Tobago’s raucous, hot and dusty capital, precipitous SCARBOROUGH is a surprisingly appealing place, its houses and roads spilling higgledy-piggledy down a hillside, with the Atlantic providing a magnificent backdrop for Fort King George, perched at the top of the hill. The island’s administrative centre and its main port, Scarborough is a flourishing town, brimming with a brisk vibrancy. Devoid of any touristy pretensions, its street corners buzz with liming locals, while pavement stalls are perused by shoppers and the bars spill out onto the streets. Away from the bustle, the shady suburb of Bacolet is home to some of Tobago’s most upmarket hotels and the secluded Bacolet Bay Beach – in former times the playground of many a rich and famous visitor to Tobago.
Though the largest town on the island, Scarborough is still pretty tiny, with most of the commercial action spreading back up from the port and along the precipitous Main Street. The heat, traffic and steep climbs can make it a bit tiring to explore, but the cool breezes and views from the port and the elevated parts of town offer respite.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle what became one of Tobago’s most hotly contested pieces of land. They navigated the treacherous harbour rocks in 1654, and constructed a fort and a few buildings, naming it Lampsinsburgh. Around the same time, a group of Courlanders (Latvians) were building up their stronghold on the opposite coast at Plymouth. In 1658, the Dutch captured Plymouth – an act that led to the destruction of their own settlement when, in 1666, a British fleet came to the aid of the Latvians and blew Lampsinsburgh to smithereens.
The British officially won the island in 1672, but didn’t maintain a presence, allowing the Dutch to return and build Lampsinsburgh into a more substantial settlement, with houses, a single street and a church, as well as warehouses and wharves at the harbour and a new fort. However, during the French assault of 1677, the newly improved fortifications proved to be the undoing of the Dutch; a French cannonball hit the fort’s ammunition dump, and the resulting fireball destroyed the structure and killed all 250 occupants. Though still commemorated in the current name Dutch Fort Road, there’s nothing left today of that original settlement.
The British bestowed the name Scarborough when they regained control of Tobago in 1762, establishing the House of Assembly here and constructing Fort King George. The French returned to take control, after a bloody and prolonged fight, in 1781. Scarborough was renamed Port Louis, while Fort King George – with finishing touches added by French soldiers – became Fort Castries. The town ricocheted between the British and French until Tobago was finally ceded to the British in 1814.