Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library



I have been interested in the life of Stephen Bourne, my great, great, grandfather, for some time, Initially my only knowledge was from a family tree passed to me many years ago by a distant cousin which described Stephen Bourne ['Stephen' throughout this book] as having been a Stipendiary Magistrate in Jamaica and Registrar in Berbice, British Guiana - both of which meant absolutely nothing as far as I was concerned. Later, looking for Stephen Bourne on Google, I came across an obscure reference to him in connection with the West Indies at the British Library [BL], and was directed to the Holland House Papers. Now, some five years later, after a number of visits to the BL, reading a number of books about Jamaica, particularly W. L. Burn's Emancipation and Apprenticeship in the British West Indies, numerous manuscripts and other matter at the Public Record Office [PRO], now known as The National Archives [TNA], and in other archives, I am a little wiser - though I do not doubt that there is much more to be discovered.
This book is the story of his life as presently understood.

David Bourne
Flaxton House Flaxton
York, Y060 7RJ United Kingdom December 2008


A study of the trajectory of the life of Stephen Bourne, with a brief sketch of his early life leading up to his moving with his family from England to Jamaica at the end of 1834 to take up a post as a Special Magistrate [SM}, remaining there throughout the period of apprenticeship and afterwards, during the early years after emancipation, as one of the SMs retained as Stipendiary Magistrates; until May 1841, when he was appointed as Registrar in Berbice, one of the three Counties of British Guiana; returning eventually to Britain in early 1848 where he died in south London in 1868, two months short of his 77th birthday. However, very much the greater part of what follows deals with his time as an SM in Jamaica.
The biography is divided into four chronological sections.

ENGLAND - 1791 TO 1834

His early life, insofar as there is knowledge about it, taking it up to the point when in November 1834 he sailed, with his family, for Jamaica to take up the position of a Special Magistrate. 'Early life' is not in fact a very good description, as by 1834, when he was 43 years of age, his life was well past the halfway mark. The information is from a number of different sources, including the Wiltshire Record Office, the Holland House Papers and Lord Liverpool's Papers both at the British Library at St. Pancras in London and the Newspaper Archives held by the British Library at Colindale in north London.

JAMAICA - 1834 TO 1841

His time in Jamaica from Christmas day 1834, until 1st August 1838, as a Special Magistrate and then as a Stipendiary Magistrate until the early summer of 1841 when he was appointed Registrar in Berbice, British Guiana. This in turn is subdivided further, not necessarily chronologically, to examine various periods or aspects of his time in Jamaica. The principal sources are again the Holland House Papers together with the Colonial Office records at the National Archives at Kew. This Section is supported by Appendix A containing extracts from his letters to Lord Holland, some of which have already been quoted in the main text, and also by Appendices B and C.


His subsequent appointment in May 1841 as Registrar in Berbice, British Guiana, and from which position, a little over six and a half years later, he was to be dismissed for embezzlement - a charge he most emphatically denied - and for which he never seems to have undergone any trial. The virtual single source is again the Colonial Office records at the National Archives.

ENGLAND AGAIN - 1848 TO 1868

His return to Britain in 1848; his final, indirect, involvement in Jamaica in the period 1858-65, concluding with the Morant Bay Rebellion: and his death in south London at the age of 76 in 1868. For the period 1858-65, considerable use is made of letters, held at University College London, from Stephen to Lord Brougham and in the archives of the Anti-Slavery Society held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

ENGLAND - 1791 TO 1834

Stephen was born [or baptised] 20 July 1791 at Melksham, in Wiltshire, eldest son and third child of Thomas and Jemima Bourne and grandson of George Bourne and Jane Johns[t]on[e] who were married at All Saints Westbury, also in Wiltshire, 20 May 1748. Thomas Bourne was a shopkeeper in Melksham, The Bourne family had been small-town folk in Westbury, where Thomas was born, since certainly the sixteenth century, being variously innkeepers, small farmers and clothiers, and, consistently, non-conformist. Stephen's grandmother, Jane Johns[t]on[e], was the granddaughter [possibly great granddaughter] of James Johnstone, an agricultural labourer, who in 1684 had been hung before Glasgow Cross as a Covenanter.

The first mention discovered is of 16 September 1813 when an S Bourne of Melksham is recorded as a new subscriber [£1.1s] to the Bristol Missionary Society, However this is not necessarily either this Stephen; he had a cousin of the same name, or indeed any Stephen Bourne as, for example, it might refer to Samuel Bourne, his brother.

