On James Hakewill A Picturesque Tour of the island of Jamaica Drawings made in the years 1820 and 1821

Spring Garden Estate, St Georges

On the hill: Sits the Great House, it overlooks the sugar works, between which is the Negro village

Right middle ground: Overseer’s House, Hospital & Negro children house

Spring Garden was the property of John Rock Grosett; it consisted of some 3000 acres of land and 600 Negroes.



The Picturesque 

According to Lauren Rabb of The University of Arizona Museum of Art the 19th century was the golden era of landscape painting. James Hakewill, an English Architect and acclaimed painter took the opportunity to tour Jamaica, trust on the hospitality of planters and ultimately impress upon them the merits of having their estates immortalized. This was of course a time before practical photography and when the economic fortunes of sugar barons were relatively good.

The word picturesque was used in the title of the book and Hakewill justifies its use, “intended to convey a general idea of the surfaces and external appearance of a country,” he is careful to note, “without undertaking to develope its moral and political institutions”. The aesthetic concept that best describes his paintings, however, is pastoral landscape painting. Rabb defines pastoral landscapes as those depicting “the dominion of mankind over nature,” whereas, picturesque landscapes are “landscape in its natural state,” termed wilderness by William G. Hoskins, the father of Landscape History.

Holland Estate, St Thomas-in-the-East

Left foreground: Barracks for bookkeepers, beyond is the boiling and still house

Right foreground: Overseer’s house

Centre: Change-of-air house or sick house

Property of George Watson Taylor, it took up most of the easternmost portion of the Plantain Garden River valley, employing over 600 Negro slaves.



Map of Jamaica administrative boundaries between 1814–1840


Why paint Estates?

These landscapes can only be termed ‘pastoral’ as the wilderness had been beaten back to reveal manicured fields. A planter paying monies to have his estate engraved would likely:

· Chose his primary estate (with a great house)

· Dictate the view painted and what should not be included

Landscape paintings can then hardly be considered a true representation of the landscape- at the time of painting and often are used as propaganda. Messages embedded in this art form vary but recurring themes can be identified such as:

· Orderly, contented, industrious enslaved peoples, seen with work tools on their person

· Fatten livestock, primarily cattle and ripe, well-tended fields

To decode these messages one has to put on the cultural lens of the planter. In the early 1820s when these paintings where being engraved the institution of slavery was in crisis, facing heavy criticism from abolitionists, so painting discontented slaves would do the sugar barons’ cause no good. Similarly the slave villages were always shrouded or entirely out of view in these paintings so as not to juxtapose them with the Great Houses. To the economists who were against slavery as it was an obsolete model of capitalism that no longer profits them, the slaves were painted as being industrious, able bodied workers.

So as to encourage further investment into sugar from merchants in the metropolis the estates were shown to be well managed (ripe, neat fields, buildings in good repair). To persons who might be considering to migrate to the tropics the environment was depicted as healthy contrary to popular consensus that it was a white man’s grave.

Whitney Estate, Clarendon

Foreground: Road by crossed by aqueduct

Middle ground: Sugar works with mill

Whitney Estate is the property of Viscount Dudley and Ward, amounting to some 3,243 acres with 271 Negroes. One of the land locked estates.



Trinity Estate, St Mary

Middle ground: Sugar works yard with extensive aqueduct

Trinity Estate is the property of C. N. Bayly with little under 1, 100 Negro slaves and seems to be bordered with several other estates belonging to members of the same family, of which Brimmer Hall is captured on the plate.



Since many of these paintings graced the hall or offices of the planter, it was a source of pride- a showpiece of one’s estates. With this in mind the planter would want the best views of his property and or views of his extensive capital outlay. That said, several of these paintings captured be palmed carriageways, Great Houses commanding a knoll, cut-stone perimeter walls, bridges over rivers, far-reaching aqueducts, private wharves with view of bays, kilns and fine sugar works. This pageantry might be due to second sons wanting to show that they have succeeded in life (please see Primogeniture).

