The La Plaine uprising

The HMS Mohawk transported troops to La Plaine during the disturbances
The HMS Mohawk transported troops to La Plaine during the disturbances

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2016.

Historical notes from a London archive detail a vivid picture of how a people’s rebellion to prevent taxes by the British Colonial Government manifested itself in a poor village on the rugged windward coast of Dominica.

On April 13th, 1893, La Plaine was the scene of the land tax riots when heavily armed British marines and Dominican-based policemen from Antigua landed at Plaisance Bay in Laronde from the Torpedo cruiser warship HMS Mohawk and attempted to evict persons who had not paid their taxes. As peasants from one of the poorest districts, they started an emotional protest to prevent the exorbitant, unfair and illegal land tax. At that time Dominica was part of the Leeward group of island colonies.

The Colonial Governor, Sir W. Hayes Smith, decided to make an example of community leader Mr. Pierre Colaire in an attempt to quell the rising tide of dissent all over Dominica regarding the new tax. The Governor deployed twenty five (25) Royal marines and nine (9) policemen under the Command of Edward Henry Bayley of the British Royal Navy to Case O’ Gowrie.

Commander Bayley and his men evicted Colaire and his large family from their small wooden house in Case O’ Gowrie at the edge of Quanarie estate (the current site of the Agricultural station) where the rolling hills meet Morne Governear. They boarded and nailed shut the windows and doors of Colaire’s small house. After the troops retreated back to their barracks in Roseau, Colaire reentered his house ignoring the real threat of arrest and imprisonment. When word of Colaire’s defiant action reached the colonial authorities in the capital, Smith sent Bayley back to La Plaine to arrest Colaire.

Upon entering the village, Bayley went first to the local French priest, ‘Pere’ Coutrier, at the Catholic Presbytery to inquire about the whereabouts of Colaire. The priest knew of Colaire’s whereabouts but did not volunteer any information. Meanwhile, the appearance of a modern day warship in the bay, where fishing boats were docked, caused quite an unwelcome and unsettling stir in the community. They felt that almost certainly meant that they were under attack.

The villagers blew conch shells to summon other villagers and soon a large crowd gathered at the presbytery. It was rumored that Colaire was among them. The historical notes detail the complaints the priest spelled out to Commander Bayley in sympathy with the peasants about the unfair and exorbitant land taxes which were levied on them but Bailey would have none of it. His strict orders and mission were to find and arrest Colaire and make an example of him.

My grandfather Mr. Burton Allan who was the Village’s Oral Historian told me that his father, Mr. Serrant Allan was a member of ‘Pere’ Coutrier unsuccessful ‘negotiating team’ that met with Bayley. After all, peasants from a poor, backward, rural outpost had challenged the British Crown and the vast and powerful British Empire. How could that have happened? Indeed, how could this act of defiance by peasant subjects to the imperialistic notion of “Rule Britannia” be tolerated?

Commander Bayley and his contingent then marched onto Case O’ Gowrie, crossing the Sari-Sari River amidst a growing and angry crowd. Reports indicated that the mob included villagers from the surrounding communities of Boetica, Delicies, Morne Juane and Riviere Cyrique who came to join in solidarity with Colaire and La Plaine folks. Tensions were mounting on both sides as the large crowd which was increasing in confidence jeered and taunted the troops as they marched to Colaire’s house.

Upon their arrival at Case O’ Gowrie, Colaire was a few steps ahead of Bayley and he slipped away into hiding under the thick canopy of the mountains and jungle. Unable and frustrated at not being able to nab his man, Bayley commenced with the eviction of Mrs. Colaire and her children from their home once again.

At this point, all hell broke loose in the La Plaine highlands. Colaire’s friend, Mr. St. Ville, a peasant from Boetica, stepped in front of the advancing troop line with a ‘pichet’ (pointed stick) swinging to prevent the eviction. The crowd joined in and started pelting stones at the force. As expected, the marines opened fire and when the smoke cleared, four (4) La Plaine peasants lay dead and several were injured on both sides including Bayley.

