Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library


by Daniel L. Ogilvie

Continued from History of Trelawny 3


Falmouth, the Capital of the Parish of Trelawny, situate on the North Coast of the Island of Jamaica 18.30N, 7.40 W., was so named to establish and perpetuate an additional link with Sir William Trelawny whose birth-place was Falmouth in the County of Cornwall, England. When it is conceded that it was during his regime that the most ardent desire of the inhabitants of this section of the Parish of St. James for a separation were consummated, it was no wonder that it was an appropriate and a fitting expression of gratitude. Be it remembered that an abortive attempt in this direction was made in the year 1733. The first reference to its name was on the 12th April, 1795. This run of land which was previously called Palmetto Point Pen was the property of Mr. Edward Moulton Barrett and had comprised approximately 170 acres. It is all flat and level land surrounded by the sea to the north and swamps at other points created more or less by the Martha Brae running contiguously. Owing to its topography however, it enjoys the full force of the sea breeze during the says and at nights the refreshing Trade wind. Health conditions, nevertheless, are excellent. The Town is not without its tropical plague, the mosquitoes, particularly in the months of June and July.

The Mr. Barrett above referred to as owner of these lands was a descendant of a family who were granted an enormous settlement of land between the years 1660 and 1670, as a reward we understand, for the family's loyalty to the crown of England, displayed during the tragedy of King Charles the First and recognized by his son, Charles the Second, on his accession to the throne. They owned lands from Cinnamon Hill in the Parish of St. James to the borders of Trelawny to the east, all along the sea coast. The Barretts were gallant soldiers. The first Barrett was said to have been a despotic character. He was a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings. The family cemetery at Cinnamon Hill is the depository pf their mortal remains. Barrett Hall Pen on the border of St. James and Trelawny was one of the family's residences. Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the great authoress, was related to them. Her original family name was Moulton but by the Will of her Grandfather she assumed the name of Barrett.

The first capital of the newly founded Parish of Trelawny was located at Martha Brae little more than one mile from Falmouth, where the river bearing the same name passes hard by. Martha Brae situate on high rising lands comprise about 50 acres. The approach to the seacoast was by the river which was navigable for about two miles but at the mouth of this river a bar of silt created difficulty for crafts except for very shallow ones transporting merchandise and Island produce, from and to Martha Brae. With paramount developments envisaged the unsuitability of this capital became real and the remedy urgent.

A committee was appointed to make recommendations and effect a solution. Mr. Samuel B. M. Barrett was appointed Chairman of this Committee. Not a few of its members advocated the establishment of the new Town at the "Rock" which had Five Piers constructed of stone and with Florence Hall Pen for residences, but the great drawback to this proposition was the shallowness of the water in this Cove which could never admit of even a 5 ton craft without grounding at high tide. From a residential point of view a part of Florence Hall Estate with its gentle uniform slope would have made an ideal Township but harbour and shipping facilities would not have been improved. With Mr. Barrett's willingness to dispose of Palmetto Point Pen for the purpose and under the most favourable conditions it was decided to establish the Township at 'Point'. The land was surveyed and planned with all the amenities for an up-to-date Township--for this reason it is considered the best laid-out town in the Island. Others moreso by process of Trade developments while this was in accordance with a plan. As will be noted in the Plan of the Town extant, [see plan of Falmouth] the Falmouth Parish Church [see photograph Church] is situate in the centre. This land for the Church as stated under the appropriate heading, was a free gift by Mr. Barrett. The other lands were readily sold. Nearly every owner of a Sugar Estate purchased residential sites. A road was cut through the Swamps faggotted with black mangrove wood and made serviceable for traffic to Martha Brae and the interior to the south. A sea coast road was also constructed to the east from the River's mouth where, for many years, punts were available to transport passengers, merchandise and even stock. August 1782, the Vestry ordered that a proper Flat be built to transport passengers crossing the river mouth near the Rock to cost £90. That the Toll be fixed at five pence per wheel and two pence per head for Cows. This system of transport continued until in 1790 a wooden bridge was built at a cost of £1,750, by one William Danny.

