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Anthony Gambrill | Jamaica in Britain - The forgettably named Arcedecknes

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM

When my wife and I got married, we were given a dog who I called Cholmondley (pronounced Chumley). The name was one of those peculiar English surnames like, for instance, Featherstonhaugh, which is pronounced Fanshawe. Slavery and sugar have given us Arcedeckne (pronounced 'Archdeacon').

Born in 1681, Andrew Arcedeckne, Irish-born, renounced Catholicism so he could be permitted to train as a lawyer at Gray's Inn in London. By 1716, having completed his studies, he emigrated to Jamaica and practised law, rising to attorney general by 1734. In the same year, he purchased Golden Grove plantation in the east of the island.

Previously, the area was considered too dangerous to be occupied because of the depredation of the Maroons and escaped slaves. To encourage settlement, the government proposed putting in a road from the Plantain Garden River to the Rio Grande. As one of the commissioners appointed to purchase land for this purpose, Andrew Arcedeckne seized the opportunity to make his fortune.

Over the years, Golden Grove and his other property, Bachelor's Pen, prospered. As was the custom, Andrew sent his son, Chaloner, to England for his education. Chaloner returned but left Jamaica permanently on his father's death in 1763. Andrew Arcedeckne had returned to England, dying at the age of 82 and was buried in a fine mausoleum with a memorial on the wall of Hacheston church in Suffolk.

 

NOT WITHOUT COMPLICATIONS

 

His inheritance of Golden Grove was not without its complications, and Chaloner's legitimacy was initially questioned as his father's will also left sums of money to Elizabeth Kearney, his wife, and her sister, Frances Harris, who remained in the island.

From 1765, Simon Taylor, later to own Holland estate, adjacent to Golden Grove on the Plantain Garden River, acted as the attorney for Chaloner's interests, while Elizabeth, who lived in Spanish Town, also shared an interest in the management of Golden Grove.

Andrew Arcedeckne had chosen his purchase well. His plantation comprised nearly 2,000 acres of some of the richest sugar cane-growing land in Jamaica. The Plantain Garden River not only irrigated its alluvial soil, but provided water to drive its estate mill. The heavy seasonal rainfall, aided by the proximity of the Blue Mountains, was a bonus.

Correspondence between Simon Taylor and Chaloner Arcedeckne, today held at Cambridge University, shows that the absentee owner kept in close contact with the affairs of the planter, who now led a comfortable life in England with his inherited wealth. He bought his way into Parliament, sitting as a member until 1786, having never given a speech in the House of Commons in eight years.

He lived at the fashionable Hanover Square in London, and after his father's death, he acquired Glevering Hall estate in Suffolk. He rebuilt the house over three years and raised it to a standard befitting a country gentleman. He was to live in it until he died in 1809.

The marriage produced a son named Andrew after his grandfather. Born in 1780, he was to inherit Golden Grove on his father's death, along with his brother and his sisters. Unfortunately, he was besieged by litigation arising from his father's complex will and suffering declining revenues from Jamaica. When his son, also called Andrew, inherited Golden Grove after the second-named Andrew died unexpectedly of a broken blood vessel in 1849, the fate of the Arcedeckne fortune was predictable. This Andrew was known as the consummate bachelor London clubman, eventually marrying a well-known actress, but leaving no children to continue his great-grandfather's legacy.

The third-generation syndrome saw Golden Grove pass to lessees and later to the Boston Fruit Company before returning to sugar under Jamaica Sugar Estates Ltd.

Over time, Golden Grove was to become known as one of the poorest districts in Jamaica. The forgettably named Arcedeckne clan distanced themselves from Golden Grove, having drained it of the wealth they required to sustain an absentee owner's rich lifestyle.

- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright and historian. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.