Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 8th 2014 Contents B2
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 8, 2014
The northern facade of the Royal Victoria Institute circa 1900.
The controversy which surrounded
the investigation into the theft of two
Cazabon paintings from the National
Museum last year only served to high-
light the extent to which mismanage-
ment and neglect have affected the
nation s foremost repository of heritage
Stuffed birds, reptiles, shells
The museum owes its genesis to a
collection of oddities displayed at the
Red House which attracted the curiosity
of many, including JH Collens, who
wrote in 1887:
"Here are filed copies of every news-
paper published in the island. At the
lower end of the room are some cases
of stuffed native birds, presented to the
colony by the late Dr Leotaud, whose
Ornithology of Trinidad is a standard
work. The interesting collection of rep-
tiles was given by the late Dr Court, and
in the cabinet will be found a really valu-
able though little appreciated assortment
of shells, the gift of the widow of the
late Governor Keate. There is, in fact,
the nucleus of a good local museum;
what a pity more is not made of it! The
shells should be arranged by some com-
petent person, Mr JL Guppy, for instance,
who is an authority on such matters,
and placed in glass cases where they
could be seen without being handled.
"It is well known that collectors of
curiosities have few scruples of con-
science, and if this lot of shells does not
become smaller by degrees and beau-
tifully less, I shall be agreeably surprised.
The bottles of snakes and other reptiles
should be labelled; specimens of the
huge anaconda and rattlesnake, etc,
might be added.
"It would be no difficult task to obtain
in a very few weeks whole cases full of
butterflies, beetles, etc. With all these
properly arranged, classified and dis-
played to the best advantage, the colony
would be able to boast in a short time
of a very creditable museum. British
Guiana has one---why not Trinidad?"
The attraction of these displays was
enough to galvanise the Governor into
action, as Collens also recounted:
"Since the above lines were penned,
Sir Wm Robinson has taken the initiative
in the matter, and has started a move-
ment to establish, in commemoration
of the Queen's Jubilee, a Victoria Insti-
tute, to combine within itself the Sci-
entific Association, the Agricultural Soci-
ety, the Public Library, and a Museum,
and it will contain a large hall suitable
for lectures, conversaziones, concerts,
meetings, and exhibitions. The idea is
a magnificent one, and is thoroughly
worthy of the support of all who have
the welfare of the colony at heart.
"A central committee has been
appointed, with the Hon SH Gatty,
Attorney-General, at its head, and already
a very fair amount has been subscribed
towards an institution which, as the
Governor very pertinently remarks, 'if
established and properly managed, can-
not fail to be of permanent benefit to
present and future generations in this
her Majesty's colony of Trinidad.'"
Opening in 1892
On September 17, 1892, the Royal Vic-
toria Institute was formally opened by
the Surveyor General, Sylvester M
Devenish, on behalf of Sir F Napier
Broome, the Governor, who was ill. Not
only did the RVI serve as a museum,
but it was also a civic and community
The ornate edifice encompassed all
the functions it was designed for, and
especially the museum which housed
the aforementioned collections, and sev-
eral other priceless artefacts including
a portfolio of 17th-century documents
related to Spanish Trinidad, loaned by
the Portel family of St Joseph.
In 1913, the King Edward VII Memorial
Wing was added, along with the Marie
Louise Hall, which was opened by its
namesake, Princess Marie Louise of
Schleswig-Holstein, granddaughter of
On April 1, 1920, disaster struck when
the building was completely gutted by
fire, destroying many irreplaceable items.
Witnesses told of hearing the alcohol-
filled jars of reptile specimens exploding
like mortar bombs. Also destroyed was a
specimen which was then considered the
world's largest centipede, which had been
caught on Chacachacare Island.
The structure was rebuilt and opened
in June 1923, although it was many years
before enough of a collection was assembled
again to reopen the museum.
During WWII, classes were held here in
garment construction, carpentry and food
preparation in order to teach people how
to be more self-sufficient. Meetings of war-
support associations were also held here.
In 1958, the Federal Court of the ill-
starred West Indies Federation (which would
collapse three years later) was convened in
the Marie Louise Hall.
After Independence in 1962, the Royal
Victoria Institute was re-purposed as the
National Museum and Art Gallery.
The main entrance of the Royal Victoria Institute in 1910.
At Royal Victoria Institute...
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