Built Heritage > Colonial

Chacachacare

Convent and Chapel, Marine Bay, Chacachacare | Photograph Martin Mouttet 2007

Written by Geoffrey MacLean

Chacachacare, the largest of the islands between Trinidad and Venezuela, was said to have been given its name by the Amerindians, an onomatopoeic word for the chatter of monkeys, troops of which populated the island.

Chacachacare played an important role in the fight for independence of Venezuela from Spain achieved in 1821, providing a safe haven and springboard for the anti-Royalist revolutionaries.

Until the early nineteenth century Chacachacare was cultivated with cotton. Later it became the centre for Trinidad’s whaling industry. La Tinta Bay, so called because of the inky appearance of sea on the black sand, provided safe anchorage for the whalers and a beautiful bay for day-trippers from the Trinidad mainland. In 1870 the Chacachacare Lighthouse was built on northern ridge and the light, eight hundred and sixty five feet above sea level, and could be seen for thirty eight miles,

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the whaling industry was abandoned and by 1926 the Leper colony established. Moving from the Leprosarium in Cocorite run by the Dominican Sisters of Etr├ępagny the new facilities were centred at Sanders Bay where the women were lodged together with the hospital, dining hall, kitchen and Anglican chapel. The men’s lodgings were at Coco Bay. The nun’s convent and Catholic chapel were located on the upper slopes of Sander’s Bay. A Hindu Mandir was also built for patients of East Indian descent. Later a new convent and chapel were built on Marine Bay, which remain the most obvious relicts of the settlement.

Hospital Ward, Sanders Bay, Chacachacare | Photograph Martin Mouttet 2007

Most of the buildings have now been overgrown with vegetation and few are visible from the sea. If one explores the area on foot, there are many interesting ruins to be seen. It is also a favourite place for the iguana lizard, hunted as a delicacy. La Tinta Bay and Marine Bay are again becoming popular with day-trippers and the boating fraternity. Unfortunately buildings are unprotected and have been extensively vandalized.

Geoffrey MacLean

Anthony de Verteuil C.S.Sp.

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