Saturday, 28 April 2007

Visiting Kingston -- My Two Grannies

My four grandchildren are very lucky in that they have known all four of their grandparents. I was not so fortunate. Both my grandfathers had died before my parents were married; as for my grandmothers, well, I knew them for only a short time in my childhood. Both of them were born in 1861, and both died in 1943, at which time I was just eight years old. I do remember them, however. They lived across the street from each other: my Grandmother Smedmore lived at 49 Beeston Street and my Grandma Levy lived at 22 Beeston Street.

I have a better memory of my Grandmother Smedmore because I probably saw her more often. Sadly, I have no pictures of her or of my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore. I do have a photograph of my grandmother's youngest sister, Theresa Eugenie Brown, and I rather think there must have been a resemblance between them. This is my Aunt Tess.

Aunt Tess was the Postmistress for many years in Montego Bay, but that's another story.

I would go to Kingston with my parents to visit the grannies. This was always a treat for me, living as we did in the suburbs of St. Andrew. Kingston was different .... busy, lots of people on the streets, all sorts of stores, higglers and vendors selling things on the sidewalks, and we got to ride the tramcar!

I remember that I used to tell my Grandmother Smedmore Anancy stories, which she enjoyed very much. Anancy, or Anansi, is a figure of folklore, a spider, a trickster hero, based on folktales brought from West Africa. Another Jamaican blogger, Floyd Brooks, has posted an excellent article by Marcia Davidson on Anancy stories on his blog, Jamaica Land We Love.

We didn't visit my Grandma Levy as much. I have one memory of her ... the room she was in was quite dark, and I do not really remember much about the house. I remember she was dressed in white. The room was probably dark because Grandma Levy was blind. She had had cataract surgery, which in the 1930s and '40s was nothing like what we know today ... no lasers! Patients had to lie completely still on their backs, with the head placed between two sandbags to keep it perfectly still as any movement too early after the surgery could cause blindness. My Grandma Levy was subject to nightmares and apparently had one which caused her to start up suddenly, and as a result she lost her sight. I remember she talked about her late husband, Leopold, but I do not remember what she said and at that age I wasn't particularly interested. It would be a long time before my interest in family history would lead me to find out what I could about him and about my Grandma Levy's past.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The House at 49 Beeston Street

The red block at the corner of Beeston Street and Love Lane shows approximately where the house at 49 Beeston Street, the Smedmore family home, was located. My memories of it are as a child and a young teenager. Unfortunately there are no photographs of the exterior of the house. I think the exterior architecture would have been considered in the Georgian style, something like this photograph taken in 2003 in Falmouth, Trelawny, Jamaica.

Colin G. Clarke, in his book, Kingston, Jamaica: urban development and social change, 1692-1962 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), quotes Michael Scott who wrote of the architecture in Kingston in the 19th century as follows:

The appearance of the town itself was novel and pleasing; the houses chiefly of two stories, looked as if they had been built of cards, most of them being surrounded by piazzas from ten to fourteen feet wide ... On the ground-floor these piazzas are open ... on the floor above, the balconies are shut in with moveable blinds called "jalousies", with large-bladed Venetian blinds fixes in frames....

I don't know when the house at 49 Beeston Street was built. I do know that it was occupied by the family of Louis Cunha in 1878 (of whom more in future).

The house sat on the north side of Beeston Street, and well up from the street itself. There was a set of steps, perhaps about six or so, which led up to the house. There was in front a large piazza open to the air, which was never used by the family. The steps themselves led to a door in a wall ... for the entire property was surrounded by a high cement wall. You entered this door and were immediately completely away from the street outside. A short path led to the open back verandah on the left, and on the right was the courtyard which included a large Jamaican cherry tree, and in the walled garden all sorts of tropical plants mainly crotons, coleus and ferns.

The house itself consisted of two bedrooms on the ground floor, as well as a full bathroom, all off of the back verandah. Across from the back verandah, to the north of the house, was a separate building, connected to the house by a covered walkway. This building contained the dining area, pantry and to the west a laundry room. To the east of the house at the end of the property were other outbuildings, including the kitchen with huge wood burning stove, and servants's quarters.

The second storey, which one reached by a staircase, contained in the centre a large with-drawing room, and off of that four bedrooms with a bathroom. At the top of the stairs was another bathroom, which may have been added later, and another bedroom overlooking the courtyard. When I visited the house as a child, the large bedroom on the ground floor belonged to my eldest aunt Sylvia (and had originally been my grandparents' room), and the other bedroom was that of my youngest uncle, Julian. Two of the bedrooms upstairs were occupied by my aunt Elma and my uncle Owen. Whenever I stayed over I had one of the smaller bedrooms overlooking Love Lane.

