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The Seaport Town of Falmouth, Jamaica

by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer



There are many reasons to include Falmouth in your island tour. Today we share some, as we take a look at this busy cruise-ship port which lies between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay on Jamaica's north shore.

It is noted for being one of the Caribbean's best-preserved Georgian towns. However, to understand the history, of Falmouth you must first understand the origins of the Parish of Trelawny for which it is the capital.

Back in the 18th century, Trelawny was not recognized as a parish, it was the easternmost section of St. James. After a lot of lobbying by the planters located in this area, the parish of Trelawny was finally formed by the act of the Assembly of Jamaica in 1770. The planters located in this area were having difficulties getting to and from the main seaport at the time which was Montego Bay. The bad roads and inconsistent weather quite often inconvenienced the trip which either had to be cancelled or much of the goods had to be left, causing the planters to lose money. Since this was their sole reason for relocating to Jamaica, they started to lobby for a new parish with a seaport closer to them from as early as 1733. The planters in and around Montego Bay, however, were sceptical for a new port to be established because it might be competition for Montego Bay. But in 1770 after much lobbying and support of the bill from the then Governor General Sir William Trelawney, the parish of Trelawny was finally established.

By now, I think I know what you are wondering, and the answer is yes! To show their gratitude to the Governor for his support, the new parishioners named it Trelawny after the Governor General. However, in the excitement, the name was spelt incorrectly and the ‘e’ was left out of the name and it was not changed.

The first capital of Trelawny was not Falmouth but Martha Brae. As one of the few remaining Spanish settlements in 1770, it was chosen as the capital. In fact, the first task commissioned by the Trelawny Town Council was to clear a path in the Martha Brae River to facilitate water transportation. However, as it was only a mere 50 acres of land, it soon outgrew its capacity as capital.

Sighting the urgent need for a new capital, the Trelawny Town Council established a commission to search for the location of a new capital with one Edward Moulton Barrett at the helm of the mission. Curiously enough, the land chosen for the new capital in 1790 belonged to the Barrett's and was then known as the Barrett Lands a name Mr Barrett rallied for the capital to keep. The parishioners, however, continued on the theme which the parish was named and called the new capital Falmouth. A name it shares with the birthplace of Sir William Trelawney in Cornwall County, England. The new town was 150 acres of land located at the shore; prime lands for a busy town to be established.

The Architecture of Falmouth


The architecture of the town was inspired by the very popular Georgian Style. This was a way for wealthy planters to establish themselves as such. Modest Georgian wooden houses bordered Market Street which served (and still does) as the main thoroughfare in Falmouth. The rich topography of the Barrett Lands facilitated the construction of these houses, which were later modified with the addition of verandahs, eaves, louvres and colonnades. These vernacular modifications were added for comfort and to improve ventilation since the tropical climate was harsh, even though the area was next to the shoreline where it could benefit from the sea breeze and access sailing ships without difficulty, an advantage over Martha Brae Village.

Kingston and Spanish Town were the only other towns in Jamaica to be built following the gridiron plan, the British way of constructing towns. The land was divided into rectangular and square boxes, separated by vertical and horizontal streets. These were then subdivided into lots and sold. These lots were sold to wealthy planters like John Tharp. He owned many estates in Trelawny, as well as two homes and, quite remarkably, a wharf in Falmouth. In 1782 he went into slave trading making him one of the wealthiest planters in the Parish. He also served as Custos of Trelawny, until 1795. His wharf still stands as a reminder of his prosperity, and there is Tharp Street, which was named after him. He died on July 30, 1804.

In 1794 Mr Barrett again donated land for the construction of the St. Peter’s Anglian church, which still stands today. Renovations were done in 1988 after Hurricane Gilbert damaged the Parish Church. A proper water supply was established in 1799 based on the collection of local taxes being sufficient to meet the expenses of building the water system. Falmouth became one of the first areas in the island to enjoy piped water, which was pumped from 'Water Square' at the centre of the town up until 1950. Falmouth enjoyed piped water before the citizens of New York City did! Later on, a Sea Tank, which operated until the mid-nineteenth century, was built a few miles offshore to supply ships with water.

