Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Looking for Levys -- a moveable family

My first foray into genealogical research on my father's family was to find and confirm the births and deaths of all the children of Leopold Levy, the mystery man from Alsace, and his wife, my grandmother, Alice Rodrigues Da Costa. I had been given the names of some of the children. I knew that there had been a daughter, Daisy, who died in infancy and a son, Gustave, who also died young. I knew that my father was the eldest surviving and that he had a sister, Essie, and two brothers, Leo and Joe, and that all three were in the United States. We would hear occasionally from Joe, whereas nothing was ever heard from Leo. Essie did keep in touch with my mother, and I know that my Mom and Dad visited her and her husband, Erich, in Fort Worth where they lived. (They had also lived in Muskogee, Oklahoma). Later this correspondence would cease as a result of Essie's descent into dementia, though my mother did continue to keep in touch with the wife of their only son, Walter, my first cousin, also known as Bunky. I never met him nor did we ever correspond.

But to return to the Levy children. In my last post I mentioned that the eldest child, Daisy, was born a scant two months after the marriage of Leopold and Alice in Colon, Panama. Alice returned to Jamaica and Daisy was born 23 September 1886 at 106 King Street, and, as I mentioned, the informant on the birth register was a Mrs. Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa. The father's name on the record is Leopold Levy, occupation "merchant", abode "Colon", so Leopold was not present at his daughter's birth.

As I found the births of the other children, and the deaths of Daisy, Lucien and Gustave, I noticed two things: first, Leopold was the informant on only two of the ten events I found: the birth of Lucien, the second child, and the birth of Gustave, the fifth child. The second thing I noticed was that the addresses where these events took place kept changing. In a span of fourteen years the Levy family lived at seven different addresses in Kingston!

What was the significance of the fact that Leopold was the informant on only two events? Did it mean that he wasn't there? I've done a lot of research in Jamaica and looked at a great many birth records and generally speaking the father is usually the informant when the child's birth is registered. I'd be interested in hearing from other Jamaican researchers regarding this. Yet, with the Levy children the two people whose names show up on six of the ten events are those of Alice, their mother, and Selina Rodrigues Da Costa, Alice's mother. More about her in another post. Certainly on Essie's birth registration Leopold's address is given as Port-au-Prince, Haiti. On the other records it appears that Leopold is in Kingston, so why is he not the informant? In fact, the birth of the youngest, Joseph Dudley, was registered by a Cathy D'Costa who, I finally figured out, was most likely the wife of Eugene Da Costa, Alice's nephew, the son of her older brother, Joseph.

Then there's the moving around! Here is a list of events which shows the various addresses the family lived at:

-- Daisy is born in 1886 at 106 King Street
-- Lucien is born in November 1887 at 83 Church Street
-- Daisy dies in December 1887 at 83 Church Street
-- Michael is born in 1889 at 127 King Street
-- Lucien dies in 1890 at 125 Tower Street
-- Essie is born in 1891 at 125 Tower Street
-- Gustave is born in 1894 at 121 Orange Street
-- Leo is born in 1895 at 13 Rosemary Lane
-- Gustave dies in 1899 at 68 Duke Street
-- Joseph is born in 1900 at 68 Duke Street

Here is a section of Stark's 1897 map of Kingston showing the area where the family would have been.

Why did the family move around so much? Again, this is not usual. My research has found that families usually seemed to stay in one spot, so it was quite common to see children being born at the same address over the years. This would, of course,indicate that the family in question owned their home. I believe that the Levy family must have been renters and more than likely were not financially secure. Certainly if Leopold was away a great deal money may have been tight. Eventually my grandmother Alice would own a home, at 22 Beeston Street, but I do not know when this was purchased. When Joe emigrated to the United States in 1917 he gave his mother as next of kin and that was the address that was listed for her on the ship's manifest. I know that my father helped her to pay the mortgage on the house before he was married.