In the year 1838, construction of a Cast Iron bridge was mooted and in October of that year the princely sum of £30 was paid for making plans and specifications. In October 1840 it was resolved that as it is ascertained that the expense of importing a cast-iron bridge will be too great and as the Rock bridge now requires immediate repairs, the Executors of the late William Frater be called upon by the Collecting Constable to refund to the Parish the sum of £1,000 in his hands for that purpose for sometime now. In July 1847, on the Motion of Mr. Samuel Magnus, Seconded by Mr. Kidd, it was agreed that the Rock bridge should be temporarily repaired with pitchpine lumber. It was also agreed that a petition be presented to the House of Assembly for a Loan of £2,000 without Interest for 2 years to purchase a Bridge. Resolved that Mr. Abraham Josephs be paid £12 per annum for keeping the Rock Bridge clear of rubbish.

The main road via Half Moon Bay to intersect the road from Rock through Martha Brae and Holland to Greenside junction was later constructed. Buildings and residences were being erected with rapidity. Those who were financially able, constructed their buildings of stones and bricks. The lesser lights resorted to imported lumber. Whitepine boards could be purchased at the rate of 12/- per hundred feet. Stones and bricks arrived in Falmouth from England in the good old sailing ships in the form of ballast and were disposed of cheaply. It was no unusual sight to see twenty-seven ships in port landing cargo and taking in Sugar, Rum and other Island produce. [see photographs Falmouth wharf] Be it remembered that there were 88 Sugar Estates operating in this Parish. We smile to think of the small quantity of sugar and rum then manufactured by all these estates as compared with the amount supplied by four or five Sugar factories now in operation. One may also wonder why so many ships were required to transport so small a quantity. We are, however, not surprised when we remember that the largest sailing ship in those days were 600 tons barques. Sugar was the raw variety as the centrifugal machinery was unknown. It was put in hogsheads weighing approximately one ton. How as boys we felt delight in poaching on the molasses draining into a cocoanut bough set there by the watchman and used as his perquisite and how we dodged his tar whip, is another episode. When it is conceded that each of these ships had a complement of not less than 20 sailors and the majority not puritans coming ashore, it was no wonder that the Justices and Vestry had to construct a 'cage' in the Square for the purpose of putting away drunken sailors. The town was certainly prosperous. . .added to this crowd were the Overseers and Bookkeepers (chiefly Europeans) from the Estates coming to the town to enjoy 'night life'. There was some bustle in those rummy days. Falmouth was then the emporium of the northside. Members of the Jewish faith flocked to our town. There was no street without a shop of some sort. This community made their exit when they saw conditions becoming unfavourable to them. It is said that rats have a peculiar intuition by knowing when a ship is doomed, to leave it.

All houses were built with provision for shops and stores on the lower floor and residence on the upper. Many have now been altered but they were so constructed so that you must pass through the yard to enter the living quarters. Land space was at a premium in those good old days. With recurring hurricanes many of the old monuments to Falmouth's prosperity have perished. The foreshore has lost its three storied buildings. Small cottages or flats have taken their places. The twin sisters three storied building in the Parade were destroyed by fire on the 19th August , 1826, when the Court House was burnt. The fire originated in a store to the west then occupied by E. D. Arscott. A more detailed account of this tragedy will be found under the heading Falmouth Court House. [see photo Court House] We ourselves are amazed at the transformation that Falmouth has slowly undergone. Deterioration in every phase. The population has diminished and its classes degenerated. Why have the architects of this once prosperous town deserted it? Many reasons have been conjectured. Two decades or so it was said that the Falmouth Water Company (its operations already detailed) was a potential cause in the dwindling activities in commerce consequent on the excessive and inequitable water rates compulsorily charged the ships coming into the port.

Well in the year 1902, government found a way to abolish this Company and handed it over to the Parochial Board which made regulations that no ship should pay if water was not taken in storage and fixed the rate at 1/6 per 100 gallons. This innovation manifested a signal relief to shipping but did the ships come more often? The Harbour rocks and its intricacies and danger to navigation was the other

sore drawback alleged. In the year 1903, as the result of persistent agitation by the citizens, the Legislative Council, with Sir Sydney Olivier as Governor, approved of and had the Harbour rocks which was in the centre of the Channel with little more than a fathom below high water, blasted and minor other obstacles such as spurs, dredged from the fair way of the channel. A great improvement was effected and ships could enter and leave the port by day and by night with little risk. Did this expenditure of over £12,000 make much difference to the prosperity of Falmouth? Always on the move to find some avenue to avert disaster and improve conditions, the whole Parish was invited to petition government to construct a pier from the foreshore linking all the Wharves to the harbour whereby ships would berth alongside. That great St. James' patriot, the Honourable Philip Lightbody, as a Member of the Legislative Council, ever on the qui vive to sustain his Parish's interest over that of Trelawny and maintain the traditional pique dated from 1770, also advocated a similar project for Montego bay. Falmouth;s pier was estimated to cost £50, and that for Montego Bay over £100,000. This was passed by Law 14 of 1923. Of course the Law was disallowed by His Majesty the King. Be it neither mine nor thine.

