Jamaica News, Jamaica Weather and Links ( Jamaican News and Jamaican Weather )


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The New York Times, March 4, 1888, p. 12:




    When you go out driving in Jamaica you must either go in a bus or a buggy. There is no other sort of conveyance on the island, except the mule-drawn street cars. But a Jamaica "bus" is not the kind of article we know in New-York by that name, any more than a Jamaica "buggy" is the light and uncomfortable carriage we are familiar with.
    All the carriages that run about the streets for hire are busses. All others are buggies. That makes a very simple and convenient arrangement of terms that there is no mistaking. They are in the same general style, both being victorias. The only difference between them is that the buggy is sometimes new and shiny, while the bus is largely held together with strings and straps, and threatens to fall to pieces at any moment.

    The bus takes you to any part of Kingston for a sixpence (12 cents,) unless, indeed, you let the driver wheedle you out of more, which he is pretty sure to do under some pretext if you are a stranger. They make good time, for the driver does not for a moment stop whipping his horses from the time you start till he reaches your destination.
    On one occasion, when driving out to the race track with Mr. Kennedy of Port Antonio, one of the horses wobbled about seriously for a few minutes, and when he reached a convenient grassy bank let himself gracefully down and died. But a little thing like that was of no importance, for the streets were full of busses, and we soon found another and went on.

    It was in two of these busses that Mr. Kemble escorted our little party from the ship up to Park Lodge, the grand, stylish hotel of Jamaica. We went rapidly through a number of business streets, several of which showed unpleasantly the effects of the great fire of some years ago, when nearly all the business part of Kingston was burned out. Past the parish church, where Admiral Benbow is buried, past the public park, about half a mile out East Queen-street, and soon the busses took us in through the arched gateway of Park Lodge.
    Fancy names they have for these hotels in Kingston. The largest is Park Lodge, and the next in size is Myrtle Bank. "Jamaica Hotel," the owner of Park Lodge tries to call it, but the people will not know it as anything but Park Lodge. It is an old brick mansion that was built years ago by a man named Park, and as in these English countries every private house must have a name, he called it Park Lodge, and the name sticks to it yet, and probably always will as long as the house stands.

    It is a broad, low, two-story building, with a brick arched entrance to the ground floor, which supports an outside stone staircase leading to the second story. At one side is a two-story annex, called "The Bungalow," devoted exclusively to bachelor guests, and containing 10 or 12 rooms.
    At the front by the gate are the stables and carriage houses, but so covered with vines and shrubbery you hardly see them. The front yard is the choice part of Park Lodge. Small, but well kept, it is such a tropical spot as we see oftener in pictures than in reality. A fountain in the centre stands in the midst of a stone basin, in which ferns and mosses grow and goldfish swim. All sorts of tropical plants are growing everywhere. There are bananas and young cocoanuts, flowers innumerable, and grateful shade. The fountain plays continuously, and its gentle splashing seems to cool the air.

    And the air in Jamaica generally needs cooling. Every day, even in midwinter, the weather is more than comfortably warm, and in the middle of the day one needs to rest quietly in the shade. But at any time a drive of an hour or two takes one up into the mountains, where, in the shadowy gorges, the air is always delightfully cool and heavy coats are comfortable.

    The Park Lodge Hotel is a novelty in its way. Nowhere in the West Indies or anywhere else have I seen anything like it. It was a busy day when we arrived there, the steamer having brought the Lodge something over 20 guests--and that is a rush of business not often met in a Kingston hotel.
    We drove around the fountain and up in front of the arched doorway, where, just inside, Miss Burton, the proprietress, stood waiting to receive us. Miss Burton herself is a good advertisement for a hotel, with her rotund figure and her jolly round face, in which there is just enough color to show that somewhere she had an ancestor that was not altogether a blonde.
    What was once a lower veranda of the dwelling house is now the reception room of the hotel, nearly filled up with sofas and comfortable chairs. A round table near the entrance holds the register, and in one corner an antique desk does duty as the hotel office. Gas fixtures and electric bells showed us that, although seven days from New-York, we were not yet beyond the bounds of civilization.