Sometimes finding vital records about the family one is researching can lead to more questions than answers. I'll continue with this in my next post.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Looking for the Levy Family

Some time after I started researching my family I realized that I knew far more about my mother's family than I did about my father's. My Dad did not talk about his family very much. My mother told me what little she knew and my Uncle Rodney contributed information as well. As I've mentioned before, I did know my Grandmother Levy as a child. She lived across from my mother's family, the Smedmores, at 22 Beeston Street, on the south-west corner of Beeston Street and Love Lane.

I remember visiting her as a young child with my parents, but I don't think we went there very often. We seemed to spend more time with my mother's family. I don't know the reason for this, but I suspect my mother was somewhat resentful of her mother-in-law. The story I was told was that she and my father had been engaged for seven years before they could get married because my father had to support his mother and help pay the mortgage on her house. My grandmother was a widow. Her husband had died a long time ago and my father's three siblings had taken off for the United States so he was the only one left to take care of her. Another possible reason for this lack of closeness was that my grandmother was Catholic and my mother was a staunch Anglican, and though it seems strange in these days of ecumenicism, back then there was separation between denominations of the Christian religion. In fact, there were even differences of opinion between high-church and low-church Anglicans!
The stories I was told about my grandfather were that he was a Jew from Alsace, an oculist by trade, and that he travelled throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. He is supposed to have brought back a gold nugget from Brazil which was made into two signet rings, one each for my brother and myself. This is a picture of my ring --

It is engraved with three of my four initials, D M L, intertwined. Did the gold nugget really come from Brazil? I have no evidence that he was ever in South America. The few records that I have for him show him in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Colon, Panama; and Cuba, where he died. My grandfather was indeed a mystery.

Here's what I was told about him by my mother, who, by the way, never knew him as he had died some years before my parents married. His name was Leopold Levy and my father was given the name, Leopold, as a middle name. Leopold could speak seven languages ... again I wonder about this. Certainly he would have spoken French and most likely German, coming as he did from Alsace, a country which has bounced back and forth between France and Germany. He certainly would have spoken English and no doubt Spanish as he spent a great deal of his time in Spanish-speaking countries. I assume that as a Jew he may have spoken Yiddish ... that makes five languages and I've no idea what the other two would have been. I was told also that he was an oculist, and in fact that is stated in my father's entry in Who's Who Jamaica. Yet, in the few records I found that name Leopold his occupation is invariably given as "clerk", "bookkeeper", or "merchant".

How and where did he meet my grandmother? Well, that was another story, this time from my Uncle Rodney who told me that they had married in Haiti. What was my grandmother, Alice Rodrigues Da Costa, doing in Haiti? According once more to Rodney, she was operating a ferry service between Kingston and Haiti! I have not so far found any evidence of this. How many children did they have? Seven, I was told, but three had died young. And then there was this fanciful tale that Leopold had insisted the first child be brought up Jewish, but she died so he stated that the rest might as well be brought up Catholic! It sounded feasible, except that certain questions kept popping up in my mind. First of all, my grandmother was Catholic and Leopold was Jewish, so who would have married them? At that time I didn't think either the Jews or the Catholics would have done so. Secondly, if they were married in the Catholic Church then wouldn't Leopold have had to agree to bring up the children as Catholics? Finally, no child of this marriage would have been named in the synagogue as the mother was not Jewish. And the tale was pretty well disproved after I discovered a baptism, performed by Father William Spillman, S. J., in Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Kingston for the eldest child, Daisy Agatha.

So, here's what I knew so far. My grandfather, Leopold Levy, came from Alsace; met my grandmother in Haiti and married her; they had seven children and he died in Cuba. As for the children the names I had were Daisy, Lucien and Gustave, all of whom died in infancy, and the remaining four were my father, Michael, and his siblings, Essie, Leo and Joe, all three of whom moved to the United States. When I began researching the family I started with birth records for the children, all of whom were born in Kingston, between 1886 and 1900, and it was not difficult to find registrations of their births in the microfilm records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), aka Mormons. I have spent a great deal of time at an LDS Family History Centre and I am grateful to the Mormons for microfilming many Jamaican records, including Church of England parish records as well as the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths. I found birth records for all seven children and was therefore able to sort out their birth order: Daisy, born September 1886, died December 1887; Lucien, born November 1887, died April 1890, my father, Michael, born August 1889; Essie, born March 1891; Gustave, born May 1894, died December 1899; Leo, born July 1895; and Joe, born January 1900.

