THE TRINIDAD HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Publication No. 201.
Extracted from a Report forwarded by the Governor of Trinidad.
Source :-Public Record Office. State Papers ColonialC.O. 295/2.
Published by the courtesy of the Master of the Rolls and the
Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
From a Report on the Government of Trinidad in Spanish Times.
The Governors of the Spanish Colonies in the Indies
are not vested with legislative authority except so far as
relates to municipal laws and regulations of police which
must be sanctioned with the assent and approbation of the
They are enjoined to govern and administer justice
conformably to the Laws of the Indies which being the
production of many successive reigns, carefully digested,
corrected and amended as cases occurred, are considered
to be a very perfect code of Spanish Jurisprudence for Colonial
Governments and no doubt are well calculated for the security
of the subject according to the spirit of the Legislature.
This Island was however exempt in most instances from
the general Laws of the Indies in consequence of a Cedula
granted by the late King to encourage its population and
settlement by natives of all countries indiscriminately. In
cases not provided specially by this Cedula, the Laws of the
Indies were applied.
This was composed of the Governor who ex-officio was
the Representative of the King ; his Assessor or Ci il
Lieutenant who must be a Doctor of Laws or at least a
Licentiate and by whose opinion lie is obliged to begoverned
in all causes of law and equity unless he chooses to deviate
from it at his owvn risk and thereby become what the law
terms Juez Castuaria ; a Fiscal or Attorney General for the
preservation of the King's peace and rights ; the Alcaldes
in Ordinary or Judges ; the Alguazil Mayor or Provost
Marshal and the inferior Officers of justice.
The department of the King's Treasury or Real Hacienda
consisted of a Collector xwho by his office is Paymaster of
the Army, a Comptroller, Treasurer and Secretary.
The Commissaries for the distribution of lands were also
attached to the Government and in like manner the
Commandants of Quarters ; an establishment found
necessary for the preservation of order by reason of the remote
situation of a great proportion of the settlers and the different
classes and nations they were composed of.
The Board of Cabildo or the Common Council was also
a branch of Executive Government. It is an institution of
great respectability and peculiar priv ileges conferring nobility
in a certain degree to the members ol it and their posterity.
It was a sort of intermediate power between the Governor
and the people. It is composed of two Alcaldes of whom
the senior is its President, an Alfcrez Real or King's Standard
Bearer, Regidors, a Comptroller of \eights, measures and
assize, a Coroner, a Solicitor, Treasurer and Secretary.
It has the exclusive right of imposing taxes on the town
to defray the expenses of works of public utility and benefits,
giving annually an account of the receipts and expenditure.
It has also a right of control over the conduct of the Governor
in cases where it conceives that manifest injustice is done
to the prbli,. Their representations to the Kijg on those
occasions if )properly substantiated, ar.: alwa s attended with
serious consequences to the accused.
It may aptly be compared to the Corporation of a Borough
and has the same insignia of office (the Mace of Power and
the Wand of Justice) honours and attributes.
COURTS OF JUSTICE.
These consis; of the Tribunal of Government composed
of the Governor and his Assessor and the Tribunals of the
Senior and Junior Alcaldes with their respective Assessors,
all of equal jurisdiction. Three Escribanios or Public Scrivenors
were assigned in common to these Tribunals whose attestation
is requisite to all partial decrees or definitive sentences in
judicial procedure and to all public instruments of writing
whatever. Hence their offices are the Archives of Public
Record and they are the depositaries of the public faith.
The Alcaldes of Barrio had jurisdiction of oral complaint
to thlc amount of 50 dollars within their respective districts
and the Commandants of the Quarters were vested with the
authority of Alcaldes in Ordinary ard of Public Scrivcenors
to avoid, for parties remote from the seat of Government,
the expense and inconvenience of attending the issue of suit in
town and to facilitate them in passing and authenticating
public instruments in writing on occasions of emergency.
Appeals lay from these inferior tribunals to that of the
Governor and of the Alcaldes in Ordinary and thence to the
RoyalAudiencia or Chancery of the District and thence again
to the King and Council of the Indies.
Being a free po:t by the King's Cedula, the trade was
entirely in the hands of foreigners and a duty of 31 per cent.
on import and the same on export, was levied.
We had very little intercourse with Spain except now
and then a small cargo of cacao in return for writing paper,
earthenware, canary birds, Catalonia, Malaga and Teneriffe
wines, dried fruit, rosaries and ironmongery. Hence the
revenue was no ways equivalent to the expenses but the
deficit was intended to be supplied by the mines of Mexico
from whence an annual situado was assigned to this Colony
of 200,000 dollars to defray the expenses of its Government,
civil and military ; but the remission of the money was very
uncertain even in time of peace and since the war had been
altogether suspended by reason of war cruisers in the Gulf
of Florida and Mex co whose vigilance it was found nothing
The Government was of course defrayed by the natural
expedient of Papeletas or Treasury Notes payable to order
which the inhabitants and officers civil and military, were
obliged to receive a:; cash although they publicly discounted
them at a loss of from 20 to 50 per cent. according to exigencies
and shameful to relate, they were often bought up by
emmissaries of the King's Treasury supplied with the King's
own money for that purpose.
Commercial intercourse with the adjacent continent was
interdicted except so far as related to live stock, salted flesh
and fish. Since the capture we have enjoyed a more extensive
intercourse and benefitted by the resources that immense
country affords for the disposal of manufactures in barter
for their valuable productions and it is hoped that under
the auspices of peace, these advantages will increase.
RELIGION AND ITS ESTABLISHMENTS.
This was confined to the Roman Catholic only; by an
article of the Ccdula it was an indicspltnsable qualification
for the admission of settlers. That circumstance was however
little enforced by the late Governor who was not a bigot.
Natives of Ircland were received without: examination, the
Catholic Faith being in the Spanish idea, as inherent to that
nation as to their own.
There was in former years the foundation of a convent
at St. Joseph but it was never properly settled. The last
of the Order died in 1790 and the convent has served latterly
as a convalescent hospital for His Majesty's troops.
The Indian villages, four in number, have each a
missionary who are priests of different orders.
The Vicar resides at St. Joseph. He is Ecclesiastical
Judge in all matters relative to the Church or Clergy. The
Bishop of Guayana is the Diocesan.
The Spanish Colonies in America ha\ e each a fixed or
provincial regiment appropriated to its defence and those
regiments are composed of from one to four battalions
according to the population or extent of the province or
place for which they are raised.
Here we had the fixed regiment of Trinidad, a regiment
of very indifferent formation and appointment; the rank
and file having been transferred from the galleys and the
Officers young and inexperienced creolcs of the Governor's
recommendation to serve noble families of ignoble fortunes.
This is indeed a description in great measure of all the
Spanish fixed regiments who from continual residence in
the place ot their appointment become perfectly domesticated
and are little clse than an enrcgimented militia of the
There was also a small detachment of artillery and an
engineer's department and it was intended to fortify the
country in a style equal to Havana and Porto Rico had it
continued to belong to Spain or returned to it at the peace.