On Saturday, I turned off the hard road at the River Bumpkin Farm sign and made my way down the marl (weathered limestone) road to the office. There I met the good people who worked at River Bumpkin Farm and they gave a tour of the ruins of the Potosi Sugar Mill.
Thomas Partridge, the original owner named the estate after the fabled Bolivian silver mine. He also owned an adjacent estate, Hampstead (which I have covered in a previous post). Upon his death, his son, Thomas Partridge Jr. inherited the property and upon his death, the property passed on to his two sisters. One of the sisters, Elizabeth, married John Tharp in 1766 and this was the start of the many estates he owned on the Martha Brae River.
John Tharp was born at Bachelor’s Hall, Hanover, Jamaica in 1744. He was educated in England and returned to Jamaica to work at the Potosi Estate, eventually marrying Elizabeth. In 1767, he sold Bachelor’s Hall and purchased Good Hope, Lansquenet and Wales estates. By the end of the eighteenth century, he owned most of the estates in the area including Bunker Hill, Covey, Merrywood, Pantrepant, Unity and Windsor. He also acquired Dean’s Valley Estate in Westmoreland and Chippenham Park in Saint Ann where he lived the later years of his life and died in 1804 at the Good Hope Great House.
John Tharp had four legitimate children: John, William, Joseph, Thomas and Eliza. Five years after the death of his wife, he had a daughter by one of his slaves and she became his favorite child. She married well in England with an annual income of six hundred pounds. In 1792, Tharp married again but a scandal erupted when his wife had an affair with the husband of his daughter Eliza so he moved to Good Hope where he spent the rest of his life. John Tharp became estranged from his children and left his entire fortune to his baby grandson, who turned out to be mentally ill, resulting a horrendous lawsuit. In 1840, the Jamaica Almanac lists John Tharp’s heirs owning 22,409 acres. In April 1836, there were 224 slaves on the estate and John Tharp, Jr. received 4,494 pounds for compensation when they were emancipated.
Kenroy Birch took me on a very informative tour of the ruins and surroundings. He pointed out the various plants. The one that most intrigued me was the prickled lala thorn tree. The story goes that if a young man wants to find out if his girl is true to him, he will climb the thorn tree. If she is willing to pull the thorns out, then she is the one for him. The farm also grows 27 varieties of bananas. The gentle trail wound along the river shaded by the verdant foliage.
The sugar mill was constructed adjacent to the Martha Brae River to harness the water to turn the rollers to crush the cane. The water was brought to the site via an aqueduct, which turned a water wheel, which via gears turned the rollers. The mill had an innovative system of delivering the cane to the mill from the fields above the mill. The builders constructed a cane chute made of dressed stone. The cane was delivered to the top with ox cart and then pushed into the chute, which delivered it to the mill in the valley, one hundred feet below.
Cane juice extracted from the rollers ran through gutters to the boiling house where it was stored in large cisterns call clarifiers and tempered with lime to remove the dirt. The juice was then heated and the scum was removed to be used in rum making. The purified liquid was boiled in a series of copper cauldrons of decreasing size, each getting smaller and hotter. The last copper was the smallest and hottest and the final product was a combination of sugar and molasses. The sugar was then taken to the curing house where in was put in wooden barrels (hogheads) with holes in the bottom to allow the molasses to drain out. After several weeks, the sugar, called muscovado, was ready to ship to Europe. For centuries, the skimmings were discarded until the enterprising sugar estate owners realized they could ferment it and produce rum. The crushed cane was stored in a trash house, allowed to dry and then used to fire the furnace in the boiling house.
If you are looking for an educational adventure, I suggest the River Bumpkin Farm. You can go on the walking tour of the ruins and then having worked up a sweat, go tubing or kayaking in the Martha Brea River. They also have a beach and mountain bikes for a bit of additional exercise. When you get hungry, a canteen is available.
River Bumpkin Farm Contact Information
Website: www.IslandRoutes.com; Telephone in North America: 1-877-768-8370; Telephone in The Caribbean: 1-800-744-1150; Telephone outside North America: 1-305-663-4364.