government House, though none quite as glamourous as that one, so I can picture what a wonderful sight the “Ball Blanc” must have been .
When Mother was 22 she was given the job of governess to the very spoiled, but very loveable 5 year old daughter of another of Trinidad’s Governors, Sir E M Jackson, and when we were children Mother would entertain us with tales of the mischievous, and often even outrageous exploits of “Baby Jackson” , as she was known to everyone. She teased and tormented all the staff of Government House, from the A.D.C down to the assistant gardeners, and including her long-suffering governess, but Mother said that in spite of all “Baby Jackson” was so entertaining and so assuming that no-one could ever be really cross with here. The servants all adored here and gave in to her every whim, so she ruled Government House unchecked. Not an easy task, being her governess! But Mother enjoyed it all the same, and stayed with the Jacksons until his term of office came to an end in 1904.
The Port-of-Spain “teenagers” ( I never thought to ask what they were called in Mother’s day) used to meet in the Savannah, which is a big park in the middle of what was then the exclusively upper-class part of Port-of-Spain. Around the Savannah stood all the biggest, most expensive houses. In certain of the streets radiating out from the Savannah there were houses almost as big and expensive; in other streets the houses at the Savannah end were also “desirable gentlemen’s residences” .All that is changed now –rich Indians and Chinese and Government offices occupy the big houses around the Savannah, and the “desirable residences” have moved out to the suburbs, but when Daddy and Mother were young, upper-class Port-of-Spain life revolved around and in the Savannah. The young people used to meet there, to play rounders and other ball games, or sit around in groups, chatting and flirting and having lost of communal fun. It was in the Savannah in this way that Daddy and Mother first met, although they did not get married until Daddy was 30 and Mother nearly 27, which was the normal age of marriage in those days.
Daddy’s parents lived at first in one of the smaller of the big houses around the Savannah. Later they moved to a slightly smaller house, though still a big one, at the Savannah end of Victoria Avenue, which was one of the most desirable of the side streets. Grannie Rochford lived in the small house in Picton Street to which she moved after Grandpa’s death. It was near the middle of one of the lesser streets which ran from the Savannah , about midway between the big houses at the Savannah end and the small houses at the other end, where lived some of the “middle- class” population, the “respectable coloured” .( I hate even to write so snobbishly, but that is a picture of life as it was lived in Trinidad in those days, and to some extent even up to the 1940s).
Grannie Rochford lived in Picton Street until she died in 1925 when I was 12, so I remember her quite well. Mother grew to look very like Grannie as she got old, and I shall too, as I can see my self growing more and more to look like Mother as I grow older. Grannie Rochford was a very sweet old lady, gentle and calm, but she was very thin and her face had a care-worn look, which was not surprising considering the hard life she had had. Mother said that during her childhood, when the struggle to make ends meet sometimes got too much for Grannie, she would send them all out of the house, “Go and play in the Savannah, and don’t come back for an hour”. Then she would get into bed and have a good sleep! and wake refreshed and able to carryon. Mother said she was sure that it was this amazing capacity of Grannie’s for sleep which enable her to manage as she did. Whenever we paid a visit to Port-of-Spain we stayed at Grandma Mathison’s, and walked across a corner of the Savannah every day to spend either the morning or the afternoon with Grannie Rochford. Her little house seemed so small after Grandma’s big one. I used to look at it, even when I was quite young, and wonder how Grannie managed to bring up 9 children successfully there.
I loved Grannie, but I couldn’t help loving Grandma more. She was such a sweet, pretty, little old lady, small and plum and such fun to be with. She was always doing or making something interesting. she did very beautiful fine crochet, and also cross-stitch embroidery, adapting cross-stitch design from crochet patterns and making up her own colour schemes. She took up cross-stitch when she could no longer see well enough to do the fine crochet. In the 1920s there was a fashion for long necklaces and lampshade fringes made of beads of roller paper. Grandma made roller paper beads by the thousand! She cut strips from brightly coloured magazine pictures and rolled the strips finely by hand into long beads, which were somehow pointed at both ends. Then she varnished them with clear varnish and strung them together. They made up into very fascinating necklaces. I wish I had kept some of the many she gave me. Later she did macrame twine and bead work, threading the beads into knotted macrame twine to make long strings for curtains. She made a curtain for Mother for the doorway between our dining-room and the servant’s part of the bungalow. The curtain hung across the door- way for years, making a fascinating jingling sound when anyone passed through the door-way. In the end it become faded and unfashionable, and was replaced by a pair of wooden swing doors, which were not nearly so much fund.
