Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
MEMOIR OF GRACE ELIZABETH PINNOCK
Grace Elizabeth Pinnock born 13 Feb 1822 Shafston, Jamaica: wife of John Milbourne Marsh [See Pinnock Genealogy]
I was born of English parents in the West Indies, I. of Jamaica in the year 1822 where my Father was looked upon as the heir to great possessions. Our family were -
must say of it? Of Norman descent and settles in those early days in the county of Berkshire where the name is still known by many a nook and hamlet. (The name - Pinnock - was originally spelt Pynnoake1 in connection with some legend of the pine and the oak of which it was a corruption.) The armorial bearings - I am told by those who understand Heraldry - show great antiquity, and bear unmistakenable proof of belonging to the Norman period. Some of our ancestors distinguished themselves in the days of the Commonwealth and obtained grants of land from Cromwell in the County of Worcester.
My Father was a man of high culture and refinement, educated - I may almost say adopted - by Mrs Gwynne his Aunt, of Ford Abbey, Devonshire who idolized him, and with whom he had every advantage both socially and intellectually. She was rich and left him a great deal of money at her death, but which, owing to some negligence on the part of the lawyer who drew up the will, he never got, some branches of the family taking advantage of this and putting in a prior claim on account of seniority. He was about six feet in height and extremely handsome. I never saw a more beautiful expression of countenance, a true indication of his character which was affectionate, kind and benevolent. He was of a calm placid temper, but firm in exacting obedience. How as children we loved him and he still lives as warmly as ever in memory's shrine.
My Grandfather was greatly respected. And held one of the first positions in the Island, being for many years President of the Upper House and Lieut. Governor. He entered the Navy, but it at his Father's desire at an early age. My Grandfather and himself were, in the first years of their married life, much about the British Court, where the former was greatly admired for her beauty and the splendour of her jewels, a small portion of which eventually fell to my Mother's share. My mother was of Scotch descent - nearly allied to the Grants of Arndilly and Munymusk - fair in complexion, with a good forehead, deep grey eyes, and faultless teeth, otherwise she was decidedly plain in feature. She was only 16 when she was married2. Her figure was perfect, and she was always exquisitely dressed. Her hair - but how shall I describe it: such hair was rarely ever seen. It was of a rather light shade of brown with a golden hue and shone like satin, quite long enveloping her and hanging like a mantle to the ground, her pretty feet just peeping from beneath as white as alabaster and models for sculptor. In manner she was bright and cheerful and fond of society.
One day my Father remarked that he thought she was as nearly the height of the Venus de Medici3. My Mother said she was almost sure she was rather above the height. Accordingly, by general consent, her measure was forthwith taken and she was found to be two inches taller. This, we children declared to be a decided improvement. We knew nothing whatever of the Venus, but what did that signify?
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 walls of stone were thick and substantial. 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 was 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, and they 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. All our floors were kept highly polished, and I used to be very much amused in watching the Negresses on their knees rubbing away, and at the same time keeping up a loud accompaniment with their toes. As each one began to rub, away went the ten toes keeping up the sound till, having accompanied a piece to her satisfaction, she would move on and begin afresh. The movement of the toes could hardly have been called musical and was most ludicrous. I am told the Japanese polish their floors in an exactly similar manner at the present day.
