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JAMAICA: AN IMPRESSION.
So many sayings and proverbs which are unauthentic, untrue, or contradictory have passed into common usage, that I am glad to find one for whose aptness I am prepared to vouch. When Columbus was desired by his sovereign to describe Jamaica, we are told that he crumpled up a piece of paper lengthwise, saying, "That, your Majesty, is like the island of Jamaica.' Both true and ben trovato; for I cannot think of any other way, even nowadays, in which one could better convey the idea of the long, low, wrinkled coast, peaked here, low-lying there, indented everywhere, along which we glided one morning in early November before the sun was up. A grey sky, a steel-blue sea; and, here and there, from the dull background of the night-chilled mountains, bronze-green hill-tops giving a metallic tone to the neutral atmosphere that precedes the day. But suddenly "the dawn came up like thunder," and night was gone. For the sky blushed pink, the sea became a crimson lake, the mountains in the distance warmed into blue, the hills softened into green, and the gorgeous colouring of the tropical foliage lent radiance to this wonderful and immediate transformation. Now we could see the little logcabins or more substantial white houses lying low amid the groves of palm trees or bananas that adorn the shoreline on the approach to King
ston; whilst upon the hill-top gleamed a white thread, which is the barracks for the garrison up at Newcastle, some five or six miles from the capital.
I need not stay to describe Kingston, for it is not unlike many other towns that are to be found in the tropics. It gives one the impression of a city planted in a garden; of many narrow, rather dirty, arcaded streets, with broad deep gutters running at right angles to the aggressive tramcar lines, which cause the very soul to be jolted out of your body as you drive along in a buggy; of clouds of black faces, for the most part merry and excited; of males in dun-colour, females in white; of cattle and horses being driven through the main streets; of women smoking short clay pipes, as from a lofty saddle between heavily laden panniers they guide beasts of burden to the market. Rarely a white face shines through the throng; but if it does, it can generally be traced to the ubiquitous British soldier, or to some younger son who has come out to look for employment in the intervals of poloplaying and other tropical exercises.
But it was not mine to stay long in Kingston, for my final destination lay right across the island, in the north-west corner almost, at Knockalva in the county of Cornwall in the parish of Hanover. There is a railway-system which leads to this
distant spot; but the reasons for laying the road through a great deal of the country which it now traverses are hard to ascertain. The line as an æsthetic route is magnificent; for in the space of six hours it passes over hill and dale, past orange groves, coffee plantations, sugar-fields, pasture land, and banana cultivations, through malarial swamp and densest bush. Indeed there is not a phase of Jamaican life or Jamaican industry which cannot be seen en passant from the windows of the railway-carriage between Kingston and Montego Bay. As a financial enterprise, however, the railway is nearly a failure its grades are very steep, its curves are very sharp, its trains in consequence are few, and must be light; but its freight charges are the reverse. I do not know whether the railway company have learned from their trade-cousins in the old country this admirable method of discouraging the transportation and diffusion of home industries; of extorting any possible profit that the producer might reap, in freight charges between the seat of industry and the market or port. The fact remains, however, that transportation rates are throttling the producer at certain points on this line. He sees himself paying not only a reasonable price for his own goods, but also an unreasonable addition, to defray the expense of running the railway over the "Cockpit" country (which returns nothing at all for the compliment), and through jungle and bush which will not be
marketable for another halfcentury. But the reasons why this Cockpit route was preferred to another along the Great River Valley, with its fertile surroundings and incomparably greater facilities, are locked in the bosoms of the short-sighted apostles of the "cheap and nasty" who were originally responsible for the line.
However, not being freight, and paying in consequence only 15s. for a journey of ninetyfour miles, which occupies from five and a half to six hours, I was free to admire the profusion of vegetation and glorious scenery which beset me upon all sides, to note the uproarious excitement at every railwaystation where there were more than six persons assembled, and to listen to the conversations of my fellow-passengers, mostly fruit-growers and pen-keepers, as to the state of the island. Poverty was asserted to exist, but in very varying degrees; remedies were suggested, but none of them referred to any industry save that in which the speaker was engaged; threats were uttered, such as annexation to Canada, or, failing that, to America-in the full assurance of an enthusiastic reception either from the Dominion or the United States; many causes were assigned; blame was heaped on everything except the lethargy and want of push and enterprise which seem seem to me responsible for much of the existing stagnation and depression.
About five o'clock we reached Montpelier station, and started off on a seven-miles' drive to
Knockalva-past the one estate where a new industry is being started, one which will soon, by its profits, prove to the laggards in the island that the use of new appliances (including bright brains) to old material is not synonymous with rash and ruinous speculation, but is the only method of keeping abreast with the changed conditions and competitions of today. I hope I may refer to it without offence to the owner. It is an establishment set up within the last twelve months by Mr Ellis of Shettlewood, the neighbouring property, to dry bananas for home consumption and foreign export, as figs are now dried. By one process an excellent preserved fruit is thus added to our dessert-table, whilst by another the coarser species of banana are converted into first-rate cattle food. Mr Ellis is assisted in this enterprise by three gentlemen of varied experience and intellectual attainments. Two of them are Swiss, Herr Otto Zürcher, the principal, and Herr Bosshard; whilst the third, who is the chemist, is a German, by name Dr Leuscher. These gentleman do not let the grass grow under their feet: they work four silos, experimenting with the different grasses that abound in the neighbourhood; they plant tobacco, and cure it with the assistance of Cuban experts, who have wisely withdrawn from their native island; and they benefit the neighbourhood by employing some 200 hands at the ordinary rate of wages. Every well-wisher to Jamaica should hope for the success of
this public - spirited undertaking; for thus alone will the inhabitants be led to follow Mr Ellis's example.
