If you are not used to nightfall in the tropics, darkness can catch you by surprise. Unlike the northern climes where twilight can drag on for hours, Jamaican sunsets “get there fast and then take it slow.” Night comes in less than 30 minutes, and hikers who forget the tropical dash-to-dusk can find themselves awash in pressing darkness.
I’m sitting on the verandah of a mountain-side Liberty Hill Great House at sunset, looking north to where sky meets sea. Both disappear. Quickly. Resorts surrounding Saint Ann parish narrow to pinpoints of distant light. The glow from the 15-story Norwegian Dawn cruise ship melts into darkness as its twin Azipod propulsion units push the 958-foot floating palace from Ocho Rios to the Port of Miami. A cool breeze flowing from land to sea wafts across my skin, a delightful respite from the sweltering heat of the coast. I hear the rustle of royal palm leaves. Around the verandah lights, delegates from the 22 species of Jamaican lizards have emerged to feast on insects, other lizards, and quick step robber frogs. The love songs of tree frogs fills the night on all sides. Further in the distance, the far distance, so as not to keep me awake, I hear the offbeat rhythms of reggae, the night-pulse of Jamaica that will beat into the early morning.
Wap. Wap. Wap. I awaken to the ceiling fan turning overhead. A rooster’s crow carries through the cool morning air, accompanied by dogs barking impatiently in the distance. A braying donkey demands, “Let me out for breakfast!” The mourning of doves and the chorus of cicadas have replaced the nighttime croaking of the tree frogs. Another day in the Jamaican mountains has dawned.
Our Visit to the Tamarind Great House
We spent Saturday night at the splendid Tamarind Great House atop 13 acres of the previously extensive Crescent Estate. The balcony overlooks a valley dotted with coconut trees that spread for hundreds of acres. Coconuts were introduced to Jamaica by the Spanish in the 1500s, and there are now 80,000 coconut farmers on the island producing nearly 100 million nuts. On the far horizon, Captain Kidd Peak blocks views of the Caribbean Sea. According to legend, Captain Kidd used the peak as a lookout for gold-bearing Spanish galleons. The house is 7 kilometers south of Oracabessa in Saint Mary, so city sounds yield to chirping birds and the chorus of insects.
The present bright blue two-story house was built on the foundation of the original Great House–a massive foundation as thick as a donkey is tall. Ten bedrooms, a living room, and a dining room surround a spacious two-story lobby. The stairs climb to the second floor and a landing, with white balustrades, outside the upper story rooms, surrounds the lobby. Our hosts indicated that the gleaming cream-colored wood floors were cut from a single tree. The original wooden great house was built in 1711 by the Silveras family. The Silveras were Portuguese Jews who fled to Jamaica to escape persecution during the European Inquisitions. The heirs subdivided the property and sold it 1972. The house was burned down by an arsonist in 1990 and was rebuilt over three years starting in 1991 by Barry and Gillian Chambers.
Tamarind Great House Contact Information
If you are interested in staying at this magnificent property, the contact information is as follows:
Gillian’s telephone number is 876-995-3252.
Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article about the Tamarind Great House
Tamarind Great House Photo Gallery
Tamarind Great House Location Map
Our Visit to the Brimmer Hall Great House
Today Bonita and I toured a great house worth visiting if you want to experience a working plantation. We left our house in Kingston at 8:45 AM and after an hour and a half drive on winding roads due north on Highway B3 and later A3, we arrived at the Brimmer Hall Great House. The road off A3 is a bit tricky to find as are most places in Jamaica. In the town of Trinity about 10 kilometers south of Port Maria, we turned east at the Epping gas station, bearing left at the junction in Bailey’s Vale. We followed the road and after crossing a rock and concrete ford, turned left through the main gates.
Zachary Bayley owned Brimmer Hall, Trinity, Tryall, and Roslyn. These 4 contiguous plantations comprised 4,000 – 5,000 acres. It was one of the most profitable plantations in Jamaica because of the richness of its soil, the closeness to a port, and ample rainfall. It employed approximately 1,100 slaves, housed in barracks scattered over the acreage. He built the great house in the 18th century. The first and main source of income was sugar, which reached 1,450 hogsheads (1 hogshead = 1,600 pounds) of sugar in 1815. This later would be supplemented with cocoa nuts and bananas. The property was later sold to Brimmer, Linder, Vaughn, and finally to Ernest Smatt, who owns it today.