A quaintness, and in some respects I may almost say an appearance of incongruity, pervaded the interior of our home not easy to describe. The total absence of curtains and draperies of all kinds gave a bare look and would not have suited our modern aesthetic tastes. They would have been too delightful a harbour however for scorpions, centipedes and other reptiles, not perhaps even excluding a stray snake now and then. In many parts of the house were unsightly beams, rough hewn and unpainted passing from wall to wall high overhead. I never could understand what they were for, unless to give additional strength and support in times of hurricanes. There were two in our large drawing room the furniture of which was handsome. Being of ebony inlaid with gold; the contrast was remarkable. In the pretty smaller room beyond our drawing room we usually breakfasted after our early morning rides. It was cool and commanded a lovely and extensive view of the ocean and Heads or points of land jutting out in the distance. On the bay formed by one of these points stood the town of Savannah le Mar, and behind it set the sun. Those glorious sunsets which must be seen to be understood! Evening after evening I used to go to my favourite corner and watch with delight the gorgeous and ever varying shades of colour which no pencil could portray. The recollection of those sunsets has never faded from memory. In the dining room a sideboard stood at one end covered with handsome family plate. On the right hand side as you entered, large oval glass mirrors were inserted in the walls in gold frames; chained eagles adorned the top holding golden wreaths in their beaks from which depended garlands and leaves forming the frame, not unlike in character to the frames you sometimes see round Italian pictures. On the opposite side of the room the windows looked upon terraces and hanging gardens, and beyond undulating ground stood two magnificent trees covering a large space - truly giants of the forest. - To what species they belonged I never knew. They went by the name of the silk cotton trees. They bore a pod very much like the pod of the ordinary tree filled with a silky fibre. I have seen them described in later years in books of travel in South of America as growing in the forests there and always exciting wonder and admiration from their size and beauty4. On a rise a little in the distance beyond, there were peeps here and there through the branches of our cotton trees of the pretty Negro settlement embowered in palms and all the lovely and luxuriant foliage of the tropics; and above and beyond all this, hills upon hills arose. Wherever you turned the scenery seemed always fresh and exciting, you could never weary of it. With its birds and flowers and brilliant colouring, Jamaica, so far, was truly a paradise on earth, and few spots can I think bear comparison with it.
And now, having talked of my home, I must say something of myself: my first strong recollection of anything - and I must have been a very wee dot then- was of tearing down a long Terrace in terror of my life, with a black maid after me, a monster of a woman - as I though her - standing at the top of the Terrace determined to bore my ears for pendants. I was naturally soon captured, and I conclude operated upon as I have been able to wear earrings ever since though often under protest. I can recollect nothing more beyond being tightly held down; perhaps I lost consciousness. My Father and Mother who were travelling with me to our home - Shafston - were suddenly, when half-way on their journey recalled to Kingston. Afraid to take me with them on account of the climate at Montego Bay, I was left in charge of my Uncle Mr Grant5 and his wife. I conclude she was fond of finery being of French extraction. Her Father was the Chevalier - something, and she was the niece of Lewis the friend of Lord Byron, better known as Monk Lewis. The consternation of my parents at all I had gone through on their absence was great. They declared I had lost all my high spirits and was crushed. The incident is hardly worth noting except that as warning to those who have the care of very young children, that they should study their characters: for a severe look or reproof of which we of older growth think nothing may have very serious and lasting effects on a timid sensitive child. It is impossible to be too careful of such tender plants. I have suffered seriously from nervousness all my life, and I attribute it in some degree to this little episode6.
As soon as my edger brother and I were old enough much care was bestowed on our education and we both soon learned to read and write well for our ages. Alas in those days there were no books or information, no illustrations, no picture books of any kind for the infant mind; it was all hard dry study from babyhood onwards. We soon leant Miss Edgeworth and Sandford and Merton by heart, were wrecked over and over again in the 'Royal George,' mourned with Cowper over his Mothers portrait, and rode the race with Johnnie Gilpin to the Inn at Edminton. My brother who had a retentive memory learnt the English History in two small volumes by heart and could not be puzzled as to a date. This to my mind who never could remember a date or add up a figure was alarming, and I began to look upon him with awe. When all this was accomplished what were we to do? I appealed to my mother in despair and was told I could read 'The Tempest,' but I was on no account to look further into Shakespeare. There was also the 1st Vol. of Lord Chesterfield's letters, and if I cared to look into it [with a smile] there was 'The Whole duty of Man.' I need hardly say I left this latter to repose in dignity on its shelf. Lord Chesterfield did not please me I shut him up after the first chapter and have never taken him out since7. 'The Tempest' made me long for more; but I was on parole and so reluctantly returned the book to its place in the library.
