Colonial Planter: Christopher Irvine Part 1

Today’s blog post was written by Dr. Jesma McFarlane. Dr. McFarlane is a genealogical researcher. She was formally a zoologist who completed her post graduate work at Howard University, Washington D.C.,U.S.A. Her scientific background is an integral part of the foundation for her many years of genealogical research.

There are burial sites scattered throughout Tobago where former plantation owners are interred. Christopher Irvine, a plantation owner, died January 30, 1840 and was buried at Strawberry Hill, a section of the former Runnemede Estate in the island of Tobago, West Indies. The relic of his tomb, located on the former estate, is testament to his presence and that era of colonial occupation.

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Ruins of Christopher Irvine’s Tomb (the tomb is built from coral blocks and the trestle bed with the details of his epitaph can be seen from the opening)

His historical sojourn extended from Tobago to the United Kingdom and was affected by both the English (1778 and 1793) and French (1781) occupation of the island.  Christopher Irvine bought this Strawberry Hill property that was advertised in Tobago, St. Vincent, Grenada and London, from estate owners George and William Forbes about 1791.

Based on the minutes of the House of Assembly, it appears that William Forbes under the Treaty of Versailles, 1763, purchased 400 acres of land identified as Lot #36, Courland Division in 1770. He and his brother George were also co-partners in Culloden estate (an estate in the same parish). Around 1780 William and George became indebted to Miles Barber, a merchant in Liverpool, England. They decided to mortgage 300 acres of Lot #36 (having previously sold 100 acres to John Hamilton, of which we will write about in another blog) and also a security on the crops of Culloden and the crops of the estate, which was involved in a £300 debt. Christopher was the only bidder and had to pay, based on the appraisal, £5 per acre for the woodlands, £15 per acre for lands with provision, and £10 per acre for brush land. He paid most of the cost and while awaiting a title proceeded to clear 240 acres, cultivated the greater part in sugar cane, restored the sugar works and other buildings and acquired 14 enslaved persons.

However, he had to petition the Tobago House of Assembly in 1793/1794 to procure his title before paying the full sum.  The petition was brought to the House of Assembly on August 11, 1794 and stated in part “…arrête  pour offrerer l’investiture de fief simple de trios cents acre de terre partie do lot no. 36 de la Paroisse de St. David de lisle de Tobago, et de quatorze negres esclaves autrefois appurtenant au feux William and George forbes habitants de cette isle in la personne de Christophe Guillaume Irvine Citoyen.”

 

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Sugar Mill Ruins

 

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Edward Hernandez: Tobago’s Legacy

Today’s blog post was written by Dr. Jesma McFarlane. Dr. McFarlane is a genealogical researcher. She was formally a zoologist who completed her post graduate work at Howard University, Washington D.C.,U.S.A. Her scientific background is an integral part of the foundation for her many years of genealogical research.

Edward Hernandez, who passed away on Monday 26th August 2013, has contributed significantly to Tobago’s heritage. Google his name and you will learn among his many contributions that he was a heritage expert, artist, designer and musicologist. The Tobago museum located on Fort King George, Scarborough, owes its life to this Tobago icon, the first Curator of this facility.  When the museum was first established by Mr. Hernandez, it was  housed at the Mt. Irvine Bay Hotel, there, one could have appreciated Tobago’s history documented and on display in a public space. The museum subsequently found a home among the legacy and remnants of an old colonial fort. He has been a source of information for many aspects of Tobago and is remembered by many who have benefited from his knowledge.

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To honour his memory researchers who consulted with him on the presence of the Couronians at Courland Bay, Plymouth, Tobago during Duke Jacob Kettler’s occupation in the seventeenth century, dedicated their research paper to Mr. Hernandez. The Journal of Baltic Studies published a research paper in 2013 entitled, “From The Port of Ventspils to Great Courland Bay: The Couronian Colony on Tobago in Past and Present” written by Imbi Soonan, Jesma McFarlane, Vladis Traudkains and Stefan Donecker. The paper was dedicated to the memory of Edward Hernandez for his kind hospitality during their visit to Tobago which they described as unforgettable as well as for his assistance with research.

The paper referred to the English royal patent acquired by Duke Jacob between 1645 and 1647, granting him possession of Tobago. A patent, he invoked decades later when he sent an expedition to colonise Tobago.  They landed at Great Courland Bay, now Plymouth, around 1654. He named the island Neu-Kurland (New Courland) and erected Fort Jacobus (Fort James) at Plymouth.

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The Tobago House of Assembly celebrates the Couronian presence in Tobago during the annual Tobago Heritage Festival, albeit not every year.  There is a monument erected to the memory of the Courlanders at Fort James, Plymouth.

 

 

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Great Courland Monument

 

In memory of the bold, enterprising and industrious Courlanders from faraway Latvia on the Baltic shores who had lived in this area named after them from 1639 to 1693.

                                                                   Dated 25/6/78

                                                           Sculpted by Jans Mintiks

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