Stephen, aged 25, was appointed one of five trustees of his father's will dated 7 June 1816, and therein described as 'of Melksham, shopkeeper' [perhaps working with his father who was a general dealer and wine and spirit merchant]. He was already married, to an Elizabeth Hooper Quirk who had been born 10 April 1795 and baptized 25 June 1795 at St Nicholas Street Independent, Weymouth. Her parents were Thomas and Ann Quirk who had themselves probably been married in the Isle of Man [110 entries - though many are duplicates - in the Mormon international genealogical index for a Thomas Quirk being born on the island 1745-1785, and none elsewhere, and 4 entries for a marriage of Thomas and Ann[e] in the period 1780-1794],
Stephen's and Elizabeth's eldest son, Stephen junior, was born in May 1819 but he was not the first child as he had an elder sister, another Elizabeth [Bessie/Eliza], born at Weymouth in 1816, who eventually married a Captain Peter Campbell of the Merchant Navy.
. . .

. . . in a letter, written from Kensington and dated 1 March 1834, nearly two years later, to Lord Brougham, then Lord Chancellor, Stephen sought an appointment as a clerk in the Registrar's Office about which the latter had spoken publicly, because: 'My engagements in the Press however useful to others are very unprofitable to me; and I should like very well some regular and permanent occupation. I am sure, if only in consideration of old acquaintance and the frankness with which I have ever expressed my opinion to you, your Lordship will not be indisposed to do me a service if you have the opportunity'. A note endorsed on the letter suggests that Lord Brougham was agreeable to the request.

Some eight and a half months later Stephen and his family sailed for Jamaica! Why the change of plan? It is difficult to be sure. In the printed letter to Lord Brougham, referred to above, he also wrote: 'You will remember my leaving the meeting at Salisbury to go out as Special Justice to Jamaica, and at whose earnest and pressing desire, I consented to do so, contrary to your Lordship's advice, and that of many other true friends'. While he does not specifically mention Lord Holland by name in that paragraph, it is abundantly clear from other references that it was indeed Lord Holland who had 'induced' [Stephen's own word] him to apply for the post of Special Justice or Magistrate [hereafter SM], and no doubt secured it for him as well. Perhaps, Lord Holland, learning of his wish for: 'some regular and permanent occupation', belatedly brought up the idea of his going to Jamaica as an SM, and this proved more attractive, even if not as secure, to him than the post as a clerk in the Registrar's Office, One can imagine the conversation between them - Helping the great cause of emancipation: Education of the apprentices: Assisting Lord Holland's interests in Jamaica: Keeping Lord Holland, and through him the cabinet, informed as to how the apprenticeship system was working: And so on. Who could refuse?

Another factor which may have swayed him in his decision to apply for the commission as an SM may have been that he already had two brothers in the West Indies, Samuel Bourne and Thomas Johnstone Bourne, both managers of estates in Antigua, He also had a first cousin, the Revd George Bourne, in New York, who had emigrated to the States in 1804 and was prominent in the American anti-slavery movement, All three, as it happened, were active in the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society in which he also became involved.

The same obituary of 1908, referred to earlier, stated regarding Stephen that: 'Prominent among the movements in which he concerned himself, and in which he had zealous supporters in Lord John Russell, Lord Brougham, and other statesmen of the day besides Lord Holland, was that for the abolition of slavery'. Accepting that the wording is phrased unhappily, in that he will have been a supporter of, rather than being supported by, the statesmen named, it does indicate his early interest in the anti-slavery movement, and perhaps helps to confirm that the 'S Bourne of Melksham' who joined the Bristol Missionary Society in 1813 was indeed him. However, as will be seen later, in the period 1858-65 he did initiate and was deeply involved in a venture in Jamaica of which Lord Brougham became Patron.