When Grandma was over 80 and her sight became too poor for needlework she learned to use a jig-saw and spent hours making elaborate jig-saw puzzles for all the family. She used pictures from magazines, and we were always on the lookout for attractive pictures for Grandma. Her other hobby was collecting brass animals. She called them her Zoo, and they stood on quite a big square table in one corner of the large drawing-room. She had over a hundred different kinds of animals, and it was a real triumph when any of the family managed to find a brass animal which Grandma did not have. One of the most handsome pieces was the big camel, which I always particularly admired, and which Auntie Maggie gave to me when Grandma died. It now is part of our Christmas Crib. There were also two very handsome lions, I remember, the only pair of animals, which stood on opposite corners of the front edge of the table. I wish I had taken them as well as the camel, which I could have done at the time if I had wanted them.
It was the job of the “yard boy” , ( cook’s help, gardener’s help , general dog’s body) to keep the Zoo bright and shining. He used to sit on the back stairs, in the covered passage-way which led from the house down to the kitchen and the rest of the servant’s quarters, with the brass animals spread around him, scrubbing them with brass polish and the juice from a cut lime. It used to take him almost a whole day once a week to polish the Zoo, and Auntie Maggie got rid of it as fast as she could when Grandma died in 1935. Unfortunately that was almost the peak of anti-Victorianism, and in consequence we let Auntie Maggie sell, give away, and throwaway so many fascinating bits of Victoriana which I now wish I had.
There was no stove in the kitchen at Grandma’s. All the cooking was done on coal-pots, which stood on a wide stone counter which ran along two sides of the stone-floored kitchen. The coal-pots were heavy iron pots, something like my drawing, which were fuelled with charcoal –not unlike a modern barbeque stove –and they were used for all the cooking, boiling, frying, baking and roasting. For the last two a tin oven was placed on top of the coal-pot, and the cook kept up the heat by frequently fanning the flame with a palm-leaf fan. In the kitchen at Victoria Avenue there were at least 4 coal-pots on the stone counter. We were much more up-to-date at Brighton –the oil-field where I lived for most of my life in Trinidad. When I was very young the cooking was done on a big iron kitchen range, fuelled by wood, which was delivered free each week by company lorry to every householder of the senior staff of the Trinidad Lake Asphalt Company, the oil company for which Daddy worked. Each bungalow had its big wood-pile at the back, and we children had great fund climbing all over them and using the logs for a variety of games. Later to our sorrow, the Company installed electric stoves in all the bungalows, and I can remember what a time Mother and her friends had getting their cooks used to using the new stoves! Mother enjoyed making cakes and special desserts, so she had a small stove of her own in the pantry for her fancy cooking. It was
fuelled by parrafin ( “kerosene” we called i t ) and was know as a “Blue Flame Stove” .Mother did her cooking the easy way, wi th a cook and a maid to get everything ready for her, and, better still, to clear everything away afterwards! She was a very good fancy cook, and made really delicious cakes.
When they were first married Daddy and Mother lived in Port-of-Spain and Daddy was secretary to an American, Bert L Marr, who had an export and import business in Port-of-Spain. One of the things he traded in was gem-stones, especially sapphires. Daddy’s two sapphire stick-pins, one of which I have given to my son John, and the other to my son, Richard, were both given to him by Bert Le Marr.
In 1910, after they had been married for 2 years, Mother and Daddy had a baby son, James (“Bady Jim”). Unhappily he was born with a strangulated intestine, and as the operation to correct the defect was unknown in those days, the pool little fellow just wasted away and died when he was three months old. Mother and Daddy desperately wanted another baby, but had to wait 3~ more years before I was born, on 17 October 1913. When Grandpa Mathison died in the following year Mother and Daddy went to live at Guyana Cottage, so that Grandma would have the interest and comfort of a baby in the house. As you may imagine, I was soon as spoil t as “Baby Jackson” .
On 11 September 1916, when I was not quite 3, my sister, Marjorie, was born, and that really is my earliest memory for I distinctly remember the atmosphere of excitement which greeted me when I got home that afternoon. I had been sent to spend the day somewhere as Monther had the baby at home. Grandma and Auntie Maggie and Auntie Feta met me at the top of the stairs as Nannie brought me in, and they told me that the doctor had been to see them and had brought me a lovely little baby sister. Then they took me in to Grandma’s big dressing-room and showed me a black Gladstone bad in which they said that the doctor had brought the baby. I can clearly see that bag, half-open on one of the chairs, and remember myself looking curiously into it and then asking to see the baby. And that is a real memory, not just remembering after being told.