    The reception room opened into the dining room, the main room of the first floor, with a great mahogany table running its entire length. Up stairs a corresponding large room, the drawing room, and opening from it six or eight sleeping rooms. Everything open, everything scented with flowers, everything looking very comfortable and neat.

    "Mullins! Mullins!" was the first sound that greeted us in Park Lodge. "Mullins!" rang in our ears continually while we were there; and "Mullins!" was the last sound we heard when we left.
    Mullins is the butler, the steward, and the general factotum. Without Mullins Park Lodge would be a desert waste. He looks after the tables, sees to the baggage, superintends the pantries, presides over the sideboard, and keeps the mill grinding at all hours of the day and night. If the house should take fire in his absence, I am sure all the people connected with it would rush about wildly looking for Mullins before making the slightest effort to put the fire out.
    I have neglected to say that Mullins is colored, but that goes without saying, for in Jamaica all servants are colored. No white man ever works there, unless he is a very poor sort of white man indeed. I did see in some of the stores down town white men who thought they were working; but it was always a tropical sort of work, without much exertion.

    "Mullins! Mullins! See to the gentleman's luggage!"
    Our acquaintance with Mullins began before we were fairly in the house, for he helped us out of the busses and buried himself beneath a heap of satchels and raincoats.
    In these countries, where the people are English, there is no such thing as baggage; it is always luggage, just as a parlor is always a drawing room, no matter how small it is. In my rambles about Jamaica, I found one house that had two grand salons, one being the parlor, the other the drawing room, but I was not able to to learn wherein lay the difference.
    Here is a photograph of Mullins lying before me... Perhaps I am not the first amateur photographer who has carried a camera a few thousand miles, amply backed with dry plates and dark lanterns and bottles of developer, and then come home with one lonely picture, and that a bad one.
    But Mullins is a picture that can never fade. If all Jamaica should be submerged and Park Lodge itself disappear, Mullins would still live in my memory.

    It happened to be a few days before "race week," when we reached Kingston, and Park Lodge was full of planters from different parts of the island, several of whom had horses there in training, and who that had heard it could never forget the oft-repeated cry, always in the dizziest of English drawls:
    "Mulleens! Mulleens, I say! Bring me a brandy and soda! You heah!"

    We soon found some peculiar things about Park Lodge. The breakfast hour, for instance, was 10 o'clock, but coffee was served at 7 in the morning. Then at 2 o'clock there was lunch, this meal not being included in the hotel prices, but being charged extra when eaten. At 5 o'clock there was afternoon tea--a luxury hardly appreciated by a New-Yorker, but in great favor with the Jamaicans. Seven was dinner time, and after dinner unlimited cigars in the reception room.
    About 6 in the morning the bath brigade came trooping down the back stairs--regular borders in the hotel--on their way to go to the bath rooms in a separate building at the rear. These gentlemen were all clad in pajamas and slippers, and each carried an assortment of from four to six Turkish towels hanging over his arm. After the morning "bawth" coffee, still lightly clad in pajamas and slippers...

    That 10 o'clock breakfast was a trial to a New-Yorker accustomed to the American habit of going down stairs and eating a hearty meal as soon as dressed. In these hot countries early morning is by all means the most pleasant part of the day; 5 o'clock is hardly too early to be up, or 6 at the latest; and then to wait four or five hours for breakfast is a great strain on the American stomach. One day I mustered up courage to ask Miss Burton why she had such late breakfasts.
    "Oh," she replied, "it is our custom. We could not possibly have breakfast earlier. The servants do not get up very early, and then we have to send some of them down to market after the provisions. And if they went earlier, the market would not be open. It is 9 o'clock by the time they get back, and we must have an hour to do the cooking."
    "But why not get the provisions the day before?" I asked.
    "Oh," she replied again, "it is not our custom. Every morning we buy the provisions for the day, and we have to wait till they come."

