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Few people these days ever give a thought to the Hon. Richard Hill, preoccupied as they are with more flamboyant and controversial heroes; yet Hill was a deeply sincere person who worked tirelessly for the betterment of his country all his life.
In his own quiet, valiant way, he fought race hatred and the whole system of slavery with a zeal which even today would be hard to duplicate, in an era when his ideals were far less understood than they are today, yet he made few real enemies for the majority were powerless against the genuine goodness which emanated from his Christian heart.
He was truly brave for he was content to stand alone if necessary, to uphold the principles he stood for. However, he does differ from many of the reputed heroes of today, in that he was never a radical, and sought to gain his ends in a calm, sane, temperate yet persistent way. He hated strife and bloodshed and was gentle and kindly to all, particularly in times of trouble.
Richard Hill was born in Montego Bay on May 1, 1795. His father was an Englishman from Lincolnshire, who came to Jamaica in 1779, and became a merchant in Montego Bay; his mother a half-caste East Indian woman. The following is taken from a letter preserved on file at the Institute of Jamaica; it is dated 1918, and is from K. E. Merren of Louisiana, U.S.A. In it, Mr. Merren, a descendant of the family, gives some little known facts about Richard Hill:
"Richard Hill of Montego Bay, was the son of Richard Hill of Lincolnshire, England, who together with three brothers, George Edward, Charles and Robert, came to Jamaica. Richard lived at Montego Bay. George Edward married the daughter of William Eden of Wiltshire, England, who had settled at Grand Cayman. There was one child of the marriage, Elizabeth Dorothy, who first married one Walter, and after him John Merren of Liverpool, England. From this union one child, George Edward Merren was born, from whom the Merrens now residing at Grand Cayman and the Southern United States have descended.
"George Edward Hill was drowned in 1786 during a hurricane, his brother Charles also died by drowning. Robert died in Montego Bay without issue.
"My grandfather, George Edward Merren, told me that Richard Hill, Jnr. Was the illegitimate son of his uncle Richard, and a half-caste East Indian woman-"
From this letter we get a good picture of the background of our subject. An Illegitimate man of colour living in a day when illegitimacy and mixed blood were a deterrent for an untroubled future. Yet Hill was never bitter - he accepted these traits gracefully, but deciding later to champion the cause of all those who like himself bore similar characteristics.
At the tender age of five, Richard was sent away to England to stay with his father's relations. Later he attended Grammar School and developed a passion for Natural History. During this time, his father seems to have returned to reside in England, for he died at Islington on May 30, 1818. He left his property in Jamaica to Richard, and two daughters, Ann and Jane.
Richard, a young man of twenty-three, then returned to Jamaica to take up his inheritance. He experienced many difficulties in the settlement of his father's estate, but finally all was honourably accomplished and the debts paid off. Richard always had a deep and affectionate attachment for his mother, and was ever loving and dutiful to her during the years in which she outlived his father.
He met opposition, but continued on, despite the fact that his sensitive character, suffering under all the trouble with which he had had to battle after his father's death, had turned rather melancholy. It was said of him that he seldom laughed or seemed happy, except in the company of his most intimate friends.
After working for some years in Jamaica Richard went to England in 1826, and in 1827 he was asked by anti-slavery organizations in Jamaica to represent them by his efforts in England, to secure assistance from the emancipation movement there. He became closely associated with men like Wilberforce, Buxton, Clarkson, and Zackary MaCaulay, all members of the Anti-Slavery Society, and had worked tirelessly by his pen and speeches enlightening the English people on the offensiveness of the whole system.
He maintained himself meanwhile by literary contributions, mostly articles and poems, which were published in England, for he did not have a regular post, and had to support his sister Jane who was in England with him. He was sent to San Domingo by the Anti-Slavery Society to study conditions there remaining for nearly two years.
In 1832 he was again in England where he gave his report, and a few months later sailed for Jamaica. Soon after, he was to witness the emancipation of slavery in Jamaica. One can imagine his joy at seeing something he had devoted the best years of his life, to actually realised.
In 1834, Richard Hill was appointed one of 40 Stipendiary Magistrates, whose duty it was to adjudicate between the former slave owners and their ex-slaves, now called 'apprentices'. This post he held until 1872. During this time he was also Under-Secretary, to the Governor, Lord Sligo, helping with the deluge of extra work dealing with the abolition. He represented St. James and afterwards Trelawny, in the House of Assembly, and was offered the governorship of St. Lucia in 1840, but declined out of love for his own country, Jamaica.
Ever compassionate with all forms of suffering, he played his part during the cholera epidemic of 1851, by using a concoction made from the bitter bush (Eupatorium Nervosum). The benefits from this medicine on the stricken victims, it is recorded, "alleviated much suffering and save many lives."
In about 1855 he was a Member of the Privy Council, this post occupied some ten years of his life. Finally, he retired from politics and resided in Spanish Town, where he was offered and accepted the post of Stipendiary Magistrate, devoting his spare time to literary pursuits and scientific study. He was particularly interested in ornithology and was a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Among his many friends, Philip Henry Gosse, the famous naturalist, must be mentioned, for Gosse found in Richard Hill, that kindred spirit he had long sought for, and had almost despaired of finding, during his sojourn in Jamaica.