Whenver anyone asks me how to begin doing their family history I always repeat the well-known axiom: "Start with yourself and work back". Another one is: "Talk to your relatives and ask them questions." Good advice! I certainly did. But the next good piece of advice is: "Look for the records which should confirm that what you have been told is true". (I should make one thing clear ... I didn't really get started on the research until many years after I was told the "facts", so was unable to share the results of my research with my family as they were no longer alive.)

I was somewhat stumped by the fact that my grandparents had got married in Haiti. I had no idea where in Haiti they were married -- Port au Prince was a possibility, but how to get the record? I assumed that the marriage must have taken place around 1885 as Daisy was born in September 1886, but for the longest time I had no proof of this particular fact, and then I had an email from Madeleine Mitchell, an indefatigable Jamaican researcher who is also the co-ordinator for the Jamaican Genealogy page on Rootsweb. Madeleine had been going through microfilm of the Jamaica Gleaner and had come across something of interest to me in the paper for 1886. (I also for a while went through the early issues of the Gleaner on microfilm, which I got on interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress, but at the time that I heard from Madeleine I had not yet got to that year. Now that the Gleaner is digitized and on line it is less onerous to search.) Madeleine had found evidence of the marriage of my grandparents, and it wasn't what I was told! They had not married in Haiti; in fact, the marriage took place in Colon, Panama, and not in 1885, but in July 1886! Here is a copy of the notice as it appeared in the Gleaner of July 23, 1886:

So, there was one "fact" proved wrong. I now had what appeared to be something of a scandal in the family, in that my grandmother was some seven months pregnant when she got married! Which brings up another question, namely, when and where did Alice meet Leopold? Was he living in Jamaica and then took off for Colon, as a result of which Alice went after him? She did return to Jamaica as Daisy was born there at 106 King Street. A Mrs. Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa was the informant on the birth record and Leopold's occupation was given as "merchant of Colon".

So it turns out that finding that piece of information brought up more questions than I had previously, such as, who was Mrs. Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa? The answer to this would lead me to a whole new family that I knew nothing of previously, but before that I would investigate the Levy family more thoroughly.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

A Month in the Country -- part 2

My summer holiday would start the moment the car climbed the hill from Vale Royal up to the house at Friendship. Actually, there were two houses at Friendship. Uncle Rodney's house was at the top of the hill, and at the bottom of the hill was the Nash's house, where Len Nash, his wife Daphne (formerly Newman) and their three children, Dennis, Richard and Arlene, lived. Len Nash was an engineer at Vale Royal and first cousin of my Aunt Marjorie, Rodney's wife. I wish I had pictures of the two houses, because I find my memory is not as clear about what they were like inside as I would wish. Uncle Rodney's house was built up off the ground so that there was a sort of above-ground basement underneath where he had his office and made his various liqueurs (more of that later), as well as where the generator was installed. This was known merely as the Delco, and in fact I went through life for the longest time thinking that was what all generators were called. The Delco provided power when the electricity went off, as it often did.

I have a painting, given to me as a wedding present, and painted by yet another Nash, Sylvia Nash the artist, which immediately brings to mind the end of the property where I used to go and walk away over the rolling countryside, accompanied by the two dogs, Jill, a black Lab, and Bessie, a cairn terrier. Here is the picture.

In my imagination just over that hill I would go off with Jill (Bessie being more of a house dog wouldn't go that far with us), and the two of us would walk along the paths by the cow ponds, where I would skip stones and Jill would go in for a swim. Finally, I would go back home ... Jill didn't always come with me, but would return at her leisure.

I remember a guinep tree on the property. The guinep tree (Melicoccus bijugatus) according to Olive Senior's Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, is a large tree bearing small, round, green-skinned fruit which grow in clusters like grapes. Here is a picture of the fruit of the guinep:

The fruit is sweet and juicy with a seed in the middle and I remember, on one my visits to Friendship, gorging on them one day. That night I awoke feeling quite ill and proceeded to be very sick indeed, much to the disgust of my brother, Mickey, who was sharing a room with me at the time. (I don't recall why, but I guess my parents were also there and we had a full house.) I learned my lesson about eating too many guineps!

