This piece collaborates two historical objects that encapsulate a part of Tobago's history that very few people know about. I happened to stumble across this pamphlet in my research and decided that it was too important not to be immortalised on the canvas. I contemplated for some time as to what I should combine it with - something that was close to the heart of Tobagonians and possibly something that was still standing today. Quit aptly I chose the Plymouth Post Office which is a little more than a hundred years old and serves in an ornamental capacity as opposed to a functional one. Considering bouts with two major hurricanes (Flora and David) and two tropical storms within recent times it is a miracle that this building is still standing today.
The pamphlet is called ‘The present prospect of the famous and fertile island of Tobago with a description of the situation, growth, fertility and manufacture of the said island, to which is added proposals for the encouragement of all those that are minded to settle there’ . It’s by Captain John Poyntz and dates back to 1683.
Poyntz was born somewhere between 1629/1630, and as a third son of minor gentry was probably a classic candidate for the navy. By the time of the Restoration, he was commanding a ship. In 1666, he led four ships to capture a Dutch settlement in Tobago. They left behind a small garrison, but this was later wiped out by a French expedition from Grenada.
In 1681, Poyntz was commissioned by the Duke of Courland – who had acquired a title to the island in 1640 from the Earl of Warwick to re-establish the colony. He was granted 120,000 acres in return for recruiting settlers, and in 1683 issued this pamphlet by way of a glossy sales catalogue that was advertised in London.
The island, according to Poyntz, was immensely fertile; it was full of many varieties of grain; the range of fruit was amazing. Here’s what he had to say about some of the many varieties:
“Here is also the Figg-Tree… which fruit may be eaten while as yet its ripe; or exposed to better husbandry, it serves for good drink. Then there’s the Prickle-Apple, of a sharp brisk taste; (and an Indian expedient against the Bloody-Flux) it makes a brave Marmalade: and helps for staining and colouring any thing. But the Prickle-Pear, to speak its due praise, is one of the most sovereign fruits in the Indies. The Pome-granate, is a fruit of that singular eminency, as hardly to be expressed, without a scriptural phrase: they are plentiful here, a restringent and cooler. The Pine-Apple, I must confess is a fruit of that excellency, that I want rhetoric and oratory to express it. Some bears a Crown, and is the king of fruits; but to them with three crowns, the idolatrous pay their superstitions. The fruit of it self is of fruit most delicious, and the liquor bottled up, makes an admirable drink. Here are also Pum-Citrons, that make an excellent preserve.”
The famous classic novel Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe is believed to be inspired by Poyntz’s account of Tobago. It is thought that Defoe was inspired by Poyntz’s account of Tobago to write an account of his own island Eden in 1719.
Today you can visit the 'Robinson Crusoe Cave' in the Tobago. It seems to still be in its most natural state and access is facilitated by property owners whose land you must pass through to get there. I am sure the Tobago House of Assembly will, in it's wisdom, eventually develop this site for a better visitor experience.
I hope you appreciate this little breadcrumb of history. Do share with your friends and don't forget to subscribe to the blog and get updates as soon as they are posted.
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Below His Excellency Orville London High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago, London and former Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly and artist Tricia Trotman-Maraj unveiling the piece at the caribArt Launch, London.
Basil Morgan, ‘Poyntz, John (1629/30–1712)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Jeannette Black, ‘The Blathwayt Atlas: Maps Used by British Colonial Administrators in the Time of Charles II’, Imago Mundi, Vol. 22. (1968), pp.20-29.
Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1800. Cambridge University, 1995.