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Fort San Andres

Published: 
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Back in Times
Fort San Andres in the 1940s when it was the base of the Traffic Branch of the T&T Constabulary.

Puerta de los Hispanoles (Port-of-Spain) was initially founded towards the end of the 16th century when the Spaniards finally established a permanent settlement at San Jose de Oruna (St Joseph) in 1592.

Since the main highway to the sea was the Caroni River, a landing place with a tiny garrison of half-starved soldiers was stationed on a mudflat where later the town was to be built. Three years later, Sir Walter Raleigh, the intrepid English privateer, swept into the Gulf of Paria with the double purpose of finding the fabled city of gold, El Dorado, and punishing the Spanish Governor, Don Antonio de Berrio for some treachery meted out to Captain Whiddon, another Englishman who had landed some months earlier.

Raleigh enticed the entire garrison aboard his ship, plied them with wine and then massacred them all before proceeding to San Jose to burn the town and kidnap the Governor. 

Things were not much better in the 17th century, as the fortifications at Puerta de los Hispanoles seems only to have consisted of a mud redoubt with an inner palisade of picketed logs, forming a wall around a guardhouse and armoury of sorts. 

The fortification again proved useless in 1716 when sloop commanded by a young pirate named Edward Teach hove into sight. Later known as the fearsome Blackbeard, he was then a protégé of the infamous sea-dog, Benjamin Hornigold. Teach plundered a brig loaded with cocoa and bound for Spain before burning the ship while the garrison quaked behind its mud walls.  

The arrival of Don Jose Maria Chacon as governor in 1784 saw changes taking place as he was dissatisfied with the weak defences of the island. Moreover, the capital had moved from San Jose to Puerta de los Hispanoles. In addition to forts at Gasparee Island and on the Laventille Hills, Chacon had the sea fort moved to a small mole or island near the shore where a stone wall enclosed a blockhouse and six cannon.

The new defence was named Fort San Andres.  These precautions were to naught since in 1797, Admiral Ralph Abercrombie came to Trinidad at the helm of a huge military force.

The little fort could do nothing since the British fleet lay too far off for cannonade and the landing party came ashore too far to the west to be targeted. Moreover, the Spanish admiral, the cowardly Apodaca, had abandoned his ships and burnt them without any attempt at resistance.

The detachment at Fort San Andres was small and many were sick from yellow fever. Given the hopelessness of mounting a defence of any sort, Chacon thought it wise to capitulate. The island passed into British hands. 

The British retained Fort San Andres as a civil defence post, reinforcing the walls and replacing the guns. The blockhouse was also renovated and used to accommodate a small detachment of police officers (from 1851) and soldiers of the West India Regiment whose presence was necessary to maintain law and order on the waterfront. For a short while, the building also served as a customs office.

A signal staff was erected in 1813 within the battery and it was used to send and receive messages from Fort George), which were transmitted by a series of flags and balls hoisted up on the pole which would be spotted by the signalman at Fort George via field-glass. The fort is described in 1855 thus:

“The old Sea-Fort which formerly existed at the King’s, now Queen’s Wharf, may be numbered among the “things that were;” it exists, but only to remind the old inhabitants of its use in former days, particularly during Martial Law. There are a few iron guns on it, but they are scarcely ever used, and the flag-staff" serves to hoist the Union-Jack on the arrival of a Ship-of-War or some state day. The eastern room once used by Military Guard, is now occupied at night by a few Policemen.”

 Development of the area known as Sea Lots in the 1870s and 1880s saw the little islet on which the Fort stood gradually encroached upon by land until it was left high and dry. From 1936-1951, the Traffic Branch of the Trinidad Constabulary was housed at Fort San Andres. The Fort still exists, although the original blockhouse is gone. It is now to the west of Citygate and is home to the Museum of the City of Port-of-Spain. The cannon and the stone breastwork built by Chacon may still be seen. 

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