By Karishma Nanhu
As we observe our 46th year as a republic, we can celebrate the fact that we have our own head of state, Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, who lives in the recently restored President’s House, located in St. Ann’s Port of Spain. The President’s House is a Listed Property of Interest. But did you know that the Office of the President has an official residence in Tobago? It’s located at Mt. William and the original structure was built in 1828 (pictured below). Just as the President’s House in Trinidad was formerly occupied by the British Governor, the current President’s House in Tobago was originally used by British Governors of Tobago. Construction began after Governor Sir William Young arrived in 1807 but while it was supposed to be a two-storied house, unfortunately Governor Young’s post got demoted to Lieutenant-Governor, and the decision was made to build a one-story house instead (Besson, 2018). The location of the building, Mt. William was named after him though.
It was called the Government House, and it was built to withstand hurricanes and strong winds. The hip roof, which can be seen more commonly in Tobago than Trinidad, is also common in other Caribbean islands. The original roof was ideally suited for hurricanes because all the sides of the hip roof are sloped, so there is no way for hurricane winds to push down on it. Successive governors of Tobago lived there until Tobago was made a ward of Trinidad in 1899, bringing it under Crown Colony Governance. During the time of British colonization however, Tobago was a dangerous place for colonizers and unfortunately, three of Governor Sir Frederick Robinson’s children died from yellow fever and were buried on the grounds of the property (National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, 2012). Ironically the decision to move the Government House from Orange Hill (where it formerly stood) to Mt. William (which was thought to be a healthier environment) was due to the death of the Governor from fever in 1802.
Extensive repairs were made to the building in 1958, when the last English Governor General of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Edward Beetham Beetham moved there (Besson, 2018). Following Trinidad and Tobago’s transition to a republic, the head of state, the President, uses the property as a residence in Tobago. The residence has welcomed many outstanding visitors, including Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh.
Source: Kara Roopsingh
While changes have been made to this property since it was built to adapt to its contemporary functions, it retains much of its historical character. The original walls from the 1828 building have remained in use. A formal entrance was added and the roof was changed to a gabled roof. Demerara windows were used in that house and across the region to allow cool air in. The house and the view from the house are beautiful. The President’s House in Tobago is on the National Trust’s Heritage Asset Inventory.
De Four Roberts, Rudylynn. (15th September 2022). Personal Interview.
Besson, G. 2018. ‘President’s House, or The Ups and Downs of Trinidad & Tobago’s Official Mansions’, The Caribbean History Archives. Available at: http://caribbeanhistoryarchives.blogspot.com/2018/05/presidents-house-or-ups-and-downs-of.html
National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, MacLean, G. & Lewis, V. 2012. The Built Heritage of Trinidad and Tobago. National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago.