From an industrial point of view Fyzabad is easily the most historic village in Trinidad. Lying about 28 miles due south of Port-of-Spain, and just 10 miles south of San Fernando, seven miles from La Brea to the southwest and just three miles away from Avocat to its north, it could be considered to be at the centre of the oil belt.
Fyzabad was founded around 1871, long before the era of oil came in, and it was a personal project of the Canadian Missionary to the East Indians, Kenneth Grant. Grant was then in charge of the southern field of the mission.
The objective of Kenneth Grant was to convert the East Indians, mainly Hindus, to the Presbyterian faith, and not only to convert them but to keep them converted. So after having some success in San Fernando and in the rest of the Naparimas, he bought a piece of land which he thought was sufficiently far, and isolated, and settled the new converts. And what would these East Indian workers call the place? They would call it by the name of a little village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The name of this place: Faizabad.
If one must judge from the little Canadian Mission School that existed at Grant’s “Faizabad,” one would say that in its earliest days this was a tiny settlement of no more than a few dozen people. The school had just 25 children in the year 1880. However, the village grew fast, for in 1888 Grant had to build a bigger school. By 1900 Faizabad, or Fyzabad, already had a few hundred people.
These converts were not supposed to go to work on sugar estates, so as to risk any relapse into Hinduism, so they were engaged in agriculture, especially in kitchen garden produce. They also grew a little cocoa and coffee. Although at that time one could not dream of anything else but agriculture, Fyzabad was due to awake abruptly from its placid days.
By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 oil prospectors were all over the district. Petroleum had already been found in Trinidad and prospectors were sure that since oil was a residue of asphalt (or pitch), the substance was bound to be found in the region of “La Brea,” a district with so much pitch that it is called by the Spanish word for pitch. And now that there were the oil-hungry machines of war the search became more intense. Ironically, as the war began to decline in 1917 prospectors drilled and found oil in Fyzabad. This suddenly transformed the area. Hundreds of people came in and in less than five years Fyzabad looked a different place. By the census of April 1921 the little settlement of a few hundred people, formerly, already had a population of 2,649.
The company that had drilled for oil in Fyzabad was at once successful. It was the highest producer of oil, and, appropriately, called itself “Apex Trinidad Oilfields.” Later the same year another company, Trinidad Leaseholds Limited, found a great deal of oil in the area and introduced thousands of Grenadian labourers into Fyzabad. Since it began to appear that the oil companies in Fyzabad were making huge profits but were paying what was called “starvation” wages to its workers, this hitherto quiet village began becoming a hotbed of protest and agitation.
But before looking at the effect of this, let us look at the biggest oil event of Fyzabad in the 1920s. The family Partap, who owned a 10-acre plot within the Apex lands, decided to hire a private driller and drill for oil themselves rather than yield to pressure and sell the plot to the Apex Company. On Saturday, December 8, 1928, the driller struck oil, and the superintendent rushed for the Partap family who arrived with great jubilation to see their well gushing. It was dusk, and the superintendent’s car was still switched on. As he tried to focus his headlights on the well a spark from the car engine ignited the gas-laden atmosphere. The explosion which followed turned everything around to ashes — everything including the 16 people who were there at the time. These were four members of the Partap family, four friends of the Partaps, the driller, the drilling superintendent, and the six crew members on the night shift.
Notwithstanding that tragedy of Saturday, December 8, 1928, Fyzabad entered the 1930s as one of Trinidad’s most attractive oil-bearing areas, as can be seen by the fact that in 1932 there were as many as eight oil companies there, among them Apex, General Petroleum, Petroleum Options, and Trinidad Leaseholds Limited. Oil was gushing, and it brought new times — and new trouble — to Fyzabad.
Among the Grenadian workers who had been entering Trinidad at the end of the First World War was a man called Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler. Butler arrived in Trinidad in 1921 when tension was beginning to develop between the oilfield workers and the oilfield employers. The workers felt that they were being exploited, that their wages were kept to the lowest level while the oilfield employers were wallowing in prosperity. The labour leader and agitator, Uriah Butler, at once joined Apex and began fiery agitation on behalf of its workers.
The Butler flashpoint took place on June 19, 1937. Butler had been charged with sedition owing to one of the speeches he made but had not attended court and there was a warrant out for him. On June 19 the police came upon him addressing a crowd of workers at Fyzabad Junction. When they tried to arrest him the historic riots broke loose.
The toll of that day was the shooting to death of English police officer William Bradburn and the burning to death of Corporal Charlie King. Casualties were widespread and unrest swept the region. The riots led to several British royal commissions of enquiry, including the Moyne Commission (1939) which recommended Adult Franchise, and therefore opened up a road to Independence.
Today, although oil has declined, Fyzabad remains one of the most prosperous of Trinidad villages. There are no shortage of schools, among which is a Senior Comprehensive, an elementary Roman Catholic school, an intermediate Anglican school and two Presbyterian schools.
Fyzabad is also one of the hubs of southwest Trinidad, and from its centre, roads lead to the north, the south, the northwest and southwest, and from San Fernando to the east coast. The road to the north, which forms Fyzabad junction, leads to an old building, Paramount Hall, which used to be a favourite meeting place of Uriah Butler and his companions. The junction is also faced with a statue of Butler himself. On the south the road leads to Palo Seco and Erin, and on the northwesterly side is the road that leads to La Brea. On the southwest is a direct route to Siparia and Cedros.
Copyright NALIS, 2008