THE TRINIDAD HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Publication No. 184.
The Secretary of State to the Governor of Trinidad.
Source :-Public Record Office. State Papers Colonial,
Published by the courtesy of the Master of the Rolls and the
Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
27th November, 181o.
The great pressure of public business arising out of the
important events which have been passing for the last three
or four months, has prevented me from sending you the
definite instructions of His Majesty's Government on the
subject of the future constitution and laws of Trinidad as
I had hoped to have been able to do long before this period.
I think it may be material however to lose no time in
informing you of the opinion which they have been able
to form upon that part of the question which though most
important in its nature, is nevertheless subject to the fewest
difficulties in detail.
The application of the proprietors, white inhabitants
of Trinidad, may be divided into two; the British Constitution
as it is understood and supposed to be enjoyed by the other
West India Islands-the British laws under whatever frame
of Government His Majesty may be pleased to establish
in that Colony.
With respect to the first of these points, it has undergone
the most deliberate consideration in all its different bearings.
The question proposed for discussion has no necessary reference
to that state of things which has existed for so many years
in the old West India Islands but may be stated to amount
to this :--whether in a new colony in which the rights of
the Crown and Parliament must be admitted on all hands
to be entire, it would be advisable to surrender these rights
in whole or in part and to establish a system of government
analogous to that of the other West India Islands.
Even if the circumstances of Trinidad were in all respects
much more nearly the same as those of the other West India
Colonies than they unquestionably are, the determination
of Government would probably be to negative such a
proposition. But it so happens that the circumstances of
the Island of Trinidad are in many respects so materially
different from those of all the other West India Colonies that
supposing the system of Government established in those
Islands to be the best which could be afforded them in their
situation, it would not follow that the same system could be
rendered applicable either in justice or in policy to the
Island of Trinidad.
In all the other West India Islands (with the exception
of Dominica, an exception which arises out of recent
circumstances) the white inhabitants form the great majority
of the free people of the Colony and the political rights and
privileges of all descriptions have been enjoyed exclusively
The class of free people of colour in these Colonies, as
far as even their numbers extend, has grown up gradually.
They have thereby in some degree been reconciled to the
middle situation which they occupy between the whites and
the slaves. But in the Island of Trinidad the free people
of colour at this time form a very great majority of the free
inhabitants of the Island and the question would arise
according to the proposed system whether in establishing
for the first time, a popular government in that Colony,
we shall exclude that classes of people from all political rights
and privileges. Such an exclusion we know would be
regarded by them as a grievance and it may be doubted how
far it would be consistent with the spirit of the capitulation
by which their privileges were to be secured and their
situation certainly not deteriorated from that which they
enjoyed under the Spanish Government.
In the second place in most of theWest India Islands,
the great body of the proprietors and white inhabitants are
British or descendants of British families to whom the British
Constitution and the Laws have become familiar ; they
have been educated or supposed themselves to be educated
in the knowledge of them and though the resemblance is
certainly not great between the Constitution as it is supposed
to exist in our West India Islands and as it is enjoyed in
Great Britain, the circumstances above referred to, would
in some degree account for the attachment of the inhabitants
of the old West India Islands to a system of government
in which a popular assembly forms a material part.
But in the Island of Trinidad, the white population
consists of a mixture of people of all nations. The greater
part of them must be wholly ignorant of the British Constitution
and unaccustomed to any frame of government which bears
any analogy to it. In the case of Trinidad therefore, amongst
the most numerous class of white inhabitants, there can be
no material prejudice either of habit or education in favour
of such a system and the partial and exclusive principle
on which it is proposed by the white inhabitants to be founded,
whereby the largest proportion of the free inhabitants of
the Island would be excluded from all participation in its
privileges, appears to defeat the object of it and to constitute
in point of justice and upon the very principles of the system
itself, a divided and insuperable objection against it.
The question has hitherto been considered as far as it
may affect the internal state of the Colony itself. But in
addition to these considerations it is material to add that
the abolition of the Slave Trade by Parliament imposes
upon Government the necessity of keeping within themselves
any power which may be material for rendering this measure
It is essential for this purpose that in a new Colony,
the Crown should not divest itself of its power of legislation
and that neither the Crown nor the Parliament should be
subject to the embarrassments which on such an occasion
might perhaps arise from the conflicting views of the Imperial
Parliament and of a subordinate Legislature.
Under these considerations you may consider it a point
determined that it is not advisable to establish within the
Island of Trinidad any independent Legislature.
In reserving to himself the power of legislation, His
Majesty will delegate in some degree, that power as far as
local considerations may render necessary or expedient to
the Governor as His Representative whose acts will be always
subject to be reviewed, altered or revoked by His Majesty
In exercising this power for local purposes His Majesty
feels the advantages which may arise in a Council selected
by the Governor from the most respectable of the inhabitants
of the Island but such a Council must be considered as a
Council of advice and not of control. The determination
of the Governor even if it should be contrary to the opinion
of such a Council, must be considered as obligatory till such
time as His Majesty's pleasure shall be known ; the members
of the Council may however in such cases be allowed to
transmit their opinion together with their reasons for His
The advantages of a government of this description in
Colonies and remote settlements, have been experienced in
other instances and furnish the strongest possible inducements
for acting upon this principle upon the present occasion.
Upon the second point-the introduction of British Laws
into the Island of Trinidad-I am not as yet enabled to give
you a decided opinion. The subject is necessarily extensive
and complicated. It is at the time under the serious
consideration of His Majesty's Government and I hope
to be able soon to communicate to you at large, their
sentiments upon it. But I thought it of importance that
no time should be lost in conveying to you the determination
of His Majesty's Government for the information of the
inhabitants of the Colony upon the important subject of an
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient and humble servant,