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The Greyfriars story Death of a church ​Part 2

Published: 
Saturday, September 6, 2014
The original Greyfriars kirk around 1880. It has since been heavily modified. On the left is the old manse erected in 1841, which no longer exists.

In last week’s column we looked at the events surrounding the arrival of the Scottish Presbyterian missionary, the Rev Alexander Kennedy, in Trinidad in 1836 and ended at his acquisition of a parcel of land to erect a chapel. Shortly after the plot was purchased, the following announcement was published in the Port-of-Spain Gazette: “Tenders for building a church, in Brunswick Square, will be received by the Reverend Alexander Kennedy, from the 20th current, till the eighth proximo. Plans and specifications to be seen at his residence, Cumberland Street. The mason and carpenter work may be contracted for separately. Port-of-Spain, March 16, 1837.”

With Rev Kennedy’s direction and energy, a fine building with stone walls rose rapidly on the site opposite Brunswick (Woodford) Square. So rapidly did the construction take place that the tenders advertisement was soon succeeded by this proud advertisement: “NOTICE: Greyfriars Church will be opened for divine service on Sabbath the 21st current. Public worship to begin at eleven o’clock am and at four pm. A meeting of the subscribers to the Trinidad fund for the erection of a Presbyterian Church in Port-of-Spain, to be occupied by the Reverend Alex Kennedy, will be held in Greyfriars Church, on Friday the 19th current at 5 o’clock pm, when a statement of the expenditure of the funds will be read, and receipts for the amount submitted at the meeting.—Port-of-Spain, January 12, 1838.”

The cost was over £4,500, which was entirely provided by subscription. In an example of true resilience and self-reliance, the congregation declined an offer of assistance from the colonial government. A short description of the original building was penned by HJ Clark in 1887 as follows: “As most of you are aware, the church was originally considerably shorter than it is now; it was a plain oblong building with a low porch in front and a small vestry at the back. The seats were of the most approved Presbyterian pattern, unvarnished, straight-backed and with doors, all duly numbered in the home style of olden days.”

In 1841 a manse was erected for the accommodation of the Kennedys near the kirk at the cost of £1,000, which was raised entirely in Scotland through the diligence of the Rev Kennedy. The completion of the manse was marked by sorrow, however, since the year before, the Kennedys had returned to Scotland for a short visit, when Mrs Kennedy gave birth to a girl named Margaret Tannahill. The child died very soon after the family returned to Trinidad and was interred under a small marker in a little enclosure along the south wall of the church compound. Alongside little Margaret’s grave, another marble plaque was inserted that simply read: “Laurence—Infant son of Alex. And Jane Sprunt.” Laurence was the child of Mr Alexander Sprunt who was treasurer of Greyfriars in the time of the Rev Kennedy. The third and last burial in this cemetery of the innocents at the kirk occurred on September 11, 1868,  when George Macfarlane Brodie, another baby boy, was laid to rest. 

In the details of the recent sale of Greyfriars to developer Alfred Galy, no mention has been made of these graves, so we may safely assume that if the church falls victim to a bulldozer’s blade, as many now fear, the last resting place of these three infants will suffer a similar fate. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions the kirk’s congregation made in this period was the opening of what can be described as the first public library in Trinidad, as recounted by CB Franklin: “On November 18, 1842, Greyfriars Congregational Library was started. This, doubtless, supplied a great need, as there was then no public library in existence, but there was, I understand, a small book club supported by leading men of the city. I gather from its laws and regulations that membership was not restricted to the members and seat-holders of Greyfriars Church, but was extended to all recommended by them, or known by the librarians. This library provided for the circulation of books of a healthy character, as will be seen from the following extract from Rule 2, which states that ‘the committee shall select such books from those presented, or suggested for purchase, as they think are calculated to promote the interests of man for time and for eternity.’ The books were given out by the two librarians on Friday evenings at the close of the prayer meeting.”

• Next week we look at major changes to Greyfriars in the closing years of the 19th century.

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