Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Spring of death now gives residents long life

Published:Wednesday | July 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Andewale McLaughlin, Staff Reporter

Nestled in the Dry Harbour Mountains in St Ann is a small village whose residents live close to or beyond a hundred years. Ask any of Sturge Town's residents what's their secret to long life and without missing a beat, they will answer 'Marley spring'.

Villagers say the spring was discovered by a runaway slave girl, Marley, who took flight after being badly beaten and left for dead. Stumbling upon the spring, Marley made good use of the water, nursing herself back to health. When she returned to the plantation full of life, to everyone's amazement, she related news of the spring and was given her freedom for the discovery.

The spring was believed to hold magical properties which could heal or prevent several illnesses, and to this day, residents still believe in its nurturing properties.

By the end of the 19th century, the spring was shrouded in controversy, with it being blamed for several deaths as its reputation as the giver of life took a beating, a journey through The Gleaner Archives has revealed.

In the 1890s, the spring - the only source of water in the village and located on private property - was at the centre of a legal battle between the Reverend T.P. Russell and the Government, who was petitioned by the people of the village to take it over, as it "was in a most disgusting condition and was a menace to the public health", The Gleaner's Brown's Town correspondent wrote.

WASHING AT THE SPRING

On June 12, 1896, letter writer A.S. Byles complained that while under private ownership, women washed clothes, and cattle were allowed to drink at the very mouth of the spring which also supplied drinking water to Sturge Town, and several people were continually ill with diarrhoea after drinking the polluted water. He said at times, pieces of soap, dirty linen and even rubbish could be seen where someone had just taken up a bucket of water.

"The place was in such a mess that the smell that arose, from where those poor unfortunate people had to take water, was worse than the worst pigsty I had ever come across," he wrote.

The residents got together a petition, which was also signed by a pastor and the doctor of the district, urging the parochial board to intervene so they could have pure water. The doctor said he had no doubt that the very high death rate among children in the village was due to the impure water. Several adults were also said to have been suffering from abnormal disorders.

Acquiring the spring would prove no easy task. After signing a £10 deal with the property owner, Alexander Bent, to take over the area surrounding the spring, with plans to install a pipe and drain work to protect the water, the Reverend T.P. Russell, acting for two sisters who also claimed to have a stake in the property, mounted a challenge, saying he would not part with such a valuable part of the property unless he had £500 paid to him for it.

Byles, in his letter, continued: "He did not stop there, for on the day of the trial, he increased the claim to £900 (and he was a parson). He shut his eyes to the poor unfortunate children dying yearly; £900 or they may all die."

Rev Russell told the court that while villagers were welcome to fetch water from the spring, its value should not be understated. He said at times, he restricted access to the only source of water in the area to remind residents that it was private property and establish the proprietor's right to it.

DAMAGES AWARDED

The judge ruled in favour of the parochial board, awarding £10 in damages to Russell, in 1895.

Commenting on the verdict, the reverend said: "The judge and all concerned should see every way they turned, till they repented, and would do this sort of thing no more."

On March 14, 1897, the St Ann Parochial Board passed nine by-laws on the management of the spring. A month later, the governor of Jamaica passed them in the Privy Council.

Today, the spring and the area of land surrounding it are still owned by the Government and the people of Sturge Town. The original masonry now lies in ruins and a modern pumping station now channels the precious water throughout the village.

andewale.mclaughlin@gleanerjm.com

 By-laws for the management of the Sturge Town spring passed in 1897

1. The spring shall be open to the public daily.

2.
No one shall take water from any other source than the discharge pipe
provided for the purpose, or from the bottom basin provided for watering
stock.

3. No person shall wash clothes, or the person or any part
of the person, or vessels of any description, or any utensils in the
basin under the discharge pipe, or in the gutters leading from the
discharge pipe to the lower basin, or in the lower basin provided for
watering stock.

4. No one shall take water from under the discharge pipe with any bush or rubbish in their pails.

5. No one shall throw dirty water on the roadway above the drinking pipe.

6.
No person shall throw or drop any vessels, stones, dirt, rubbish or
offensive decaying or deleterious matter in any of the basins, pipes or
gutters attached to this spring.

7. Stock taken to be watered must be confined to the lower basin provided for such purpose.

8. No person shall destructively, wilfully or negligently destroy the pipes, basins or any of the works erected at the spring.

9.
Any person breaking any portion of these rules shall be guilty of an
offence and on conviction shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding 40
shillings.

April 25, 1931

An application for the
establishment of a government school at Sturge Town was considered and
on the motion of the Hon D.T. Wint, seconded by the Reverend F. Cowell
Lloyd. The following resolution was adopted: "That the Sturge Town
School, St Ann, be taken over as a government school in a rented
building."

February 18, 1935

Sturge Town has had, for
the last month, a most destructive visit from the flu. Though apparently
mild as compared with that of 1918, it has made its existence felt in
the district since mid-January. Attendance at the elementary school has
been reduced by half, the children being chief among those attacked. It
has taken the heavy toll of four lives within eight days, three of its
victims children.

Ruins of the original masonry which
channelled the water from the spring to pipes from which residents could
catch water in their containers as well as a trough for animals. - Photo by Errol Crosby

Look
out for more stories on Sturge Town this week as The Gleaner tracks the
development of free villages in Jamaica over the next four weeks.