Dipping in the healing stream: What happened to all the hot springs?

Blue Hole Mineral Spring in Westmoreland. (Photo courtesy of  www.jujutours.com)

Some older Jamaicans regard Milk River in Clarendon and Bath in St. Thomas with special reverence. My parents certainly did. They spoke in hushed tones of the mysterious effects the water in each location has on the human body, how it relieves aches and pains, eases the effects of rheumatism and rejuvenates the body. They spoke of how special their own trip to Milk River was.

So it was with high expectations my wife and I, as part of our honeymoon excursions through parts of the island, went to Milk River back in 1989. How disappointed we were. We expected much better facilities. I mistakenly believed we would wade in an actual stream surrounded by nature. But more terrifyingly, while we were in one of the indoor baths, a crab decided to join us, scaring my wife.

But people, both local and from overseas, swear by the medicinal effects of the waters from these hot springs. Facilities out at Rockfort in Kingston were improved to allow for more commodious bathing, joining Milk River and Bath as the three main mineral springs in the country.

I was surprised, while searching through various sources on Jamaica’s cultural history that there are actually quite a number of hot springs in the country that were frequented by residents, way back in the past.

“There are many mineral springs in Jamaica, most of them possessing valuable qualities for the cure of various diseases and infirmities of the body,” the 1900 edition of the Handbook of Jamaica recounts. After mentioning “the hot sulphurous spring at Bath” and “the warm salt spring at Milk River,” the Handbook spoke of “the Spa Spring, or Jamaica Spa…at Silver Hill in St. Andrew”; “St. Faith in the district of St. John”; “a remarkable spring at Moffat, on the White River, a tributary of the Negro River in the Blue Mountain Valley”; and “the spring at Windsor, near St. Ann’s Bay.”

In addition, there were the “wann springs at Garbrand Hall on the east branch of the Morant River and on the Adam’s River, near the Blue Mountain Ridge in the parish of St. Thomas, and on the Guava River in Portland”; one “near the source of the Cabaritta River in Hanover”; “the well known spring at New Brighton, in St. Catherine”; “a mineral spring…on the sea edge at Manatee Bay, also in St. Catherine, and one at Rock Fort in the parish of Kingston.”

Also, “another possessing some qualities of importance is to be found at Golden Vale in Portland; and there are salt springs near the Ferry on the Kingston and Spanish Town road, and at Salt River in Vere; and in many other localities salt-water springs are found and some impregnated with soda or other alkalies.”

I’d be interested to learn from readers of personal knowledge or experiences of these less well known mineral springs in the country. Surely, persons who live in or who are from these parts must know something of these springs.

We learned some details about a number of the hot springs. “The spring at Bath in the parish of St. Thomas has a temperature at the fountain head of 126° to 128° F., but the water loses about 9 degrees of heat in its transit to the bath.” The waters “are not purgative and are beneficial in gout, rheumatism, gravelly complaints, cutaneous affections and fevers.”

In the late 19th century, the waters at Bath were analyzed and discovered to contain high concentrations of chloride of sodium as well as silica, chloride of potassium, sulphate of calcium, sulphate of soda and carbonate of soda. Some good reader would, hopefully, point out the medicinal significance of these.

With regard to Milk River:

The bath at Milk River in the district of Vere is one of the most remarkable in the world. It is a warm, saline, purgative bath; the temperature is 92° F. It is particularly efficacious in the cure of gout, rheumatism, paralysis and neuralgia; also in cases of disordered liver and spleen. Some wonderful results are on record, and it is believed that if the beneficial effects of these waters were more generally known in Europe and America a large number of sufferers would be attracted to them. The buildings are extensive; and comfortable accommodation at a moderate charge can now be obtained by visitors.

The Spa Spring at Silver Hall seemed to have fallen into disuse pretty early. It “was formerly maintained as a Government Institution and extensive buildings once existed there, but they have long since gone to decay and the spring is neglected.” This despite the notion that the “waters are chalybeate, aerated, cold, tonic; beneficial in most cases of debility, particularly after fever, dropsy and stomach complaints.”

We read that the spring at Windsor in St. Ann “was once brought into considerable prominence in consequence of some remarkable cures effected by its use. People from all parts of the island visited it and the water was carried away to great distances. It is still a favourite among the peasantry, and it is said to possess wonderful powers in healing ulcers, etc.” I grew up in St. Ann and I cannot recall ever hearing of a mineral spring in the parish.

One wonders what has happened to these other hot springs. If there are so many mineral springs in Jamaica, why hasn’t the country made more use of them as visitor attractions?

