Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
BLUNDELL HALL, MARY SEACOLE and MISS GRANT
From Godfrey Turner's writings on his trip to Jamaica in 1866;
A) The Savage Club Papers Vol 1 1867 The Inns of Jamaica
There are no Inns in Jamaica. I except the tolerably comfortable lodging-houses, which are in many instances dignified by the title of "hall", and which are favourably typified by Miss Grant's establishment at Kingston-
Blundle Hall, Blundle Hall! That I should have found within the shadow of your jalousies the friends from whom I had last parted so far away, and from whom I was again to part, leaving thousands of sea-miles between us.
Miss Louisa Grant was, and I hope still is, a great favourite with the navy and the army too
I might well place it (Blundle Hall) first on the list of those inns of Jamaica, of which I still maintain to be no inns ..Besides and moreover, Blundle Hall was .the first habitable edifice in the Tropics within whose door I had set my exploring foot. I went to Blundle Hall, through ways ankle-deep in sand, straight from the quay, where I had come ashore, from the inter-colonial steamer Conway.
My first introduction to Kingston having thus been satisfactorily accomplished, I transferred my anxious thoughts to the subject of my bedroom. It was one of a good many chambers with green jalousie doors and windows all of a row in an open corridor, on one side of the courtyard, something like the gallery of an old-fashioned English Inn. A black lad in a striped flannel shirt and white Osnaburg trousers marshalled me the way that I was going, and carried my heaviest portmanteau on his head, seemingly with much more resignation than he felt to the task of bearing lighter luggage in his hands. My room being the last of all, and quite at the end of that wing of the building, approached by the open corridor, had the advantage of a free ventilation on three sides. The bread-bladed green jalousies took the place of glass, letting in the punctual breezes, which keep their time to the click of your chronometer in this happy climate. When the black boy in the flannel shirt and white Osnaburg continuations had set down all my traps, he stood grinning with a cheerful expression of inquiry. I was about to tell him that he need not wait, when a long wriggling thing ran softly past my foot and into a corner of the room, as if it expected to find an outlet there which did not exist.
"What is that?" I asked him. "Dat" he echoed in the negro dialect "dat noting, sa' Only young 'corpion". "Oh indeed" said I with as little emotion as I could help showing; "Is it at all a common order of reptile in this country?"
The question not being at all understood was charitably assumed to be comic; and my new acquaintance, who looked as if he had been oiled or varnished with great care, grinned a plastic and unctuous grin, which widened till he was obliged to chuckle, to prevent its widening any more ..
In respect of its bedrooms, with dark shining floors and jalousie windows without glass, and beds with mosquito nets, which I have sometimes found efficacious in keeping mosquitos in, as much as in keeping them out ..The mosquitos which called upon me as soon as I had taken up my lodging at Blundle Hall were the mosquitos of the plains. You do not feel their bite at first; but after a little while a hard white tumour rises, and there is a painful aching tension of the muscles all round ..I must get away from Blundle Hall on paper, as I did, one bright hot morning, get away from it in the actual and perspiring flesh ..
I started from Blundle Hall, Kingston very early one glorious April day, before the sun had waxed fierce in the glowing heavens .Now Blundle Hall is another of those negative inns of Jamaica; and it is kept by a brown lady Miss Louisa Grant, sister of Mrs Seacole, and quite as great a character in her way. A much longer and regularly sustained practice in the noble art of getting up early in the morning-merrily O!-than I for one could ever boast, would be necessary to the achievement of stealing a march on Miss Louisa Grant. She was in fact about as wideawake an old soldier of a middle-aged landlady as I have ever had the honour to know. Ah! Am I then back again in the spirit at Blundle Hall? Truant that I have been to kindly recollections, in a vagabondage through colder climes, do I now in fancy find myself once more in the long verandah, opening by a flight of stone steps on the courtyard with its cocoa-nut tree, and troops of basking black servants, and row of lean unquiet horses, stamping and whisking their long tails under the pent-house as they are wont to do by night as well as day
B) The Geographical Magasine Sept 1 1874 IMPRESSIONS OF JAMAICA
Chapter 3-- Kingston & Blundle Hall
Near the guinep tree, just out of Harbour-street, at the principle end, is Blundle Hall; and of Blundle Hall, its memories and associations, I have to speak anon.