My parents, Michael Leopold Levy and Maud Dey Smedmore, were married in 1926 and their wedding pictures were taken in the courtyard of 49 Beeston Street. This picture of them together is taken to the east of the house and one can see the kitchen outbuilding in the background.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Moving to Kingston: 49 Beeston Street

Before I leave Port Royal I'd like to pay tribute to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Since 1958 they have been working to preserve Jamaica's heritage. I was disappointed that I did not have an image of the Dockyard at Port Royal, but fortunately I was able to find one on line on the JNHT website. This image is of the Admiralty buildings and may very well have been where William Dey Smedmore and George Christopher Baylis worked as Admiralty writers.

My thanks to the Jamaican National Heritage Trust for permission to post the above image.

But now to Kingston .... William Dey Smedmore and his family moved to a house in Kingston at 49 Beeston Street, probably some time between 1896 and 1899. At the time this would have been a residential area. Later, as people left the city and moved to the suburbs of St. Andrew, it became less desirable to live there. Beeston Street is located north of the Parade and runs from the Spanish Town Road in the west to Text Lane in the east. Here it is on a current map of Kingston.

Here is how it would have looked in 1897, as found in Stark's Jamaica Guide illustrated (Boston: James H. Stark, 1902). Beeston Street was named after Sir William Beeston, one of the early Governors of Jamaica, who was granted a considerable amount of land, much of which went to make up the original City of Kingston.

The Smedmore family settled at 49 Beeston Street, on the north side at the corner of Love Lane. Across the street from them, at 22 Beeston Street, lived my paternal grandmother, Alice Levy. She did not, however, move there till some time between 1900 and 1917 and she was still living there when she died in 1943. I imagine that it was this proximity that brought my parents together.

I have a couple pictures which were most likely taken at 49 Beeston Street, but they give very little idea of what the house was like. Though I saw it as a child and teenager, I can still remember it and will attempt to paint a picture of it in words in my next post.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Leaving Port Royal

In the September 19, 1873 issue of the Daily Gleaner and DeCordova's Advertising Sheet there appeared an unsigned article headed "Port Royal". The author reported on his recent visit to Port Royal and while he commented favourably on its healthy atmosphere, thanks to the constant sea breezes, he could not help asking:
... "how do the people live? — When ships are in all is astir and a livelihood easily gained. Beyond the permanent residents, such as the naval and military authorities, the townspeople, but with few exceptions, are composed of the lower order. It is known that there is scarcely any employment beyond that given at the Dockyard, and then nearly all the seamen on board the guard-ship, the Aboukir, do duty in the Yard, so that the people have few opportunities of gaining a decent livelihood — thus they are poor, ill-fed and badly clothed. The town, therefore, with such a community represents a miserable appearance. The houses are not only shabby, but in wretched order, made more for sunny days than rainy ones."

It is no wonder, then, that families such as the Smedmores and the Browns would leave Port Royal for residence in Kingston. William Smedmore would have been ready to retire. He was not a well man, being subject to crippling headaches and most likely suffered from high blood pressure. (He died in 1914 at the age of 77 from a cerebral haemorrhage.) The Dock Yard was winding down and would close completely in 1905. Another family connection, George Christopher Baylis, who also worked at the Dock Yard as a writer, in the Victualling Department, had left Port Royal with his family about 1887 and settled in Kingston, though he continued to work at the Dock Yard as a clerk. George Baylis had married Elizabeth McDonald, the elder daughter of Sarah Letitia Brown by her first husband, so the Browns and Baylis were close. The Baylis family was fortunate in that John William Jones who married his grandmother, had left his house in Kingston at 119 Upper King Street to George and his family.

A View of Upper King Street, Kingston

I am not sure when the Browns left Port Royal. All Daniel's children were born there and baptized in the Methodist Church. They must have left some time after the birth of the youngest child, Theresa, in 1874. Daniel died in 1891 at 115 East Street, Kingston, and his death was registered by Sarah, his third daughter, who gave her address as 49 Rose Lane, Kingston. Daniel's widow, Sarah Letitia, died at 49 Rose Lane in 1898 and Bertha, the fourth daughter, was living there in 1901 when she gave birth to an illegitimate child. (She married the father, Percy Esterine, in 1904 from the same residence.)

William Smedmore and his family left Port Royal some time after 1896 when Rodney was born. I rather think that William must have left his employment at the Dock Yard at that time. The family settled at 49 Beeston Street which remained the family home well into the 1950s, long after most middle class families had fled Kingston for the suburbs of St. Andrew. Since William had retired the older boys, Victor, Owen and Norman, had to go out to work to help support the family. Apparently they worked as clerks at D. Henderson & Co. at the corner of King and Harbour Street.