The highlight of my holiday at Friendship was going to the beach to swim. Not that I was a good swimmer, and it didn't help that Mickey used to duck me in the water. We went to Derby Beach (pronounced Darby), not far from Duncans. This was a lovely white sand beach with a gradual slope out into the sea. Here is a photo of my Aunt Marjorie at Derby Beach.

and one of Rodney, with the Burke family.

Derby Beach is now the famous resort, Silver Sands, and now looks like this:

My Uncle Rodney was a sugar technologist at Vale Royal Estate and as a hobby he made the most wonderful liqueurs. He made a creme de cafe, a creme de cacao, and incredible orange liqueur and best of all, a pimento dram to die for! Pimento dram is made from the fruit of the Pimento or allspice (Pimenta dioca). Olive Senior in her Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage notes that the pimento is Jamaica's only indigenous spice. He never made a commercial venture of this hobby, but rather would bottle enough to give away each year as Christmas presents to friends and family. On one occasion he told me that he had been approached by Dr. Kenneth Evans who was also experimenting with a coffee liqueur, to invest in Dr. Evans's project. Rodney declined and Ken Evans went on to develop Tia Maria, and the rest is history!

Another one of my memories of Friendship is of Rodney's collection of books of Punch cartoons. He had bought them, I believe, from a bookseller on a trip to England, and I would spend hours going through them and reading all the cartoons by famous illustrators such as George DuMaurier. One of my all-time favourites is DuMaurier's cartoon, "True Humility", also known as The Curate's Egg. Who can forget the wonderful caption:

Right Reverend Host: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones"

The Curate: "Oh no, My Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent"

Sadly, Rodney had to get rid of all his Punch books due to an infestation of insects which ate their way through the books. To use an old Jamaican expression: "Chi-chi nyam it"

Friday, 5 October 2007

A Month in the Country

One of the pleasures that I looked forward to each summer holiday was going to spend a few weeks at Duncans, Trelawny, with my Uncle Rodney and Aunt Marjorie. They lived at a house on a hill, not far from Duncans, called "Friendship". My uncle, Rodney Smedmore, was a sugar technologist who had worked at various sugar estates in Jamaica. Some time after he got married he went to work for Arnold Muschett at Georgia and Vale Royal Estates in Trelawny.

Arnold Muschett was born St. Elizabeth in 1882 and married Amy Houchen in 1909. Although they had no children they were both very involved in several charitable bequests for the children of the area including several scholarships, and they donated 25 acres of land for the erection of a school in Wakefield. My thanks to Donald Lindo for the photo and information about Mr. Muschett.

According to Inez Knibb Sibley's book, Dictionary of Place-Names in Jamaica (Kingston: Institue of Jamaica, 1978), Vale Royal in Trelawny consisted of a number of small estates including Georgia, as well as others that I'm not familiar with.
This old postcard of Vale Royal Estate probably dates from between 1910 and 1913. Uncle Rodney would also go quite often to Long Pond Estate, as well as Vale Royal and Georgia. The Great House at Georgia was very beautiful and we would often go to visit the Muschetts there.

My memories of how I actually travelled to Trelawny from St. Andrew are somewhat vague. Sometimes we went by car when Uncle Rodney came up to town to fetch me and we would drive the route from Kingston through Spanish Town and Bog Walk (over the scary Flat Bridge),
on to Linstead and Ewarton, over Mount Diablo... a steep, winding, narrow road over the mountain... then down through the green pastures of St. Ann through Moneague and Walkers Wood, towards Ocho Rios, then along the coast road through St. Ann's Bay, Runaway Bay, Rio Bueno,and then to Duncans. From there we climbed a hill on a marl road which eventually took us to "Friendship".

