New Shafston Great House | Part 1
Bonita and I made our way up the steep, rugged, rocky road through a dense tropical forest. After ten minutes of travel, we turned into a level area and were greeted by the baying of several dogs. In front of us was the white New Shafston Great House, perched on the side of the mountain. The view was jaw-dropping. The light blue of Bluefields Bay contrasted with the dark blue of the sky and the deep green of the surrounding mountains. The colors of green were broken up, here and there by the bright reddish-orange of royal poinciana trees. From New Shafston Great House, the view of the bay exceeds 180 degrees. New Shafston is most beautifully situated on the southwest coast of the Island. To the east are wild headlands called Black River Heads and to the west is the most western point of the Island known as Negril Point about midway towards which from New Shafston is the town and port of Savanna-la-Mar. The shore of the bay, a beautiful sandy beach abounding with shells, is hidden from the view by a few low hills on which the original Shafston House was built; but the new house is on rising ground above a rich valley that has a very extensive view of the sea and above the house the ground rises into the mountains which are clothed with great varieties of timber trees.
Oristano was founded by the Spanish in 1519, after they determined that the north and northwest coasts were too malarial for healthy living. Bluefields Bay was one of Jamaica’s most protected anchorages and the surrounding mountains provide ample spring water. Following the invasion by the British in 1655, the name was changed to Bluefields (or Blewfields on the oldest Jamaica maps).
In 1670, Henry Morgan, the pirate used Bluefields Bay as his gathering place for his fleet, prior to his sacking of Panama in January of 1671. In 1793, Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, finally managed to get his precious breadfruit from the South Pacific to Jamaica and planted the first trees along the shores of Bluefields Bay.
By the 1700s, the Bluefields Bay area was the richest sugar producing area on the island of Jamaica. It was here that the Shafston sugar estate was established. Early in the history of the estate, the great house was positioned at the bottom of the mountains, but due to the prevalence of malaria, the owner chose to move the great house up the mountain to its present cooler, breezier location (see the above painting reproduction). In the early 1700s, the Phillip Pinnock purchased 2,147 acres of Shafston Estate from a Mr. Allwood and called it New Shafston. A Mr. Senior purchased the adjoining portion and renamed it Belmont. The estate was originally planted in sugar cane but when the price of sugar plummeted following slavery emancipation, the agricultural interests were converted from sugar to pimento, lime juice and logwood production. Phillip Pinnock deeded over the estate to George Pinnock, the grandfather of the George, the younger. George Pinnock willed the property to Phillip Pinnock, the younger. Life at the great house is well documented by George Pinnock, the younger and his sister, Grace Elizabeth Pinnock. George was born at the Shafston Great House in 1824 and Grace in 1822. They, with their mother, left Jamaica in 1833.
These siblings lived through the historically turbulent time of western Jamaica. They personally witnessed the Christmas slave rebellion of 1831, also known as the Baptist War. It was originally supposed to be a peaceful Christmas strike led by Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist Deacon, but quickly degenerated into a full-fledged rebellion with the extensive loss of life by both the families of the planters and the slaves. The rebellion was quickly and brutally suppressed in only ten days into 1832 but the news of the rebellion and its aftermath quickly led to a call in England for the emancipation of the slaves. The slaves were emancipated on 1 August 1834.
The house, undoubtedly, has had many modifications, and these can be noted if one compares the description of the house by Grace Elizabeth Pinnock and the photographs presented in this post. Grace writes:
Our house was peculiar in structure, and could not lay claim in any way to be considered architectural; but it was very much after the plan of the houses at which we visited, and therefore, I conclude, best suited to the climate. The dining and retiring rooms were in the centre. A long Piazza ran at one side, fitted up its whole length with jalousies which excluded the heat and admitted the air. On the other side as you passed through the dining room were a long drawing room and a smaller room beyond. A staircase at the end of the Piazza led to the nurseries and bedrooms above. The rooms were large and lofty. There were no doors except to one or two bedrooms on the first floor. The floors were of polished mahogany. We moved from one room to another under arches and alcoves, very much as I imagine is still the case in hot climates in many parts of the world. This produced, to my mind, an air of space and grandeur which, Child as I was, I liked.
The jalousies of the white great house, in the long piazza on one side, have been removed and windows installed. Since the great house has been used as a guest house, the large dining room has been converted into guest rooms. The highly polished hardwood floors that Grace writes about are now painted red. The kitchen, detached from the house, still maintains its brick oven and slate shingles (slate was used due to the fire hazard from the cooking). The house still maintains its outstanding verandah, overlooking the Caribbean. Of course the pool, the solar power and the zip line system are new additions. The shingle roof is now corrugated metal and I imagine a lot of the wood siding has been replace over the last two hundred plus years.
If you’re interested in viewing the great house or spending the night, give Frank Lomann a call at 876-869-9212. You can also visit their website at Shafston.com or email at him at mail.shafston.com.
New Shafton Great House Photo Gallery