Right Steps & Poui Trees


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The Building At 79 – 83 Barry Street: Past, Present, Future

You walk past things without seeing them all the time. Vendors, shop windows, signs for business places. If you are busy and focussed on getting to an appointment, if you are on your phone, your field of vision shrinks to fit your field of attention. You can’t miss the imposing white and pink building at 79 – 83 Barry Street in downtown Kingston, right across the road from the multi-storey  car park beside the Supreme Court. Yet I never really looked at it until last year, although I have walked or driven past the solid edifice repeatedly over many years. Perhaps because when I am downtown, in the vicinity of the Supreme Court, I am hurrying to find a courtroom before a case is called up, or I am hurrying to do business at the Accountant General’s office. I am not there for a leisurely stroll and sightseeing.

Perhaps, too, there are so many derelict or burnt out buildings in parts of downtown that they don’t individually stand out. Now that I have looked at it more carefully, however, it does seem strange how little I knew about this building before.

This is what it looks like on Google maps…Barry Street - Kingston - Google map - highlighted…and when you look up Barry Street…P1080794…and when you are on Barry Street facing it.P1080871 It’s clear that no-one has entered it in a long time, certainly not through what used to be its main entrance…

…nor by its side entrance on Church Street.P1080862Many of the windows are boarded up, or closed, with broken glass.

The ones on the upper floor are open to the elements.P1080966 P1080913And there is no roof.P1080940

The Building’s History

Time Tells Our Story - Donald LindoIn his book “Time Tells Our Story: The History of The Jamaica Mutual Life Assurance Society, 1844 – 1994”, Donald Lindo gives an account of the decision of the Society to construct a new building after its offices on Port Royal Street had been severely damaged in the 1907 earthquake.

 

 

“The office at No. 10 Port Royal Street, was a brick building, and although it had been repaired, the directors made an almost immediate decision to rebuild and at the same time expand the size of the office. A committee was set up and builders were consulted but the directors were undecided as to whether they would build on the same location or elsewhere and some eighteen months elapsed without a decision being made. Eventually, during 1909, they purchased 79, 81 and 83 Barry Street, with a frontage covering the entire block from Church Street to Temple Lane and facing the old cenotaph war memorial. Tenders were invited and Mr. S. S. Wortley was selected to build the new office, under the supervision of the new contractors Messrs. Mais and Sant. The building was completed in 1911 at a total cost of £7,776, including the land, and was constructed of reinforced concrete which was now being used by many builders instead of brick. Research into the Society’s records do not indicate the exact origin of the logo adopted in later years – a sturdy Viking warrior, battle-axe in his right hand, a stout key in his left, his shield fastened to his arm and guarding the heavy closed door to the new building and the inscription written around it is ‘SECURITY, SOLIDITY’. Beneath this model of the warrior was the date 1911.” (pp. 151-2)

Jamaica Mutual Life logo

The logo as seen on the cover of Donald Lindo’s book

P1080920

The logo as currently seen on the Barry Street building. Notice that the battle-axe is missing.

“It was not until March of the following year that the Society moved to its new address and held its first half yearly general meeting there on 17 April 1912. The new building consisted of two floors, a ground and upper floor with a large double staircase on either side of a spacious hallway as one entered from Barry Street. With the exception of an archival vault and a parking area for cars. the Society occupied only the upper floor for its offices. Two sections of the lower floor opening on Barry Street were for many years rented to Mr. J. H. Gaskin Mapp (originally from Barbados) and the Bonitto Bros., both commission agents. The building was an architectural landmark of its day.” (p. 152)

Barry Street head office - Lindos book

This photo on page 154 of Donald Lindo’s book is captioned “Barry Street Head Office, completed in 1911”.

Barry Street building in 1950s

A photo from the 1950s, I think. I don’t know the source of this photo and would welcome any help in identifying it.

Cenotaph War Memorial 1922 - UK National Archive

In the top right hand corner of this 1922 photo of the War Memorial, you can see the top of the Jamaica Mutual Life building, just below the electric wires. (National Archives UK)

“When the office at 79 – 83 Barry Street had been remodelled in 1965 the original intention was to construct a new one on the same site in about fifteen years. Nearly ten years had elapsed and although there had been a number of new developments in the Kingston waterfront area, the heart of Kingston was no longer as popular and the trend was for business places to move up-town to the New Kingston area.” (p. 208)

In 1973, the board of the Society made a decision to move uptown and purchased property to facilitate that move. They also decided:

“…that they should try to find a purchaser for the head office at Barry Street. To their surprise, there was an immediate buyer, the government, who wished to expand the courts offices then located in the government buildings just across the road from The Jamaica Mutual Life. The price was agreed but the government wanted almost immediate occupancy, so without knowing where the staff could be temporarily relocated the directors agreed to give occupancy in November 1973….The annual general meeting of 3 July 1973, was therefore a very historic one as it was the last to be held at 79 – 83 Barry Street after more than sixty years.” (pp. 208 – 211)

The Attorney General’s Chambers were located in the Barry Street building from 1976 – 2001, when they moved to the then Mutual Life Building on Oxford Road.Locations of AGs Chambers - 79 Barry StI am not yet clear on what led to the building falling into its current derelict state and will try to find out. In her 2016 Sectoral Debate presentation, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told Parliament of plans to move the AG’s Chambers back to Barry Street eventually.

