The Historian

Becoming a Historian:

Olga Mavrogordato's home on Cipriani Boulevard

Olga Mavrogordato drew around her, in the early 1980s, an eclectic group of individuals who were all to contribute to the documentation of Trinidad and Tobago’s history in the post-independence period. Among those who gathered in the billiard room of her Cipriani Boulevard mansion on Saturday mornings were Jack Archibald (an engineer who produced historical works on both Trinidad and Tobago), John Newel Lewis (an architect who produced works on the architectural history as well as on Carnival), Adrian Camps Campins (an artist who, through a series of his historical paintings published as greeting cards, together with related photography and historical anecdotes and descriptions, created a genre), Michael Anthony (novelist, writer and historian), as well as Gerard A. Besson and several other “devotees”.  

Gerard Besson (left) with Olga Mavrogordato and Jimmy Bain

Having been asked by Michael Pocock to assist in doing the Trinidad leg of the research for his study on the de Boissière family, which was published in 1993 under the title "Out of the Shadows of the Past". This family was approaching a bi-centennial at the time of the commencement of the study. This afforded Gerard Besson the opportunity to read and to research original documents and family papers, dating back to the 1780s that were held in private collections. The experience of reading rare books on the Caribbean at the public libraries, the University of the West Indies libraries, the National Archives, as well as other documents including the records of churches, allowed him to gain an insight of the personalities and events that had contributed to the making of Trinidad and Tobago. Importantly, these events instilled in him a great love for the history of these islands.   Encouraged by the success of the publication, “The History of Trinidad under the Spanish Government” by P.G.L. Borde, and heartened by the response of many who sent him collections of photographs, letters and family papers, his interest in history and the history of the people only deepened. Reading history and writing it became an absorbing hobby. He was invited to join the Campus Council of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine and became exposed to the work of historians and professors such as  Bridget Brereton, Carl Campbell, Keith Lawrence, Brinsley Samaroo, Selwyn Carrington, Susan Craig, Rhoda Reddock, Anthony Maingot and Selwyn Ryan. These intellectuals all encouraged and influenced Gerard Besson’s historical research and publishing during that time. Lionel Seemungal, Q.C., chairman of the Campus Council at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies, who was himself an archivist, historian and author, also influenced him in pursuing the study of Trinidad and Tobago’s history.

After more than a decade of publishing historical works and contributing to research, as well as building up a significant archive of historical documents and photographs of Trinidad and Tobago, Gerard A. Besson’s work as an amateur historian has continued in the creation of several museums and exhibitions, as well as becoming an archival and analytical source for a new generation of students interested in this aspect of social studies. As an extension of the historical body of study undertaken by Gerard Besson, he became a folklorist. Sparked by his father and uncle, who were both great raconteurs and story-tellers, this interest developed parallel to his interest in Trinidad’s history. As a result, he did considerable research into the folklore of these islands and the relevance of folklore to its people. The development of Paria’s archives came about as a result of the great response by the public in general who value the work of Gerard Besson. As a result, the archives of Paria Publishing today hold some 5,000 photographs and documents relating to the history of the country.

Paria Publishing The Historian