As anybody with some knowledge of Spanish is rapidly going to spot, Trinidad is the Spanish word for ‘trinity’, and Tobago is the Spanish word for ‘tobacco’. Curiously, because we know the name Trinidad and Tobago so well, the meaning of the words may not actually have occurred to us.
As the names suggest, the first Europeans to reach both these islands were Spanish, but the two islands have rather different histories, so let’s start with Trinidad.
Trinidad received some early interest from us when Sir Walter Raleigh on his way to El Dorado (or not as it turned out), dropped in to attack, capture and burn the Spanish settlement of San José de Oruña (now St Joseph) in 1595. After that, there was a period of assorted pirates, smugglers and settlers doing their thing, and there was also something of an influx of French settlers. In 1797, we turned up in force. General Sir Ralph Abercromby and Rear Admiral Henry Harvey arrived with a fleet of ships and the Spanish governor promptly decided to surrender. So, not our most dramatic invasion.
By contrast, things became very confusing in Tobago. As well as the French, Spanish and Brits competing for control, there were also Dutch and Courlanders from modern-day Latvia. The island kept on changing hands. You would think there was hardly time to change the flags on occasions. In 1704, it was declared neutral territory, which was excellent news from a pirate point of view. Then in 1763, the French ceded Tobago to us. The newly independent Americans got in on the act in 1778 by trying to take the island, but HMS Yarmouth was able to fight them off. The French invaded yet again in 1781 and caused a lot of destruction. However, we did eventually get the island back. Yet again.
Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1962.