AG comment re 79 Barry Street - Sectoral Debate 2016

I made a trip to the National Land Agency to get a copy of the land title and noted a transfer registered on January 31, 2017 to the Commissioner of Lands, “Consideration money Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars”.

79 Barry St land title 201779 Barry St land title 2017 p2

I wonder what the years of exposure to the elements will have done to the soundness of the structure and how much will have to be spent to restore it to a useable condition. Many in the legal profession and in the business sector must have memories of this building in its better days. Hopefully, the future will see it being restored and functional again.P1080845

Postscript: I would like to thank historian Dr Joy Lumsden for her help in guiding me to historical information about the building. And since she is my mother, I would also like to wish her Happy Mother’s Day!


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350 Words or Less: Hurricane Gilbert, September 12, 1988

It’s 28 years since Hurricane Gilbert made its way from east to west across Jamaica, a direct hit if there ever was one.

noaa-map-of-gilbert-track

I remember it well. As a child, I longed to experience a “proper” hurricane. Gilbert fulfilled that childhood wish and though I retain a fascination with weather phenomena, I have no desire to experience anything like it ever again.

Each year on September 12, there is some acknowledgement of Hurricane Gilbert’s landfall in Jamaica. This morning I heard Lloyd Lovindeer’s hit song from that time, “Wild Gilbert”, a welcome comic take on events, generating much-needed laughter at the time.wild-gilbert-lovindeer

This evening, NOAA tweeted about Gilbert, which remains one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.noaa-hurricane-gilbert-tweet-12-9-16I have very clear memories from that time. I remember the first tree to fall in our garden, the massive guinep tree that was completely uprooted very early in the storm:gilbert-1gilbert-2

I remember letting the dogs out during the eye of the storm, and walking around in the garden, seeing the damage already done. It was quite still and the sky was blue. And then the incredible intensity of the winds when they returned, from the opposite direction. By nightfall, the sustained winds had passed, but every so often there was a strong gust and I remember lying in bed, unable to sleep, with a terrible headache, worrying about how some family members had fared.

I don’t have many pictures from that time. This one shows the house next door with much of its roof gone. The massive metal beams that held that roof had been bent back like plasticine, a mental image that forever represents for me the power of the winds during the hurricane.gilbert-3

After Hurricane Gilbert, we were without water for some time and without electricity for many weeks. We, like so many others, refined the art of cooking bully beef and savoured the pleasure of occasional cold drinks.

It’s a generation ago now and there are probably many Jamaican children wishing to experience a “proper” hurricane. And there are those of us who’ve experienced one, saying “No, thank you!”hurricane-gilbert-eye-over-jamaica-12-9-88

 

 

 


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.#AToZChallengeJamaica: X is for X Marks the Spot!

X marks the spot! Right here on the map. Jamaica. 18.1096° N, 77.2975° W. I don’t know what terminology our island’s first inhabitants, the Tainos, used to locate us on the map. The winds, sea currents and stars that would have been part of the guiding elements.

And then, with the arrival of Europeans, Jamaica became located on their maps. A Wikipedia page has pictures of a few of those early maps:

Map of Jamaica - Benedetto Bordone 1528

Benedetto Bordone, 1528

 

Map of Jamaica - Porcacchi 1572

Tomaso Porcacchi, 1572

Old Maps Online also has links to pictures of a variety of maps of Jamaica, such as this one:

Map of Jamaica -  Colin Liddell 1895

Colin Liddell, 1895

By the way, CaribbeanExams.com has a nice, simple series of maps showing how the parishes of Jamaica have changed over the centuries:

Map of Jamaica - CaribbeanExams.com - 21 parishes

And every school child in Jamaica has had the task of learning the names of the parishes and their capitals…

Maps of the World  - Jamaica political map

These days, we can also access Jamaica via satellite maps online, as I did this morning:

NOAA Atlantic vis-animated (1)

And on Google Maps as well:

Google Maps Jamaica

Finally, while you should have no difficulty locating Jamaica on this blank map of the Caribbean, how many other countries could you correctly identify? Click here  to see how well you did.

caribbean_blank


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.#AToZChallengeJamaica – O is for Out of Many, One People

The Jamaican national motto is ‘Out of Many, One People’, and is based on the population’s multiracial roots.

