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Jamaica

Jamaica
James' illustration of an oar

Jamaica in Sight - Scenery of Jamaica near Kingston

Friday 18th - at dawn of Day the island of Jamaica was in sight. In a few hours the land became so distinctly visible as to enable us to distinguish its various characters. To our right lay Morant Point, the Eastern extent of the island, from which the country receded low and flat for some space, till it rose up in what are called the Blue mountains, a range of very lofty hills, which run of very unequal magnitude for many miles along the coast, but considerably inland. Right a’head of us is Yallah (pronounced yellow) point, which jutting out intercepts our further view. Between Morant and Yallah points, the country is not so flat but full of eminences of no great elevation, and at the latter point attains a pretty good height. Turning round the Yallahs you see the commencement of another range of mountains called the long Mountains. After some distance the land becomes low and flat, then ceasing soon to be so, the mountains are close to the shore, and being more rugged and irregular than the blue Mountains, they appear much finer and more picturesque. By the time we had reached this length, Kingston and Port Royal could be indistinctly descried, and where they were, there came off from the base of the Mountains a long narrow and flat stripe of land, chiefly sandy, upon which a few bushes and stunted trees contrived to live. Here the mountains turned in, in a semicircular form, so as to constitute the Harbour of Kingston. I shall mention more particularly afterwards.

Anchor at Port Royal

With a fine wind in our favour we now made rapid progress towards Port Royal, which consists of a collection of forts, batteries and houses, with various public establishments, situated at the very extremity of this neck of land, which is called the Palisado. As soon as our signal was recognised, two guns were fired from Port Royal, to announce at Kingston, that a Packet was coming, which agreeable news we ourselves soon confirmed by dropping anchor in front of the former place at half past four P.M. We were immediately involved in a scene of bustle, consequent upon sending off the Mail, Passengers with their luggage, and the visits of numerous Potato & other merchants from the shore - and so much time was occupied in ships way, that I did not think it worth my while to go to Kingston distant 6 or 7 miles. Very little shipping lay here - indeed only one brig and a few small craft, with the guard ship called the Magnificent [1]. In the evening a M.r James, son of a boatman at Falmouth, and Commander of the Brig near us named the Erin [2] of London, came on board of us, and along with him we went ashore at port Royal - but owing to its being very dark, I can say nothing at present of its appearance.

Go to Kingston – incidents Palisado

Saturday 19th Sept.r - having determined to go to Kingston on matters of business, I was doubtful how I could get a conveyance, when luckily M.r James gave us a call and offered me a seat in his boat, as he was going to Town. This kind offer I accepted, and we proceeded Not by the common road, but by one which led near the Palisado, or sandy bank, which I have already mentioned. The first adventure, we met in with, was our coming plump against a small boat, which was nearly upset by the shock. This accident was indisputable [due] to M.r James being blind of one eye, while at the same time he was earnestly engaged in conversation. No damage having been sustained on we went & passed an artificial landing place of wood, raised on the Palisado. Here all the dead are disembarked in order to be consigned to their long home - for the Palisado is the general burying ground of Kingston and Port Royal.

Gallows Point – get around – reach Kingston

Almost opposite to this on a low piece of ground stood rather an ominous erection - I mean to him who might have his own particular reasons for not wishing to come into contact with or even to see it. This is a Gallows on which Pirates are wont to be suspended, in terrorem of all those who are disposed to engage in the same interdicted profession. Passing these lugubrious objects, which were calculated to call a damp upon the spirits both of the virtuous and the wicked, our attention was soon drawn from the recollection of the fate others to ourselves - for we were aground. However the sailors jumped out and by dint of pushing soon relieved us from our embarrassment. In the further course of our sail we more frequently so situated, owing to the extreme variation in the depth of the water from ½ a foot to many fathoms. At last we approached Kingston, and before landing paid a visit with M.r James to the Sarah Bark for Liverpool. Here M.r James remained to dinner, at which I was glad, as from his mutational intemperance he was more than half slew (i.e. drunk) already. In his boat M.r George Williams and myself went on shore and at one oClock, I put my foot for the first time on the long famed Soil of Jamaica. Several things attracted my attention and excited my curiosity, which I shall not stop to mention here as we shall soon return, and probably make a longer stay.