Once or twice, though, I would travel by train, probably accompanied by my mother. We would board the train in Kingston at the railway station

and then begin the exciting trip going through places with strange and exotic names -- Balaclava ... Maggotty ... Catadupa ... Montpelier ... Anchovy ... ending up at the station in Montego Bay. The train would probably have looked something like this:
Olive Senior, in her excellent book, The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage (Red Hills: Twin Guinep, 2003), reports that early travel on the train one way from Kingston to Montego Bay could take an entire day. I know that we always packed a lunch! By 1952 diesel rail service was instituted and the round trip between Kingston and Montego Bay could be done in a day. In September 1957 a horrendous accident on the railway line at Kendal caused the deaths of 175 people with 400 people injured. You can read about it at the Jamaica Gleaner's Pieces of the Past. Rail service was ended in 1992, after running for 150 years.

More often than not, however, we would travel by car. Going over Mount Diablo was the highlight of the trip. Since one could not see around the hairpin bends it was necessary to blow the horn loudly at every curve. All along the way we would pass vendors selling fruit
and we would stop to buy oranges and mangoes in season. I remember that my poor mother suffered terribly from car sickness and we had to stop a few times along the route when she felt ill.

But at last we would arrive at "Friendship" and the holiday would begin. Next time I'll write about what it was like to be in "the country" ... so different from my life at 5 Holborn Road.

Monday, 17 September 2007

About My Uncles -- part 3

And now to the two youngest Smedmore boys, my uncles Lucius and Julian. My Uncle Lucius was born at 49 Beeston Street on 18 November 1899, the eighth child of William Dey Smedmore and his wife, Amanda. I have only one photograph of my Uncle Lucius, not a very good one ... probably a passport photo. Here it is:

He had apparently sent the photo to his cousin, John Cassis in Toronto, as on the back of the picture he had written:

"This is a recent snap but I don't think the photographer has done me justice. You know, John, I was never half as ugly. Best love to Fanny, yourself and the family, from Maysie and self, Lucius".

Maysie was his wife ... more of that in a moment. My grandfather would have been sixty-three when Lucius was born, and sixty-seven when Julian, the youngest, was born four years later in 1902. It boggles the mind to think how difficult it must have been for these younger brothers to have a father who was old enough to be their grandfather. And when he died in 1914, Lucius would have been fifteen and Julian just eleven. I think they were probably brought up more by their older sisters and mother as my grandfather was not a well man in his latter years, suffering with serious migraine headaches which may well have been the pre-cursor of the cerebral haemorrhage which killed him. I remember my Uncle Rodney relating how they had to keep quiet most of the time because of his father's headaches. Rodney, apparently, loved to build things and was hammering together a chicken coop when told to stop because his father couldn't stand the noise. He was somewhat resentful about that, I remember.

But back to Lucius. Like other members of his family he was a Freemason, a member of St. John's Lodge, and he also worked for Henderson & Company, eventually becoming secretary of two of their sugar estates Orange Valley and Georges Valley in Trelawny. (When I visited Jamaica in 2003 I spent an afternoon at Orange Valley and saw the ruins of the old sugar factory and slave hospital. I also saw the paw-paw grove at Georges Valley. Paw-paw, aka papaya is now a popular export fruit.) Here is a picture of a section of the grove:

Lucius married quite young by Smedmore standards, when he was twenty-four, to Carrie May Burke, the daughter of Aubrey Mapletoft Burke and his wife, Amy Ann Depass. Maysie was three years younger than Lucius. From what I've been told there was some opposition to the marriage from Lucius's mother and two older sisters but he was determined to get married. The marriage was written up in the Jamaica Gleaner and was apparently considered quite the event of the season. Rodney was best man and Lucius's brothers, Owen and Julian, were ushers. The ceremony was performed by the then Bishop of Jamaica ... not surprising as Lucius, like all the Smedmores, was a pillar of the Kingston Parish Church and in fact was a member of the Parish Church Committee.
Lucius and Maysie had two daughters, Marjorie and Gloria, both of whom were quite a bit older than me so we were not very close as cousins. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce in 1956, though they remained friendly and Lucius went to live with Marjorie and her husband, Eric Crawford on Trafalgar Road. It was there, in May of 1963, that Lucius was brutally murdered by a thief. He was alone at the time, as Eric and Marjorie had gone on a holiday to Mexico. The murderer was eventually caught, confessed, was tried and found guilty, and hanged. This event was a tragic one in the family. At the time my parents were visiting me and my family in Winnipeg where we were living, and it was a tremendous shock to them. Worse was to come later that year when my brother, Micky, died of a cerebral haemorrhage in October.

