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Stabroek News

Scotsman searches for Treasure Beach descendant link
published: Monday | March 31, 2008

Earl Moxam, Senior Gleaner Writer


Dr James Cant, Scottish historian, says descedants are in Treasure Beach. - Contributed

Generations of Jamaicans have looked at the fair skinned people of south St Elizabeth with a mixture of curiosity at their distinctive appearance in a predominantly dark-skinned population and mild derision at their brand of Jamaican dialect and accent.

Now, these same features, as well as the telltale surnames, have caught the attention of one historian in far-away Scotland who believes he might have some answers to the puzzle.

James Cant of Dunblane in Scotland is pursuing the theory that a sizeable number of residents in Treasure Beach and adjoining communities are direct descendants of Scottish settlers.

He is intrigued by the established names in Treasure Beach: Strachan, Reynolds, Blair, Campbell, et al.

"It's almost like a microcosm that has been frozen in history," he describes it. "Whereas Scotland has had lots of subsequent immigration that obviously hasn't touched the Treasure Beach area and in many ways the people of Treasure Beach are probably more Scottish than the Scots in Scotland are today!"

A crucial period in this search is the 1830s, when, it is believed, a Scottish ship sank close to Treasure Beach.

Marrying Jamaican women

Cant, piecing together what might have happened from oral history, speculates: "The Scottish sailors - perhaps understandably - decided that settling in this area and marrying beautiful Jamaican women was preferable ... . So they stayed, they settled and they married - thus giving so many of the people of Treasure Beach their distinctive features."

One of the cannons recovered from the vicinity in which the ship is believed to have gone down is now prominently displayed at Jake's hotel, near Calabash Bay, in Treasure Beach. It is of a type identified by UK experts as produced in Falkirk in Scotland during the period.

According to Cant, the model has been dated and research is now under way to try to identify the ship in question through historical records.

Lifelong search

Sally Henzel (née Densham) of the Henzell family, who operates Jake's, has been on a lifelong search for answers to the puzzling questions surrounding the origins of the people of south St Elizabeth.

Like many others, she, as a young girl, was first told about a possible German connection, but then she heard about a Scottish shipwreck from the 'old-timers' in the community, which seemed more credible, "given the Scottish surnames in the community". Then the cannon was discovered; now comes news of this intensified search for a definitive answer from history.

"I think this is absolutely fascinating, making this connection through time," she told The Gleaner.

The romance of the shipwreck story is one that is hard to ignore, particularly because of the heavy concentration of apparent Scottish descendants in one location.

"I've contacted the National Archive for Scotland to see if the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk kept records of the cannons they sold so that we could try to identify the purchaser and through it the ship in question," Cant explained.

Film project


A cannon at Jake's in Treasure Beach, recovered from the sea outside Calabash Bay, is thought to have been on-board a Scottish vessel that sank in the 1830s. - FIle

Now, the determined Scotsman is mobilising to start working on a film project in which he hopes to piece together these links between the once sleepy fishing village and his homeland.

"Dialect, in particular, will be fascinating to look at and I expect that much of the dialect in Treasure Beach will be linked back to the kind of Lowland Scots' dialect that was spoken in Scotland two hundred years ago."

Conversations this reporter had with ordinary Scots in Edinburgh recently bore out the links in dialect. The use of expressions such as 'Aye' (yes) and 'Yu Nuh' (you know) are still very much part of their everyday conversation as is the case in the Treasure Beach area.

While the people of Treasure Beach might be linked to Scotland through the 1830s shipwreck, Cant believes some other Scottish settlers may have arrived on Jamaica's southwest coast as early as the 1690s, abandoning a failed Scottish attempt at empire building in Panama, known as the Darien Scheme.

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