See M.r Robertson - Reasonable Charges at Kingston

I took the opportunity of visiting my old school fellow Robertson, who came out a few months ago in the Spey [3]. I found him at the Storehouse of his uncle – and was told that he had all along been in good health, and liked Jamaica very much. At 3 as I felt hungry I went to the sign of the Black Bull a decent sort of an Inn, where tho’ I could procure nothing beyond corned-beef and a bottle of execrable ale, we were charged most royally, of which judge for yourself – 2 plates corned beef 10/- Bottle of Ale 3/4 ! ! ! Not an article of fresh meat to be had for love or money, which is owing to the rapid putrefaction which the excessive heat of the climate induces. Meat can be kept only for a few hours - & what is not used immediately, is salted for future consumption.

Deep [Puddles] at Kingston

In half an hour after we went in, a very heavy shower or torrent of rain fell, but ceased shortly afterwards, leaving the streets running with water like so many streamlets, over which it required all our agility to leap & often we were obliged to take a circuitous route in order to reach a place, where the water was narrow enough for us to leap over it or otherwise we must have walked through it to the complete spoiling of our nice white Trowsers and stockings, and to our great discomfort. I am much surprised that no remedy is applied to this evil, which is certainly an annoying one – and wonder how merchants & respectable people contrive to cross. If there were drains or [scythers ?], with a raised footpath at the intersections of the streets, it would assuredly conduce more to the credit of the town in the eyes of strangers and to the comfort of its inhabitants.

At 5 P.M. we were rowed lazily along by 4 negroes, who made every pull as if it were to be their last. Their boat was a large heavy lump of a thing - and their oars were long poles, to which were clumsily fastened triangular pieces of wood as thus [see illustration] In short I think that celebrated line in Virgil, with a slight variation, might be applied to them. ‘Illi inter sese parva vi brackia tollerent.’

[Senora Shenton our Passenger]

Before leaving Jamaica for Carthagena, it only remains for me to notice the Passengers, who have left us here, And find the Lady claims precedence.

Her name was M.rs Shenton, wife of a gentleman, who possessed property in the island, as I learn from her often alluding to “our estate of Dover.” She had the misfortune to be without one of her limbs, which appeared to have been removed above the knee, and this circumstance confined her to one place. To make up as it were for this corporeal loss, (and probably it was the consequence or result of it) she shewed herself to be possessed of a mind whose intellectual qualities far exceeded those of [a] great proportion of her sex. She was what in fact might be called a clever woman - her language was remarkably correct and rather studied and select in the use of words, & the construction of her sentences. In what she sail she exhibited great good sense and what I did not like so well, she discovered rather too great powers of argumentation, which often led her into a wordy but polite war (a logomachy) with the other passengers. She also seemed to be too conscious of her marital superiority to the generality of the female sex - and consequently maintained her positions with warmth and a determination not to be conceived. Into all the relations of life, I have no doubt, she will carry this determined spirit - if I may judge from her treatment of her child. Having gotten into her head certain order and hypothetical opinions respecting diseases, & medicines, she would not consent to follow that plan, when the child was very ill, which both D.r Hawkins and myself recommended to be pursued - but contented herself with doing nothing at all & leaving it all to nature. She frequently entertained us with her notions of medical facts & opinions - and having once imbibed the doctrine of her family practitioner she boldly broached & obstinately upheld them, although contrary to all the practice & theories of modern and improved Physic & Surgery. Like many other persons she held a remedy which had once been successful as a universal panacea - & would be surprised to be told that it had 99 in 100 been found to be worse than useless. If she takes it into her head to act the Lady Bountiful to her slaves and to regulate their medical treatment all I can say is I pity them. She often bothered D.r Hawkins & myself with her views - but finding that she was inaccessible to all rational mode of reasoning on that subject, we discouraged and avoided all discussions on medical topics.

In her general manners she was very pleasant - but it was as a mother, that her character shone most in my eyes - for she seemed to be devotedly attached to her son and thought no trouble which she or others could undergo, as too much for his sake - and indeed this feeling frequently led her to the verge of giving trouble & annoyance to others.

Her son, Douglas Shenton will require little to be said. He was generally a fine boy, but too much petted and indulged. He laboured under disease of the lumber vertebrae, which had produced lumbar abscess. He was totally unable to walk or even stand upright and could crawl on all fours. His age was about 5 - but his intelligence would have stamped him as one who had numbered many more years.

