I work in Clarendon on the Vere Plains. Vere was a parish in its own right until it was folded into Clarendon Parish along with Saint Dorothy Parish in 1814. The Spanish settled in the area in the sixteenth century and used the large spacious savannah to raise cattle and horses. In 1655, an Englishman by the name of Thomas Lynch, who was part of the invasion force which took Jamaica from the Spanish, named the province after his first wife Vere. Eventually, as sugar became the white gold of the colonial era, much of the plains were converted to sugar production. Vere Parish was (and still is) noted for its sugar production and as early as the 1600’s had 27 sugar mills.
From my place of work, I can see several ancient great houses, so it is only logical that I investigate these properties, most of which today still are on producing sugar properties. This will be the second post (the first was Halse Hall-see my earlier post) of this area.
The earliest mention I can find for the Morelands Estate was in the 1811 Jamaica Almanac where it recorded that it was owned by James Mitchell, deceased, who had 488 slaves and one stock animal. Also that year Mr. Mitchell (or his heirs) advertised in a newspaper: “Run-away Slave-Smith, a Papa, to Moreland Estate, no marks but marks of sores his face and right hand from yaws. 5 October 1811.” In 1816, the heirs of James Mitchell owned 504 slaves and 153 cattle. By 1818 the son and heir, James Mitchell, the younger, owned 630 slaves and 164 cattle. The following almanacs listed the number of slaves around 600. By 1878, James Mitchell owned both Morelands and Amity Hall Estates and Thomas Ellis was his attorney and manager. In 1900, J.H. Mitchell owed both Morelands and Saint Jago with G.W. Muirhead as his attorney (see post on sugar plantation management).
As I was roaming around the Monymusk sugar works, I would ask people if they knew of any great houses in the area. I asked one man at the community of Bog, “Do you know where the Morelands plantation is located. He pointed toward the road and said, “If you turn right at the paved road and drive toward Lionel Town, you’ll see a dirt road headed toward the Monymusk distillery on the right. If you turn left, that is the road to Morelands. They have a big house there.” I took his advice and at the turn noticed a large area of trees out in the middle of the cane fields. That ended up being the location of the great house along with the hamlet of Morelands.
I bounced down a dirt road and drove up to a great house that has seen its better days. A young boy and girl were playing in the front “yard”. I asked them if their parents were at home. Shortly a woman came out of the house, I told her what I was doing and asked if I could take some photographs. She replied in the affirmative, so I walked around the outside of the house taking photos from all angles. When I came back around to the front I asked, “Would you mind if I take some photos of the inside. I realize you are not prepared for visitors but I would really like to go inside.”
She replied, “I don’t mind if you pay me.”
I replied, “Sure, I’m used to that.”
“Follow me,” she said leading me on a tour of her house. “This is not really my house. I work for the sugar company and they let me live here.”
“Your house certainly is grand. I would have loved to see it a hundred years ago. That bead board ceiling must have really been splendid. Are those your children?”
“These are really not my children,” pointing to the two young ones following us about. “Their father died last year.”
As most Jamaica great houses, the living quarters are on the second level. The house is constructed of brick, probably brought as ballast in returning ships that carried sugar to England. The outside has been covered with a coating of stucco and then painted green. The leaking hip roof is presently corrugated metal, but at one time was probably covered with cedar shingles. There is a brick curb on the south side of the house, which possibly lined the carriage-way in front of the main entrance but now is the kitchen entrance. The house was possibly modified over the years, adding a second floor verandah to the east side. The interior rooms are painted green and pink with a white bead board ceiling. The hardwood floors are painted red. I didn’t see any evidence of electric ceiling lights and I noticed cooking was done in the kitchen on a charcoal brazier in the middle of the floor. A square-cut stone water tower is nearby. There was no evidence of a colonial kitchen outbuilding.
Adjacent to the house is an abandoned concrete block building which I understand at one time stored chemicals for the cane fields which push right up to the hamlet. I saw no evidence of the large sugar mill shown in the above photograph, which once was adjacent to the settlement.
Morelands is located just north of Lionel Town, about a two kilometers to the east off the paved road between Hayes and Lionel Town.
Morelands Great House Photo Gallery
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.