Sun | Dec 3, 2023

Historic Morant Bay Courthouse to be restored

Published:Monday | March 9, 2015 | 10:17 AMPaul H. Williams
St Thomas resident Dorette Abrahams honouring the 437 martyrs of the 1865 Morant Bay Uprising prior to the start of the 2013 Paul Bogle Lecture.
The ruins of the Morant Bay Courthouse in St Thomas.
The courtyard at the back of the Morant Bay Courthouse ruins.
One of the canons at Fort Morant in Morant Bay, St Thomas.
The statue of National Hero Paul Bogle in the courtyard at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust at 79 Duke Street, Kingston. It will be remounted soon in front of the restored courthouse in Morant Bay, St Thomas.
Ainsley Henriques, chairman of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.
A monument marking the spot where 14 skeletons were found in two trenches behind Fort Morant, St Thomas, 1965. The remains are said to be those of some of the martyrs of the 1865 Morant Bay Uprising.
The name of 1865 Morant Bay Uprising martyrs will be affixed to a wall at Fort Morant in St Thomas.
Some people are not happy with this Edna Manley impression of Paul Bogle as it is said to be that of another Stony Gut man, named Baggan.

In 1865, one of the casualties of the Morant Bay Uprising was the courthouse, so, too, was now National Hero Paul Bogle, for whom a statue was mounted in front of the restored historic

building in 1965.

But there was to be more fire. In the early morning of February 19, 2007, the restored building was razed, apparently from fire started by vagrants. Paul Bogle's statue was severely destroyed, and after much controversy, it was removed for repairs.

However, the fuss over the courthouse and the statue has been going on ever since. Citizens of the parish have been calling for its restoration and the remounting of the statue, which itself is mired in controversy. Some people claim it is not Paul Bogle's likeness in which it was created, but that of man named Baggan, also from Stony Gut.

The intensity of the controversy is expected to be abated or increased soon, as the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), with assistance from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), is to restore the building and remount the repaired statue.

According to Ainsley Henriques, chairman of the JNHT, the long-awaited restoration is at three levels: permission had to be obtained from the owner of the property, in this case, the parish council; seeking funding to pay for the professional restorative work; and the restoration itself. The work will go out to tender by the end of this month, it is hoped.

As for the funding, it is expected to come from private and public sector interests, including the TEF. Getting the funding for restoration is important because, according to Henriques, "It is one of the more important building icons of the Jamaican heritage and history, it represents the sacrifice of the martyrs ... to give the St Thomas people ... a sense of self-worth, so it has a major psychological impact on the parish. You cannot live with a ruin in your midst."

In addition to the courthouse, there will be a museum/interpretative centre.

"We are about to start the research, so we look forward to all the assistance in getting the information so that we can make the interpretive centre not a museum where you look at artefacts, but to understand the roles the ancestors play in developing the parish," Henriques said.

respecting the square

"And it's not just the courthouse that we want to make sure is properly maintained, we also want to make sure that the tomb area, as well as the cenotaph, is all part of the Paul Bogle Square, giving respect to Paul Bogle as the national hero from St Thomas." The other

martyrs will also be recognised.

A plan to inscribe their names on a wall of the fort is under consideration. There is already a tomb holding the remains of 14 skeletons that were found in two trenches near the fort in 1965. They are said to belong to some of the 437 martyrs of the 1865 Morant Bay Uprising. A monument in honour of Paul Bogle, George William Gordon and the other martyrs is also nearby.

As it relates to the likeness of the statue, it is accepted that it is not in fact Paul Bogle's features that Edna Manley captured. Henriques, though admitting that Baggan was the man whom the statue was modelled after, is defending its remounting nonetheless.

"The statue was an impressionist statue by Edna Manley to show the strength of Paul Bogle and his commitment, which is why it looks like a cross," Henriques told Hospitality Jamaica. He claimed the statue was created before the picture of Paul Bogle surfaced.

So, the picture of the man who is generally regarded as Paul Bogle is also a point of debate. Henriques said it is rumoured that the man in the photograph is an African-American man "of some substance and quality". But, like it or not, the statue will be remounted in front of the courthouse when it is restored and not before.

"I cannot tell you that I can sit here and see that the quality of the interpretation of Paul Bogle's strength as a martyr for social justice that Edna Manley created should be relegated to somewhere else ... Edna Manley's interpretation of Paul Bogle's strength, his commitment, his sacrifice is embodied in Edna Manley's statue of Paul Bogle," Henriques told Hospitality Jamaica.