Cricket, lovely cricket

Mount Plenty horses grazing
As children we played cricket on the old Polo Ground on the Mount Plenty property in St. Ann. (Photo courtesy of Corey Enger, www.panoramio.com).

I kid you not. The best catch I believed I saw in cricket before the acrobatics of Gus Logie and Roger Harper playing for the West Indies in the 1980s was by Hopeton McCrae.

No one, of course, knew who Hopeton McCrae was, except the few of us who gathered on the old polo ground of the Mount Plenty property to play cricket on lazy Sunday afternoons in the early to mid 1970s. Hopeton, like me, was not much of a cricketer. He fancied himself as a tear-away fast bowler but we knew there was a great deal of chucking in his action. He was what we called a flinger, and a wayward one at that. And, while he was the fastest bowler our poor little team had, he was certainly no Michael Holding. And he was completely useless with the bat.

But on one of those lazy Sundays, he took a blinder of a catch. One of our better batsmen, Vin (may his soul rest in peace),  straight drove a ball long and high over the head of the bowler and stood his ground, refusing to run, as he was sure it was going over the boundary  for a six. Hopeton, who was fielding somewhere along deep mid wicket, near the boundary, took off on a barefooted sprint.

The batsman, Vin, began to remonstrate that no way would Hopeton catch the ball and he and the fielders close to the bat got into an argument over it. What was worse, dusk had started to fall, and the red ball was a mere blur in the air. But my eyes were on Hopeton. He sprinted along the boundary line, looked up at the ball, looked down to see that his bare feet were not hitting any stones, increased his speed, looked up at the ball, looked down to see he was on the right path, doing so repeatedly, while Vin and Lester and Moody and the rest argued.

Then everybody’s breath stopped for a split second before we all went crazy. After sprinting from anywhere between 50 and 60 meters, with the ball sky high in the darkening hue and heading over the boundary, Hopeton, reaching the ball just when it was about to fall to the ground, juggled it from right hand to left hand to right hand again, all while still in full flight, and held the catch. Stunning.

Deadly Patterson
Back in 1988, Patrick Patterson bowled the fastest ball ever clocked in cricket

Another cricketing image got stuck in my mind – the fastest ball I’ve seen with my naked eye bowled in a cricket match. Patrick Patterson was tearing in from the George Headley Stand end at Sabina Park in a regional match between Jamaica and the Windward Islands. This particular delivery, short of a length, reared viciously up at the batsman who, in taking defensive and evasive action lifted his glove, with the bat hanging, to shield his face. The ball hit either the glove or the shoulder of the bat, flew over the keeper’s head and went for six. But it took us several long seconds to know exactly what happened. Those of us in the stands stood confused, trying to see where the ball went, and wondered why Patterson was walking back to his mark nonchalantly and why all the fielders were looking toward the fine leg boundary. What had occurred only became clear to us when the umpire signaled six suns.

Not so long ago, I heard a fellow commentator asked Jeffrey Dujon to name the fastest of all the top quality pace bowlers he kept wicket to during the golden era of West Indies cricket. Without much hesitation, he responded, “Patrick Patterson. He hit the gloves hard, even while I was standing far back from the stumps.” I immediately remembered that hellish of a ball to the poor Windward Islands batsman, who got away lucky in more ways than one.

No wonder former England captain Graham Gooch stood in terror in front of Patterson, as Mike Spivey wrote on Cricinfo:

It is the stock question for international batsmen. Who is the quickest and nastiest? Graham Gooch did not mind the pace, but he says the only time he has been in fear of his wellbeing was at Sabina Park in February 1986 when, on a grassy pitch, Test debutant Patrick “Patto” Patterson hurtled his inelegant bow-legged way up the hill, thrust his leading leg high, studs at the batsman, stamped down hard enough to measure on the Richter Scale, and bowl[ed] like the devil in front of his home crowd.

Others attested to the deadliness of Patterson while reminiscing on his debut test match. In a match where Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Holding were bowlers – all fiery fast men themselves – Holding said, “Patrick Patterson [was] bowling very quick in that Test, in fact, the fastest by some way of all the quickies.”

Dujon elaborated, “Patrick Patterson is unquestionably the fastest bowler I ever kept wicket to…. What stands out most was the degree to which he was able to get the ball to leave the bat at such pace. This was something I had never seen before – hooping outswingers at well near 100mph!”

Roger Harper, one of the West Indian fielders, said because of how fast Patterson bowled, they had to field deep, far away from the batting crease. “We were so deep, so far back, that we could almost spit over the boundary behind us. I think that he terrified the daylights out of the Englishmen on that pitch.”

