PICTURE PERFECT: The Great House at Good Hope Plantation sits about 600 feet above sea level overlooking the lush hlls of northwest Jamaica. The fast-flowing Martha Brae River flows through the 2,000-acre estate.
By Bob Downing
The stately Good Hope Plantation offers first-rate sunrises.
That’s because the former sugar estate sits atop the world in hilly northwest Jamaica. It rises above the surrounding Queen of Spain Valley and the fast-flowing Martha Brae River and beyond to the Cockpit Mountains with their heavy greenery.
From an elevation of 600 feet, there are sweeping views of distant hilltops with little sign of development. The air smells sweet with flowers and fruits including oranges, papaya, bananas, coconuts, ackee and breadfruit.
It was once the home of a Jamaican planter who was one of the wealthiest men in the Americas. Today the 2,000-acre estate offers tours of the Great House and outdoor activities.
The Good Hope Plantation, about eight miles south of Falmouth, was started in 1744, after Col. Thomas Williams got a land grant of 1,000 acres. He built a house that was later demolished and started a sugar factory by the river.
He was the grandson of one of the first settlers in Jamaica after the English took it away from Spain in 1655.
The 10-room Great House, now a museum, was built in 1755 as the dream house for his young wife, Elizabeth Baker Williams. She died of malaria seven years later at the age of 24. She is buried close by, under the first floor of the Georgian-style structure.
The well-preserved Great House features high raftered ceilings and pitch pine and wild orange wood flooring. The wild orange tree is no longer found in Jamaica.
The house was seemingly built from a variety of materials, with Spanish wall construction, foundations of faced stone, and one wing built of brick.
It provides spacious and airy rooms that are today filled with period furniture. The house features 14-foot-high palladian windows trimmed with jalousies (for fresh air and to keep rats from the sugar cane fields out) and shutters that could be nailed closed in hurricanes.
Spanish planters’ chairs sit in the front drawing room. Decorative plaster is found throughout the house. It was designed with the first hot water bath in the Caribbean, made of copper.
It is flanked by a two-story coach house. A shaded veranda is in the back. The kitchen is housed in a separate building to reduce fire risks.
An office was built next to the house for business operations. It is known as the Counting House and is now a honeymoon suite.
Some plantation buildings were built on ballast stones from overseas shipping.
Trails run past colourful gardens and plantation ruins. More than 140 flowers and fruit trees grow on the grounds that have been used for two movies and numerous television shows.
This corner of Jamaica was a world trade centre in the late 1700s and early 1800s with sugar plantations, rum-making and shipping.
The Parish of Trelawny had nearly 100 sugar plantations in the early 1800s. Jamaica had about 600 sugar plantations and 200,000 slaves at its peak.
Falmouth was once hailed as the Paris of the Indies and was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Western world. In fact, Falmouth got running water before New York City. Fine furniture and logwood were shipped from its piers.
In 1767, Great Hope was sold to merchant and planter John Tharp (1744-1804), who became a major Jamaica landowner and sugar trader. He acquired more than 9,000 acres around Good Hope and owned more than 3,000 slaves.
He was the Euro-Creole son of a prosperous planter in the Parish of Hanover. His parents died before he was 2 years old and he was raised by uncles. He was educated in England at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, then returned to Jamaica.
In 1766, he married Elizabeth Partridge. The following year, he purchased Good Hope for 74,000 pounds.
Tharp’s operation was one of the largest on the island, with a sugar factory, Carriage House, Coach House, boiling house, kiln and other buildings. He built elaborate aqueducts to power water wheels in the sugar factories.
In 1805, Good Hope produced 2,500 hogsheads (about 1,550 pounds each) of sugar that were sold for 78,000 pounds, according to records.
Good Hope had its own church, a 300-bed hospital and a free school where the slaves who showed promise were taught to read and write.
Tharp’s plantation was a social centre on the island, and he played a military role in Jamaica.
He bought neighbouring estates: Covey, Lansquinet, Merrywood, Pantrepant, Potosi, Top Hill, Wales, Windsor, Bunkers Hill, Unity and Dean’s Valley.
He was, by most accounts, good to his slaves, although his will specified that the number of slaves should never drop below 2,800 because is how many he felt were necessary to staff his plantations. But they prospered even after slavery was abolished in 1833.
He imported china with the face of a slave surrounded by sheaves of sugar cane. He also shipped live turtles from Jamaica to friends and family in England.
He died in 1804 and was buried on the estate. At that time, he owned virtually all the land along the Martha Brae River from the mountains to the sea.
Tharp had four sons and one daughter. Tharp also had a son with one of his slaves who became his favourite child, although he was mentally handicapped. A major family court fight ensued over Tharp’s estate that was valued at 500,000 pounds.
Good Hope estate changed hands several times but the sugar factory continued operating until 1902.
The estate has, over the years, been a hotel, a dude ranch, a cattle ranch, a citrus farm and a yoga retreat. Today 850 acres of oranges and 150 acres of coconuts are grown at Good Hope.
Outfitter Chukka Caribbean operates an adventure centre with zip lines, river tubing, horse and buggy rides and dune buggy rides. It also offers tours and serves high tea to visitors in the Great House. For more information, contact Chukka Caribbean at 1-877-424-8552 or [email protected]
Tharp also built his own wharf, office and residences in Falmouth. That included Tharp House, now a government office building. The single-story, five-bay building was built in 1790 and is one of the grandest buildings in Falmouth.
It is widely known as one of the Caribbean’s best-preserved Georgian towns. Its historic district is filled with nearly intact British Colonial architecture. For information on walking tours, check with the non-profit Falmouth Heritage Renewal at www.falmouthjamaica.org
Falmouth is home to a $220 million cruise ship dock that opened in 2011.
Other Jamaican estates open to tourists include Rose Hall Great House and Belvedere Estate, both near Montego Bay. — Akron Beacon Journal/TNS
For Jamaica tourist information, go to www.visitjamaica.com
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