THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF TRINIDAD
Publication No. 301.
A Report on the Pitch Lake, etc., in the Island of Trinidad by the
Admiral Alexander Cochrane.
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.
Smith October, 1805.
Observations relative to the Mineral Pitch of the Island of Trinidad
and the Harbour in the Island of Chicca Chicaria.
In the year 1792 the Spanish Government sent a frigate
from Spain to Trinidad with orders to prepare some of the
Mineral Pitch and send it to their Arsenals in Europe. A works
for refining the pitch was fitted up at Pointe a Brea about
a mile from the Pitch Lake. This establishment was continued
until the succeeding sear when about I,5oo barrels were
sent to Spain. The outbreak of war is supposed to have
put a stop to further proceedings.
About the close of the year 1796, orders arrived from the
Court of Spain to recommence the manufacture as the
experiments made with what had formerly been sent to
Spain in 1793, had completely answered at the ports of Cadiz,
Ferrol and Cartagena.
The Spanish Admiral Apodaca who commanded the
squadron found here at the time this Island was captured,
received the above order but the arrival of the British Forces
prevented its being carried into effect.
The pitch upon the lake and adjacent country is said to
extend in a south-east direction across the Island. It appears
either in the solid state or exuding in the state of tar from
springs during the dry season of the year. It is also reported
to show itself in other parts of the Island.
The pitch is so consolidated from its being exposed to
the heat of the sun and mixed with stones, earth, leaves of
trees, wood and other rubbish as to be of no use in its present
state. It must therefore be dissolved either by being boiled
with the mineral tar, if a sufficient quantity can be obtained
from the springs, or by tallow or by oil. The proportion
of tallow was used by the Spaniards was about ten pounds
to the hundred weight of pitch ; if oil is used about
one gallon and a half will answer the same purpose. One or
other of these processes is absolutely necessary to clear
the pitch from the above impurities.
The inhabitants of Trinidad have long been in the habit
of using this prepared pitch. They coat with it, the bottoms
of their droghers and boats and use it for the seams of their
decks and topsides. From the best information which can
be obtained, these vessels when payed with the mineral
pitch have not been hurt by the worm although they are
reckoned to be more destructive in the Gulf of Paria than
in any other situation in the West Indies.
This circumstance joined to the abundance of cedar
and other almost incorruptible woods renders the possession
of Trinidad of the utmost consequence to Great Britain.
This species of pitch is of a more adhesive quality than
that procured from the pine and as it does not corrode iron,
it must be preferable to the other. A manufactory fit to make
a sufficient quantity for the Navy of Great Britain with the
establishment connected therewith will cost from o0,000
to 15,ooo. This sum ought to suffice if the articles are
brought from England. American pine is recommended to
make the barrels as it has not hitherto been ascertained
whether the woods of the country will answer.
The excellent harbour situated on the southeast side of
the Island of Chicca Chicaria is well calculated for a building
arsenal where men of war of all sizes may be constructed
and afterwards sent to England laden with similar timber
to that they are built with. This Island has the advantage
of being easily defended and one of the most healthy situations
in the West Indies.
The objections made against the anchorage at Chaguaramas
do not apply to Chicca Chicara. There are no neighbouring
heights whence it can be commanded or in any ways annoyed.
A few towers and redoubts or batteries judiciously placed
will effectually prevent the efforts of any enemy that ma\
be sent against it.
The obstacles which present themselves are the want of a
sufficiency of water and the entrance of the harbour laying
nearly northwest and southeast, being one of the directions
of the trade wind. The first can be removed by building
cisterns to collect the rain water and the latter remedied bN
transport buoys laid down to warp the ships out when the
wind is from the southeast ; when it blows from the northwards
of east, they can sail out and small ships can at all times beat
out. As easterly winds do not cause a sea in the Gulf, the
water is always tranquil as it is in the West India Docks.
For a building situation Chicca Chicara offers many
advantages. It can receive its supplies of timbeis from all
quarters of the Island. The hard woods of the north side
comes down before the wind. The vessels collecting timbers
on the east, south or west sides have the advantage of a fair
wind with the current occasioned by the Orinoco to assist
In time of war the merchant ships will be secured and if
they at all times took in their cargoes in this harbour, the
additional expenses cannot be great as the articles they load
with, are brought to the Port-of-Spain in droghers from
the out ports.
Although the anchorage under Fort George can be made
perfectly secure, I am however of opinion that it will be far
preferable to place the shipping in an enclosed harbour
where they can be protected and that partly by their
own crews who will man the batteries. The Governor as
Commander of the Forces will be relieved from the anxiety
occasioned by the protection lie must afford to the shipping.
He will thereby be more at liberty to bestow his whole attention
to the defense of the place and to employ his force to annos
the enemy when an advantage offers itself.
Possessing Chicca Chicara must give a decided advantage
over a besieging enemy, the reinforcements and supplies
which arrive will be protected by its batteries until a good
opportunity occurs for throwing them into Fort George.
A heavy battery situated on the north end of the Island
will oblige the ;nemy's ships attempting to enter the Great
Bocas, to keep in the middle of the current by which nine
times out of ten, tlhe will be drove to the leeward, a loss
they will require many days to recover.
While it acts to the disadvantage of an enemy, it affords
protection to our own shipping coming to the relief of the
place; they will keep the eastern shore on board and work
up into the harbour under cover of the Island batteries. It
will have the additional advantage of clearing the Gulf from
piratical privateers. They will neither attempt to go in or
come out of the Bocas when the Island of Chicca Chiccara
is fortified and madc a Naval Station.
Trinidad once properly secured may be said to be the
key of South America, to the possession of which, the River
Orinoco offers a safe and easy passage.
H. M.S. orthumberland,
I th October, 1805.