Jamaica (2)

Arrive at Port Royal

Wednesday 14th – fresh breezes and favourable anchored a Port Royal at ½ past 2 P.M. and in answer to our inquiries we were told that we would sail on Saturday morning early, this leaving us only 5 or 6 hours to look around us, instead [of] the week we had expected.

Owing to our unusually long passage to and from Carthagena, and our prolonged stay there, we were prevented from taking advantage of a weeks detention by the Earl of Belmore at the request of the Merchants. According to the existing regulations the packet should sail from Jamaica for England, at the end of 14 days, counting from the day she first touched there. In addition then to this limited period, the Governor had consented to detain us for another week, making our time in all three weeks – whereas you have seen that we were absent from Port Royal nearly 4 weeks. No one regretted more than I did this unfortunate circumstance, since it completely deranged my intended plan of spending a few days with D.r Hawkins, who had given me a most kind & pressing invitation, to go to his country house, and who, as he informed in a letter left for me, had come twice to town with the view of learning whether the packet had arrived. If we should again visit Jamaica soon, I shall be happy to visit him and see all the curiosities in natural scenery and productions, which he promised to point out to me.

[Land our Passengers at Port Royal]

Soon after coming to anchor we discharged M.r Ffowler one of the principal Merchants in Carthagena, a hearty jolly old cock, who rubicund visage bore unequivocal marks of his plentiful and numerous libations in the worship of Bacchus – M.r Grott his Clerk, a very quiet, sedate, demure looking person to outward appearance, but shewing upon acquaintance that he knew & had seen more of the world than would at first have been imagined. A distressed subject, an Englishman too poor to pay his passage, and who had been sent by the British Consul was the only other Briton, whom we sent ashore.

Spanish [Passengers landed at Port Royal]

Besides these there were three Cabin Passengers, Columbians, viz. a stout little comical sort of fellow, who eat [sic] and drank like John Bull, perhaps as he supposed, out of Compliment to us – a tall, thin oldish man with a thin slim youth his son. All these came from Chaco, a province of Columbia, and were bound for Kingston on mercantile business. The stout Spaniard had also a servant called Valentine of negroe descent – a pretty impudent rascal, and very lazy and dirty withal – a great contrast was presented to him by an Indian lad named Cassimero, and servant to a Spanish gentleman in Kingston. He was cleanly, active, and obliging, and was infinitely better dressed than the negroe, whom he seemed to hold in very great contempt. The catalogue of our Columbian passengers was completed by a stout, middle sized fellow, who made his appearance rather suddenly, as we were leaving Carthagena. He was an adherent of Cordova, and a stirrer up of sedition. A kind of William Cabbott among the Columbians. The only reward, however, which he had received for his zeal was a civil order from general Montilla, Governor of Carthagena, to leave the city, and turn his activity elsewhere. This uncivil treatment the fellow took very coolly, and possessed so much of the true spirit of the Stoical Philosophy, that he never suffered his spirits to be downcast for a moment – and it was also plain that his appetite & digestion were not affected since he eat and drank as heartily as the rest. I suppose he must have been a great orator – for I have seen him holding forth with much & violent gesticulation for hours together – and when by himself he used to be constantly reading some manuscript papers, doubtless some eloquent effusions from his pen in favour of the doctrines and party which he upheld.

[Characters of Spaniards] – description of Kingston

The same love of dirt, and hatred of cleanliness characterised these Spaniards much as the Portuguese, whom I had seen. The three principals had hired the After Cabin, and my conscience! When they left it, it was in a most horrible state of filth. At table their behaviour was much on a par with their breeding and their notions of politeness – they eat hugely and fast, and adopted a very injurious plan by which they endeavoured to secure the best of everything. They first sent one plate to one dish, and when they had been served they put the plate aside and sent another for some other dish & so on till, as it happened, they had two or three plates alongside of them, the contents of which they made to disappear in rotation. It mattered not to them, when in a hurry, to clap into one receptacle, boiled beef, roasted fowl, vegetables, &.c Whatever they wished they helped themselves to without scruples, or saying by your leave, as if they were afraid, that our voracious maws would not leave them a morsel, unless they took care of themselves.

