The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 41
The island of Jamaica is situated in the Caribbean Sea, to the southward of the eastern extremity of the island of Cuba; it is within 17° 40' and 18° 30' N. latitude, and 76° 10' and 78° 30' W. longitude. It is the largest of the British West Indies, being 140 miles long by 50 miles in extreme breadth, and consequently contains an area of about 4200 square miles, or 2,668,000 acres.
Jamaica was discovered by Columbus on 3rd May, 1494, and was named by him St. Jago; It was taken possession of and remained in the possession of the Spaniards for 161 years, but on 3rd May, 1655, it capitulated after a slight resistance to a force sent by Oliver Cromwell, under the command of Admirals Penn and Venables. It remained under military government until the restoration of Charles II., and in 1660 a regular civil government was first established by the appointment of a Governor-in-Chief with an elective Council. Peace between Spain and England was signed in 1670, and the possession of Jamaica by England was recognised by the Treaty of Madrid.
The slave trade attained large proportions in the island, and continued until 1807, at which date there were 323,827 slaves in Jamaica, of whom 86,281 had been imported during the last eight years of the trade. On the abolition of slavery in all British possessions in 1833, Jamaica received £6,161,927 of the £20,000,000 granted by the Imperial Government as compensation to the slave-owners, or about £19 per head.
There is considerable variety of climate in the island. At Kingston the medium heat is about 80° and the minimum 70° throughout the year. On the range of lofty mountains which runs through the middle of the island there is a climate resembling that of Europe, and by a ride of three hours from the capital a change of temperature to the extent of 30° can be attained. In the St. Andrew's Mountains the hottest summer days never exceed 80° of heat, and the coldest nights in winter are never below 60°. In May and October the rainy seasons occur; they last for about three weeks, but periods of fine weather intervene. The May seasons are irregular in their occurrence, but those in October very seldom fail. The total annual rainfall varies in different parts of the island, and may be set down at from 50 to 150 inches. Jamaica is occasionally assailed by the most dreadful hurricanes, which destroy in a moment the hopes and labours of the planters, and devastate entire islands, whole fields of sugar-canes being sometimes torn up by the roots, and houses either unroofed or thrown down. The rain falls in torrents, sweeping everything before it. The destruction caused by these dreadful scourges seldom fails to produce a very great scarcity, and not unfrequently famine. It is stated in a report by a committee of the Assembly of Jamaica that, from such causes, 15,000 negroes perished between the latter part of 1780 and the beginning of 1787.
At the census taken in 1861 the population returns showed that there were 441,254 inhabitants, of whom 13,816 were white, 81,065 coloured, and 346,374 black. At the next decennial census, in 1871, the numbers had increased to 506,154, of whom 13,101 were whites, 100,346 coloured, and 392,707 blacks.
In 1876 the public debt of the colony amounted to £665,536.
The vegetable productions of Jamaica are numerous and valuable, but the sugar-cane and the coffee-plant are by far the most important, and indeed constitute the natural riches of the colony. For many years after the British took possession of the island, the chief exports were cocoa, hides, and indigo; those of sugar, even so late as 1772, amounting to only 11,000 hogsheads; but in 1774 they had increased to 78.000 hogsheads of sugar and 26,000 puncheons of rum. Several circumstances—principally the American war and the disastrous hurricanes already alluded to—interfered greatly with the success of the planters. In 1787. however, a new era of improvement began. The devastation of St. Domingo by the negro insurrection in 1792 first diminished, and in a few years almost entirely annihilated, the annual supply of 115,000 hogsheads of sugar which France and the Continent had previously been accustomed to receive from that island. That diminution of supply, by causing a greatly increased demand for, and a consequent rise in the price of, the sugar raised in the other islands, occasioned an extraordinary extension of cultivation. The result was that Jamaica, which, at an average of the six years preceding 1799, had produced only 83.000 hogsheads, exported in 1801 and 1802 upwards of 286,300 hogsheads. The same powerful stimulus was given by the St. Domingo devastation to the growth of coffee; and, owing to the excessive increase in European countries in the demand for coffee, the supply went on increasing until checked by the measures relating to slavery. In 1832 the export from Jamaica to England attained its maximum, and then amounted to 19,405,933 lb. So rapid, however, has been its subsequent decline, that in 1866 the export to England from the island reached only 4,432,222 lb.