BLUNDLE HALL is a type, or I should rather say the archetype of Jamaican hotels or inns. Strictly speaking, there is no hotel nor inn on the island, if we take our homely notions as the test of nomenclature; but the "halls" are sort of boarding-houses that fill the void; and Blundle Hall is not only the biggest but the best of those peculiar institutions. It stands I hope like Scotland where it did; and it stood, when first I set foot in its verandahed shade, on the right-hand side of the way going up that long road from the wharf which passes the eastern end of Harbour-Street, where the large guinep tree flourishes. There is something very stately, solid and enduring in the noun-substantive "Hall" ; and if a stranger who had just landed at Kingston were to set forth on his unassisted search after some ideal mansion answering to the name, he would most likely pass by Blundle Hall without regarding it. Still the place has a fairly comfortable look of hospitality, which well bespeaks the good entertainment therein.
In one respect too it resembles a hall of the oldest Saxon character, in its having a court-yard. Farther than this, likeness there is none. Blundle Hall is built, as are most of the habitations in Jamaica, on a brick foundation which stands about 7 or 8 feet, perhaps more, above the ground, and which, having a concrete or earthern floor of its own, is usually panelled off into a spacious bathroom and two or three humble offices.The superstructure of dwellinghouses in the British West Indies is in nearly all cases wood, and wood alone. Glass windows are rareities, the jalousie blind being better adapted to the purpose of a tropical casement, which is to keep out the sun and the rain, and to let in the air, with so much tempered daylight as is necessary.
Many Jamaican houses have, and Blundle Hall has, what is erroneously called a "piazza"; that is, a covered gallery or alcove between the penetralia of the dwelling and the outer air. In this gallery it is good to lounge in rocking chairs or to recline in grass hammocks, slung from pillar to post, when the burning heat drives us to seek out cool and shady places. Ice, for the unlimited supply of which necessary an extra charge of twopence a day, at the most,is made in your bill, is freely used, as a matter of course;(later Jane Victoria Smith sold ice there) and one of the delights most commonly associated with the piazza is a glass of cold lemonade, skilfully concocted with the juice of green limes, which have been freshly plucked for the purpose from a convenient tree. It is usual for the butler who supplies us with this nectarean draught, to hang across the rim of the goblet, a long curling ribbon of peel, whose fragrance alone is a refreshment.
Both back and front, Blundle Hall has its covered galleries or "piazza" , if we may help to perpetuate the mistaken term. The business of eating was chiefly conducted in the verandah-like apartment, approached by a flight of wooden steps from the sandy street. Blundle Hall is the place for a regular old-time planter's breakfast. The planter's own particular dish, as common throughout the year as rashers of bacon in England, is salt-fish and ackee, the fish being Newfoundland cod, which is also the cheapest food among the negro labouring class, and the ackee being a useful fruit which was brought into Jamaica from the West African coast in the slave time, and is not very unlike a hard-boiled egg in appearance and flavour ..Our fresh fish at Blundle Hall breakfasts, was almost invariably deep-sea snapper, of which it is quite possible to grow tired in time. Only as a treat was the incomparable calipiver, a firm white fish that combines all the virtues of salmon and mackerel with a rare zest peculiarly its own, sometimes served up to us at the morning meal. The abominable turtle-steak never failed to make its appearance.
