The use of visual images is becoming increasingly popular when conducting research. Visual images which are inclusive of photographs, paintings, drawings and maps can convey a wealth of information to the researcher.  These images give a unique perspective on historical events and occurrences. Keeping this in mind, let us now delve into the history of the island of Tobago and the manner in which they can help us understand its past.

Maps are one of the most easily recognisable visual images in historical research. In existence for close to eight thousand years, maps have been used to explore and claim new territory as well as to depict geographical landmarks thus making them important sources for historical research. Maps can be used to understand why Tobago became a haven for privateers and buccaneers during the seventeenth to eighteenth century. The physical geography of Tobago with Main Ridge Forest dominating the centre of the island as well as the numerous beaches, coves and coastal plains made it an ideal base for pirates. By the late seventeenth century Tobago had become a base for pirates who operated in the Southern Caribbean and the Spanish Main. The lingering influence of the pirates on the history of Tobago can still be seen since Pirates Bay was named after the numerous Pirates who docked there.

The predecessor to the photograph was essentially the painting. This was the visual medium through which events could be and were recorded as paintings depicted numerous things, from landscapes to battles. The island of Tobago was fought over by many imperial powers during the seventeenth and eighteenth century with the island changing hands frequently. In 1636 the Spaniards who owned the neighbouring colony of Trinidad captured the Dutch fort at Scarborough.

Capture of Dutch Fort 1636

Capture of Dutch Fort 1636

This painting depicts the layout of the fort and as such could be useful when conducting historical research on the layout of the settlement as well as the battle itself. Another example can be the painting which depicts the English Attack at Fort King George in 1793. The English lost Tobago to the French in 1781, and after the outbreak of the French Revolution they sought to recapture Tobago in 1793. This attack was a strategic move and from this painting it can be perceived as such. Paintings, therefore, prove to be a medium that visually captured important historical events in the age before photography.

Attack on Fort King George

Attack on Fort King George

The most common form of a visual image in the digital age is the photograph. The science of photography or “writing with light” has been in existence for over two hundred years. Used to capture moments in time ranging from tragedy to joy, photographs can assist to better comprehend the way in which certain events took place as well as its aftermath. In 1963, Tobago was hit by Hurricane Flora. Photographs taken in the wake of this hurricane showed the devastation that took place throughout the island.

hurricane flora2

Tobago Hurricane Flora 1

Devastation in the Aftermath of Hurricane Flora

Deforestation, flooding, loss of infrastructure and most importantly the loss of human life was documented with photographs during this period. However, these were not the only aspects documented with these photographs. The aid that was rendered by members of the armed forces, the response by the government and aid from non-governmental organizations and foreign agencies were all chronicled via photography.

hurrricane flora4 Hurricane flora5

These images can be used to further give insight into the event that took place. Therefore, for this period of Tobago’s history, photographs have become an integral primary source.

Visual images can help fill the gaps in historical research where documentation does not exist. The use of maps, paintings and photographs can be used to recreate the history of an island or country. Visit the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago to view more maps and photographs of Tobago and discover the untold stories of the island.

Work Cited

Historic Tobago. Port-of-Spain: The Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board, n.d. Print.

Ottley, Carlton Robert. The Story of Tobago, Robinson Crusoe’s Island in the Caribbean. Trinidad: Longman Caribbean, 1973. Print.

Woodcock, Henry Iles. A History of Tobago. London: F. Cass, 1971. Print.

Photographs taken from Historic Tobago and the Eric Williams Photograph Collection at the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago.

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