With statistics of a voluminous description and arguments sound or otherwise, another petition was forwarded to the Central Government alleging that if the Harbour was dredged to a required depth to admit modern size ships of increased tonnage more ships would come to Falmouth and, hey presto, the Town would once more enjoy its pristine prosperity. In the year 1938, the Canadian Dredge Company which had been employed in dredging the harbours of Kingston an Port Antonio, was commissioned to do similar work in the Falmouth Harbour. The work was completed on the 15th August, 1938, at a cost of thousands of pounds, and the port made fit to harbour any of the vessels coming to Jamaica. But has this enhanced the Town's prosperity? Trelawny was never classed as a Banana Parish where there are shipments from January to December. It is in the Sugar belt. The manufacture of Sugar and Rum occur during the first six months and after that occasionally a ship is seen in port for a cargo of Dyewood. Well one would ask why conditions are so considerably altered. Let us try and give those facts which in our opinion are the primary factors. For the shipment of Sugar and Rum in the old days Sailing ships without mechanical power were the vogue. Steamships were unknown. The first Steamship which came to Jamaica was the City of Kingston in 1837, and it was this vessel that brought the lamentable news of the death of King William the Fourth. These sailing ships with a complement of sometimes 20 men would remain in port for, at times, four weeks, and if the weather is unfavourable and no trade winds to take them out, for a longer period. The labour required to hoist each hogshead of Sugar and to have it properly stowed was colossal. The sailors ashore were never without avenues to rid themselves of their hard cash earned in their perilous occupation. Every class in society benefited by their traditional lavish expenditure. To roll one hogshead of Sugar on the wharf required at least 6 men. Today Sugar being shipped is no longer raw but the finished Centrifugal type put up in sacks of which we are all aware. They are thrown in the lighters and on reaching the ship the steam derrick hoist them and they are expeditiously stowed. In two days from arrival the steamship is out of port after taking a thousand or more tons of sugar in so short a time. It is true that the labourers earn comparatively more money but the circulation is limited and the distribution curtailed and irregular. Do you wonder how the changed conditions have affected the town of Falmouth?

There were over fifty drogher boats varying in sizes and under 20 tons trading from this port with sundry goods to the ports of St. Ann's Bay, Dry Harbour, Rio Bueno to Montego Bay. Ship loads of lumber, pickled fish and other imported provision would be landed and sold to Merchants at those places. We remember quite well shopkeepers coming from Montego Bay to make purchases of these lines all to be transported in the droghers. How can we forget the 360 ton barque "Vale Royal", owned by Mr. Henry Sewell of Vale Royal Estate, making two trips each year from England and New York with full loads of coal, flour, biscuits and dry-goods consigned to the Sugar Estates and the merchants of Falmouth respectively. The numerous schooners from Halifax with Fish stuff and lumber are fresh in our memory. Where are they today? Steamships have succeeded them and there all go to Kingston from where retailers of this and other parishes go to effect purchases. Kingston is thereby made richer and the other seaports poorer. The seamen and longshoremen must either migrate to Kingston or drift to find the work for which they are best fitted. If Falmouth is experiencing decadence it should rightly be attributed to changed conditions and not to lethargy or lack of public spirit of the inhabitants. It is manifestly clear that they have never been deficient of public spirit and loyalty to the Parish. Neither the Government nor the people are possessed of the faulty to administer a panacea to restore property. We regret to come to such pessimistic conclusion but this we think is a fair analysis. There is, however, no likelihood of Falmouth ever seeing or experiencing a greater decline. The port's position is at rock bottom.

No longer do the hundred or so Mule Carts transport Pimento, Coffee, Annatto and other Island products from the interior of the Parish to this Town to be sold to merchants, and return with imported goods. Motor trucks have taken over this class of transport but instead of Falmouth they travel to Kingston with the belief and the hope of better prices and greater scope for their trading. The appeal of cities to country folk is not confined to this or any other country. The best and worst of communities he his inherent characteristic. The one with ambition and ability to excel, the other to find wider field to practice habits not quite in keeping with the tenets of honest labour.

To be continued. . . . .

Used by kind permission of Donovan Ogilvie and the late Pearl Ogilvie

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