The house is a single story building with glass louver windows and cooler boxes. The structure has high ceilings, polished wooden floors and a wide verandah. The Great House is furnished with original pieces and boasts an exceptional collection of antiques with polished fittings. The floors, ceilings and windows are constructed of native hardwood skillfully hand constructed. There is a master bedroom with a private study and three other bedrooms, a living room and a modern kitchen added. The out-buildings consist of storage sheds, household servant’s quarters, two kitchens (one for the great house and one for the servants), stables, and a bar where the owner would entertain his male friends. The groom was required to saddle horses for his master and mistress every morning in the event they wanted to ride. If they decided they didn’t need a horse, he was told and he could then remove the saddle and other riding gear.
Michael Lawton, who is the general manager of the estate, remembers his father working on the estate when Major Douglas John Vaughn owned the property. The help never approached the great house and as a boy, if he ever got near the house, his father would have been fired. All field hands met the overseer at the bottom of the hill. He remembers when the owner rode through Bailey’s Vale; the people would rise and salute him as he passed. Every year end, the Vaughn’s would kill a bull and throw a big feast for the community.
A trip to Brimmer Hall is well recommended and the contact information is 876-994-2309 or 876-974-2244. It is open for tours Monday-Friday 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
Brimmer Hall Great House Photo Gallery
Brimmer Hall Great House Location Map
My Visit to Halse Hall Great House
I work at Jamalco, an alumina refinery near May Pen along the southern coast of Jamaica. Today, I had a meeting at the Halse Hall Great House owned by Jamalco.
During Spanish colonial rule, the estate was known as Hato de Buena Vista (Ranch or the Beautiful View). When the English drove out the Spanish in 1655, they rewarded various army officers with captured estates. Major Thomas Halse was given Hato de Buena Vista, and he renamed it Halse Hall. He built his great house in 1680 on the foundation of the Spanish hacienda, which sported a magnificent view of the 436-meter tall Mocho Mountains. He built his house like a fortress with thick walls. Security was further strengthened with British troops stationed at all four corners. During this time, Halse raised hogs and cattle.
After Thomas Halse died in 1702, his son, Francis, expanded the structure to its present grandeur in the 1740s during the era of great prosperity and security due to high sugar prices. He developed the house into a grand two-story building with a set of sweeping opposing steps to the grand entrance. The house has a solid feel due to the thick walls and large timbers. The interior white walls emphasize the dark wood work and hardwood floors. The main entry room has a spectacular vaulted ceiling. Since purchasing the Great House in 1969, Jamalco has beautifully preserved this cultural treasure of colonial Jamaica.
Halse Hall Great House, Clarendon, Jamaica. From a Photograph by an Unknown Photographer, c. 1912. Private Collection.
Slaves cutting Sugar Cane on Halse Hall Estate, Clarendon, Jamaica. From a Hand-Coloured Engraving after an original Watercolour by Sir Henry Thomas De La Beche, 1823. Private Collection.
Halse Hall Great House Photo Gallery
Today I start a blog, which I hope will someday lead to a series of books highlighting the great houses (plantation houses) of Jamaica.
Although the focus will be on the great houses, I will also be on the hunt for other structures built during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of colonial Jamaica. The owners of the plantations built the great houses, on the backs of slaves, which resulted in massive wealth to the owners.
I hope to document not only great houses that the owners have lovingly maintained in almost pristine condition but also to visit sites of great house ruins. It ought to be a great adventure. It will not be easy, because the many great houses are tucked up and down isolated valleys with very little information about their location. I will have to track down their locations by asking local people if they know of a great house in their neighborhood. The internet will help in finding the plantation houses built by the most famous or infamous landowners but there are hundreds of plantations that were never huge or produced vast wealth for the owners. The internet has helped me in identifying the most likely parishes with a plethora of great houses.
That said, I plan to start my search in Saint Ann Parish, where I have located sixteen great houses using the internet.