Fort King George - Many Names, Many Rulers, But Never Besieged
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which consists of islands situated just off the coast of South America together form one of the most populous countries in the Caribbean. The two islands have a long history and many historic sites. One of their most important is Fort King George, (originally known as simply Fort George) as it played a crucial role in the history of the country. This site is being restored after many years of neglect and is now a popular tourist destination .
A Brief History of the Fort
Trinidad, the largest of the two islands, was originally settled by the Spanish and remained sparsely populated. Tobago, however, changed hands no less than thirty times and has a much more violent history. It was successively occupied by the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the British. It was even briefly settled by the Duchy of Courland (modern-day Latvia).
During one period of British rule, Lord George Macartney, the governor of the island and neighboring Grenada, began the construction of a military barracks on Scarborough Hill and by 1779 work was near completion. In 1781, however, the French invaded Tobago and took the island.
The location of Trinidad and Tobago (Google Maps)
The French commander began to turn the military barracks into a military fortress. It was completed in 1789 and in the following year, the garrison mutinied in support of the French Revolution .
The British then recaptured the fort in 1793 and Tobago was returned to France after 8 years in 1801, but by 1803 was again a British Colony when France ceded it to Britain under the Treaty of Amiens. The fort was then referred to as ‘Fort King George’ after King George III.
In 1804 the British governor built a number of batteries and sea-defenses. It was widely believed that the fort was invulnerable to any attack as it was never besieged by any enemy. Nevertheless, the local merchants would store their valuables in the fort for safekeeping whenever there was a threat of war.
The military site was badly damaged by a hurricane in the 1840s and the garrison was withdrawn from Fort King George in the 1850s. The fort has been restored in recent years and it is now part of the Fort King George Heritage Park.
The Sights at Fort King George
The fort was part of a complex of fortifications, including batteries, military buildings, and prison cells that were used to detain both soldiers and civilians. The fort itself consists of a number of gun emplacements and two barracks.
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Fort George, Scarborough, Tobago Source: victorbillvyse/Adobe Stock
The signal station that was added in the 1880s lies within the precincts of the fort. This beautiful, white plantation house was built and designed by a west African prince who was a ward of the British on the island and thankfully it is in excellent condition.
The two batteries name Princess Charlotte and Abercromby and Cambridge, sit on the lower slopes of Scarborough Hill, while Cumberland battery is set above the Fort. These batteries are walled platforms containing well-preserved cannons from the nineteenth century with their barrels pointing towards the sea.
The grounds of the former fort and the military complex are most impressive as the fort is set among manicured lawns and gardens which alone are worth the visit. Some artifacts from the military fortress are on display at the site.
Reaching Fort King George
The fort is near Scarborough, the capital of Tobago. Accommodation nearby is plentiful, and tours of the site are available. An admission fee is charged to enter the old military complex and special tours can be arranged which includes the arts center in one of the old barracks.
Lighthouse of Fort George (Kirsch, D / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )
Fort King George is famous for its views of the Port of Spain and the Caribbean Sea as it sits on a steep hill and is quite a hike to reach, so it may be advisable to hire a cab. It is claimed that on a clear day, it is possible to see the outline of the coast of Venezuela.
Top image: Fort George magazine (Kirsch, D / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )
By Ed Whelan
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