So when the daily lessons were over the tine hung rather heavily. My second brother was rather too young to learn and never took to letters. My recollection of him in later years was seeing him racing up the staircase, his tutor after him whip in hand, till having gained the attics, he would disappear in some hole or on the leads where no one could follow him, and the poor discomfited breathless tutor would have to give him up for that day as he took care not to make his appearance again till lesson time was over.
As stated periods of the year all the Negroes on the Estate assembled on the stone Terraces to receive donations of salt fish of which they were very fond, also dress materials, beads and gay handkerchiefs which they twisted up into picturesque head dresses as some of the peasants do on the Continent. The brighter and the greater the variety of colours the better, and very nice they looked. Occasionally, and always at Christmas they had a dance in our long Piazza; this they called "Johnnie Canoeing." The men came masked with triangles and a small drum here and there. There voices were musical and they had a good idea of time and tune. My Mother in fun and unseen in a corner of the dining room contributed sometimes to the music with a comb over which she drew a piece of paper tightly and hummed through. Dancing and singing were kept up with thorough enjoyment but all so decorously. There was no vulgarity, no unseemly noise. And yet all were perfectly at their erase and happy as could be. I often think that in most aboriginal tribes there is a natural grace and refinement of manner that is rarely attained even by the highest culture. We children - those who were not afraid of the masks - looked on with great delight enjoying "Jonnie Canoe" quite as much as the performers.
My impression of the African Black, taken however chiefly from that period is, that compared with most wild tribes, he is of a superior race - intelligent, capable of much attachment honesty, and truthful. On our own and the adjoining Estates the Master was the friend and counsellor to whom they all looked in perfect confidence, feeling that he had their interests at heart and around whom they clustered as children looking up to their Parent. Of course many of them were very ignorant and their morals not of the highest order: but they were open to reason, and, in the absence of Churches and Clergymen till the Moravian Missionaries came amongst us, they would have been left in total ignorance and in their old habits but for the efforts of the ladies on the various Estates who were indefatigable in teaching them and having schools for the children. On looking back I may truly say I have never through life seen such unselfish devotion and love as I then witnessed; it made an indelible impression on my mind. My Mother did much in promoting the married state. She had long and serious conversations with some of the young people; and shortly afterwards it was rumoured, and in a little while it as announces, that three marriages were to take place, and there was great arrangements of white muslin dresses trimmed with quillings of white satin ribbon under the direction and guidance of my Mother who had suggested the idea. It was quite a gala day to look forward to and helped more than half way I am afraid, to make the marriage ceremony popular from thenceforth.
The great difficulty was the Church. I have said above that there were no Churches; they were at least very few and very far between, and I remember seeing a Clergyman but once when he came to christen the two year old Baby. A Church as well as a Clergyman were both however forthcoming for this occasion. We made it a two days' journey to get to the Church, staying at a friend's house on the way. The little edifice was crowded and the Brides looked so well in their low-necked white dresses and bead necklets and pretty head dresses, the Bridegrooms properly radiant with large bouquets of exquisite exotics in their buttonhole. Shortly after this we had frequent visits from the Missionaries - a most excellent people of whom the world now appears to have lost sight. They seemed to endeavour in every way to lead the lives of the early primitive Christians, and if self denial and devotion to their work could achieve anything they certainly deserved to succeed. Their rules were peculiar. They had one purse in common, and were I believe under the rule and guidance of a Head, and a small Committee who provided each member and his family with the means barely sufficient for their necessities. Their wives were chosen for them. They were often perfect strangers to each other till they met at the altar. For instance, the wife for the Missionary who came to our house was sent to him from Iceland. They seemed very happy and well suited to each other, and my Mother said she was a very nice person.