From all of the above, disjointed though it is, one gains the impression that he was a serious and highly principled individual with a strong, nonconformist, religious belief, a keen and articulate interest in education and the relief of poverty and a desire and ability to push himself forward, He was also very outspoken [and proud of in], both in his letters and in speech, and this was to get him into considerable trouble later. His character and his ideas must have been of some interest to others as he would not otherwise have caught the attention to the extent that he did of such people as the Duke of Kent, Lord Brougham, Jeremy Bentham and the Holland family, Equally clearly, Stephen, quite possibly with a broad Wiltshire accent, and however well he knew Lord Holland, was as far as he could be from being a member of the enormously influential Holland House set, which ranged from William the Fourth and his brothers, the royal dukes, downwards through the aristocracy of Europe and the political, literary and artistic world of Britain, merely being taken up, for differing reasons, by Lord and Lady Holland, Caroline Fox, Lord Brougham and others.



Stephen's quarterly reports, and the summaries of his and the other SM's weekly returns, submitted monthly, to the Governor over a period of three years. It indicates the thoughtful attitude of Stephen [and many other SMs] to the problems they were encountering and what he [and they] thought the government should be doing to make the transfer from slavery to complete freedom, via apprenticeship, a success for the negro and the country.
All SMs were required to submit to the Governor weekly tabulated returns on punishments ordered, mileage travelled, number of estates visited and other matters, and also quarterly reports in letter form, the latter sometimes including views or information on some matter or another in response to a specific request from the Governor. The quarterly reports from Stephen, to be found in the printed Parliamentary Papers [as were the monthly summaries of the weekly returns], are worth examining, both for the general information contained, which is frequently echoed in the reports of his fellow SMs, and in indicating his changing views on the apprenticeship system, its successes and its failures, and also his unchanging view on the importance of education for the apprentices. Regarding the former, he was initially most optimistic. In his very first such letter, dated 19 March 1835, with his district still in its initial large form, he wrote: `[The apprentices on the sugar estates] are working cheerfully, and I understand quite as well, if not better, than they did before the 1st of August. On the coffee mountains they are without exception working well, when the overseers are persons of good feelings and unaffected by prejudice against the new laws: the obstacles are of their own creating, and seem to me to be less and less every day.' Presumably the caveat is because of the Syms case at Clifton Mount, a coffee estate. His English is not that easy to understand, but one becomes used to it!

By the time of his next report, 30 June 1835, his district had shrunk to exclude the sugar estates. He wrote: 'In my district ... tranquillity and, I think, prosperity, prevail. With few exceptions the masters are attentive and humane persons, respectful to the magistrates, and obliging to the apprentices, The latter are civil, and considering their condition and the entire neglect of their education, intelligent and industrious; far more so, I think, than could have been expected.' He went on to list, without naming, 'three or four exceptions', one of which would seem to be Clifton Mount - this of course was when the disputes about Syms, `bloodhounds' and MacLean were approaching their peak but the problem with Harvey the bookkeeper had still to be encountered. The letter finishes with a P.S.: 'My report will show that complaints on both sides are very few, less, I should think, than amongst the same number of persons in the mother country.' - an observation not encountered in a comparatively casual reading of other SM's reports, and perhaps reflecting his interest in, and knowledge about, poverty among the working classes in Britain. The same letter introduced, for the first time, the subject of education: 'Schools for the free children, and indeed for all, are very much needed'.

His next report, dated 30 October 1835 [a month late - perhaps because of the turmoil following the enquiry a few weeks earlier into the case of Peter Syms], raised a point referred to by most of the SMs: 'In too many cases [the apprentices] have been deprived of some indulgences which were afforded to them when slaves'. He went on: 'With very few exceptions the apprentices are respectful to the magistrates and obedient to the laws, and that is more than I can say of all the overseers and bookkeepers, some of whom seem to regard the magistrates as intruders, and the Abolition Law a measure uncalled for and unjust, and which it is meritorious, rather than otherwise, to resist or evade; this remark, however, does not apply to the majority of the overseers, many of whom are persons worthy of great respect ... `. He could not resist one jibe, writing: 'I understand that at Clifton Mount, where it is said (although, I believe, untruly) that the people are radically and notoriously vicious and idle, and have been so ever since August 1834, ...'

Turning to education, he wrote: 'I think I ought to add, that I have just erected a school-room near my own house, in which I intend to have the black and brown children who may choose to attend instructed and trained in habits of industry. Several of the neighbouring proprietors have engaged to defray part of the expenses, and many of the negroes have given a part of their hire to reduce [the expenses]'.  His comments about his school may have prompted the remarks about: ... the gratuitous services, for which he has recently received my thanks, in promoting the education of the Negro children', in the final paragraph of Lord Glenelg's dispatch of 27 January 1836.