At Blundle Hall ..all was very good, and so various as to be on that account charming. We were never without cassava cakes, a delicacy the more enjoyable because of the frequent philosophical reminder that the root from which they are prepared is unwholesome, nay, some go so far as to assert virulently poisonous ..At all events, the thin crisp cakes made from the rounded root, and roasted on a griddle, may be eaten with no less impunity than relish. We had yams of course and fried plantains, nor was the sweet potato often wanting for those who preferred it to yam An edible which I had almost forgotten is the mountain cabbage, by which misleading name is called the tender top of the palm, excellent either when dressed artichoke-fashion or pickled. Sometimes we were indulged with a branch of oysters much as it may surprise the European visitor .I think he will marvel still more when he sees on a breakfast table a fresh dark-leaved bough, the woody stem of which is encrusted with oysters, varying in size, but on an average about as large as those of Cancale or Ostend; of the same shape and same depth of bottom-shell, and I venture to assert, quite as delicious as any ever placed before the critical diner at the "Trois Freres Provencaux".
Chapter 4-- Faces at Blundle Hall
Gayest of all the gay French bonnets, lightest and most voluminous of all the gauzy and silken modes assembled and met together in Kingston Parish Church on Sunday the 21st morning of that white hot month of January 1866 were the bonnet and the dress of Miss Grant, sister of the excellent Mrs Seacole, of Crimean popularity.. To speak of Blundle Hall, and not to speak of Miss Grant, proprietess and tutelary genius thereof, is a piece of glaring reticence akin to mentioning Brighton Pavilion and at the same time ignoring George the Fourth. It would be like writing a treatise and leaving out the subject. Miss Grant was-we are talking in the past tense generally but I am glad to know on good and recent authority that there is a Miss Grant still, who, moreover, is still Miss Grant-was, and is, I say, a brown lady. She despised "niggers" and indignantly refused to entertain Soulougue, when that amiable ex-emperor fled from Hayti to Jamaica-he and his wife and daughter and Prime Minister, and maids of honour, and chamberlains and equerries, and "lords of the footman species", and all the coal-black court
Leaning out of my verandahed window at Blundle Hall, watching, as I often did watch, with mingled repugnance and admiration, the vultures sunning themselves on the shingled roofs of neighbouring houses, I heard a quarrel between two negresses, mother and daughter, in a small courtyard below .disputing angrily the question of the younger lady's propriety of conduct towards the opposite sex; .she passionately defied her mother to prove that she had ever been guilty of the least flirtation with men "of a worse colour" than herself ; that her list of lovers included many brown and several white gentlemen ..
Let me now ask my readers to accompany me back to Blundle Hall, where in the early days of my visit to Jamaica, I met some old friends and made two or three new ones. Miss Grant's clientele was largely augmented by naval officers, from any ship that happened to be on the station ..
One morning as we sat at the breakfast table in the front gallery of Blundle Hall, enjoying the sea breeze, the cassava cakes, and the other delicacies proper to that early time of day, a notable addition was made to the pretty numerous body of Miss Grant's customers .by his unmistakeable look of caste by which I mean race no one could have failed to identify him as a son of the Duke of Argyll.