In the year 1831 a great misfortune befell us in the sudden death of our Father. In the prime of life and in good health carried off by one of the fevers by which in those days people were so liable to be attacked. He had gone on his daily round as was his wont over the Estate, on this day a greater distance than usual, and was overtaken by a thunder storm. There being no shelter he was soon drenched. Putting spurs to his horse he rode home as quickly as he could, feeling however, almost a doomed man for he had got a chill. Fever set in, and in a few hours he was gone. There was no medical man at hand, and had there been, it is doubtful if human skill could have saved him, especially as the very indifferent Doctors who wandered over the country knew but little of the science of Medicine or how to treat a patient8. The shock to my Mother was so great that for some time her own life was despaired of, and in such an event, arrangements were made with a dear friend to take us home to our relatives in England. However her life was mercifully spared. What should we have done - poor little mites - without our Mother!
After all this terrible trial we seemed to lead a very quiet life going nowhere, and seeing no one, till one afternoon as my Mother and I were seated on the lawn in front of our house we were attracted by seeing in the distance a number of mounted soldiers riding past and almost at the same moment a messenger arrived in breathless haste with a note to this effect: "What are you doing? Are you aware that the Negroes are up in arms? The Estate all round in flames, the families being massacred. We go by water, as safest to Savannah le Mar to-morrow at day dawn. Sent your boys to us at once as their lives are in most danger, and get off yourself as quickly as you can." My eldest brother went with the messenger, the younger one could not be persuaded to leave us and so had to take his chance. My Mother ordered the close carriage to be got ready immediately for the rest of the party - a handsome yellow carriage as I can remember it, the fashion of the day. She found to her dismay that the overseer and all the most intelligent and reliable men on the Estate had been suddenly drafted off to join the militia.
We were therefore left without protection of any kind and to the tender mercies of the ignorant among our black people. It never occurred to them that the horses not having been used for some time required exercise before they were put into harness. They were a beautiful spirited pair imported from England by my Father shortly before his death. Blackie, without any more thought than a child, harnessed them and put them in at once with the result that they kicked and plunged and finally broke the pole. It was quite certain after this that we could not start on our journey that evening; but fortunately there was a double Phaeton and a pair of quiet ponies which were got ready for an early departure the next morning. As night closed in we were put to bed but not undressed so as to be ready for any emergency that might arise. I was the last going to the Nursery, and as I was wending my way thither having scarcely reached the staircase, I found myself suddenly carried along by a wave of Blackies. They had all with one consent come "to protect" they said, "their dear Master's family;" that should we be attacked during the night by the horde of Barbarians who were in arms and who, we understood, were likely to come down upon us, they would defend us to the last and shed their last drop of blood in our cause. And they meant it dear souls. It was very touching. They then declared their intention of remaining and occupying the lower part of the house throughout the night.
My poor Mother in such an awful position, not knowing but what at that moment an evil spirit or two might be in the crowd - fear as he afterwards discovered not altogether unfounded - shewed great bravery on the occasion. She stood calmly at the head of the staircase and after listening to what they had to say she made a short speech thanking them for their loyalty and devotion, and assuring them of her perfect reliance and trust in their promises to protect us in case of need to the best of their power. She said afterwards that she never doubted our own people, but she knew they were a mere handful to stand against the overpowering numbers who might rush down from the mountains at any moment and either destroy or intimidate them.
However no catastrophe took place throughout that fearful night, and at early dawn we started on our journey to Savannah le Mar. We met with no adventures, but halfway on our journey we passed one desperate looking character armed. It was a lonely spot, and we feared, and thought it more than probable that he had comrades hiding in the thick scrub in front of which with his arms folded, he stood. My Mother with the presence of mind and courage which never seemed at this trying period to forsake her, desired the coachman to show no fear and not to alter the pace at which we were driving.
On reaching our destination we found the town under martial law and we had to get the pass word before we could be allowed to enter. Imagine our dismay when we did so, to find the place so crowded that not an available spot of shelter could we find. A friend, fortunately hearing of our distress sent to say that she had one large room she could spare us till we were able to make other arrangements. It was very good of her, as the Commander in Chief Sir Willoughby Cotton and his suite and a large party already in her house. The Governor was at Head Quarters at Kingston. We were received with much kindness and hospitality, and I thought her an angel of light: for I never saw a more beautiful apparition than appeared before us at our room door to welcome us.