    A few days afterward I had the good fortune to see the arrival of "the day's provisions." A little colored girl, about 14 years old, had been sent to do the marketing for the hotel, and she arrived on the street car with an immense basket full of meats and vegetables. The basket was much more than she could lift, but the car being in no hurry kindly waited till she could summon help. She got off and ran up to the gate and shouted:
    "Mullins! Mullins!"
    Mullins heard the alarm, but it was rather beneath his dignity to run out and carry in a basket, so he shouted:
    "Catherine! Catherine!"
    Catherine, the housekeeper, was far too dignified a person to be seen with a basket, so she took up the cry and called:
    "Mary! Mary!"
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    Jamaica, discovered by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1494, was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The native Taino Indians, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated, replaced by African slaves.
    England seized the island in 1655 and a plantation economy - based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee - was established. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers.
    Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain, and in 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962.
    Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. The cycle of violence, drugs, and poverty has served to impoverish large sectors of the populace.
    Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.
    CIA World Factbook: Jamaica

Area of Jamaica: 10,991 sq km
slightly smaller than Connecticut

Population of Jamaica: 2,780,132
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Jamaica:
English, patois English

Jamaica Capital: Kingston

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    Mary went as far as the front door, but concluded the basket was too heavy for her, and began to call for "Thomas! Thomas!" This was the young gentleman who played at blacking the shoes, and he strolled leisurely out and brought in the basket. All the time the little girl in charge of the basket had been shouting for somebody to come, and every servant in the house had been jabbering as loudly and rapidly as possible. It was a typical West Indian scene, with each servant calling for some other one to come and do the work. But with all the confusion, they had the breakfast ready on time.

    On our first afternoon in Kingston we took a drive down through the city and found some very good stores, many of them quite equal to those in Northern cities of the same size.
    The great fire of 1882, they told us, swept away a great number of business houses, and those that were rebuilt were put up in more modern style than the old ones. So the fire, after all, was in some respects a benefit to the city, though it was a heavy blow at the time, and many smoked and crumbling walls still bear witness to its terrible destructiveness. In this fire nearly 600 buildings were burned, inhabited by about 6,000 persons, and of course there was a great deal of poverty and suffering in consequence.
    Everywhere in the city there is an abundant supply of that great necessity in a hot country--pure cold water. This water comes from the Hope River, the dam being in a picturesque spot about seven miles from Kingston. Hope River is a pure mountain stream with water clear as crystal, and there is an abundant supply, and all over Kingston are fountains and hydrants where men or beasts can freely help themselves.
    Many of the older buildings have more of a Spanish appearance than English, though they can hardly date back to the time when Jamaica was under Spanish rule.
    The sidewalks in the business streets are like no other sidewalks in the world. Every houseowner seems to be a law to himself as to the level of his walk, and to arrange it just as fancy or economy may dictate. The walks are generally raised from 2 to 4 feet above the streets, but hardly any two walks are on the same level, so they keep the pedestrian continually going up or down steps, greatly to the risk of his precious neck. Consequently, most people walk out in the middle of the street.

    Two peculiarities are noticable in Kingston that can hardly pass unnoticed in any West Indian city. Good, bad, and indifferent houses are next door neighbors. There is no gather of all the stylish houses in one part of the city and the poorer ones in another. The millionaire lives next door to the coachman, the bank President close beside the porter.
    Then there are the streets full of people, all colored, or seemingly all colored, for white people are in such a very small minority there seem to be hardly any at all. But the colored folks in Kingston are exceptionally polite. The West Indian negro, in general, claims the privilege of standing and staring any white person out of countenance in the street--a custom that is often very embarrassing to strangers. But I saw little of this in Kingston, perhaps because it is a city of some size, having about 40,000 inhabitants, and the people are accustomed to seeing strangers. The population of the island is about 600,000, of whom only 15,000 are white; so it is no wonder black and brown are the prevailing colors in the streets.

    We took one whole day to get rid of the feel of the ship, and then went to work in a systematic way to see as much of the island as possible, according to the excellent programme arranged by Mr. Kemble and his friends. Our first trip was to be a carriage drive up the mountain to Castleton, 19 miles away, to see the Botanical Gardens. This trip included a start at 5 o'clock in the morning, breakfast at the halfway house, and 38 miles of up-and-down-hill driving in the mountains. And nobody knows how tired 38 miles of Jamaica mountains can make him till he tries it.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1888 was equivalent to $22.88 in 2007. The British pound was worth about $4.87 in 1888; with 20 shillings per pound, so calling a sixpence (half a shilling) worth 12 cents is correct. The 12-cent bus fare in 1888 would thus be about $2.75 in 2007.

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