In his report of 31 December 1835, Stephen wrote:

'I do not think, from the present appearance throughout my district, that there will be as large a crop of coffee as was expected when my last report was written. nor indeed so large as last year's. This is to be ascribed to the weather, and not to the misconduct of the apprentices.
The Christmas holydays have passed off without any disturbance. With a single exception, the apprentices returned to their work on Monday. This exception was on the Hope, where about 400 apprentices took holyday on Monday, but on my informing that them they had done wrong, they instantly agreed to pay back the day.
I am sorry to say that. on this estate and Middleton, both the property of the Duke of Buckingham, and on Prospect Hill, the property of Mrs Smith, the allowances have been withheld; and that only a pint of rice to each apprentice and a little turnip-seed have been given at Dublin Castle, the property of Alderman Atkins. The people on these estates have expressed much dissatisfaction, but I have charged them all not to relax in the performance of their labours, and promised to do all in my power to get for them the usual allowances'.

The first three named estates are those where at the time he was still in dispute with the attornies, Barrett, the Speaker of the Assembly, and George Chevannes, and their overseers, while at Dublin Castle the attorney was Andrew Simpson of the Bloodhound dispute at Clifton Mount, Clearly he was taking the opportunity to show that, despite the disputes, he was doing his best by both the planters and the apprentices - and perhaps feeling rather virtuous about the matter.

He wrote briefly on 9 March 1836 and then reported, at length, on 30 March. In the latter he referred to a number of attorneys and overseers, without identifying them in any way, who were guilty of crimes, and also where apprentices were guilty of crimes against other apprentices. The school at Grecian Regale was successful, with some sixty adults on Sundays and forty free children attending the day school. He added: 'I think, that if arrangements could be made for lodging and boarding the children, a very large proportion of the free children from all the estates would regularly attend; the parents would provide food for them, and they would be very glad to have their children trained in habits of industry'. The idea of a boarding school was one Stephen would follow up in a small way two and a half years later when he started just such a school at Strawberry Hill, where he was by then living.

It should be stressed that Stephen was not alone in this matter of education; many other SMs, in their quarterly reports, were pressing the urgent need for schooling for both children and adults, with particular reference to the free children, though no references have been seen suggesting any of them were actually starting schools of their own as opposed to expressing the need for them.

On 9 June 1836 he wrote at some length [perhaps by then he was sailing in calmer waters and had time to think more about problems which did not directly concern himself and his relationships with the planters and overseers]:

'I venture to press this subject [education] on your Excellency and the Home Government, because I feel its importance [sic] in reference to the present, and, far more, the final prosperity of the country. If the people are left in their present state of ignorance, what can be expected of them? I confess that their intelligence and good conduct, considering the want of elementary instruction and good example, surprise me. Marriages are very much on the increase among the apprentices, but I seldom hear of an overseer's getting married. The proprietors do not encourage marriage, and the habit of dismissing an overseer at a few day's notice is by no means favourable to marriage. What can a man do with a family when continuance in his station depends on caprice? If the proprietors of the soil would encourage schools and marriages, not only amongst the apprentices, but overseers and bookkeepers, they would most effectually promote their true interests'.

This was new thinking indeed and continued to exercise his mind. No mention of similar thinking has been seen in the letters from other SMs.

His next report, dated 10 October 1836, and the first to Sir Lionel Smith as Governor, or rather to his secretary, must have covered many pages in his rather difficult handwriting. He wrote about education, but added little to what he had written before. On the subject of the apprenticeship system, He wrote:

`The general conduct of the apprentices, since the commencement of my duties as a special justice has been as good (I am inclined to think better) than that of English or Irish peasants would have been under the same circumstances. . . . I believe they do more work than the same number of English families would do, if they were removed from their own country to this. . . . I have found the apprentices, with scarcely an exception, respectful to the magistrates, and, in general, obedient to the law. I wish I could say as much of all the overseers and bookkeepers I have met with, ... I cannot say there is no want of good feeling between the apprentices and their employers; but in general there is much more than I should have expected, considering the situation of both parties previous to the extraordinary change with which the Abolition Law has made in the conditions of both'.