The remaining villagers escaped and melted into the surrounding hills and nearby forests. The troops left with Mr. St. Ville under arrest. History does not record St. Ville’s ultimate fate but one can only speculate whether his final resting place is on the ocean floor of the southern Atlantic.

Later that year, the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies dispatched Sir Robert Hamilton to Dominica from London to conduct a full and independent inquiry into the circumstances and conditions that occurred at La Plaine and also into the present system of administration in the West Indies. The official results of the inquiry which were published in 1894 resulted in the changing of the manner in which the Colonial government imposed and collected taxes in the colonies. It also resulted in the punishment of some of the officers involved. British Crown colony rule and governance was seriously affected and ridiculed.

Governor Smith won the tragic day in the La Plaine highlands but our forefathers won the ‘war’ and restored their dignity and hope however painful and tragic it was. But today we stand on the giant shoulders of Mr. Pierre Colaire and our determined bare-footed and shirtless peasant forbearers who were humiliated and ‘cut-down’ while defending their impoverished but proud community with honor, dignity and purpose.

They have left us and the generations that have followed with a very rich legacy of pride and a strong sense of destiny, duty and identity.

The author's daughters at the Pierre Colaire & Uprising’s Footstone in 2007 in Cas O’ Gowrie. (The footstone was built by then Pal Rep. Ron Green)
The author’s daughters at the Pierre Colaire & Uprising’s Footstone
in 2007 in Cas O’ Gowrie. (The footstone was built by then Parl Rep. Ron Green)

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24 Comments

  1. peaceandlove
    November 14, 2019

    I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you Dr. Finn.

  2. Danziger
    November 13, 2019

    Mi, Mi E ummm band de koonniere, same pawol toute temp nous jar connet sa.

  3. November 13, 2019

    “My grandfather Mr. Burton Allan who was the Village‚Äôs Oral Historian told me that his father, Mr. Serrant Allan–”

    Dr. Emanuel Finn! My grandfather Mr. Burton Allan! Why is this ringing such a large bell in my ears?

    Lady, you have used that name several times to write here (DNO)
    And each time I suspected that there was no such person as named above. You perfectly confirmed my suspicion this time.

    Lady, you are the same Dorothy T. David, the dead person on facebook; you are the same “Bwah Bandy” who is always rebuking my comments here.

    Does it make you feel so great to be an imposter, that you have to be one at every place that you write?

    The audience has praised your article, how do you feel to see them referring to you as “Dr. Emanuel Fin” while you hide your real name in the dark? Why are you so afraid to use your real name?

    And yet you continue to harass me, who has been honest all along–do you think that God is pleased with you?

  4. Family
    November 13, 2019

    Thanks for sharing that piece. I really do appreciate it. I remembered when I was younger the Koulerou group from La Plaine would do an act on this uprising.

  5. History
    November 13, 2019

    This story shows that our people do indeed have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for what is right. As with any human being, one can only be pushed so far before one decides to take action. Those who forget their history, are doomed to repeat their mistakes. When eyes are opened in Dominica, and the realization of what is going on in Trinidad is recognized as a possibility here, people will take action. The “high and mighty” always forget that they are outnumbered by the common man, and that is the mistake of history that they always make.
    Stand up for your rights, Dominicans, before they are taken away!

  6. Lin clown
    November 13, 2019

    King that is a great piece ,although we have heard about it several times by Dr.Lennox Honeychurch.That is POSITIVE,you have started showing your BRILLIANCE as a former Grammar School Graduate.

  7. d-a born
    April 7, 2016

    Nice to learn more about our history. Thanks.

  8. out of south city
    April 6, 2016

    For people like Dr. Finn and others who are aware of our history, their work need to be published for the benefit of our children grand-children and great-grand children. It is high time time that we take control of our history rather than continuing to accept others to tell our history. What they have done is to distort and say what they want about us. They have not told us the whole truth and they never will. We should not be ashamed of our history, our Dominican, as well our African stories. Our fore-parents went through hardships for our freedom and we must never forget that.

