Roxborough Belmanna Riots

Resistance to enslavement through marronage (leaving the estates to live independently) and revolts were common in Tobago especially from 1770 to 1774. With emancipation came the hopes of better work relations and conditions of work but this did not always pan out. In Roxborough, Tobago, in May 1876, riots broke out in protest over low wages and work arrangements of the freed Africans from Barbados who had come to work following Tobago’s post-emancipation labour shortages. Tobago at that time was linked administratively to Barbados and the Windward Islands since 1833.

During the riots, Mary Jane Thomas, one of the workers, was shot and killed by Corporal James Henry Belmanna, of the Roxborough Police Station who was among the armed policemen sent to arrest the alleged Barbadian arsonists. In retaliation, the Africans attacked the police station, beating the officers and killing Belmanna. The uprisings continued on other estates such as Goldborough and Richmond but were eventually quelled when the HMS Argus arrived from Barbados with a contingent of policemen to be followed by the British troops at the end of July. The riots prompted constitutional changes which resulted in the abolition of the Tobago Constitution Act and the granting of Crown Colony status.

 

Source:

Brereton, B. “Post-Emancipation Protest in the Caribbean: The “Belmanna Riots” in Tobago” in Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 4, December 2008.

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