Dismissing the subject of these Columbians, of whose company we were but too glad to be rid. I shall return to Kingston, and what I observed during our two days sojourn here.

Street & Shops in Kingston – Negroes

The Town of Kingston is very picturesquely situated, with lofty mountains, behind & on either side, and a fine harbour in front. At a distance it appears like a confused mass of houses thickly intermixed with trees, but a closer inspection shews you good houses regular streets, and well filled shops. There is here an admirable arrangement in the build of houses, and that is, that in the principal streets a covered footpath extends the whole way, and thus protects you from the heat of the sun, or violent showers of ran more effectually than an umbrella would. In addition to the undoubted convenience of such an arrangement, beauty and neatness are also its advantages. Under these piazas, you will see, many fine shops, set out as elegantly and gaily as at home – and many a shop window bore testimony to the multifarious produce of European, and indicated very significantly that the Mother country exerted no less influence over the domestic manners & dress than over the political economy of Jamaica. Those shops are opened early in the morning, continue so all day and are shut at 3 oClock in the afternoon, after which time all business ceases, and the wealthy merchant retires to his cool country house, while those who cannot afford such a piece of luxury or comfort, call it what you will, indulge them in taking exercise on horseback. I say on horseback, for here none but negroes walk, and you would descend very low in their estimation, if you should imitate their example. As a stranger I did not at all like this practice – after three the streets are very dull, nay almost deserted, and thus you can have no interest in remaining in Town afterwards.

If from being in one of the fashionable shops and after listening to the common place of the shopkeepers, you should be cheated into the belief that you were quite at home, the delusion would at once be dispelled by the first glance you cast towards the street. There you observe nothing but black faces, & black faces ad infinitum, that is, to the end of the Street.

Markets in Kingston

In the long Street, where M.r George Burral Smith, who generally furnishes the Packets with what ever they require, resided, both sides were lined with black women, who exposed to sale various articles of produce and manufacture. These women are either free or slaves, who sit patiently awaiting the chance of a customer & cheating strangers, as we ourselves experienced – & on one occasion, when they ventured to make an exorbitant demand on the strength of our ignorance, they instantly lowered one half, when a person, who was with us, told them that he was too well acquainted with Jamaica to be taken in. The principal article of sale is fruit – and almost the whole of that is in the hands of the negroes, so that even their masters have to purchase it of them. It not infrequently happens, that they refuse to sell vegetables & fruit to their masters, who employ their whole land to the culture of sugar cane, and prefer carrying them to the public market, where they can always command a greater price. The fruit market, when I saw it – and I saw it to disadvantage – was a pretty sight – the heaps of oranges – forbidden fruit, a species of orange – shaddocks – limes &.ca were very pleasing – and every thing was cheap to us, tho considered dear at Jamaica.

The flesh market is open all day – and large numbers of sheep and cattle are killed daily. Tis not here, as in Edinburgh, where you have two or 3 market days in the week – but on the contrary it is impossible to keep meat fresh beyond a few hours, in consequence of the heat & the weather inducing rapid putrefaction. In the morning, therefore, if you require fresh meat, you will have to purchase the still warm limbs of the sheep, the goat or the pig – and also for dinner you will have the same, as they kill in the afternoon likewise.

Repasts in Jamaica – different orders of Society

By the bye talking of markets reminds me to mention that the mode and time of dieting are different from those of Europe. The West Indians have four or five meals a day. At 8 oClock or even earlier they partake of a slight repast, generally coffee and biscuit or some light thing. At half past 11 or 12 they have what they call a second breakfast, consisting of meats, fish, wine, rum, and other agremens. In fact you may call it an early dinner from the substantiality of its setting forth. At 6 or more generally at 7 the respectable classes of society sit down to dinner, which is also very substantial. One ignorant of the fact, would imagine that to persons living in so hot a climate, so keen an appetite as is experienced by the natives of a colder, and more stomach-strengthening region, would not be felt. But the reality of the case is quite contrary to such a supposition, for in Kingston they both eat and drink in immense quantities. I myself was sensible that my appetite had not been diminished – but, if any thing had increased, so that [I] did good ample justice to the good things, set before me at a second breakfast.

Read on … Society & Manners