"Letters from Jamaica", Land of Streams & Woods, 1873 Chas Rampini
Kingston. Our first business on leaving the ship was to find ourselves lodgings. So hailing a "bus", as the Kingston cabs are called, we started to seek the hotel to which we had been recommended. On our short journey up East Street
.and after a prodigious amount of tumbling and jolting, we were landed at the door of a large and desolate-looking building, which the driver informed us was the "Hall" (for by this grand name are Inns known in Jamaica) to which we were bound. We entered upon a Courtyard paved with brick around which half-a-dozen men & women were idly sitting. Two wall-eyed horses were being rubbed down; sable damsels seated on the ground were washing ewers and basins and towels.A rug was being shaken from a balcony overhead. A couple of turkeys, three enraged Guinea fowls, some poultry, two goats, and a lean dog were wondering about at their own sweet wills; and the filthy condition of the courtyard justified the presumption that this litter had not been removed for a week. As we were wonderingly looking around to see whether we had not made a mistake and entered the "curtilage" of a private dwelling-house, one of the women, whom we afterwards discovered to be the proprietrix of the establishment, without rising from her chair, wished us an indolent and indifferent "Good Morning". We were about to commence an apology for our intrusion when she suddenly interrupted us by calling to the dirty black boy who was passing, "Thomas,show the gentlemen into the hall, and tell the house-woman to put water into no 24". Then, without taking further notice of us, she turned to her next neighbour and commenced a tirade against the "vileness" of servants in Jamaica, and of her own in particular. Following our guide upstairs we were ushered into a large room , where an old negress on her knees,smoking the stump of a cigar with the lighted end in her mouth, was cleaning the polished floor.Off this central apartment, the bedrooms diverged in all directions. Into one of these we were directed by the sulky boy.The room was gloomy as a vault. A bed, a chair and a basin stand constituted all the furniture. A little strip of matting by our bedside was all our carpet.There were few traces of that West Indian luxury of which we had heard so much before leaving home. Breakfast was served to us in a broad verandah overlooking the street.We had oysters from the mangrove trees at Port Royal, a brilliant scarlet "snapper", an excellent fish, but like all tropical fishes, soft and flabby in substance; brain fritters, a small biscuit called "crackers", soaked in butter, stuffed "garden eggs", a most delicious vegetable,roasted plantains, a piled-up plate of golden oranges and a pineapple. Our drink was local water but tea and coffe were to be had for the asking. Such was our first meal in Jamaica.
But if the traveller values "a cool bed" and clean sheets, he should eschew the deceitful allurements of the tavern and throw himself upon the hospitality of the nearest private house. If he is provided with Letters of Introduction, so much the better; but they are hardly needed to ensure him a hearty welcome. Hospitality in Jamaica is a tradition which the poorest planter prides himself in preserving inviolate. Of course, there are planters and planters. In some houses he will find himself surrounded with all the comfort and refinement of an English country house. In others his fare will be even rougher than the tavern."Beef" soup with the meat of which it has been cooked served on a plate beside the tureen, a "surprised" fowl knocked down as his buggy entered the gates, a dish of "Halifax mutton" as the planters jokingly call salt-fish and a coarse mass of sodden and overbaked "cow meat"-the whole washed down with copious libations of bad rum and brackish water-will probably form his repast. After dinner the servant, as likely as not an illegitimate daughter of his host,with bare feet, and the universal bandana on her head, will hand him on a soup-plate, the freshly picked prickles of an orange tree for toothpicks; and the island-made cigars will be introduced, which he will be shown how to light from a piece of live wood-coal, brought in by the same neat-handed Phyllis, stuck on the point of a fork.
Kingston has all the characteristics of a town that has lost its self-respect.Like a man who has seen better days, it has given up attending even to its personal appearance. "It looks what it is" said Sewell who visited it in 1860, "A place where money has been made, but can be made no more. It is used up and cast aside as useless." Broken walls, charred beams, crumbling ruins meet one in all directions.Harbour Street the main thoroughfare is unpaved; and gutters to carry off the heavy rains which fall at certain seasons of the year are unknown.At such times the streets are rivers; business is suspended; many of the stores do not take down their shutters and the miserable town looks more miserable than ever ..
In Kingston the streets although laid out on the most formal and geometric principles, are clumsy & irregular.The houses, with their steep, shingled roofs, are of all sorts and sizes.They cannot even boast "a picturesque confusion".Most of them are fronted with covered verandahs called "piazzas", provided with jalousies to fend off the vertical sun, which gives them the cheerful look of houses shut up for the season The principal entrance is as often on the second storey as the first, and at the side of the housre rather than in the front.