In 1814, the Town Council purchased land from the Barrett heirs to build the Falmouth Courthouse. The construction began in August 1815 along with the Town Hall building and was finally completed in April 1817. The Town Council also saw to the construction of a Post Office and Printing House. The Georgian town, under the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act of 1985, was recognised as rich architectural and archaeological heritage and declared as a National Monument on September 5, 1996.

Falmouth in its Glory


The town of Falmouth was synonymous with prosperity after 1790 and by 1830, it was an established seaport town with about 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. The seaport was booming as well as the Albert George Market (named after Queen Victoria’s grandsons, Albert, Duke of Clarence and King George V). The market was later relocated to Market Street. Today, the market sells mainly crafts items. To give a flavour of the market's historic setting there are several artefacts on display in the market such as stills and crushing wheels. What was the largest market in Jamaica in the 18th century, is now a shopping and historical centre. A huge source of revenue for Falmouth to this day.

To keep parishioners abreast of the news from around the world, 5 printing presses were formed; The Baptist Herald, Cornwall Chronicle, Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Post and Falmouth Gazette. The Falmouth Post specifically was formed in 1835 and was operated by John Castello for 41 years until a year before he passed in 1877.

Evidence of the industrial era in Trelawny can be found at the Phoenix Iron Foundry. It is also known as “The Dome” because of the cone like roof of the building. Built by Mr Fields an engineer in 1810, the factory repaired ships that were damaged at sea and docked at the Falmouth Harbour. They also repaired machinery used on sugar plantations and manufactured bedsteads for the British Army. The Dome serves as one of Jamaica's few remaining relics of the industrial age. In later years it was used as an ice factory.

Falmouth also has a long history as a shipping port. Many warehouses are standing on the Falmouth Wharves. In its heyday, the Falmouth Wharves loaded up to 25 ships a day with sugar and rum from the 88 surrounding sugar estates.

Falmouth Loses its Significance


Falmouth lost some of its significance as a major port town with the introduction of steamboats in the 1830’s. These vessels needed deeper waters to dock and the Falmouth Harbour was unable to accommodate them even after efforts to deepen the harbour. Railway transportation was introduced to Western Jamaica in the 1890’s and because the steamboats were still unable to dock at the harbour, Montego Bay was chosen and sadly Falmouth was overlooked.

Falmouth Today


Falmouth now has a thriving tourist business through the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier. The JMD 180 million port which opened in 2011, was built to accommodate the newest and largest cruise ships, including Royal Caribbean International's Oasis class. Many ships dock by the pier weekly allowing visitors to enjoy the rich culture of the town. They can visit the many historical sites and take the Falmouth Food Tour. Notably, the Trelawny Multipurpose Stadium is located a mere 3 miles from the main town of Falmouth. It hosted the opening ceremony for the ICC 2007 Cricket World Cup.

Notable People


The sons and daughters of Falmouth have contributed greatly to the cultural and socio-political landscape of Jamaica.

  • Hugh Shearer - Former Prime Minister of Jamaica (featured on the Jamaican $5,000 note).
  • Usain Bolt - (Sprinter) Olympian and world record holder.
  • Veronica Campbell-Brown - (Sprinter) Olympian.
  • Ky-Mani Marley - Reggae artist and Son of Bob Marley
  • Rex Nettleford - Rhodes Scholar, Academic, late Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

I also recommend you read Falmouth Jamaica Port Where History Comes To Life

Regards,
SS

References:

  • “Falmouth”, Jamaica National Heritage Trust, http://www.jnht.com/site_falmouth.php
  • “Falmouth Court House”, Jamaica National Heritage Trust, http://www.jnht.com/site_falmouth_court_house.php
  • “Falmouth, Jamaica”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falmouth,_Jamaica

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