Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Dream House | A great house caught between the past and the present

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:00 AM
The historic greathouse has it’s own private nature reserve and cattle ranch. Contributed Photos
The interiors of the greathouse will astound you.
The Jamaican Red Poll cattle grazing.
Jamaican lizard cuckoo - endemic to Jamaica.
The Graham’s anole lizard - not found anywhere else in the world.
The Jamaican owl - endemic to Jamaica.

SOMEWHERE OUT there, somewhere in time beyond your everyday existence, is a place like no other … caught between the past and the present.

Today we find ourselves in the high, wooded, cool highlands of Jamaica, at the site of a historic great house, which happens to be also an eye-opening private nature reserve and cattle ranch. How about that!

The estate goes back more than 200 years to the first provost general of Jamaica. In 1755, it was acquired by Scottish nobleman Alexander Lindsay, the sixth Earl of Balcarres, Earl of Crawford, and a general in the British army. During the American Revolution, he surrendered and was taken prisoner for two years, thereafter released after the Battle of Saratoga.

He married his first cousin, Elizabeth Dalrymple, and had five children with her. He would later be appointed governor of Jamaica. In 1853, the estate was purchased by the Muirheads and sold again in 1939.

The 18th-century great house, with its mainly gabled roof, is constructed of Spanish walls (stone and mud covered with plaster), with timber louvre windows. Over the years, there have been some transformations. The original outhouses are built from cut stone.

The interior of the great house effortlessly astound with rich, wood-panelled rooms showcasing antiques, Taino artefacts, historical artwork and museum-quality pieces, several from China and Japan.

All this is surrounded by gentle undulations of gardens, grazing land, and forest, home to rare and endemic species of plants, birds and reptiles. The land at one time was used in the production of coffee, the evidence of which is still around.

We can also see the remains of the slave village (housing compound) on the 310-acre estate – a legacy of British slave ownership.

We also noted the presence of a slavery-period cemetery, with the unusual sight of tombs above ground. No other cemetery of its type is known to exist on the island. Grave robbers have also eerily removed stones from their burial chambers in furtherance of the construction of buildings elsewhere.

A team of scientists led by Dr James Delle of Shippenberg University, Pennsylvania, United States, has been excavating, seeing how the location is as an important archaeological Taino site.

The property is of signal importance for birdwatching, with the sightings of 100 diverse and some endemic species of birds. It is said that Jamaica’s avifauna (the birds of a particular region, habitat) is one of the most distinctive in the world.

The abundant plant life includes the species ramgoat dashalong, with its scientific name known as Turnera ulmifolia, used for tea and medicine; and importantly, reputed by many to act on you as the Viagra drug does!

This working cattle farm has its prized, pure-bred herd of Jamaican Red Poll cattle, still the predominant breed for beef cattle.

The present owners of the house know its past, even as they live in the present … taking us on a journey through time, which we are happy has not been forgotten!

Barry Rattray is a dream house designer and builder. Email:, or