He also wrote at length about the problem of the valuations of apprentices who wished to secure their discharge:

`The apprentices are generally desirous of purchasing their discharge; but although many valuations have been made recently, few have been effected, in consequence of the high price which the local magistrates are disposed to put on them. Two local magistrates being necessarily associated with one special justice, they have the power of fixing the price, or preventing the valuation. They seem generally disposed to calculate the value according to that which they have to pay for jobbers in cases of urgent necessity. The number of discharges during the last quarter have been only two, which I ascribe entirely to the high price insisted upon by the local magistrates'.

Jobbing was work carried out by outside contractors who charged much higher prices per hour or day than an apprentice would earn, in order to assure themselves a profit. His comments on the problem of valuations were echoed in the reports of many of the SMs and was also a matter of great concern to the Governor. The planters of course did not wish to lose apprentices with their bonded labour and therefore felt it to be in their interest to value high so that the apprentice could not afford to buy his or her discharge.

His next report, dated 12 January 1837, shows his rising concern about the apprenticeship system:

'I do not observe any increase in good feeling between the apprentices and their employers. . . . In some cases Christmas allowances have been withheld; and in others they have been less than usual, but these instances, I am happy to state, are few. Several indulgences have been withheld on ordinary occasions, and on many estates cooks, nurses and midwives [are not being employed], but, as I have always remarked, with loss to the property more than to the apprentices.'

Later in the same letter, he reverts to the matter of the poor standard of overseers, previously mentioned six months previously:

The great measures to be recommended for the advantage of the country are, in my opinion, schools of industry, and the encouragement, by the proprietors, of steady, industrious married men as overseers - men who are not above their business, who do not meddle with politics, and who set a good example to the apprentices, The too common practice of debauching the young black women, or bringing brown housekeepers amongst them, has tended more than anything besides to lower the influence of the overseer over the apprentices, and to demoralize and unsettle the negroes.'

His next report, dated 17 May 1837, more than six weeks after the end of the quarter for no apparent good reason, was another long one, Clifton Mount once again figures [back once more in his district?], as it did in the early reports:

'There has been a great scarcity of provisions [because of a bad growing season], and consequently more petty thefts than ordinary; but these thefts are committed by two or three bad and idle persons on those plantations which are the worst managed. ... There are many young thieves on a plantation called Clifton Mount, who are continually annoying and plundering apprentices on the neighbouring properties. I have been compelled to send three of them lately to prison, very much against my will, as there can scarcely be a worse training; but switching has been found ineffectual, and I do not know how to punish them so as to deter others; except by sending them to the house of correction'.

He also repeats his concerns about the standard of the overseers:

'The good feeling between master and apprentice, except in a very few cases, does not seem to be increasing, but the contrary. I attribute this, in a great measure, to the want of temper and good management on the part of the overseers, and to the extreme uncertainty of their continuance in their stations. Marriage amongst them not being encouraged, and their being often dismissed at a few hour's notice, tends very much to lower the character of the overseers, and to destroy that confidence on the part of the apprentices in their employers which is alike necessary to the comfort and prosperity of all parties, and to the requisite improvement in the character of the apprentices'.

He also reverts to the matter of indulgences: 'On many estates indulgences afforded during slavery are withheld, and old persons, pregnant women, and those who have many children, allowed to do little, if anything, in the olden times, are now, on some estates, pressed into the field.'

Finally, in this report, he wrote: 'If half a dozen intelligent young men and women trained in the Borough-road school were sent to me, and their expenses paid for the first year, the negroes would soon build school-houses, and pay for their support in a decent manner'. The reference to the Borough-road school was to the teacher-training establishment set up by The Society for Promoting the Lancaster [after Joseph Lancaster] System for the Education of the Poor which had been formed in 1808, and which was supported by a number of prominent evangelical and non-conformist Christians including William Wilberforce. In 1814 the Society was renamed the 'British and Foreign School Society' (BFSS), and throughout the 19th century set up 'British Schools' and teacher training institutions on non-sectarian principles. Alfred Bourne, SB's fourth son, became secretary of the BFSS in 1868, the year SB died, and himself died in harness in 1907 and as such was for many years de facto principal of the Borough-road School, In addition, Lord Russell was for many years president of the BFSS.