Grandma’s dressing-room should more correctly have been called her boudoir. It was a large bow-fronted room, with her dressing-table and marble-topped washstand at one end, her large wardrobe and a big bow-fronted chest or drawers in the middle, and a very big desk at the other end, at which Grandma spent a great part of each day, making her paper beads, or later, cutting out her jig-saw puzzles.
But that is a diversion. To go back to the day that my sister was born. I next clearly remember being taken into the bedroom, seeing Mother lying in bed and starting to go to her, and then the feeling of rage and anguish when I realised that my cot was no longer in its accustomed place by Mother’s bed –there was a baby’s crib there instead! I remember rushing at the crib and trying to drag it away, and being carried weeping from the room. As a result of that bit of poor child psychology, I hated my baby sister at first, and was always rushing at her and trying to drag her off Mother’s lap. I’ve been told that the baby had some narrow escapes when Mother’s attention wandered. Later, when the baby was old enough to be taken out for walks with me and Nannie, I would walk beside the pram, pulling at Nannie’s skirt and crying, “Throw her away and take me up! ” “Give her to the coolie- man and take me up!” Luckily the feeling did not last, and Marjorie and I became, and have remained, good friends.
DON ANTONIO DE BERRIO YORUNA
Don Antonio de Berrio was born in Spain in 1520. He became a soldier and took part in many of Spain’s great battles. He fought at Siena, against the Barbary pirates, in Germany, in the Netherlands under the Duke of Alba, and in Granada against the Muslims. Tw’o of his brothers died in battle beside him, and a third brother was killed at the naval Battle of Lepanto.
When Don Antonio was 53 or 54 year old, he got married. His wife was much younger than he, and was the niece of a famous Conquistador, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada, who captured the treasure of the Chibchas, and founded the Spanish kingdom of New Granada, in the part of South America which is now roughly Columbia. Quesada was rich and he had the title of Adelantado. When he died, of leprosy contracted during a fruitless 3 year search for El Dorado, his estates in New Granada, which were considerable, passed to his niece, and through her to Don Antonio.
It was to claim this inheritance that Don Antonio, at the age of 60, went out to South America, taking his wife and three young children with him. When he got to New Granada he found that a clause in Quesada’s will required him to continue “most insistently” the search for El Dorada. De Berrio did so, and five years later he wrote, “It was, I judged, no time to rest”. Don Antonio was well suited for this adventure both by temperament and circumstance, and it became his new way in life. He manned two costly expeditions during the next ten years, and finally, aged 70! he set out once again, taking his 12 year old elder son with him. His family now consisted of two sons and six daughters, and while he was away his wife died, after giving birth to a 7th daughter.
On this third expedition de Berrio and his men travelled down the whole length of the Orinoco River, through the heart of cannibal Carib country, all the time searching for a pass through the mountains which would take them to El Dorado beyond! Finally they came to the deltas at the mouth of the river, then crossed the narrow strip of water to Trinidad. Here de Berrio and his men stayed eight days; they found the natives, who were peaceable Arawaks, friendly, and de Berrio surveyed the island and chose two sites for settlement, one on the coast, now Port-of-Spain ,and one 15 miles inland up the Caroni River, Trinidad’s most sizeable river. The second site is now St Joseph.
After this he re-embarked his much depleted party of men, allof them ailing, and sailed on to the island of Margarita, off the north coast of Venezuela, where there was already a sizeable Spanish settlement. His expedition, which had lasted 18 months, had once again ended in failure, and this time de Berrio himself was broken in body, mind and spirit, and never again fully recovered his old vigour.
He was granted hospitality by the Governor of Margarita, who immediately began plotting to take over de Berrio’s official quest for El Dorado. De Berrio was by this time without funds, and could do nothing beyond sending his young son back home to get more supplies and men, which came to nothing, as the boy never returned.
While he waited helplessly in Margarita help did come from an unexpected quarter. A rich Spaniard of Caracas, Don Domingo de Vera, who very greatly admired de Berrio for his exploits, and for one in particular, come to his rescue with the offer of funds and men.
The exploit which had particularly aroused de Vera’s admiration had occurred on de Berrio’s recent expedition, when, in the deepest part of Carib territory, his men, ill, starving and mutinous, began to desert, and those who did not desert were demanding that the expedition turn back. De Berrio, in order to prevent further desertions and quell the mutiny, had all their remaining horses killed. Then, while they ate the dead horses he had dug-out canoes made from the jungle trees, and the expedition continued their journey by river. De Berrio sent de Vera to Trinidad to take possession of the island –inhabited at that time by some 10,000 Arawak Indians! .. in the name of the King of Spain, and of Don Antonio, its Governor! And with only 28 men de Vera did just that! and de Berrio became the self-appointed Governor of Trinidad in 1592.
