Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Of Witches and Slaves, Lovers and Ghosts

Monday 16 February 2015 and we are starting out on the only paid excursion of the week, a trip to two of Jamaica's slave plantation great houses. After an album of Bob Marley and the Wailers on the coach sound system, we arrive at Rose Hall Great House.

Whilst our guide is sorting out our entry we have a quick look at the flora. There's a lot of it about...

This is where your palm oil comes from. Palm oil from the right makes you go and palm oil from the left...

The pond on the front lawn of the house is fed from above and behind the house via a series of cascades. Our guide turns up with our tickets and leads us off towards the house.

The house has been nicely restored - at one point it had got to be a bit of a mess... We will come out of the archway at the top of the stairs but for now we climb up the side and into the entrance on what seems to be the first floor - due to the slope of the hill it is actually the ground floor at the back of the house.

Rose Hall was owned by John Palmer, who took as his wife the diminutive Annie Patterson, an Anglo-Irish girl who had been orphaned in Haiti and brought up by her Voodoo priestess nanny. Well-versed in Voodoo, she became known as the cruel and sadistic White Witch of Rose Hall.

Tiring of her husband, she took to taking slaves as lovers, murdering them after three months or so and then moving onto another. Perhaps her husband caught her out, or perhaps the murders were becoming easier to her, for he suffered their fate, being poisoned by arsenic.

Another two wealthy husbands suffered the same fate, one being stabbed and the other strangled. She had them quickly buried on the estate in unmarked graves by gangs of slaves, who were themselves waylaid and killed on their way back from the burials to prevent them ever giving evidence as to where the graves were. Thus she hid her crimes from the authorities. In the hot climate it was natural for corpses to be buried quickly.

Each husband was murdered in a different room from this upper floor landing. Perhaps she didn't want their ghosts to warn their successors what was in store...!

Her current slave lover, a Voodoo priest called Takoo, learned that she wanted to marry another wealthy husband - one that was courting Takoo's granddaughter. He recognised that Annie had cursed her with a Voodoo spell and once the girl had withered and died, he took his revenge.

He killed Annie as she lay in this very bed. It has been claimed that several photos have shown her ghostly form, lying on it. She must have gone out this day though...

The slaves had the unenviable job of carrying the chamber pots away to empty them well away from the house. Bad enough in any climate but in a hot one, the task of carrying someone else's daily toilet contents would not be pleasant. And it had to be carried a long away from the house before being buried so that Annie did not have to suffer the smell on hot days. Annie had a strict, indeed a sadistic, manner towards her slaves. Slave children were trained from the age of six to carry water in a bucket weighing 10lbs when empty. If they spilt any they were whipped. By the age of ten they were strong enough to work on the plantation.

From this balcony vantage point Annie would issue her orders for each day and watch the slaves being punished - this being her form of entertainment. She had dungeons created in the cellars of the house where slaves were taken for more elaborate torture than mere whipping. She was not what you might call anyone's favourite auntie...

From the rear of the house a narrow series of steps leads into the ground and to the cellars and dungeons of the house. The dungeons are now toilets - well I suppose they were before as well, but you don't have to live in them any more...

From this room we entered another room where there was a bar and a cheerful old lad playing guitar and singing a medley of calypso tunes, about three quarters of which rang bells or sounded familiar. We had a drink and exited through the archway at the front of the house that we saw earlier.

We were led around the house to this tomb, the tomb of the murdered Annie. A voodoo ceremony was held over it at her burial, intended to trap her spirit within the tomb. Perhaps the Voodoo priest Takoo was distracted at having murdered his mistress and lover. The ceremony was not wholly successful as the ghost of the White Witch of Rose Hall has been seen floating round the house, lying in her bed and riding wildly on a galloping horse in the grounds...

We took our leave of Rose Hall Great House and headed off in the coach towards the second of the two plantation houses we were to see. A few Bob Marley songs later we arrive at a small tourist market. I saw a bright blue, yellow and red shirt (subtle it wasn't!) but she didn't have my size.

"You can try it on in there" she said hopefully, pointing into the two-foot recess of her hut.

I wagged my finger in front of her face. "No peeking!" I said, which elicited a huge cackle of laughter and made a show of trying the shirt on without attempting to button it, which would have required the intervention of one of Annie's Voodoo spells... I bought it anyway for $15, she was a nice old lady and was obviously very grateful at making a sale.

Next - we have an appointment at the Jamaican home of the Barretts of Wimpole Street.

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