Alan Lamb, one of the English batsmen, gave a similar account to what I saw at Sabina Park in that regional match. “Patterson was frightening that day…. There was a ball Patterson bowled to me that jumped from a length, hit the shoulder of my bat and went for six.”

Jackie Hendricks, who was the manager of that West Indies test team, declared, “Patterson’s bowling was possibly the fastest I’ve seen a Windies bowler since Roy Gilchrist and Wes Hall in their young days, although it was difficult to tell without speed guns.”

Colin Benjamin, from whom the above quotes came in an article on Cricinfo, stated, “A young Patterson took seven wickets in one of the quickest and deadliest displays of fast bowling in Test history.” He recalled a cricket writer, The Times’ John Woodcock, saying he “never felt it more likely that I would see someone killed on the pitch.”

Yes, Patrick Patterson was deadly.

A history of Jamaica cricket
West Indies 1900 TeamCricket is in our DNA as Jamaicans, which is why we mourn and suffer and weep over the present parlous state of West Indies cricket (despite the recent successes in T20 cricket). Much of this love came out of playing the game in backyards, school grounds and on village and community fields such as the old polo ground at Mount Plenty. “Curry goat cricket” was a staple on Easter Monday, Independence Day and Boxing Day.

Because of my interest and love for the game, I became curious about the earliest records of cricket being played in Jamaica. One can guess that the British colonizers in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean played the game in the respective territories, but when and where did it catch on among black and other Jamaicans? Sadly, there isn’t much of a record and I would happily learn of any such from readers.

All sources, however, suggest that cricket took off in a big way in Jamaica in the 1890s. The book, Jamaica in 1896, said “there are cricket clubs in Kingston, Mandeville, Spanish Town and other towns” and the Handbook of Jamaica reported that in March 1895 “a team of English Cricketers captained by Mr. B. S.  Lucas played a series of matches against local Clubs.”

Schoolboy cricket was being played, at least by the 1890s, as “cricket and other outdoor exercises receive careful attention” at the “Beckford and Smith’s Graded Middle Class School, Spanish Town” (St. Jago High School).

It appears that if not before then, cricket was now being appreciated by ordinary Jamaicans toward the end of the 19th century, and not just by “gentlemen” who were members of the various clubs. Beckford and Smith’s (St. Jago High School) included students of the poorer classes: “Peter Beckford, Esq., of Spanish Town, bequeathed by his will, dated 1735, the sum of £1,000 ‘to be apply’d (sic) towards the building a free school or hospital for the poor, if any person should joyn (sic) in such an undertaking.’”

The following long excerpt from the 1909 edition of the Handbook of Jamaica, gave an account of the development of cricket in Jamaica and the West Indies up to that point:

This fine old English game is exceedingly popular in Jamaica and Cricket Clubs exist in nearly all the parishes in the island. The game has made vast strides in recent years, and received a great impetus by the visits of the English Cricketers in 1895 and 1897. The best known Clubs are the Kingston, Garrison, Kensington, Melbourne, and Lucas Clubs in Kingston, Phoenix and Georgia Clubs in Trelawny, the St. Jago Club in St. Catherine, the Blake Club in St. James, the St. Elizabeth Club, the Manchester Club, the St. Ann’s Club, the Middlesex Club in St. Mary, and the Surrey Club in Portland. There are in Kingston, besides those mentioned above, several Clubs formed amongst the more juvenile members of the community.

Jamaica contributed 7 men to the team of West Indian Cricketers which played a series of matches in the United States and Canada in 1886. Thirteen matches were played, of which the W. I. Cricketers won 6 and lost 5, and 2 were drawn.

In January 1888, a team of Cricketers from the United States visited Jamaica, as a part of a tour through the West Indies. They played matches against the Kingston C. C, the St. Elisabeth C. C, the Portland C. C. and the Officers of the Garrison. They were successful in all these matches except in that against the Kingston C. C. in which they were defeated.

During 1891 a team from the Garrison Club, Barbados, visited the island and played five matches against the Kingston and Garrison Clubs and against a team selected from all Jamaica. The visitors, who had amongst them several well-known Cricketers, won two and lost two matches against the Clubs and were beaten by the island team.

In 1895 a team of English Cricketers, Captained by Mr. B. S. Lucas visited the West Indies, and played 5 matches in Jamaica of which they won four. The visitors received a most hearty welcome and were entertained while in the Island at the expense of a fund raised by public subscription.

