George Francis Robert Harris

In 1846, George Francis Robert Harris was appointed governor of Trinidad, holding the post until his promotion in 1854 to the governorship of Madras. Midway through his term as governor of Trinidad, on 16 April 1850, he married Sarah, younger daughter of George Cummins, archdeacon of Trinidad, with whom he had a daughter and a son.

Harris, like many of his contemporaries, viewed Trinidad's freed slaves as half-savage, childlike creatures; nevertheless, as governor he implemented legislation that laid the foundations for Trinidad's cosmopolitan society of the future. The achievement in which he took most pride, although there was still little to show for it at the time of his departure, was the introduction of a rigorously secular system of primary education which was based upon a parish rate and open to any child of a rate-payer.

To meet the plantation owners' incessant cries for labour Harris initiated the importation of indentured labourers from India, and was one of the first to recognize that these workers would become a permanent part of Trinidadian society. Although it was initially only rarely used, he put in place the mechanism whereby Indians could stay on after their period of indenture, taking a grant of crown land in lieu of their return passage home. More generally, he enabled the purchase of crown land in small lots and offered a virtual amnesty on crown land squatters, two measures which were intended to bridge the gulf between Trinidad's labourers and plantation owners by promoting a smallholding culture and the creation of village communities. His plans were handicapped by an empty treasury and numerous executive blunders and he appointed far too many of his own men--the 'Harristocracy'--to government jobs, yet he was one of Trinidad's most energetic and interested colonial governors, rivalled only by Arthur Hamilton Gordon, governor from 1866 to 1870.

Trinidad and Tobago | Trinidad and Tobago Administrators


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames |

by Stephen Luscombe