The last quarterly report of Stephen's to be seen, dated 1 July 1837, nearly two and a half years after the first, continues with the standard of the overseers, now, along with education, his chief concern:

`With regard to the conduct of the overseers, I think it is improving; but some of them seem very hard to learn that the altered condition and prospects of the apprentices require a kind, considerate, and humane conduct on their part if they would keep labourers on the properties they manage. I think, I have less reason, however, to complain on this score, than many of my brother magistrates. Two or three inconsiderate and troublesome overseers have been dismissed, and heavy fines imposed on some others in the preceding quarter, which have produced a good effect. . . . I cannot say that the good feeling between master and apprentice seems to be on the increase, neither do I think any adequate preparation has yet been made for 1838 and 1840, when, if measures to prevent it are not speedily taken, many estates must be abandoned, owing entirely as I conceive to the folly of the owners in not selecting proper overseers, and especially in not encouraging married persons in that capacity, and making such arrangements as would give those overseers a permanent interest in the prosperity and comfort of the people.'

Finally, back to education: ' ... the apathy which prevails on this subject is to my mind both astonishing and distressing', He couldn't have been much blunter.

If this exercise has dwelt perhaps overlong on Stephen's quarterly reports to the Governor, they are far too important to ignore, and do at least show, over the period of two and a half years, out of his three and a half years in Jamaica during the apprenticeship, how his thinking homed in on the factors he deemed most important if the period of apprenticeship was to fulfil the intentions, and hopes, of Parliament and the people of Britain: Education for the negroes was of course an absolute essential from the outset as far as he was concerned - and there can surely be no argument whatsoever but that he was entirely correct, and that the Jamaica Assembly and Parliament proved themselves grossly ineffective in the matter. But his thinking about the proprietors and, more particularly, the standard of overseer they employed on their estates, came comparatively late in the day, and perhaps in this he was in part influenced by the three separate enquiries into alleged abuses in the workhouse at Halfway Tree in St Andrew's in which he was involved, twice as the SM instructed by Lord Sligo to hold the enquiry, in January and again in March 1836, and in the third in May 1837, in his other role as a local magistrate on the committee of management of the workhouse, which conducted the enquiry. These enquiries exposed him to the attitudes of a number of attorneys and overseers, more perhaps than the Clifton Mount disputes, running through 1835, which concerned the one estate only, and his encounters with overseers on his rounds about his district. But, from a realistic point of view, and with hindsight, from where might proprietors have found the type of man Stephen sought, who would have been willing to apply for and accept a position as overseer, and who would be competent to fulfil the role? Anyone new out of Britain, however good an agriculturist at home, would have been too ignorant of plantation husbandry to be of any use without a comparatively long period of training, The alternative would have to have been someone from the colonies, who would almost certainly have been already too tainted by the prevailing attitudes of planter society to fit the bill. And were there many women like Elizabeth Bourne willing to share such a life? The climate in the mountains of Jamaica was indeed healthy and salubrious, as the Bourne family discovered, but the same could not be said of the lowlands where the main sugarcane plantations lay - inclined to be fever-ridden much of the time and unbearably hot and humid.


An enquiry into the whereabouts of the various estates in Stephen's district, and of Grecian Regale and Strawberry Hill, his two residences while in Jamaica, and also into the difficulties of travel within his district.

He was initially appointed to St Andrew's East, also known as St Andrew's in the Mountains and as Upper St Andrew's, a mountainous and coffee-growing area, extending from somewhere north of Kingston northwards to the boundary with the parishes of St Mary and St George, east to the boundary with the parish of Port Royal and west to somewhere west of the road from Kingston to Newcastle and over into St Mary's.

For his first five or six months his district was increased to include a number of adjoining sugar estates; this was because of the shortage of SMs on the island at the time, but by the end of June, another SM had been appointed and he was left with his original district comprising coffee estates only.
. . .

The district was indeed mountainous, varying between about 200 metres and 1400 metres above sea level, with the coffee estates reaching up the mountain sides to a height of well over 1000 metres, The district lacked roads [as opposed to tracks], apart from the extremely windy road from Kingston through Irish Town to Newcastle.