We were not long in obtaining accommodation in a house close to the water's edge, where in case of the town being attacked, we could make our escape to one of the ships lying in readiness to take off all refugees.
We had hardly settled ourselves in our new abode before my Mother heard a sad tale of a lady in the last stage of dropsy, utterly neglected and alone, without even proper attendant domestics, and in the midst of the rebels. On inquiry it was found that she had been the wife of a Brother of my Mother. He was in the Navy and lost his life in consequence of his exertions in the midst of a violent storm when in command of his vessel9. She had often visited at our house and was a kind, pleasant, lively person, so we liked our Aunt Louise. The connection however had been greatly severed when, after some years of widowhood, she married again - a gentlemanly handsome man, but a mauvais sujet who, I fancy, treated her very unkindly, and at least with utter neglect. My Mother at once determined to rescue her from her perilous position and tend and comfort her in her last moments. It was a fearful risk for her to run, but securing a large comfortable apartment close to where we were residing she started off with every provision for her comfort, and accomplished her errand of mercy in safety. Our windows looked straight across to where our home stood, and we used to gaze so anxiously morning after morning to see if it was possible to detect any signs of conflagration.
It was quite piteous to hear by brother G10 as he looked, muttering to himself, "My poor Shafston shall I never see you again!" and such a relief to feel, 'well for this day there seems to be no actual cause for distress", when as we turned from our window the skies looked bright and clear, and smokeless.
Whilst at Savannah la Mar I went to Church on Sunday morning and heard our English service for the first time; I was deeply impressed, especially with the Litany, the grandeur and beauty of the language of which struck me most forcibly.
We made the acquaintance in our little social circle of a young middy whom we always addressed as 'Hawkey." He greatly enjoyed his visits to us which were frequent when off duty, and used to bring us the pass word which was often changed, He was very proud of his uniform and his dirk, and we gratified his vanity by admiring him immensely, as children do admire in all sincerity.
The rebellion was put down rather more easily than I think, could have been at first anticipated. It was serious enough while it lasted. Its horrors - the desolation of homes, the barbarous cruelties peculiar to savage warfare which were enacted too often on the good and innocent, I need not describe. They are being detailed in all their barren hideousness in our daily chronicles as taking place even now in other parts of the world, all too harrowing,
But for a fortunate mistake as to the date fixed for the rising which was to have been general throughout the country, no white person would have been saved. As it was only partial; As soon as order was sufficiently restored we returned to our home and found everything in perfect order just as we left it 11. Our faithful people said they would bury the plate and the best of the furniture, and I do not doubt they did. Nothing was missing, nothing was even scratched.
Then at home we had always had a gathering on Sunday for morning service. When the Missionaries were with us extra numbers assembled for morning and evening prayer. On there occasions at the end of the morning service the young people were regaled with corn and coconut cakes and all sorts of good things and I was generally allowed to go to the housekeeper's room to assist in distributing the refreshments. Like everything else however in this world this was soon to come to an end. The property was entailed on my eldest brother12. It was necessary to get an agent to manage the estate, and when this was accomplished my Mother decided to take us to England and join her own people. So in the year 1833 we quitted for ever our happy island home and severed those ties formed in early childhood, the void of which nothing can ever fill up. It was the wisest, and indeed the only course my Mother could adopt. It was necessary for our health and education and also for her, as her own nerves were so completely shattered after all she had gone through that she needed a thorough change of scene. She never in fact quite recovered the terrible strain of those last three years. Her strong faith and trust had been throughout her main stay and prop, her guide and support.
On the morning of our departure whilst my Mother was giving her final instructions, my brother G. and I found ourselves kneeling together to weep or pray, or a little of both. I know not - by the side of a beautiful carved mahogany bedstead which would make the fortune of Christie & Hanson in these days. Inscribed upon it was the name of an ancestor of ours - one of the former Governors of Jamaica - Sir John Dalling Bart. The title is extinct now as he died without an heir13.