He immediately sent de Vera off on yet another quest for El Dorado, remaining in Trinidad himself, and this time de Vera returned with some small golden objects and many tales that at last the Golden City had been definitely located, but it would need a thousand men to capture it.
De Vera was sent to Spain by de Berrio, to get the necessary men and money from the King, but he was delayed in Venezuela and his news spread ahead of him. A Spanish ship was captured by the English, and on board was found copies of de Vera’s documents about Trinidad and the discovery of El Dorado. Even before de Vera got to Spain, his news had reached Sir Walter Raleigh. At this point Don Antonio de Berrio comes into English history, because he was the Spanish governor of Trinidad whom Raleigh invited to his ship, and then held prisoner while the English troops sacked and looted the Spanish capital of San Jose and killed all the Spanish garrison. Raleigh intended in this way to destroy the Spanish chance of finding El Dorado before he got there himself. Only de Berrio and and old man who had been de Berrio’s second-in-command on his last expedition were left alive, and they were kept prisoners on Raleigh’s ship. Raleigh’s plan was to get all the information which he could from de Berrio about El Dorado, and to this end he treated him at first as an honoured guest, and drew him on to talk about his many adventures. At first de Berrio responded eagerly to the courtier in Raleigh, enjoying cultured companionship after so many years amongst rough men, but as soon as he realised that Raleigh was planning his own quest for El Dorado, de Berrio shut up like a clam, “stricken with a great melancholy and sadness” Raleigh wrote.
Once Raleigh was sure he could get nothing more out of de Berrio he tried to get a ransom for him from Spain, but that failed, and Raleigh being in difficulties himself, he finally exchanged de Berrio and his old comrade for one of his own wounded men. He then left the two old men in the town of Cumana, on the north Venezuelan mainland. De Berrio was afraid that the Governor of Cumana, an old enemy, would kill him, so with a few followers he took refuge on one of the islands of the Orinoco delta. De Vera by this time was in Spain, where he so successfully pleased de Berrio’s cause that in the end he was able to return to Trinidad with 28 ships, the largest Spanish fleet which had ever entered the Gulf of Paria. But as far as de Berrio was concerned help from Spain had come too late. He was now too old, and too ill and feeble-minded to be able to do anything constructive, and he died soon after.
No sooner was de Berrio dead than who should turn up in Guyana than that son who had been sent home for fresh supplies at the end of the 3rd Expedition, and had stayed there –Fernando. Now aged 19, he came to Guyana to claim his father’s province. Faithful de Vera went to him at once, to report and hand over, and Don Antonio’s son assumed his title, ‘Don Fernando de Oruna y de la Hoz, Governor and Captain-General by the King our Lord, of the Provinces and Kingdoms of El Dorado, Guyana and the Great Manoa, and of the island of Trinidad.’Don Fernando divided his time between Trinidad and Guyana, where he founded a couple of settlements and made a half-hearted pretense of continuing the search of El Dorado, but in fact devoted all his energies to building up a flourishing illegal trade with Spain’s enemies, English, French and Dutch, dealing in all manner of contraband goods, and particularly in slaves. Also he lived openly with a native Indian woman, all of which made him very unpopular with the local Spaniards, who complained of him continually to Spain. Finally the Spanish Crown sent out an investigator, and after lengthy proceedings “Fernando Berrio” ( as he was already being called even in official documents) was suspended from the Governorship of Trinidad, and a new lieutenant-governor was appointed.
Fernando remained in Guyana for two years, then went to Spain to protest about his treatment. He was given a sum of money, a tract of land in New Granada and some Indians. Finally in 1622 he set out on another trip to Spain, taking a 12 year old nephew with him. In the Mediterranean his ship was captured by Moorish pirates and Fernando and the boy were held for ransom. The King of Spain eventually paid the ransom, but only the boy was released. Don Fernando had died in captivity. Was this the boy, I wonder, who returned to Trinidad and became the ancestor of Isabel Berries? Or was that one of his other brothers?
N.B. In a book about Trinidad which I have been sent, “Voices in the Street” by Olga Mavrogordato, all the Governors of Trinidad are listed, with their dates. 1592-1597 is shown as the period of Don Antonio de Berrio’s Governorship, and 1597-1612 as that for Don Fernando, followed by a further period of Governorship from 1619 to 1622 when he left for Spain the second time. So it would appear that after his first trip to Spain he was reinstated in office.