The ordinary arrangement of a Jamaica house is something like this; Entering upon the piazza , which is fitted up with rocking-chairs and ottomans, you pass to the drawing room, off which the bedrooms diverge on every side. The dining-room is generally upon the ground-floor, and to reach this you have either to descend by a trap stair or by the same outside staircase by which you gained admission to the drawing-room. The bedrooms, especially in country houses, are small and ill-ventilated.In "old-time" houses the only room of anything like decent dimensions is the dining-room-a striking instance of the social habits of the colony in its so-called palmy days.
Breakfast (is) over by nine o'clock .So mounting "pugrees" and white umbrellas, we sallied forth immediately after breakfast to make acquaintance with the Kingston streets. By this time all the town was alive, and Harbour street was crowded. Clerks and shopmen were hurrying to their respective offices and stores, some on foot, some in 'buses, and not a few in buggies. Handsome equipages were dashing past; this, with a merchant on his way to his counting-house; that, with a party of ladies going shopping before the heat became intense. Higglers of all descriptions were vigorously plying their trade. Coolies with baskets of vegetables on their heads; girls with cedar-boxes full of sugar-cakes of every kind; boys with bundles of walking-sticks; vendors of tripe and "chickling"; men with trays of king-fish. At the corners of the streets with little boxes by their sides, women were selling pins and tapes and braids. There stood one with a basket of parched maize on her head; here another tempted you with a heap of rosy apples which the ice-ship had just brought over from America; a third offered you a little saucerful of Alpine strawberries, brought down that morning from the Newcastle hills; whilst another exposed some magnificent artichokes which had also been grown amongst the mountains.
With soaking garments and streaming countenances we made our way back to the hotel, and there, divested of almost all our garments, we lounged in hammocks and rocking-chairs, drinking iced sangaree and sweetened lime-juice, and smoking innumerable cigars until it was time to dress for our afternoon drive .As it happened to be "band night" we took a carriage and drove to Up-Park Camp, where underneath a spreading cotton tree we heard the band of the 3rd West India Regiment discourse much excellent music .
There is a strong family resemblance among all the country lodging houses. Your landlady is generally some old brown woman, the "housekeeper" or wife of its late proprietor ..Creole cookery, always bad, seems to culminate in such houses as these. But if the traveller can put up with bad food, extortionate charges, and a room that is probably not weather-tight, he will be treated with a kindness which, although inclined to slip into familiarity, is the very essence of hospitality, and he will gain an insight into the ways of a class of persons who are fast dying out.
An Old Type-Gleaner 27 July 1905
We publish this morning an interesting and amusing article
..dealing with an old Jamaica character who was quite a notable figure in her day and who was representative of a class of Jamaica women which have almost wholly passed away. Mrs Seacole was probably born about the beginning of the last century and died somewhere about 1881. Her sister's death was announced the other day (21 July 1905) and either this sister or some other one (sic) was quite a personage in her own way, shining both in her own light and in the reflected glory of Mrs Seacole. Unlike the majority of Jamaica hotel-keepers of fifty years ago, Mrs Seacole was married. But as though to prevent this exception from becoming too striking, her husband soon died. And of course she was fat. All the old-time Jamaica hotel-keepers were fat. They usually sat at one of the entrances to their spacious halls, portentous like some Olympic deity, profoundly conscious of their own importance, and English to the backbone. They loved ornaments too, and so Mrs Seacole dressed her hair very gaily and wore earrings of a remarkable size. Her face was broad and good-natured in expression, and it was her genuine kindness of heart that won for her so many enconiums.
She was a woman of enterprise; twice kept an hotel on the isthmus of Panama; and in 1854 she went to the Crimea where she opened a place of business grandiloquently called "The British Hotel". It is said that her place was always open for the sick and the wounded, and that more than once she ministered to the latter under fire. After the Crimean War she returned to Jamaica, but subsequently went to London where she died. One of her sisters (sic-plural) who was very proud of her, told Anthony Trollope that " My sister wanted to go to India, with the Army, you know, but Queen Victoria would not let her; her life was too precious". Whether the late queen did actually use her influence to prevent Mrs Seacole from being present during the time of the stamping out of the Indian Mutiny may be doubted, but certain it is that her life was considered of considerable value by many, and Dr Russel the great war correspondent, wrote of her that "I have witnessed her devotion and her courage. She is the first that has redeemed the name of "Sutler" from the suspicion of worthlessness, mercenary business and plunder". Punch too had something to say in her praise in some verse beginning --"She gave her aid to all who prayed".