And now to my Uncle Julian, the youngest of the family, the apple of his eldest sister's eye, as I was told. He was different from the others, a very volatile person, someone who had strong likes and dislikes, and in fact, the only uncle that I ever had a falling-out with. He was quite the sportsman. He played cricket and was a member of several clubs. Unlike the others to the best of my knowledge, he did not become a Freemason, but he was a staunch member of the Kingston Parish Church and was a lay delegate to Synod for many years. He was always perfectly turned out in his dress and affected a very British accent, though he would, at times, lapse into Jamaican patois. He was known, affectionately, by family and friends as "The Count".
He married, somewhat late in life at age fifty, Enid Neilson, the daughter of the Reverend Christopher Charles Neilson, a Methodist minister. They were married in Lyndhurst Methodist Church in 1953 and the reception was held by my parents at 5 Holborn Road. To the best of my knowledge Julian continued to attend Kingston Parish Church while Enid remained a Methodist.
I mentioned having a falling-out with Julian. It was some months before my wedding in 1957. I had had an emergency appendectomy and was at home on sick leave, feeling rather sorry for myself, as my mother was in Toronto at the time visiting my brother and his wife and their new baby. I was invited by Julian's sister-in-law, Ruby, to visit her family in Morant Bay. Unfortunately, Julian had quarrelled with Ruby's husband, Edward, and he informed me that "no niece of mine will visit these people, since I have quarrelled with them". I wasn't about to take this interference in my life and we had a fierce quarrel and did not speak for almost six months. I seriously considered uninviting him to my wedding but cooler heads prevailed ... my mother told my I could not do that! ... and we made it up. For all his peculiarities he was a very affectionate uncle. He and Enid had a volatile relationship, but when she was struck with a massive stroke which left her unable to speak, he was devastated, even more so when she died shortly afterwards.
This is a photo of the two of them taken in happier times:

Monday, 3 September 2007

About My Uncles -- part 2

I have just returned from a wonderful twelve days in Newfoundland. I felt a real sense of belonging while I was in that rugged island. Perhaps it was the fact that I too came from an island and was going to another island, a unique place in this vast country. But, more than that, Jamaica and Newfoundland have much in common ... they gave us the cod which we make into our salt fish, and we gave them the rum, which they made into their Screech. The cod fishery in Newfoundland is no more, but that connection still remains.

But back to my uncles. The younger three, Rodney, Lucius and Julian, unlike their three older brothers, all married, two of them somewhat later in life. My Uncle Rodney was born in 1896, a little less than two years after my mother, and the two of them were very close. Rodney was both my godfather and my favourite uncle.

He was a sugar technologist by profession and this took him to various sugar estates on the island. Here is his entry from the 1940-46 Who's Who Jamaica:

Before Rodney married Marjorie Nash he was engaged to be married to Olive May, a teacher at St. Hilda's Diocesan High School in Brown's Town. I remember meeting her once when she came with Rodney to our home at 5 Holborn Road , and I distinctly remember that she told my mother that she should send me to St. Hilda's when I was old enough to go to high school (I was then at the Cunningham's Preparatory School on Surbiton Road). The realization that this would mean leaving my home and my parents to go as a boarder far away in Brown's Town terrified me. Some time after that Rodney informed the family that his engagement had been broken off. My mother was quite upset about this for a while, whereas I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I wouldn't be heading off to parts unknown to boarding school.

Looking back now, I see was that I was somewhat unfair to Olive May.Thanks to Donald Lindo I now know more about her and also have a couple pictures of her. She was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1917 and received her B.Sc in Mathematics from London University, as well as a Diploma in Education from the University of Hull. She came to Jamaica in the late 1930s and began her teaching career there at St. Hilda's.