[Slave of Mr.s Shenton – her indolence]

In attendance upon the lady & her son was a slave, called Margaret, a mulatto, & not very young - about 30. I know not how to describe her character - but I say that if all slaves resembled her, their intellectual moral and religious qualities must be of a very low scale. Her love of ease, or in other words her indolence and dislike to labour, were invariable. One English girl of half her age, and half her apparent strength, would accomplish more than half a dozen Negroes or mulattoes. This lazy disposition is, I believe, partly generated by the nature of the climate, and is partly the result of habit. How provoking it would be for an English Housewife, who is active and bustling herself, to witness the spiritless attempts at work, which are almost universal in the west Indies, And perhaps she would be disposed to try how far a little severity - as to gentle whippings with her own fair hands would accelerate the motions of her slaves - and hence she would soon acquire the reputation of being a cruel taskmistress, & hard hearted proprietor. If a lady is really cursed with a bad temper which will lead her to use the rod whenever she is disappointed or thwarted, I am afraid that the certainty with which the customs of public society and public opinion at home had shackled her, being now removed, she will feel a sinful pleasure in gratifying her spleen upon the persons of her offending slaves - and thus her fiery passions, which nature and over indulgence had engendered, will become so rooted and confirmed as to defy all future [attempts] to restrain or eradicate them - and she will probably prove a female Nero in cruelty to those who cannot protect themselves. Perhaps it is, that by undergoing some such process as this, an opinion is current that the mistress of slaves, who has come from England is more severe in her punishments, more relentless when pardon is asked, than one, who has been all her life, in Jamaica, and is thoroughly acquainted with the characters & powers of the enslaved population.

[Margaret M.rs Shentons Slave]

But to return to the slave of M.rs Shenton. She did not at all appear to be much attached to her mistress, by whom I was told that this was the general character of slaves. On the subject, however, of slaves generally in hope to be able to say more when I return - but at present I must confine myself to an individual. She was very fond of dress, as all ladies of all colours are - but she was by no means so attentive to [Cleanliness]as one would have wished. Habitat etiam alia inclolis no-naturalis signa quae potius. Latura quam anglica diceuda putavi. Ardor amoris animalis omnino cor tenerum (atinderum) arebata, complexius virorum sine allo discrimine rehementissine concupis cebat-omni imodestia ac pudore carebat. Quod ad corpus – statiera grandius – pulcredtudo faciei mediocus – oculi languidi, sine expresione.
[Nine or ten lines of Latin[?] - so presumably none to complimentary]

[M.r Hawkins our Pasenger]

Having dismissed the lady with her concomitants, D.r Hawkins will come next to be introduced to you. I hope you will not consider me as swayed by too great partiality for him, as one of the associated Brotherhood, when still you [consider ?] that of all the passengers I have yet met, I have never found one more pleasant or more agreeable. Without stiffness or repelling reserve he entered into conversation, and spoke his sentiments freely. From him I learned that he had been for 20 years in practice in Jamaica, and that upon his first coming out he was laid under great obligations by Scotchmen, who took him by the hand, and advanced his interests. In consequence of the state of his health he came to England in March, but not finding the climate to agree with him. He has returned with us.

The disease under which he often suffers is “Vigilantia,” or sleeplessness. When he is thus, no fatigue however great has any effect in inducing sleep - and he has often very large doses of narcotics without [they] produced the slightest effect. He has consulted many Physicians [&] each recommended a different treatment. What is strange there are no collateral symptoms to guide you to the cause of this disease - for it comes on when the stomach, liver and bowels are perfectly regular and healthy in their actions - and therefore the suspicion must be it is dependant upon a peculiar state of the brain, but of what nature it is impossible to determine. After this vigilantia has been experienced for several nights, it produces a most depressing effect upon the spirits - and might in persons of weak minds, lead to suicide. No remedy has been found to give permanent relief and what succeeded in one attack will fail in another. If he does get rid of this tendency, D.r Hawkins has resolved to retire to England altogether - which I should think he can easily afford to do, as I have heard he has met a competency during his long residence in the West Indies.

M.r Williams passenger

The last of our passengers whom I have not yet mentioned, was M.r George Williams, a relation of our Commander. He was a young man of very agreeable manners and lived on terms of sociality with the officers in the old Duke. He had been in different parts of the world, and had been engaged in commercial speculations.

In the room of our late passengers we received on board for Carthagena a lady of colour, her servant & child, and two French men, who spoke English very well.