In September, 1896, Jamaica first took part in Intercolonial Cricket, sending a team of Cricketers to play at Demerera and Barbados. Of the four matches played three were lost, and one resulted in victory.

Another team of cricketers from England visited the Island in March, 1897, under the captaincy of Mr. A. Priestley, and were successful in all their matches. The team included Messrs. A. E. Stoddart, S. M. J. Woods and B. C. N. Palairet.

In 1900 a team of cricketers from the West Indies (including two representatives from Jamaica) made a first visit to England, under the auspices of the W.I. Club. The results of their tour were very successful and will do much for the good of cricket in the W. I.

In 1902 another team of English Cricketers under the Captaincy of Mr. B. A. Bennett visited the Island. Although the team was easily successful in all its marches, the effects of these visits is sure to be of great benefit to local play.

A Challenge Cup Competition has recently been established in Island Cricket, and promises to tend to the further improvement of the game The Kingston C.C. are the holders of the Cup for 1902.

The Kingston Cricket Club is the leading Club in the Island, having been in existence for many years, and is now one of the established institutions of the city. It has a large membership which is annually increasing. Honorary members pay a subscription of £1 1s. a year and playing members £2 8s. a year with an entrance fee of 21s. Country members pay a yearly subscription of 6s. The election to membership is in the hands of the Committee. The ground, on which a handsome pavilion has been erected, is situated a short distance out of town, at Sabina Park, on the road leading from the Windward Road opposite Park Lodge, to the south-eastern entrance to Up-Park Camp. A practising net is up on every week day. A well-organised system of club prizes exists, for the reward of those who have excelled in each year in the various departments of the game.

Caves and sinkholes – havens of freedom and deathtraps

Entrance to the famous Green Grotto Caves in St. Ann

Caves play important roles in Jamaica’s history of liberation. Enslaved persons hid in caves to escape slavery and find passage to freedom. Among the more famous of these are the Green Grotto Caves in St. Ann, also known as Runaway Caves, a common attraction for visitors to the country.

About two decades ago, I visited a cave near Duncans Bay in Trelawny where it is believed enslaved persons hid William Knibb, the British Baptist missionary. This was during the bloodthirsty vengeance by white planters in the wake of the Sam Sharpe Rebellion, referred to by some as The Baptist War, which occurred from December 1831 to May 1832. Knibb, it is alleged, was moved from location to location in secret, and this was one.

Baptists, including the missionaries, were implicated in the widespread disturbances and thus hundreds of Baptist churches, mission houses and other properties were destroyed. More than 500 enslaved persons, including Sam Sharpe, a Baptist leader, were executed.

There was a water well in the cave in Duncans Bay, as well as what looked like one or two altars. There were what could have been tombs. This suggested the cave was more than just a hideaway location. I could not help being incensed when I learned that, a few years before my visit to the cave, some students from a university in Florida in the United States had been to the cave, dug up human remains, and transported them out of the country. Remembering it even now makes me livid. If true, they did it with impunity, without respect or regard for the laws of the country or respect for the country’s heritage. As a Baptist Christian, I was disturbed, for these could possibly be the remains of my forebears in the faith who sacrificed much for that faith as enslaved human beings.

My reaction may be similar to that felt by B. Pullen-Burry in his 1905 book, Ethiopia in Exile: Jamaica Revisited:

It was with feelings of irritation that I learnt not long since, from the curator of the Jamaica Institute, that a famous German professor, Dr. Bastian, of Berlin, had just collected in this island a splendid lot of Indian pottery and implements, in addition to which he had himself discovered in the cave at Newmarket a complete sarcophagus, such as the aborigines used in the disposal of their dead, a nearly V-shaped earthenware jar, perforated at the bottom. In this the professor discovered the complete skeleton of an Indian woman…. [I]t is regrettable that another nation should carry off trophies of scientific interest which, rightly, should have found a place in our national museums.

Jamaica has many caves, but Jamaicans are, apparently, not enamored by them. Having grown up on the Mount Plenty property where my father was the “head man,” (essentially the farm manager), a location on the property I feared most was Cave Hill, so named because a cave was there. Getting me to pass the cave as a young child was a huge struggle, a reason why my father and brothers left me behind whenever they ventured beyond there. I pleaded to go, but dreaded passing the cave. I felt I would fall, pitch over, and roll down the hill into the mouth of the cavern.

The Handbook of Jamaica mentioned this cave that struck such deep fear in me. “There is also a very fine cave at Mount Plenty in St. Ann, which can be traversed for a distance of ten chains; it has two branches and the vaulted chambers are particularly fine. At some distance from the mouth it is illuminated by a sink hole from the top.”

