Skeletons of martyrs unearthed
Zedekiah Inglington of Dumfries, St Thomas, was only 15 years old when he witnessed the exhumation of the skeletons at the back of the Morant Bay courthouse.
The inquisitive youngster had heard that officials were there digging up a grave and that bones were found. And since he was not about to accept any second-hand information regarding what was found, he presented himself at 16 Church Street, Morant Bay, on site. “ … So when wi come round here, we see de bone dem weh dem dig up,” Inglington, recalled while speaking with The Gleaner behind the fort, at the back of the burnt-out courthouse, recently.
But there was one particular skeleton that caught the eyes of the onlookers, he said. “Everyone was looking at specially at a body (skeleton) that look a mystic way. I don’t know how it come into the eyes of everyone, but dem was claiming that it was Paul Bogle,” Inglington, now 66 years old, related.
Paul Bogle was among the people killed in the Morant Bay uprising, in October 1865.
The authorities killed more than 430 black residents, mainly from Stony Gut. Others were whipped, and imprisoned. But in Britain, Governor John Eyre’s brutal response to the uprising caused much anger and condemnation.
Eyre’s leadership was called into question. In January 1866, a royal commission was sent Jamaica to investigate what happened. Eyre was eventually relieved of his governorship and was tried for the hanging of George William Gordon. He wasn’t convicted, so the killing of the peasants at Morant Bay and the massacre at Stony Gut went unpunished.
In June 1965, 100 years after the uprising, skeletal remains believed to be those of the martyrs were found in trenches at the back of the courthouse. The following is how The Gleaner reported the find on June 3, 1965 under the headline, “Executed revolutionist? – skeletons found in Morant Bay trenches”.
“Fourteen skeletons believed to be the remains of persons executed as a result of the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, have been unearthed in two trenches, three feet deep, at the back of the Old Fort behind the Morant Bay Courthouse. Search is proceeding for 10 others trenches of bodies.
“Conducting the search which has led to the discovery of the bodies is Mr Ray Fremmer, well-known archaeologist of Green Park Estate, Trelawny, who has been working on this project under sponsorship of the National Trust Commission of the Ministry of Development and Welfare.
“A JIS release says discovery of the bodies aroused considerable interest in Morant Bay and the surrounding districts and scores of adults and schoolchildren gathered to see the skeletons.
“Mr Fremmer said his decision to dig in the area behind the courthouse was based on the testimony of John Elisha Grant before the Royal Commission of January 1866 appointed by the then British Government to enquire into the circumstances of the Morant Bay Revolt.
“In his testimony, John Elisha Grant said that on October 15, 1865 he received 25 lashes for looking at Provost Marshall Ramsay, then he was made to dig a trench ‘at the back of the fort’.
“Mr Fremmer said that archaeological evidence of broken China and antique green bottles, reinforced his theory that the area had not been disturbed and that a search would be feasible.
“He has been conducting his search for the past six months and today was the second day of excavation at the back of the fort. Mr Fremmer has engaged six local men who have been working with pickaxes, shovels and machetes and garden forks to unearth the skeletons.
“The archaeologist claims that there were altogether 186 bodies – 179 men and seven women – buried in twelve trenches. He plans to continue his search until all the skeletons have been unearthed.
“Mr Fremmer said that the report of the Royal Commission established beyond doubt, that the bodies of George William Gordon and Paul Bogle were among those buried at the back of the fort and furthermore, that the evidence of John Elisha Grant established the trenches in which they were buried.
“He said that Gordon’s body lay with 18 others which were interred on October 23, 1865, and Bogle’s with 13 others including Moses Bogle, James McLaren and James Bowie, on the following day.
“The reports of Mr Fremmer’s findings were communicated to the Government through the minister of development and welfare, the Hon Edward Seaga.”
The skeletons were removed to Kingston, and eventually returned to Morant Bay where they were reburied. A monument now marks the spot where they were found and reinterred. No more remains have been unearthed since then.