D. Henderson & Co., was a firm of hardware and lumber merchants, founded by David Henderson, a native of Scotland, whose sons, James and Alexander, carried on the business until it was bought out by a group of British capitalists who kept the name. Victor would have worked there until 1915 when he left for England to enlist in the Lifeguards. Norman left Jamaica in 1918 for New York City where he lived until his death in 1953. Owen worked at Henderson & Co. until he retired.

Looking back, it seems to me that there would have been all sorts of considerations for the move from Port Royal besides the matter of employment. There was the matter of schooling for the children, and Kingston would have offered more opportunities for that.

My mother would have been very young when she left Port Royal so her memories of it are cloudy. Apart from mentioning that she had been born there she had very little to say about it. Port Royal settled into a quiet little fishing village with a historical past which is today a tourist attraction for those who would venture out to see it.It rates a couple of pages in the Rough Guide to Jamaica. If you would like to know more about its history then take a look at the excellent article written by Dr. Rebecca Tortello in the Gleaner series "Pieces of the Past"

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Port Royal Families -- The Browns

William Dey Smedmore, my grandfather, married Amanda Brown in the Kingston Parish Church on December 6, 1882. The groom gave his age as forty-four, and the bride gave hers as twenty-one. (My mother always said that her mother was eighteen when she got married to a man old enough to be her father.) My grandfather gave his father's name as William Dey Smedmore, deceased, and my grandmother's father's name was given as Daniel D. Brown, or so it appears on the marriage record.

Of course, this marriage record is something I discovered later, after I had begun serious research into the family. Before this I asked questions of the family, and in fact, it was my uncle, Rodney Smedmore, who told me that Amanda's father's name was Daniel Elias Brown and that he had married a Mrs. Williamson. Well, he had Daniel`s name right, but Daniel didn't marry a Miss or Mrs. Williamson, as I later discovered. In fact all that I knew at that time about the Browns was that my grandmother, Amanda, had three sisters named Susan, Bertha and Theresa. Susan had married John Cassis and my mother kept in touch with their son, also named John who lived with his wife, Fanny, in Toronto. There was also another son named Cromwell Cassis, but I knew very little about him. My great-aunt Bertha had married Percy Esterine and they lived in New York, and each Christmas Aunt Bertha would send us a lovely box of Whitman's Sampler chocolates. As for Theresa, she was the only one, beside my grandmother, that I actually knew as she lived with my family for a while, and I called her Aunt Tess. Everything else I found out about the family was through my research, using the records which had been microfilmed in Jamaica by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormons.

It was through these records that I discovered that Daniel Elias Brown was born in Kingston, in 1827, to Edward and Sarah Brown. His baptismal record says that he was coloured and born at King Street, Kingston, 25 February 1827, and baptized May 3 of that year.
This is a photo of King Street taken by the French photographer, Adolphe Duperly.

Daniel had siblings, a sister, Susan Saunders Brown (more of her later) and another sister, Eliza, and a brother, Jonas. Interestingly enough, Daniel gave his eldest child, Susan, the middle name Saunders, so it may have been his mother's maiden name ... something I haven't so far been able to confirm.

Daniel went to Port Royal at some point where he was employed in the dockyard as a shipwright, and where he married in 1858 Sarah Letitia McDonald, formerly Huggins. Sarah was a widow. Her first husband had been a shoemaker named Donald McDonald, by whom she had two daughters, Elizabeth Huggins McDonald and Mary Noel McDonald. I have followed the family of Elizabeth McDonald, but know nothing more about Mary. I do, however, know something of the life of Sarah Letitia Huggins.

Sarah`s father was one James Vashon Huggins, born in 1803 in Port Royal, the illegitimate son of a Lieutenant Huggins and Sarah Vashon, who was born about 1775. I have not so far found her baptismal record. I do know that she was a free quadroon woman and had another son for one Leonard Procter of His Majesty`s Navy. This child, Robert Vashon Mitchell Procter, was baptized in Port Royal in 1798. According to the 1824 Almanac for Port Royal, Sarah Vashon owned four slaves, so was probably fairly well off. It is noted in the Manumission of Slaves for 1822 that she freed one of them, a Susannah Smith.

The Port Royal Copy Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials is missing many records. I did find a marriage for James Vashon Huggins to a Mary Goldson in 1830, by which there were two children, Elizabeth, born in 1831, and Sarah Letitia, born in 1832. Sarah married Donald McDonald in 1851. Their eldest child was born about 1852, and their other daugher, Mary, was born in 1854. Donald must have died before 1858 (though I have not found a burial record for him) as Sarah Letitia was married as a widow that year to Daniel. Although both Daniel and Sarah had been baptized in the Church of England they were married in Port Royal in the Methodist faith, and their children were all baptized in the Methodist church. It was not until I was able to hire a researcher in Jamaica to find the records (which were in the Archives at Spanish Town) that I was able to flesh out the Brown family ... but more of that in another post.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor