Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 7th 2013 Contents B2
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt July 7, 2013
In a forlorn tomb in the far corner of Lapey-
rouse Cemetery is a reminder that even the
most powerful men can be laid low by history.
It is vandalised and has been stripped of its
wrought iron by a scrap dealer, yet it contains
the remains of a man who held such great sway
over Trinidad in his lifetime that he could have
been considered its monarch. This crumbling
marker is his sole presence on the landscape
That man was William Hardin Burnley. Born
in 1780 to an American merchant, he was edu-
cated in England, came out to the West Indies
around 1802 with a great deal of money in his
pocket and purchased Orange Grove Estate
Burnley was married to the sister of Joseph
Hume who was a British MP and slavery abo-
litionist. Although he was eventually to own
about 20 per cent of all the slaves in Trinidad,
William was a forward-thinking man and saw
the end of slavery on the horizon.
William was also something of a crook. In
1809 he purchased the post of depositor general
of the colony (much in the same way political
financiers today purchase state board and Cab-
inet positions) which allowed him access to
acquire foreclosed properties. His power was
so extensive that he was able to dabble in the
affairs of the colony at the level of the British
Parliament, where he was at odds with the
Agent for Trinidad, Joseph Marryat. Burnley
himself was considered deputy for Trinidad
and expressed as early as 1814 the need to
introduce free labour from India. He was
allegedly responsible for the removal of at least
two governors who did not suit his purposes.
Burnley s father died in 1823 and left him
armorial bearings as well as a legacy of a stag-
gering £120,000 in a time when that sum could
have represented the entire budget of the colony.
He began acquiring estates and slaves en masse
as far as Perseverance in Guapo.
At Orange Grove, with its huge usine or
refinery, Burnley erected a country seat worthy
of his status which took the form of a huge
mansion with a large garden and extensive pas-
tures. It surpassed anything yet constructed
in the island for sheer magnificence and was
the subject of several paintings by Trinidad s
great 19th-century artist Michel-Jean Cazabon,
of whom Burnley was a patron. Burnley s wife
and his son William Frederick lived in England
The big man saw his empire come under
threat with the end of slavery in 1834. Although
he had championed its abolition before, he saw
his plans for a controlled and docile peasant
class vanish as the ex-slaves walked off the
estates and squatted on crown lands, providing
at best unreliable seasonal labour, which soon
crippled the local sugar industry. In response,
Laid low by history
...William Burnley, king of Orange Grove
Burnley formed the Immigration and Agri-
cultural Society, which was a body of planters
with similar interests.
Free labourers from Sierra Leone in Africa
were imported and landed in 1841 at Per-
severance Estate in Guapo but soon walked
off and squatted in the district.
From being an opponent of slavery, Burn-
ley now sought to gather evidence to have
it reintroduced! In 1841 he sponsored a
commission of inquiry which journeyed
across the island recording testimonies from
sources such as ex slaves, planters and cler-
gymen. The whole was compiled and sub-
mitted to the British House of Commons,
where he held sway, but not enough to serve
his sinister purposes.
Burnley donated lands astride the Eastern
Main Road over from the Orange Grove
Pasture (now Eddie Hart Grounds in
Tacarigua), for the establishment of the St
Mary s Anglican Church in 1842.
Trinidad s richest man died suddenly in
Port-of-Spain in 1850 and was interred in
Lapeyrouse Cemetery instead of on his mag-
nificent estate at Orange Grove.
The estates passed to his son in England,
who was prevented from living in the tropics
by an odd life insurance policy which would
automatically become void if he travelled
thence. Eventually, in 1899, William Fred-
erick Burnley Jr (grandson of William Hardin
Burnley) sold the entire empire in Trinidad,
shortly before 1901.
The great house built by William Hardin
Burnley gradually crumbled into nothing
and was torn down in the 1920s. This
brought an end to the Burnley presence in
Trinidad after nearly a century.
Orange Grove Estate remained a produc-
tive sugar plantation until its closure in the
1980s and is now an industrial estate.
The vandalised grave of William Hardin Burnley (1782--1850) at Lapeyrouse Cemetery.
INSET: William Hardin Burnley's mansion at Orange Grove in a painting by Cazabon (1847).
COURTESY GEOFFREY MACLEAN
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