I don't know how she met Rodney ... he was probably working in the area at the time. It is unfortunate that their engagement did not last, and I never knew the reason why, but I rather think that the disparity in their ages and temperament may have had something to do with it. From what I've been told Olive was a lively and adventurous woman with a brilliant mathematical mind, but she was also twenty-one years younger than Rodney. I hope that they parted amicably. At any rate, Rodney married Marjorie Nash in September of 1941 in Sav-la Mar. I was a train-bearer at this event. Marjorie's sister, Hazel, was bridesmaid and my Uncle Owen was bestman.

Here I am standing in front in the middle. I must say we all looked pretty solemn, except for the bride and groom who are looking lovingly at each other.

Olive May married Leslie Kensett, a British Army officer, in 1945. They returned to England, but the marriage was not a success and Olive came back to Jamaica where she resided until her death in 2000. She taught at St. Hugh's High School in Kingston, where she was much loved and was Head of the Math Department, until she left to go to Queen's High School for Girls in 1958 as Head of the Math Department there. She was universally loved by all her pupils and renowned as an excellent teacher. Looking back now I feel that she had my best interests at heart when she suggested I be sent to St. Hilda's, but I was only six at the time and didn't want to leave my family.

Rodney and Marjore were happily married for twenty-eight years until her premature death at age 59 in 1969. She had been a diabetic from her early twenties, as a result of which they had no children. I loved her dearly and still miss her. I plan to write more about both of them in future posts.

In my next post I'll write about my remaining Smedmore uncles, Lucius and Julian.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

About My Uncles

In my last post I mentioned a picture which hung in the dining room of 5 Holborn Road, of the Princes in the Tower. Our picture was a black and white print, not colour like the one above, and below the picture were these lines from Richard III, as spoken by Queen Elizabeth:

"Pity, you ancient stones, those tender babes
Whom envy hath immured within your walls!"

'Envy', in this case, personifies Richard III, the quintessential wicked uncle, at least as Shakespeare portrayed him. Personally, I belong to the revisionist school of thought which believes that Richard received a bum rap. Read Josephine Tey's wonderful novel, The Daughter of Time, and check out the Richard III Society of Canada, who each year on August 22nd, place an In Memoriam notice for Richard in the Globe and Mail. In case you're wondering why I'm mentioning this, it's because my daughter asked when I was going to write about "the wicked uncles". Well, I had no wicked uncles. They were all regular uncles ... each with his own foibles and peculiarities, but nothing out of the ordinary, except, perhaps, that the eldest three never married.

My very first post was about my Uncle Victor, the eldest of the Smedmore boys, who went to England in 1915 and joined the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry, was sent to France with the combined battalion of the Reds and the Blues which made up the Household Battalion of the British Expeditionary Force, and was killed in action in 1918. I never knew him of course, only what my mother would tell me about him, and what little information I found about him in the online Daily Gleaner, which reported on his joining up and on memorial services held after his death. The only picture I have of him is a large framed painting , which may have been a photograph which was colorized, showing him in his Lifeguard uniform.