Jamaica - Coat of Arms

The motto is inscribed in the scroll of the Jamaica Coat of Arms, and was adopted at the time of Independence in 1962. Prior to that, the motto in the Coat of Arms was in Latin –  Indus Uterque Serviet Uni. (The Indians twain shall serve one Lord). It was felt that this motto had no relevance to modern independent Jamaica, and I would have to agree.

Ministry Paper No. 20, dealing with proposed National Emblems, indicates that the decision to change the motto had been made, but a replacement hadn’t yet been selected.

Ministry Paper No 20  - motto

The Ministry Paper was tabled in the House early in 1962.

Ministry Paper No 20 - end

 

Is our motto an existing reality, a guiding principle, an ideal to be aimed for?

To end, a verse from one of Louise Bennett’s poems – “Independence Dignity”, written at the time:

Teet’ an tongue was all united,

Heart an soul was hans an glove,

Fenky-fenky voice gain vigour pon

“Jamaica, land we love”.

 


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#AToZChallengeJamaica: C is for Catherine’s Peak

In Jamaica today, when most people hear “Catherine’s Peak”, they probably think of the brand of bottled water by that name. That isn’t unexpected, but there are others – myself included – who think instead of the peak in the Blue Mountains…Catherine’s Peak itself!

IMG_1502

Catherine’s Peak is located in the parish of St Andrew, and is about 4430 feet high. (1350 meters)

Catherine's Peak map 2

It is just above the Jamaica Defence Force Training Depot at Newcastle. A paved road has been cut up to Catherine’s Peak, but when I was a child and we used to spend time at Newcastle in the summers, there was no road, just a path. My brothers and cousins and I looked forward to our obligatory climb to the Peak. We were quite in awe of the fully equipped recruits who would run to the Peak and back as part of their training; they completed their run in the time it took us to go halfway up to the top!

IMG_1492

Catherine’s Peak was reportedly named after Catherine Moore, wife of Lieutenant Governor Henry Moore & sister of historian Edward Long. In 1760, she is supposed to have been the first woman to climb the Peak (though this does discount the fact that a Taino or Maroon woman may have done so before her!) A more mundane origin for the name is suggested in the book “Jamaican Place Names”, however.

Higman & Hudson

Shrouded in mist or shrouded in legend, there she is…Catherine’s Peak!

IMG_1498


From Long Ago: “‘Dandy’, dengne, dengue – or was it really chikungunya?”

My mother is a historian, Dr Joy Lumsden, and she has always shared that passion and perspective with her family throughout her life. Her interest is wide-ranging, though she has a focus on a particular period of Jamaican history. Joy Lumsden from websiteAs she said in her profile on one of her websites:

I finally retired in 2004 after nearly 50 years of teaching, 1956-91 at high school, and 1980-2004 at university level. During all that time, and still today, I have been researching Jamaican history, especially in the period between the Morant Bay ‘Rebellion’ and the 1938 riots. My doctoral thesis, which I worked on from 1975 to 1988, was on the life and political career of Dr J Robert Love, the Black Bahamian who played a significant role in politics and journalism in Jamaica between 1890 and 1914. My work on Robert Love introduced me to a highly significant but little researched period of Jamaican history, when 2-3 generations of tough, courageous and self-confident Jamaicans laid the foundations of the modern nation.

Last week I mentioned to her an article I had seen on a CDC webpage, in which the writer posited that chikungunya (ChikV) had been present in the Americas 200 years ago. Scott B Halstead: Reappearance of Chikungunya, Formerly Called Dengue, in the Americas Soon after, she posted on her Jamaica History website some information she had found about dengue and/or ChikV in the region during that time. I found it fascinating to read, given the heightened focus at the moment on the zika virus. And it was particularly interesting to read these excerpts, remembering that at the time it was still not known that these diseases were vector borne viral diseases, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The full post can be read on the website at:

‘Dandy’, dengne, dengue – or was it really chikungunya?

Below I have copied one excerpt from a 1828 document:

Jamaican History website 2

Jamaican History website 3

 


What You Can Find on the Internet: Thistlewood’s Diaries

The internet still astounds me. Its range, what it makes possible. And I know only a microscopic part of its uses and possibilities. This morning I had one of those moments which highlights/encapsulates for me this remarkable phenomenon and tool. (Forgive me, but I grew up in a world without the internet…)

I was up early & was on Twitter, when I saw this post by historian Gad Heuman:

Gad Heuman tweet

I followed the link to the Yale University Library Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library page detailing the digitization of the papers of Thomas Thistlewood. (Click here)

Thistlewood diaries library link

And a few clicks later (click here), I was looking at reproductions of actual pages of his notorious diaries…

Thistlewood July 1751

Many people would know of the diaries from Douglas Hall’s book “In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86”, sections of which are available on Google Books (click here), for those who don’t have access to a physical copy.

Thistlewood - Hall inside title pageThistlewood - Hall back cover 1

Thistlewood’s diaries are difficult to read – the physical script and some of the disturbing content, but their increased availability illustrates one of the real values of the internet – increased access to information.