Barbara Ellington, Senior Gleaner Writer
Retracing their steps into the past, members of the Heron and Wilson families navigate the high grass and shrubs on their way to visit their accestors' graves. - CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Jamaica is fast becoming the ideal location for family reunions. Today we feature two that took place last month and come this weekend, The Whilbys will gather over 100 members of their clan together at Jamaica Grande Hotel in St. Ann.
THE WEEK of July 21 to 28 was very special in the lives of over 100 descendants of Fanny Heron and husband Alfred Edward Wilson, members of the Heron and Wilson families who were originally from Manchester. The family members who had travelled from as far as Panama, Africa, India, Australia, Canada and the United States, have traced their lineage to the 1700s.
The week-long gathering which saw relatives converging on Mandeville's three main hotels as well as the homes of family, was conceptualised by family member Bev Phillips who resides in Kingston. She told The Gleaner she began the extensive research because, "I was asked by the descendants of Captain Heron's father and uncle Alexander Heron and Robert Heron to include their side in my research and it took me seven months to plan this event," she said.
The family reunion took the Herons and Wilsons to a number of their ancestral properties and homes throughout Manchester. And on Saturday it was to south Manchester's Wigton Windfarm, the largest such facility in the English speaking Caribbean. The property was owned by Alexander Heron in the 1700s. And there is available data on the family links dating back to to that time.
Facilitating the tour of the wind farm and visits to the ruins of the original family home as well as graves on the property were Dr. Raymond Wright, group managing director of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), under whose portfolio the farm falls as well as Wesley McLeod, managing director of Wigton Windfarm.
The group was headed by a descendant of the Heron family; former Opposition Leader, now Distinguished Fellow at the University of the West Indies, Edward Seaga. Joining him were his son, Christopher Seaga; sister, Jean Anderson and niece, Rebecca Tortello-Greenland.
Mr. McLeod welcomed Mr. Seaga to the property and took him on a tour of the wind farm's control centre as well as the rest of the plant.
The week served as a time for many family members who had not visited Jamaica before, to come and learn about their roots and trace their history. The group went on a tour of the farm and retraced their steps across the shrub and shin-deep grass, to the crumbled foundations of the once majestic house.
The view from the ruins built by Alexander Heron, is commanding, encompassing the beach to the south, the vistas of the mountains and a panoramic view from the highest point of farm holdings and pasture lands as well as the outskirts of Mandeville in the distance.
It is quiet except for the whirring of the giant windmills of the turbines that feed the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) 7mw of energy. Away from the hustle of the maddening crowd, one feels safe in the bosom of mother earth at Wigton.
There is a barely discernible trail across a section of the property and this takes the family past the grave of Darcy Herbert Eden Woodburn Heron, born 4th May 1878 and who died in 1945. The crumbling exterior of his wife's grave is next to his. Family legend says she was quite the "woman of loose morals" in her time. The family uses the site of the ruins to seal the moment for posterity with a photograph.
Back across the road, it's a short trek across a sweet potato patch that escaped the ravages of Hurricane Emily, to nine more graves of the Heron clan and quite possibly, some slaves. The grave of Alexander Heron is in remarkable condition. It's inscribed: Alexander Heron Esq. Proprietor of Wigton Plantation, Born 1756 and died 1825. Everyone scrambled to take pictures of all nine graves.
THE AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION
John Heron came all the way from Australia to meet new family members and be a part of this historic reunion. Though not his first visit to Jamaica, the Aussie came back to find his roots. "With my brother, his wife and children and my wife and children and grand children, there are 15 of us in Australia, he told the Gleaner.
John whose grandfather Walter Vivian Heron was the youngest son of Captain Heron, who owned the Manchester community known as Chudleigh as well as property in Walderston, said, "My grandfather went to England in the 1930s. Along with his wife and children, they moved to Australia in 1965 and his father who was Walter Neil Heron, died in 1991 in Australia.
This is a very moving experience for me and it makes a big difference when you know your roots," he said.
The committee that planned the family reunion was chaired by Bev Phillips and included Tony Fisher, Jean Anderson, Dorienne Rowan-Campbell, Valerie Heron McLaren and Diana McIntyre Pike.
Activities included; meet and greet session; a workshop titled Growing the Family Tree; a roots buffet lunch; tours of Mandeville, trips to Little Ochie and Milk River, church service, banquet addressed by genealogist and Jamaican historian Ainsley Henriques; retreat; south coast tour and visits to other family holdings in Chudleigh, Manchester.
After leaving Wigton Wind Farm, the group journeyed to Little Ochie for lunch.
One family member missing from the reunion was noted playwright and actor, David Heron.