We arrived at about 7:30 AM, Wednesday, January 9, 2019, at Kingston, St Vincent, on the Celebrity Summit, docking at the Kingston Cruise Terminal next to the Grenadines ferry docks.
St Vincent is an island in the Windward Islands archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. It is the largest island in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines and has a population of about 100,000 people. All the Vincentians we met were friendly, kind and helpful – especially those who had us figured as having lost our way as we hiked around.
The island consists of the tops of volcanoes, one of which, La Soufriere, is active, most recently erupting in 1979. The entire island is very rugged, with little flat terrain. Kingston is built up into rocky valleys, with colorful houses and shops clinging to the hillsides.
Christopher Columbus and his gang “discovered” St Vincent in 1498, naming it for St Vincent of Sarragossa, on whose feast day he reportedly “conquered” the island for Spain. Before that, the indigenous Caribs called the island Hairouna. The Spanish didn’t settle the island but did engage in human trafficking of the Caribs to be used as slave labor.
Understandably, the Caribs actively discouraged Europeans from settling on their island and were successful in that endeavor until the 18th century when the French established plantations to grow coffee, tobacco, indigo, corn, and sugar, using African slaves as manpower. The first French colony was established in 1719.
The British received St Vincent in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and immediately got into conflicts with the Caribs, leading first to the First Carib War and second to the building of Fort Charlotte. The French took the island back in 1779 in a series of island-grabbing actions related to the American War for Independence from Britain. The French held St Vincent until the British got it back in 1783 through the Treaty of Versailles. Enslaved Africans escaped from both French and British plantations or from shipwrecks into the interiors of St Vincent. The African were welcomed into the Carib communities, at least until the mostly-male Africans started stealing Carib women for wives. African Carib communities were established.
Following the Treaty of Versailles, the Black Carib community, encouraged by the French, fought back against British control, but were defeated several times. The British exiled 5000 Black Caribs (now known as Garifuna) to a tiny island off Bequia called Baliceaux, and later another 5000 to Roatan, an island near Honduras. The British built a military installation on St Vincent called Fort Charlotte having the primary purpose to protect British holdings against the Black Caribs, but also to keep back the French by holding the island until the British Navy could respond.
This was our first visit to St Vincent, so our introductory excursion was a self-guided hike to the Botanical Garden followed by a taxi ride to Fort Charlotte. The island topography consists of volcano tops so the walk to the gardens was completely uphill, through neighborhoods with meager but colorful housing and services. The photo below is a street scene from Kingston.
The Botanical Gardens of St Vincent and the Grenadines were established in 1765 by General Robert Melville, who was the (British) Governor-in-Chief of the Windward Federation at that time. In the 18th century, introducing collected plants from other parts of the world was a competitive sport, with prizes and fame offered by the Royal Society of London. George Young, the Principal Medical Officer on St Vincent, became the first curator of the Garden, and remained the curator even under the intermittent French rule. The building called the Curator’s house is a curious gingerbread structure with signs that praise the wonders of breadfruit.
The garden’s collection has been extended over the years by such notables as Captain William Bligh, who brought the breadfruit plant and something called the breadnut. Nutmeg and black pepper plants were introduced to the gardens by other British naval officers.
The garden is cared for but there are few labels on specimens and no map. The garden’s tour guides don’t know a lot about its history but make an effort to show you the wedding venue and let you know which tree is the banyan. There is a glass house called the nursery that has a few plants, mostly begonias, sansevieria (mother-in-law tongue or snake plant), and some euphorbia milii (crown of thorns) being rooted in rough conditions. Near the nursery building there are several open air cages where the island’s special variety of parrot is being bred in captivity. The begonia cutting rooted in a bag below has a very attractive weed growing with it.
There are two cannonball trees in the Garden, which have quite interesting flowers. These trees are native to South America and related to Brazil nut trees. The tree was in flower at the time we visited, and no seeds were on display. Reportedly, they look like rusty cannonballs 8 inches in diameter. The shell of the seed is used to make things, but the pulp, although edible, is smelly, so not eaten by people but fed to livestock.
Leaving the garden, we took a taxi to Fort Charlotte. This fort was built by the British, as noted above, started in 1763 and completed in 1806. It was defended by as many as 600 troops and 34 cannons against the French, the Caribs, and slave in rebellion. The fort was named after Queen Charlotte of Britain and Ireland (1744-1818), the wife of King George III.
To reach the entrance to the fort you climb a steep drive. The blue building seen above the gate shown below is the Fort Charlotte Light, currently in operation, watching over traffic in Kingston harbor.
The walls of the fort consist of blocks cut from pyroclastic volcanic rock.
In recent times the fort was used as a leper colony, a poor house, a mental hospital, and a prison. The fort’s dry moat (shown below) was used as an exercise yard. One of the old barracks is set up as a rather general display about the history of the Black Caribs.
The photo below was taken beside the Fort Charlotte Light overlooking the harbor, which flashes a white light every 20 seconds. The Coastguard radio station is also housed in the lighthouse. The island of Bequia is in the background.