Lord Sligo, not long after his arrival on the island as governor, wrote to the colonial secretary on the 15 May 1834, about the urgent need for more SMs, and continued:

'Those who have not seen the formation of the land here, the high mountains covered with shrub, without even negro paths across them, and the vallies nearly impervious from the thickness of the jungle, would hardly imagine that a person wishing to go from one place to another, apparently laid down on the map as either two or three miles distance, would be compelled to make a circuit of perhaps ten or not unfrequently twenty miles. Such is the case however over a great portion of this Island. There are no more than two roads passable for carriages across the Island and they are of the worst description as stone and gravel are almost unknown in these formations.. . .
I am induced to urge upon you an increase in the number of Stipendiary Magistrates. In order to make my view of the subject as plain as possible I have caused an outline to be traced on thin paper representing the Stations at which I am anxious to persuade you to allow me to place magistrates and marking the extent of the District considered by me within their reach. I have drawn out the plan on the principle that each Station should be the centre with a radius of six miles round it, where the mountains and rivers do not interfere with the communications. By placing these sheets over Robertson's County Map of Jamaica, you will be able to form a judgement whether I have too greatly multiplied the proposed Stations'.

Lord Sligo, in using the phrase 'a radius of six miles', was obviously thinking in terms of Jamaican crows and not of someone riding on horseback. Stephen, in his quarterly report to the governor of October 1836, made the point very clearly:

'I understood, before I left England, that the island had been so divided, and the magistrates so apportioned, as that no one of them would have to travel more than about six miles from his home to the farthest estate; on the contrary, I, who have one of the least extensive districts (the roads being mountainous and bad), have periodically to ride eight hours, in the heat of the day, to visit one or two estates, on which there may be no complaints'.

Sturge and Harvey, describing one day spent with Stephen visiting his estates at the end of January 1837, wrote: 'This morning we accompanied our host to Silver-Hill, an estate twelve miles distant, in the heart of this mountainous district', once again confirming the difference between radii and riding distances. On another occasion they wrote: 'We accompanied [SB] to visit several estates. Our route was entirely by mountain paths; and it would be impossible to do justice to the picturesque grandeur of the scenery. . . . We crossed on our journey a lofty ridge, running directly across an immense valley. The pass was so narrow as not to admit two riding horses abreast.' They wrote that they breakfasted that morning with James Wiles [of Monmouth Mount though the estate is not named in the text], another estate in the north of Stephen's district, and visited several other estates before dining with Hinton East, perhaps at Maryland, though East may have been living elsewhere.

Joseph Kemball stayed with Stephen a month or so later, and on the second day accompanied SB to Silver-Hill to carry out a valuation:

'We rode but a short distance in the town road, when we struck off into a narrow defile by a mule-path, and pushed into the very heart of the mountains. We felt very timid at the commencement of our excursion among these minor Andes, but we gained confidence as we proceeded, and finding our horse sure-footed and quite familiar with mountain paths, we soon learnt to gallop, without fear, along the highest cliffs, and through the most dangerous passes. We were once put in some jeopardy by a drove of mules, laden with coffee. We fortunately saw them, as they came round the point of a hill, at some distance, in season to secure ourselves in a little recess where the path widened. On they came, cheered by the loud cries of their drivers, and passed rapidly forward, one after the other.... When they came up to us however, they showed they were not unaccustomed to such encounters, and, although the space between us and the brow of the precipice, was not three feet wide, they all contrived to sway their bodies and heavy sacks in such manner as to pass us safely, except one. He, more stupid or more unlucky than the rest, struck us a full broadside as he went by jolting us hard against the hill, and well-nigh jolting himself down the craggy descent into the abyss below. One leg hung a moment over the precipice, but the poor beast suddenly threw his whole weight forward, and by a desperate leap, obtained sure foothold on the path, and again trudged along with his coffee bags.'

Later the same day, he continued:

'Our next visit was to an elevated plantation called Peter's Rock. The path to it was, in one place, so steep, that we had to dismount and permit our horses to work their way up as they could, while we followed on foot. We then wound along among provision grounds and coffee fields, through forests where hardly a track was to be seen, and over hedges, which the horses were obliged to leap, till we issued on the great path which leads from the plantation to Kingston'.

Altogether they seemed to have visited five plantations that day, though at Silver-Hill they had met with overseers from three other plantations [These overseers were not necessarily from estates in Stephen's district].

All of the above point to the problems of travelling around Stephen's district. It should also be noted that the visits by Sturge and Harvey and by Kemball were in the early part of the year and ground conditions were probably good. At other times of the year the situation will have been very different, particularly during the hurricane season, and, in one letter to Lord Sligo, Stephen commented that the rain had been falling incessantly and conditions were such that he couldn't visit any of his estates.

Contributed to Jamaican Family Search by the author David Bourne.


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