In this intelligent history, Nimblett analyzes the troubled but ultimately successful union of two Caribbean peoples.
The 1889 annexation of Tobago, a small island off the coast of Venezuela, to its much larger neighbor Trinidad is still a subject of controversy. The author, a journalist and native of Trinidad and Tobago, seeks to correct misconceptions by undertaking a careful reading of the historical record. On the surface, Nimblett tells a prosaic story of cost-cutting by the British Empire, which ruled both islands as colonies; Colonial Office functionaries advocating for the merger complained of the expense of maintaining a separate administration for Tobago’s 18,000 people. After the annexation, Tobago’s insistence on fiscal independence led to disaster when the island lost most of its customs revenue on items imported from Trinidad. Tobago petitioned the Colonial Office to rescind the union, but the British government instead abolished Tobago’s separate tax, budget and treasury systems. Nimblett gets at deeper issues when he writes of how, in the 19th century, the island gradually lost its status as a self-governing colony. He details the class struggle behind Tobago’s constitutional wrangles, as Tobago’s legislature, representing a tiny, propertied minority, stymied reform initiatives to stop the exploitation of disenfranchised black workers. Nimblett’s lucid but sometimes repetitive narrative presents a wealth of documentary evidence and adds context with accounts of the West Indies’ legacy of slavery and racism and the economic effects of the collapse of Tobago’s sugar industry. In a challenge to other historians, Nimblett makes a compelling case that Tobago’s annexation helped alleviate many of its problems by sparking investment, land reform and agricultural diversification. His thought-provoking take will influence the ongoing debate over the island nation’s past—and its future.
A well-researched, illuminating interpretation of Trinidad and Tobago’s formative crisis.