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A Month of: Brief Histories of British Empire Territories – Trinidad and Tobago

The month of April is very almost over, and I’m here to blog my last ‘month of brief histories’ post today – this time a very brief history of Trinidad and Tobago. I’m keeping with the theme of a ‘month of’, so keep your eyes peeled for my first post of my next ‘a month of’ theme tomorrow!

Trinidad and Tobago



From the time of Columbus in 1498, Trinidad was originally a Spanish colony until the arrival in 1797 of eighteen warships of the British fleet.


The colonial history of Tobago was more unsettled than that of Trinidad, changing hands several times between Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonizers.


Trinidad and Tobago

The two islands, of which Trinidad was the larger, with 94 per cent of the total area, and the most populous with 96 per cent of the total population, were both ceded to the British in the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.

Originally a sugar cane economy, this was transplanted with cocoa and in turn with petroleum, which ultimately came to dominate the economy. In a bid to compensate for the loss of labour brought about due to the abolition of the slave trade, the plantation owners turned to other sources for ‘economical’ labour. This came in the form of Chinese and free West African labour, as well as indentured servants from India (from 1845 onwards). By 1857 over half of the 14,000 strong workforce that travelled in the first wave of ‘internal migrations within the empire’, were from China and India.[i]

The United States had an air base on the island of Trinidad during the Second World War. The post-war era witnessed the rapid wave of decolonisation spreading throughout the British Empire. In 1958 Trinidad and Tobago and well as its neighbours were banded together to form the short lived West Indies Federation. The vehicle towards independence was put into gear. Independence was granted in 1962. The islands split ties with the British monarchy in 1976, electing to become a republic, but remaining linked to Britain itself within the Commonwealth.


[i] James, Lawrence, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire page 188

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