But, with this passing description of the work carried on at Montpelier Factory, we must proceed to Knockalva, which is the central subject of this paper. There was, indeed, little else to delay us on the road, though I would willingly have stayed to admire the picturesque Brahmin cattle which pasture and work upon the Shettlewood estate: fine fellows these, imported from India; light in colour, wild in temper, tractable in work, and admirably suited to the climate of Jamaica. Knockalva is an old family estate, or rather cluster of estates, which has been in the possession of Malcolms for many, many generations: far back into remote slavery days the record goes to show the forebears of the present employees working for the ancestors of the present owner; whilst a clannish tradition binds master and man as loyally together to-day in this distant island as ever it did in the Highlands of Scotland. One did not need the quasi-oriental forms of welcome in which the negroes love to indulge to tell one that; nor even the friendly expressions that stole over their kindly dark faces on my approach: for it was patent in the unvarying cheerfulness with which I knew they worked, sparing themselves neither day nor night in their endeavour to please one, in their untiring efforts to make my short visit "agreeaber for massa."
truth, a fortnight procures a holiday all too short to spend, at the cool season of the year, in this delightful climate. There is so much to do, so many things to see; such a variety of cultivations new to the Englishman on his first visit to the tropics, such novel scenery and surroundings the whole day long, that one must be up betimes indeed to prove only a few of the delights in store. To sleep under mosquito-curtains for the first time, and hear the little devils raging furiously without, is in itself a delicious sensation: to be awaked at six in the morning by a silent little barefooted maid, who brings my coffee extracted from the bean that was only picked last week, and oranges that were wet with dew upon the tree five minutes ago: to have her fling open the door which leads on to the wooden verandah looking east, and then from my bed to see, beneath thick festoons of heavy creepers, the sun rising over the hills in the distance, with palm-trees and bananas waving lightly in the foreground: then, scaring a humming-bird out of the room and hunting a jolly little green lizard off the towel - horse, to stroll out upon the balcony and enjoy the breeze, the sunshine, and the scent of morning, -these are among the everyday joys of Jamaica.
My first visit was to "the yard," which, being interpreted into Scottish, means the "policies" there to make acquaintance with the "headmen" who are severally responsible for their respective departments,
cattle, horses, cattle, horses, and products -this latter term including oranges, bananas, coffee, kola, &c. In the yard stand two splendid Hereford bulls with William Llewelyn beside them -a gaunt old negro with as keen an eye and as wise a tongue as you could wish to meet. He is there "to tell massa 'marning,' and to say that he is getting his herd of fifty heifers in from the pastures to be inspected. William Brown is there, the finest rider on the estate with all his sixty years, tending a mule that has hurt itself: before long he will have a drove of eighty mules gathered from far and near to show the condition of his department. A few more introductions, and all the formalities are over for the present. Henceforth life is to be one long round of uninterrupted rural simplicity, spent amongst the tropical glories of Western Jamaica. One of the annual events on the property is the branding of the yearling mules: it took place about seven o'clock one morning in a small pen surrounded by high stone walls, to prevent the recalcitrant from following the example of the late Remus. There were some nineteen mules to be branded, and about ten men engaged in the operation. This consists in selecting one mule out of the drove, which huddles as a rule near the gate of entrance, and making it gallop round the ring at a pretty smart pace. Once it is fairly going the lasso is thrown, and the unerring is soon fast round the animal's neck,
Then the tussle begins, and it takes some four or five stalwart niggers to drag him up to the post round which the rope has to be fastened. Such bucking, such tugging, such determined resistance to constitutional authority, is really worthy of all our amused admiration. At last the post is reached, and the rope is fastened to it; then another rope is thrown between the mule's hind legs, and he is deftly cast upon his side and secured before he can kick. There upon, striding from a fire built under the lee of one of the walls, comes the operator with his irons as hot as efficiency and safety will permit: one strong impression, a fizzle, a little smoke, a contortion from the patient, and all is over. Jeye's fluid is immediately dabbed over the scar, the knots are loosened, the mule struggles up and trots happily out of the pen, marked with the year of his birth. It was most interesting to note the dexterity displayed in every move of this game, and the consequent rapidity with which the mules were branded; as well as the consideration with which every mule was treated by all engaged in this painful but necessary operation.
The calves were a far more docile lot to deal with, and under the shade of a spreading mango-tree some sixty or seventy were marked without much trouble. There was but one notable exception in the figure of a fine young calf by one of the Brahmin cattle out of a Hereford: he was not to be
caught or stopped by the mere casting of a lasso. With a toss of his head he jerked the rope out of his would-be captor's hand, and breaking through the temporary fencing of bamboo poles round the poles round the pen, careered down the adjoining meadow to a stone wall at the bottom; then, leaping this like an Irish hunter, he galloped full speed ahead up the mountain - side. A large detachment of men went after him barefoot and apace, taking the mother of the truant to beguile him back again. This process occupied the best part of two hours, and when triumphantly accomplished, was succeeded by a precisely similar movement on the part of this wild little calfdevil. His pluck and his wiles had now raised the "dander " of all the men, who pursued him on horseback and on foot, wagering the while as to which would finally lasso him in the field outside the pen. Another couple of hours, and he reappeared, weary, bedraggled, and breathless, at the tail of his domesticated dam; a ring was formed, excitement was at boiling-point, a shower of ropes dropped about the animal, once more at full gallop round the field, two of which encircled his neck. In a moment the disappointed competitors were hanging on to these ropes with all their might, and, even before the victim could be cast, the cunning old Llewelyn had branded him for life.
In the Knockalva pastures there must be some five or six hundred head of cattle with the pure Hereford strain run