Altho' the Emancipation Act and become law, it was not to take effect for 3 years. We felt much therefore at parting with our Negroes, and leaving them in the hands of a stranger who could never be to them what their dear master had been; and my Mother decided that our old nurse who had been with us more peculiarity than any of the others in our troubles, and had been a great comfort in many ways should be the one chosen to accompany us to England. One chief reason for this was, that on touching English soil she at once became free. Susan was a most interesting character, deeply and truly religious. The clergyman whose Church we attended used to delight in having long conversations with her, and was very much stuck with her knowledge of the Bible, her apt quotations and her choice always of the finest parts, the Gospel of St. John for instance; and the opening chapter "In the beginning was the Word" delighted her, and Isaiah the XL chapter I think - 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people." She did not like England; she was too black she said, and everyone stared at her; and the contrast was all the greater as my lovely little sister - fair as a lily - was her constant charge whom the foolish people stopped to admire wondering why she was not black also. My own especial maid who was a brunette with finely chiselled features - a beautiful woman - married our overseer some time previous to our departure; and our housekeeper, Mrs Prendergast - wondrously plain but as good as gold - found a most happy comfortable home for life with a Jewish family in London who were most kind to her. We used to see her sometimes in later life.
I think in looking back into history we can trace the commencement of England's greatest first of all the suppression of the slave trade after a hard fought battle of many years with the merchants of Liverpool and Bristol, who found it much too lucrative a trade to give up without hard resistance.
Having accomplished this, her most glorious achievement was the emancipation of the Blacks from slavery; but in this as in most great revolutions there was much hardship, much cruelty, falling on the innocent. England did what she could towards alleviating the suffering, but the money raised in compensation, although a large sum in itself, was ludicrously small when it came to be divided. Nor was the emancipation at first by any mean a boon to the Black people. Their wants were few; they all had their gardens in the mountains which provided them with food and vegetables in abundance and as much money as they needed; and then they could always cast their burden of trouble or sorrow on the master and the friend ever ready to help them.
This state of things I conclude, wore away by degrees. Blackie has doubtless asserted himself long are this, and the Jamaica of my day no longer exists. Nevertheless, I should like to see the old place once more.
We were utterly ruined, one misfortune seeming to happen on top of another. When Mother married her marriage 'dot' was 1600 pounds a year; when we left Jamaica our income - very irregularly paid - was 200 pounds per annum - the sum allowed for my brother's education. It was hard - almost impossible - to bring down the mind suddenly from the refinements and comforts of life which money gives, independently of previous training, to the hard drudgery of every-day life, and I am afraid my poor Mother never did find the way although she did her best.
I add a few remarks of my eldest brother after reading the above which may add interest to the manuscript.
That the family originally came from France there is no doubt; the name originally spelt 'Pynnoake' - but I am sure inclined to the opinion that it is of British origin, and not Norman. One reason for my thinking is that in Cornwall there is a small town or large village near Liskeard called St. Pinnock. Besides, the name appears to me to have more of a British than a Norman sound, and you of course know that there is a province in France called Bretagne or Brittany, where are people of the same race as most of our Cornish and Welsh fellow - countrymen.
The town is rightly called Savannah le Mar, Jamaica was conquered from the Spaniards in the time of Cromwell, and the Spaniards follow the Latin orthography closely, more so than the French do. The name signifies a flat place by the sea.
__________________1. Grace's note 'See Debrett's Armory'.
SEARCH THIS SITE
Plan of this website
Help - Frequently Asked Questions
Jamaica Almanacs Slave-owners, Civil & Military officers, Magistrates etc.
Items in the Samples Directory
Items in the Members Directory
Transcriptions from Registers and Wills (Church of England, Dissenters, Civil Registration)
Jamaican Roman Catholic Church Registers - transcriptions
Jamaican Methodist Baptisms - transcriptions
Jewish births marriages deaths - transcriptions
Slaves and slavery in Jamaica
Photographs, maps, prints, etc.