Palisadoes coconut plantation lost in history
THE EDITOR, Madam:
By the side of the Palisadoes road to Port Royal, less than a mile past the Plumb Point Lighthouse, there is a pillar bearing the inscription: “Government Land. The first coconut tree was planted here 4th March, 1869, by John Horton, Esquire, Superintendent of the General Penitentiary”.
The event commemorated here is the establishment of the Palisadoes coconut plantation and not, as might appear, the location of the original palm in Jamaica. It is now generally agreed that the coconut did not reach the Caribbean and shores of the Atlantic Ocean until Vasco da Gama returned from the east coast of Africa in 1499. In 1554, coconuts were introduced to Puerto Rico, and possibly other territories under Spanish control, from Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa. By 1681, when Hans Sloane visited Jamaica, he found that coconuts were commonplace here, just as in other Caribbean islands. When Captain William Bligh brought breadfruit from Tahiti, in1793, he also brought some coconut seedlings which were planted in the botanical garden in Bath, St. Thomas, and Spring Garden in Liguanea.
By the time the Palisadoes coconut plantation was established, the coconut was being grown as a plantation crop throughout the tropics because, by then, it had become the agro-industrial crop that we know today.
The Palisadoes plantation was established on lands now occupied by the Norman Manley International Airport, with labour being supplied by inmates of the General Penitentiary. By 1880, more than 5,000 acres had been planted; there were 23,000 palms – 3,300 were bearing, and 49,000 nuts were harvested that year. There were other coconut plantations in the island, because, while the Palisadoes plantation was being established, the export of coconuts rose from 0.9 million nuts in 1860 to 1.5 million in 1870 and 6.1 million in 1880.
Unfortunately, the further history of the plantation was disappointing. In 1881, 75,000 nuts were produced, but 21 per cent of the immature fruits was destroyed by rats. By 1887, despite fertilisation with refuse carried from Kingston, the trees had deteriorated rapidly and many, particularly on land to the west of the lighthouse, had died. This was the earliest reference of coconuts being fertilised in Jamaica. Annual rainfall of only 38 inches, high salinity of the ground water, pests and diseases proved too much even for the hardy, salt-tolerant coconut.
Today, only a few coconut palms can be seen in Port Royal, but in its heyday the Palisadoes plantation must have presented an impressive skyline.