    UNAPOLOGETIC

  9. Massacre
    April 6, 2016

    This is a very interesting piece of our history. I am so proud of our ancestors. But you will not know that we had such great forefathers by looking at the abuse that is being done to that particular constituency today.
    See how long it is taking to repair roads to farms and residential areas there. You would think that the people would have already reacted and express their frustration against the last politicians in power.
    What has St. Jean done for you lately?

  10. Splendid Article Dr Finn
    April 6, 2016

    Dr Finn I urge you to collate your many essays and get them published. You have done a good job enlightening us as a people about our history, culture all of which shape our destiny. We are not sinking rats on some ship but proud descendants of freedom fighters who opened the door to our independence. It would be treason where we continued to allow carnal men and women to sell a whole nation online without the resistance of a proud people putting a stop to it.

  11. Frank Talker
    April 6, 2016

    I’ve heard on more than one occasion that there was an uprising at La Plaine, but not until this very moment did I know what it was about. Right no, I am hungry for more material on heritage issues like this. Than you, Dr Finn.

    • Galileo
      November 13, 2019

      This is in Lennox Honeychurch’s Dominica story. My mother read this to me as boy.

  12. cameron
    April 6, 2016

    Great piece have never heard about until today,yet our poor people continue to suffer under our own black men and women in government.History will repeat one day,

  13. ArAb
    April 6, 2016

    Things like that should be taught in our primary schools. I went to primary school and knew very little history of our country before 1979 and a little about the caribs. Other countries let the young know where they come from and what their forefathers did for them.

  14. Tell it Like it Is
    April 6, 2016

    The people of La Plaine should be encouraged to put this event into a play which should be dramatized around Dominica. I see a lack of interest in the history of the island… our culture is quietly slipping away from us. These were very brave men and women… where are the brave men and women of this generation?

    • Africo
      April 6, 2016

      There is a play! It was performed since the 1990s by the Koulirou Theatre Group. The script must be somewhere Perhaps it can be dug up and performed again.

  15. Peace
    April 6, 2016

    Captivating read … thanks for sharing a bit of our island history with us.

  16. Yung Meggz BKA Miguel
    April 6, 2016

    Proud of my community and it’s rich history!! I am honoured to be from such a great village! #VivaLa plaine :)

  17. Pondera
    April 6, 2016

    Very interesting history that i did not know until now?

  18. April 6, 2016

    well done defendants from La.Plaine. we need to read and learn mkre about our ancestors.

  19. Shaka Zulu
    April 6, 2016

    Thank you Dr. Finn. These people should have a memorial wall in thier honor. This is what sacrifice is all about and thier courage should never be forgotten. I am not from La Plain but I am proud. Freedom fighters from days of slavery are still called neg marron and runaways today, diminishing the significance of thier efforts. Keep thier legacy alive. Absolutely love this story.

    • Africo
      April 6, 2016

      In 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the La Plaine Uprising, a memorial event was held at the site at Casse Gowry, La Plaine. A dramatic performance was enacted telling the story and a memorial was unveiled with the names of the fallen.

      • Shaka Zulu
        April 6, 2016

        I read and heard about the riots. Lennox Honeychurch use to have a program on DBS with those historical events a long time back. I had forgotten about it. It means more now I am older. It should be an annual event. Full re enactment with live audience. Make it an attraction so school kids and visitors alike can come see. A people who forget thier great past has a lost future. The reason people take Communion in church every Sunday is to never forget Jesus sacrifice. Don’t wait till another 100 yrs. This is our history and our struggles, never to be forgotten. Keep the memories alive so kids can know they are strong people.

      • Shaka Zulu
        April 6, 2016

        These are the kind of stories our Caricom film association :lol: :lol: (hint hint) should be making Caribbean movies about. We have great stories but they seem to die with the ages. After all we watch tonnes of cowboys and Indians. We need a west Indies spike Lee.

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