Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Legends of St Ann

Published:Thursday | June 16, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Lance Neita, GUEST COLUMNIST

IT WASN'T easy for his friends and colleagues to persuade Lawyer Noel George Thompson of Brown's Town to 'retire'. After all, he had a thriving practice, a devoted clientele, a record of distinguished service to his profession, and a long list of accomplishments that made him one of the most respected lawyers in the country.

Eventually, they used the age card - Lawyer Thompson was 96 years old. His career spanned an incredible 70 years and three generations, and his record of service is probably a world record for longevity as an active legal luminary.

He was an incredible man with a quickness of mind, a sense of humour and a spirit of selflessness that even in his later years made him stand out as the lawyer of choice for hundreds of the rank and file, as well as the rich and famous who had to climb those steep steps to his office. He himself mounted those steps every day, displaying agility well beyond his years. He died at 100 and was laid to rest at a thanksgiving service held on Saturday, June 11 at the St Mark's Anglican Church in Brown's Town.

Brown's Town has produced a long line of distinguished persons such as Lawyer Thompson, whose stories largely go unheralded in the accounts of great Jamaicans who have added lustre to our history.

There was another gentleman, an adopted son of St Ann and a stalwart of an earlier generation, whose contributions and achievements read almost like a mythical story from some legendary past.

James Johnston

I refer to Dr James Johnston, a Scotsman who made his home in Brown's Town when he came to Jamaica in 1874, and who founded the Jamaica Evangelistic Mission as a breakaway movement from the established Baptist Mission in St Ann in 1876, 135 years ago.

I was introduced to Dr John-ston's story through the pages of the evangelistic mission's souvenir magazine published on its 127th anniversary in 2003. Johnston was a popular, vibrant preacher who introduced Moody and Sankey hymn tunes into the worship and would sometimes burst into vigorous singing while preaching.

He was known to break up fights and dances in Cave Valley and Sturge Town by wading into the middle and preaching the gospel on spot to the combatants. Men were saved and God was glorified.

But it may have been this same boldness, courage and strong personality which led to his 'breakaway' in 1876 to found the Evangelistic Mission and the great Tabernacle churches which now exist across Jamaica. Time heals wounds and the two churches eventually reconciled.

Dr Johnston and his wife were legendary figures of mercy for thousands. He worked from his surgery (the Tabernacle church of today) in Brown's Town and travelled religiously on Tuesdays and Fridays by buggy to his Aenon Town and St D'Acre clinics.

Peculiar doctor

Along the way, he would stop and write prescriptions for the patients who came out to meet him. His wife followed in her buggy, and she would stop to mix the medicine according to her husband's prescription. He had a peculiar way to identify ailment and dosage: Mist 1 was for anaemia, Mist 30 for indigestion, Mist 17 for womb disorder, and so on. Medicine was dispensed in pint bottles, the usual dose being one tablespoon three times daily in a little water.

In those days, a purge was felt necessary before treatment - a large dose of calomel at night and a tablespoon of salt physic the next morning.

When he died in November 1921, the church bells across St Ann tolled and people mourned in the streets. His body was taken from Brown's Town to St D'Acre in his Chalmers steam motor car, and thousands followed the vehicle, walking the 14 miles. When they reached St D'Acre, it is said not a blade of grass could be seen, the crowd was so thick.

He was one of the first to promote tourism in Jamaica. A collection of his Jamaica photographs were presented to Queen Victoria. He published a book in 1903, Jamaica: The New Riviera.

He was preacher, physician, musician, writer, photographer, builder, and adviser to half the population - an adopted son of St Ann, with abundant skills and multiple talents.

Comments to columns@gleaner.jm or lanceneita@hotmail.com.