Can these views really be trusted? Why were these estates chosen and not others? Are they representative? The finest? Or were they painted because they hosted the painter? Do you really believe that the enslaved peoples locked into their tortured landscape were really docile bodies? That the tropics were healthy, habitable, and Eden-like?

Cardiff Hall, St Ann

Foreground: Pimento trees

Middle ground: Great House

Cardiff Hall is the property of John Blagrove and employs 1,500 Negro slaves. It was a pimento plantation; hence it lacked an aqueduct, was not near to a river or located on particularly flat lands.


A little on Landscape History

Of the seven estates only two were land locked-Williamsfield and Whitney. Whitney shipped its produce down the Milk River to the wharf while Williamsfield is some twenty three (23) miles via wagon cart away from the nearest port. The other five were located on fertile river valleys near sheltered bays and even had their own wharves (as in the case of Montpelier and Spring Garden Estates).

What have we learnt about the location of estates?

· Access to sheltered bays and wharves to export produce and receive inputs

· Close proximity to large rivers that can be used to turn mills, for irrigation or transportation

· Flat, fertile plains for easy cultivation (with the exception of the pimento plantation- Cardiff Hall)

Williamsfield Estate, St Thomas-in-the-Vale

Foreground: Sugar cane growing either side of road

Middle ground: Sugar works and dwelling houses opposite

Williamsfield Estate is the property of Earl of Harewood, it consisted of 2,998 acres and employed 304 Negroes, and this is the second land lock property.



The layout of the plantations is rather informative. Some general affinities seen are for the Great House to be located on the hill. Is this indicative of the power relations? Probably, but as many lay empty it might be to get commanding views of one’s domain, for security purposes-panoramic views, or simply to catch fleeting cool breeze. The cluster of ‘administrative buildings’ as I will call them comprising the overseer’s and bookkeeper’s house are always in close proximity to each other. They are apart from the Great House and distanced from the slaves’ quarter, suggestive of their peculiar social standing? That aside these structures are solidly built if not beautiful in their own right, many boasting two storeys/levels. The position of the Great House and more so the administrative buildings are to monitor the whereabouts of the slaves and the operation of the sugar works- the planter’s heaviest investments. It could also be to suppress rebellion or to main productivity by regulating the work regime.

Featured prominently in three of these paintings are slave hospitals, sick houses or change-of-air houses. They are big structures of good design which bespoke the importance of maintaining a healthy slave population to the planter if only for economic reasons. The hospitals tend to be located on a small rise; this is because at the time it was believed that cold, bracing air had curative properties for many ailments which was still the common belief at the turn of the 20th century (see book by Dr James Johnston, M.D).

Montpelier Estate, Old Works, St James

Left middle ground: Barracks for bookkeepers, behind is the Overseer’s house, on the hill is the Hospital

Centre: cattle & water mill with aqueduct in between

Right middle ground: boiling & still house while in the Negro houses are partially hidden by woodland

Montpelier Estate is the property of Charles Ellis; it consists of two estates called Old Works and New Works both amounting to 10, 000 acres with 900 Negroes attached. This is by far the largest estate of the seven. As a side note this is the site of the famous Sam Sharpe or Christmas Rebellion.




https://archive.org/details/picturesquetouro00hake digitized by Boston Public Library available on Google Books

http://nljdigital.nlj.gov.jm/collections/show/10#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=0%2C-121%2C666%2C680 James Hakewill Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica, National Library of Jamaica Digital Collection

http://artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/19th-century-landscape-the-pastoral-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime 19th Century Landscape, University of Arizona, Museum of Art

An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque by Krista Thompson

https://books.google.com.jm/books/about/Optical_Lantern_Lectures_on_Jamaica.html?id=0Tj-swEACAAJ&redir_esc=y Optical Lantern Lectures on Jamaica: The New Riviera by James Johnston M.D.

http://www.nlj.gov.jm/history-notes/The%20Emancipation%20Wars.pdf The Emancipation Wars


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