Leave Jamaica for Carthagena

Sunday 20th Sept.r - at 4 oClock A.M. the men began to haul up the anchor, in order to be ready, as soon as day light appeared, to take advantage of the land breeze in getting away from Jamaica. For some hours we proceeded with the land breeze, but just when we were outside of the Palisado the wind failed us altogether, and a dead calm prevailed. Hitherto I had not complained very much of the heat - but now when not a breath was stirring to cool the heated air it was most oppressive in the strongest sense of the term. The air was so hot and as you inhaled it you felt it to be so that a feeling of suffocation came over you - and with heaving chest you gasped for breath. Most anxiously were our eyes turned sea-wards to watch the expected approach of the “Doctor” as the sea breeze is significantly termed. Time never seemed to go on more slowly in the opinion of the impatient lover, than it did to us. Every moment seemed an hour, every hour an age. With such feelings and such sensations it will require no great stretch of imagination to conceive how joyfully we hailed the first faint aspirations of the Doctor, and how ecstatic was our delight, when he came with all his energy-returning power. But I am forgetting mia cara Madre that you are ignorant as yet of the full extent of my meaning, since I have not explained to you what takes place with regards to the winds - which I shall now proceed to do.

Sea and Land Breezes at Jamaica
[Explanation of Land and Sea] Breeze

In the islands situated in the torrid zone a regular rotation of land and sea breezes prevails, which are occasioned by the temperature of the air. During the hottest part of the day, a cool refreshing wind sets in from the sea, and is called, as I just mentioned, the Doctor. But in the evening & night its direction is completely changed, for it then blows from the land, and is named the land breeze. However, extraordinary and wonderful this natural phenomenon may appear to an ignorant person, it admits of a very simple and easy explanation. During the day when the sun’s rays are very powerful great heat is produced every where on sea and land - but more particularly on land, because the heat of the sun’s rays are greatly increased by being reflected from the land. The consequence is that the air which lies over the land, being more heated than that over the sea, its specific gravity is altered, being lighter, and when in a state of great rarefaction by the laws of nature, it ascends into the upper regions of the air, while at the same time the less heated air over the sea immediately rushes from all sides to fill up its place, and thus to produce the Sea breeze. Again as the land becomes cooled in the night time, that portion of the air which during the day has ascended will by becoming condensed begin to descend again and by spreading and equalising itself will produce a breeze from the land towards the sea, which is called the land breeze.

I trust that the explanation which I have given will be intelligible to you, and that you understand how severely felt must be the absence of either the one or the other, in a climate so hot as Jamaica.

Dreadful Squall with Lightning

After this short digression, which I thought necessary, I proceed to tell you that as soon as we felt the reviving influence of the Doctor, our vessel, which but a moment before lay like a log in the water, began to move, and, with all sail set, advanced with speed thro’ the liquid waters. In the latter part of the day the sky became overcast with clouds, and several dreadful squalls caused us to take in all necessary sail. In particular at 8 P.M. a deep gloom prevailed - the wind, in fitful gusts shook the ship to its centre, while flashes of lightning the most awful and fierce combined to heighten the horrors of the night. When in the Mediterranean I thought I had witnessed the grandest display of lightning which it was possible to see - but I find I was mistaken. Out from the murky gloom, shot with the velocity of thought, broad sheets of fire, which enveloped the men and ship, in such a blaze of pale lurid light that every thing from stem to stern was discernible for the time, as at noonday. The brightness also was felt so intensely by the eyes, that we were obliged occasionally to shut them, in order to exclude it altogether. If any one neglected to do so, their vision was impaired for a few minutes. At times instead of this broad sheet of open lightning, as it is called, you would see long forked lines, which traversed the clouds with inconceivable speed and brilliancy, then trembling as it were for an instant disappeared amidst the dark mass. Occasionally I observed that after a vivid flash of open lightning, a small streamlet would run from the conglomerate clouds into the ocean as if like molten gold it went to be cooled and condensed into solidity by the coolness of the waves. After all no words not even the poet with all his licence can convey an idea of the grandeur, the appalling sublimity, of such a scene as I witnessed this night - and therefore I shall say nothing more than that we have had nightly displays of lightning for many nights past, even though hardly a cloud was visible in the sky.

Monday 21st Sept.r - unsettled, rainy and squally throughout

Tuesday 22nd - dirty squally Weather. Wind variable.

Wednesday 23rd - weather fine but wind foul.

Thursday 24th Sept.r - fine weather and favourable breezes.

Friday 25th - fine W.r and wind variable.

Saturday 26th - weather generally fine with occasional squalls, and showers. Land thought to be visible.