The Early Years
The National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago is the repository for permanent records and archives of the Government as well as historical records of national significance. The beginnings of the National Archives can be traced back to the aftermath of the disastrous fire of 1903 at the Red House, Port of Spain. This fire destroyed almost all the records in the Colony. Subsequently, provision was made in the construction of new Government buildings for fireproof strong vaults for the storage of records. Despite the provision of vaults, there was no policy or procedure for the acquisition and preservation of historical records.
The Trinidad Historical Society
It was not until June 1936 that the Trinidad Historical and the Colonial Secretary agreed to work together for the permanent preservation of records of historical value. This resulted from a memorandum dated May 26, 1936 to the Colonial Secretary, H. Nankiwell, from the Harbour Master, Mr. A. Bertram-Smith. This memorandum drew to his attention the historical value of the records at the Harbour Masters’ Department, their condition and the need for their preservation at a suitable location. The Colonial Secretary solicited the assistance of the Trinidad Historical Society to appraise these records. The Society felt that preservation of official and other archives of the Colony was a national issue. They offered their full co-operation to the Government to collect and preserve ‘records of historical interest’.
These developments led to the creation of a Standing Records Committee in 1937. This Committee’s mandate included the appraisal, disposal, accommodation and preservation of records in all Government Departments. It was comprised of the Registrar General, the Government Printer and the Director of Surveys, Mr. J.W. Maigillviary. The Trinidad Historical Society began to lobby for the development of a Public Records Office and suggested the appointment of a competent Archivist. The Registrar General supported these proposals and submitted a “Report on the proposed establishment of a Public Records office in the Colony” on December 2, 1937. One of the main proposals was the selection of a Colonial Archivist and the acquisition of suitable accommodation, furniture and equipment for housing of the Colony’s Archives.
Nothing was achieved until the 1947 Colonial Secretariat questionnaire on the Administration of the Government. Responses revealed that:-
There was no central repository for the Government Archives
Concrete vaults were fireproof but records were plagued by insect infestation.
They also highlighted the huge losses suffered as a result of fires in the Colony. Fires had destroyed valuable and irreplaceable records in:
• 1903 at the Red House
• 1932 at the Treasury and Post Office
• 1946 at Planning and Housing, Harbour Master, Agricultural Society
• 1948 at Port of Spain City Council
• 1949 at the Industrial Advisor’s Office and Medical Council Office.