Mrs Seacole's sister, who was the proprietress of Blundle Hall (now a part of the General Post Office Buildings), was as staunchly patriotic as Mrs Seacole herself, for when Soloque the Emperor of Hayti was exiled and came to Jamaica, she simply refused to have him in her hotel. "Him King indeed !" she remarked. "Queen Victoria is my King". As Souloque was prepared to pay her handsomely, her loyalty was certainly sound. Her sister's portrait is in the Jamaica Institute (No 55) as is also her "Memoirs".
As we have already said, this class of the old Jamaica hotel-keeper and tradeswoman of independent means, kind heart, questionable morality, genuine patriotism and hearty goodwill have almost entirely, if not indeed entirely, passed away. They were generous, they were fat, and they now and then took of the cup which cheers and does inebriate. They kept plenty of what they called "dumb tings", scolded their servants in a loud tone of voice, and drifted through life in a comfortable, contented sort of way. Mrs Seacole was perhaps one of the very best of this class. She received three decorations for her services in the Crimea, which are on exhibition in the Portrait Gallery of the Jamaica Institute.
The identity of Mrs Seacole; "A little yellow woman" 5 Feb 1938
The "Sunday Times of London" of Jan 16th says; "Sir I was interested to read the inquiry as to the identity of Mrs Seacole. I think I am correct in stating she was the daughter of a Scotsman and a native Jamaican woman.
She was very proud of her British nationality, and did much good work among the British troops in Jamaica. On the outbreak of the Crimean War she came to England, and tried very hard to obtain permission to go with Florence Nightingale to nurse the wounded.
She was unsuccessful, and I think she was under the impression that it was her dark skin that made the authorities refuse her application. She then decided to go to the war in any case, and shipped herself and a quantity of provisions, including many cases of champagne, to the Crimea, where she opened a hotel that would serve as a place of refreshment and rest for the troops". Thea Scott
Wore a dozen medals
"Sir; Mother Seacole was a Creole, who went out to the Crimea, and was one of the first to enter Sebastopol after the fall of that town
.She addressed everyone, of whatever rank, as "My Son". Her venture in the Crimea was not a financial success. A collection was raised for her, and this was publicly presented to her at an open-air meeting in Surrey Gardens after the War.
Thirty years after the Crimea she was described as "A little Yellow Woman, dressed in several bright colours, and wearing a dozen medals". She was then making a good living as a "rubber" (the forerunner of the masseuse). She had used her skill on the Princess of Wales when the latter was suffering from "lameness". AC Whitehorne
Mary Seacole originally came from Haughton, near Lacovia, in St Elizabeth, she being then a young woman went to Black River and lived for some time in a stone building on the sea coast, since demolished by hurricanes, at Beach Pen, part of Fullerwood Pen-within half a mile of the Town. At Black River she became famed in the making of cakes and patties. Later she left Black River for Kingston where she also carried on, only on a much larger scale. This information was given to me .by a much-respected merchant of Black River, now passed on to his long rest, Mary Seacole was well-known to this gentleman ..Mary Seacole did make history for Jamaica "S F " Black River, 9 Feb 1938
My acquaintance with this famous character became possible through my knowing her sister, Louisa Grant, who was the proprietress of the then well-known Blundell Hall Boarding House ..and which was located at the north-eastern corner of East Street and Water Lane, site now occupied by Mr M Wheatle, marble worker. The sister, during that time, resided directly opposite. Marie Hart 24 Aug 1939 (aged 84 as born 1855 so in her 20s/30s when Louisa lived at No 7)
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