Metal Face Mask and Collar Punishments, Trinidad, 1836


Richard Bridgens, West India Scenery...from sketches taken during a voyage to, and residence of seven years in ... Trinidad (London, 1836), plate 20.


Caption, Negro Heads, with punishments for Intoxication and dirt-eating. Bridgens writes, The tin collar is a punishment for drunkenness in females, while the mask is a punishment and preventative of . . . dirt eating. Dirt eating, or geophagy was widespread among West Indian slaves, but its etiology was commonly misunderstood by West Indian planters. The illustration also shows facial and body scarification, or so-called country marks, indicative of African origin; the man in the center right also displays filed or modified teeth, another indicator of African birth among enslaved West Indians (see Jerome Handler, Determining African Birth from Skeletal Remains: A Note on Tooth Mutilation, Historical Archaeology [1994], vol. 28, pp. 113-119; also, for geophagy, Handler, Diseases and Medical Disabilities of Enslaved Barbadians, From the Seventeenth Century to around 1838, Part II. Journal of Caribbean History [2006], vol. 40, pp. 185-187). A sculptor, furniture designer and architect, Richard Bridgens was born in England in 1785, but in 1826 he moved to Trinidad where his wife had inherited a sugar plantation, St. Clair. Although he occasionally returned to England, he ultimately lived in Trinidad for seven years and died in Port of Spain in 1846. Bridgens' book contains 27 plates, thirteen of which are shown on this website. The plates were based on drawings made from life and were done between 1825, when Bridgens arrived in Trinidad, and 1836, when his book was published. Although his work is undated, the title page of a copy held by the Beinecke Rare Book Room at Yale University has a front cover with a publication date of 1836, the date usually assigned to this work by major libraries whose copies lack a title page. Bridgens' racist perspectives on enslaved Africans and his defense of slavery are discussed in T. Barringer, G. Forrester, and B. Martinez-Ruiz, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 460-461. Bridgensí life is discussed extensively along with discussion of his drawings and presentation of many details on slave life in Trinidad in Judy Raymond, The Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery (Coconut Beach, Florida: Caribbean Studies Press, 2016). Raymondís book, which is an essential source for any study of Bridgens, also includes a number of unpublished sketches of Trinidadian slave life. See also Brian Austen, Richard Hicks Bridgens (Oxford Art Online/Grove Art Online).


Bridgens, Richard

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