Part of the fear I felt was for this sinkhole noted by the handbook. There were reports of persons entering the cave and failing to return, having, it is assumed, fallen into the sinkhole, lost forever.

The prevalence of caves is not surprising as Jamaica is rich in limestone formations. “Two thirds of the area of Jamaica are covered by cave riddled limestone,” says a Belgian caving enthusiast. “There are more than, 1,000 known caves. Many more waiting to be discovered.”

The Handbook of Jamaica picked up some of the information reported by B. Pullen-Burry:

Many cavern and sink holes of great size and grandeur, the chief of which is the beauty cave at the place called Cave Hall Pen, two miles east of Dry Harbour, near the main road. This cave is of great length and has two branches; the various apartments are designated grottoes, halls, domes and galleries; and the stalactites and stalagmites, formed by the dripping of calcareous water, glittering in the torch light, impart a magical effect to the scene.

In addition:

The Grand Cave at River Head in St. Thomas-in-the-Vale is a very remarkable place. The Rio Cobre, after sinking at Worthy Park, emerges from this cave. It is of great dimensions and in former years was a favorite resort for picnics; it is traversable, with the assistance of a raft to cross some deep water, for a distance of over a quarter of a mile, until the “floodgate” is reached where the water gushes from the rock.

The Handbook reported that “the cave at Mexico in St. Elizabeth is probably the longest in the island; it is nearly a mile from the One Eye Gulf to Mexico Gulf (the mouth of the cave). The One Eye or Black River passes through this cave.” This cave “has been explored for some distance in, but, in consequence of some deep bodies of water obstructing the passage, less is known of it than of the Rio Cobre Cave. A thorough exploration of this cave would be most interesting.”

Also mentioned is the Peru Cave in St. Elizabeth, which “is very beautiful, and the stalactites and stalagmites here show to great effect.”  There is a cave from “which the Mouth River flows in the black grounds of the parish of Trelawny,” as well as another close by cave in Spring Garden in the same parish. “The cave at Portland, in Vere, is very fine and used … to be a great place for picnics.” There is, as well, “a remarkable cave and subterranean river at Epping Forest in the parish of Manchester.”

While the cave at Mexico in St. Elizabeth is probably the longest, the deepest cave is said to be Smokey Hole in Manchester.

A cave that I’m surprised not to see mentioned is Windsor Cave near Sherwood Content in Trelawny, Usain Bolt’s hometown.  I first learned of this cave in 1987 upon spending the summer in Sherwood Content on church assignment. The “Windsor Great Cave is approximately 3 km long and parts of it are still subject to water flows during heavy rains,” notes the cockpitcountry.com website, “so it is still active and being carved out of the limestone hills by water flow.”

The Windsor Cave was of particular interest to naturists and conservationists, perhaps because of its bats. According to cockpitcountry.com, “Windsor Cave is an important roost for bats: a colony of at least 100,000 lives there and is responsible for the slippery ‘mud’ that covers the floor. This bat guano (dung) used to be mined from deep in the cave during the ’30’s but carrying it out on your head is no longer viable! Windsor Research Centre has initiated a research project on these bats.”

It was while living in Falmouth in Trelawny for some 14 years that I learned the value of bat waste. It is much sought after and very expensive, used for agricultural or horticultural purposes. Because of the feeding habits of bats, their waste contains far richer nutrients than most, the likely reason why the “slippery ‘mud’ that covers the floor” at Windsor was being mined in the 1930s.

Dunn’s Hole in Stewart Town, Trelawny.  It is the largest known underground chamber in Jamaica. (photo courtesy of jamaicancaves.org)

There are also some major sinkholes in the country. One of the largest sinkholes is at Tingley’s in St. Ann. “This is a great arena of vertical rocks some three or four chains in diameter and of considerable depth, with large trees growing at the bottom,” the Handbook revealed. There is Hutchinson’s Hole, also in St. Ann, named after the 18th century serial killer, Lewis Hutchinson, a doctor from Scotland, who used the sinkhole to dispose of bodies.

“Many of the sinkholes and caves throughout the island have springs at the bottom, such as … at Hellshire; a sink hole near Fort Clarence opposite Port Royal; a cave near Salt River; one at Swansea in Lluidas Vale, &c.”

Some enthusiasts engage in cave exploration. The Jamaican Caves Organisation declared Jamaican caves as “very special places.” The Belgian enthusiast, mentioned earlier, said “since the caves are within ‘easy’ reach of the airports, Jamaica is ideal for a lightweight expedition.”