By Aileen Alexis
The year 1797 signalled a watershed moment in the colonial history of Trinidad. Before that year, Trinidad was under the rule of the Spanish Crown, England’s newest enemy. Trinidad became a pawn in European rivalries that brought General Abercromby to the shores of Trinidad that year. This would mark the beginning of 165 years of British colonial rule in Trinidad until the country’s independence in 1962. The British commemorative medallion of 1897 marks more than the centenary anniversary of the capture of Trinidad. It visually tells the story of Spanish capitulation and British blows to the possessions of the Spanish Empire in the region.
The obverse of the bronze, rounded medallion is adorned with General Abercromby’s face, bust, and a portion of his military regalia embellished by a necktie and grand cross ribbons. The lettering on the obverse spells out ‘SIR RALPH ABERCROMBY.’ While the reverse shows an embankment at Port of Spain, ships traversing the sea, and mountains erect in the background. There is both English and Latin lettering that celebrates the British conquest of the country. A new era unfolded in Trinidad and British success in consolidating conquest of the territory is owed to the work of General Abercromby and his efforts in securing Spanish agreement to the articles of Capitulation. P.G.L Borde in his work on Spanish capitulation in Trinidad highlights the cooperative efforts of Admiral Harvey, the last Spanish governor Jose Maria Chacon and General Abercromby in meeting in one of the houses in the town to record and sign the fifteen articles of capitulation. The medallion serves as an outward expression of gratitude and British pride for the work of General Abercromby in aiding British colonial expansion in the West Indies, in turn helping to form the empire on which ‘the sun never sets’.
Borde, P.G.L, ‘The Capitulation,’ In The Book of Trinidad, ed. Gerard Besson and Bridget Brereton (Port of Spain: Paria Publishing, 1991),68-78.
Cover image: The reverse of the medallion
Image credit: The Central Bank Museum, Trinidad and Tobago