In describing the appearance of Richard Hill in later life, the following is what a writer in The Watchman, (a local publication) had to say, on the occasion of the opening of the Assembly in Spanish Town in 1859:
For a few years before his death on September 28, 1872, Richard Hill's sight began to fail, this must have been a terrible cross for a man whose old age must have been largely spent in reading and art work - his self portrait, a pencil sketch, is preserved at the Institute of Jamaica, and shows him as a fairly young man. His "generosity, modesty, even temper, kindness of heart, and piety of religion" were with him to the end. It seems strange he never married, but maybe he never had the time or inclination, certainly he had all the attributes for a devoted husband.
Here, then was a man of many parts: philanthropist, writer, scientist, politician, humanitarian and artist, who devoted much of his life to the sincere interests of his country yet never a radical ever hating extremes or excesses - more victorious somehow, by his sane and patient methods, which still bear fruit today, even if overshadowed by the noise and confusion of an impatient modern world.
Years before Major General Sir John Keane became Governor of Jamaica, he had already distinguished himself as a competent soldier on the fields of battle in the chief theatres of war in that long period of turmoil when England was engaged against Napoleon on one hand, and her rebellious North American subjects on the other.
Keane was born on February 6, 1780, in Ireland, the son of John Keane of Belmont, Waterford. Evidently attracted to the military from early youth, Keane entered the British Army in 1793 and first served in Egypt.
In 1806 Keane married Grace, daughter of General Sir John Smith, they had four sons and two daughters by this union. However, it was during the Peninsular War that Keane distinguished himself particularly when he commanded a brigade at the battles of Victoria, the Pyrenees and others playing a leading role with the Duke of Wellington in the final defeat of Napoleon.
It would appear that Keane and Wellington became close friends, for it is said that Wellington was later the receiver and possessor of Keane's private journals. It might also be mentioned that one of Keane's sons, Edward Arthur Wellington, was obviously named after this distinguished and brilliant leader.
The Peninsular campaigns were barely over when Keane, now Major General, was despatched to America, where he saw action in the Battle of New Orleans. With the defeat of Napoleon, England now turned her attention to North America whose Government had some time before resumed hostilities with the Old Country. Louisiana had been purchased from the French by the United States in 1803, and the British now proposed to include this important post in their campaign to subdue the American mainland once and for all.
In December, 1814, 3,000 British troops landed near New Orleans with Sir Edward Parkenham in command, Keane being second in command. Here it is recorded that Keane successfully repulsed an initial attack, but later the campaign went badly, and on the morning of Jan. 8th., 1815 Parkenham was killed while leading an attack, while some 2,000 of his men lay slain or wounded. Keane was also amongst the wounded, as he led the left column during the battle.
With this crushing defeat, the remainder of the vanquished forces withdrew to their transports, and this ended the British struggle with America. Actually, peace between England and America had been signed on the previous Christmas Eve, but the news took so long to arrive that neither party were conscious of the fact during the Battle of New Orleans.
In 1815 Keane was made K.C.B. and received a gold cross and two clasps. In that year also, his first son Edward Arthur Wellington, was born.
This was accompanied by an order from the Imperial Government, prohibiting the Governor from assenting to any measure curtailing the religious liberty of any class of His Majesty's subjects.
Reputedly a keen sportsman, Keane is supposed to have spent much of his leisure in the Parish of Trelawny chiefly for the amusement of hunting and fishing there. Bridges in his "annals" says "The Voluptuous splendour of his entertainments dazzled the eyes of the multitude." Here he endeared himself to the planters to such a degree that they are said to have commissioned an artist to do a portrait of Keane in memory of his sojourn on the Island.
Indeed, there is a portrait which still hangs in the Falmouth courthouse today. So far I have been unable to discover the identity of this artist, but the picture, a full length portrait in oils, shows the subject resplendent in the colourful military uniform of the day, his right hand dangling a hat; the plumes of which seem to touch the ground.
The background is shadowy, but appears to depict a battlefield, with horses in the distance. The work is skilfully executed, and is obviously from the brush of a competent artist.
Mr. Frank Cundall, formerly in charge of the Institute of Jamaica, who did a great deal to preserve and collect pictures of Jamaican worthies, speaks of having in the collection at the Institute, a photographic copy of an oil painting of Keane, done by Sir Martin Shee, P. R.A., then in the possession of Sir J. H. Keane Bt. I have examined this copy and find it almost identical to the portrait in Falmouth, however, the careful observer will notice a few discrepancies in the execution.
For one thing, the military sash in the photographic copy is definitely different, particularly in regard to the folds in the garment, from that in the painting. If the copy in the Institute is really a photograph of the original, then this lends one to the conclusion that the artist who did the copy in oils for the Falmouth Court House, was not too careful in his execution of detail. Was this copy done in England from the original painting in the possession of Sir J. H. Keane, or was it copied locally from the photographic copy in the Institute?
We know that many competent artists did visit Jamaica, including Hakewill, Kidd and Robertson, to name a few, and these artists often took commissions from the local planters for portrait work. It seems however, that the true origin of the wonderful painting in Falmouth will remain a mystery; for no one seems to remember anything about it today.
In 1840 he was raised to the peerage and made a Baron and in that same year he remarried, this time to Colonel Boland's daughter, Charlotte Marie. Their marriage was short for Keane passed away in 1844.
Apart from his memory perpetuated hero by the portrait which adorns the Falmouth Court House, this military Governor is hardly remembered today, for the histories of the Island barely record his name, giving the acute awareness that but for his portrait, he would long ago have been erased from the minds of all, including the historians of the Jamaican scene.
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