I remember another picture of him, at 49 Beeston Street, one of a group of three soldiers in their khaki uniforms, but I have no idea where that picture ended up.
Victor was born in February 1886, and the next son, Norman, was born the end of November 1887. He is another uncle that I never knew, and in a way he's the real mystery man of the family. He doesn't seem to have been as popular with his sisters as was his older brother ... but then, getting killed in the war does give one a certain cachet. Norman, known by the family as Normy, also left Jamaica, but not to fight. Like many other Jamaicans he headed off to New York in June 1918, on board the ss Zacapa. On the ship's manifest he gave his next of kin as his mother at 49 Beeston Street, and stated he was going to stay in New York with a friend, Joseph Levy. Joseph Levy was the youngest brother of my father and had himself left Jamaica for New York in August 1917. Norman claimed on the manifest that he was going to the U.S. for six months but he certainly never returned to Jamaica. He lived there until his death in July 1953. I have no photographs of him and all I know of him is what I've been told by my mother, and what I've been able to find out through research. He settled first in Brooklyn where he worked as a traffic checker for the Public Service Railroad Company, and in September 1918 he filled out a registration card for the draft. After that he appears to have worked for the rest of his life in New York for Swift & Company, meat packers. Thanks to David Priever, a researcher in New York, I was able to get a copy of the administration of his estate from the Surrogate Court of New York ... like many of the Smedmores, he left no will ... and what ever else I know about him comes from this brief obituary in the Gleaner of August 8, 1953. That Norman was a Freemason doesn't surprise me as my grandfather and my Uncles Rodney and Owen also belonged to the Scottish Rite. I had not known that, like Victor, he attended Wolmer's Boy School, nor that he had worked for the lumber companies in question. I do know, from what my mother told me, that he would send money home for his mother and sisters, and I know, from a brief notice in The Gleaner that Elma went to New York on vacation in June 1951,so I imagine she must have visited Norman. One thing I do remember is how surprised the family was at how small his estate was -- according to the lawyer, Albert Stark, a mere $4,400. Considering that Norman never married, lived in lodgings and had worked steadily since arriving in New York, this small amount to be divided between his siblings, after all expenses had been paid, came as quite a shock.

I come now to the Smedmore uncles that I did know. The next one in the family was my Uncle Owen, born in November 1891 in Port Royal. To my mind he was the best looking one of the family and it always puzzled me that he never married.

I think one reason may have been that he had a speech impediment, a stammer, as did Rodney and Lucius, though I remember that Owen's seemed to be the worst of the bunch. There are probably all sorts of scientific reasons for speech impediments, but I feel pretty sure, from what my mother told me, that this was exacerbated by my grandfather's treatment of his sons. He had no patience when they stuttered and would tell them to speak up without stammering. I think Owen was probably shy. He worked all his life at D. Henderson and Company at the corner of King and Harbour Streets.

I remember him as gentle and generous. I could always touch him up for money at Christmas time when all the family gathered at 5 Holborn Road -- two shillings and sixpence or even five shillings, and then, of course, I would go to the other uncles and tell them how much I got from Owen, and they, not wanting to be outdone, would shell out as well.

I guess Owen felt he had an obligation to take care of his mother and sisters, once Victor had left for the war and Norman had emigrated to the States, consequently he lived at home with them, first at Beeston Street, and then later he moved with my aunts to 11 Dunrobin Avenue when the Beeston Street house was sold. I would say he had a very powerful sense of duty to his unmarried sisters and I know that he was a loving brother and brother-in-law. Sadly, he was on holiday when he died. The family had gone to White River for a vacation when Owen suffered a heart attack or a stroke while swimming.

In my next post I'll write about my other uncles, Rodney, Lucius and Julian. It may be a while as I'll be off line while on vacation for two weeks.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Going Home ... 5 Holborn Road

Ah ... going home. It means so many different things to each of us. Think of the quotations you've heard about "home". Well, I have already quoted Thomas Wolfe ... "You can't go home again." But there's also "There's no place like home" (John Howard Payne); "Any place I hang my hat is home" (Arlen and Mercer); "Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in" (Robert Frost). As for my feelings about home ... well, 5 Holborn Road was the place I spent the first twenty-two years of my life, from the time I was six months old, so I knew no other place as home.
In 2003 when I went to Jamaica after an absence of more than twenty years, I had the opportunity to visit 5 Holborn Road which I had not seen for many years. My parents had sold the house in the sixties and moved, first to 11 Dunrobin Avenue and later to 4 Carvalho Drive. One of the last times I saw 5 Holborn Road was probably in 1960 and it looked like this.

There were two gates opening on an unpaved circular driveway, around which were beds of gerberas (African daisies) which my mother loved, and two huge bushes of pink oleander framed the front verandah.
I was staying with my cousin, Rosemary, near Montego Bay in 2003, and we decided to come to Kingston ... I should say New Kingston ... for the weekend to visit family and friends. We wanted to stay at a moderately priced hotel and, knowing that 5 Holborn Road was now the Indies Hotel, I suggested we stay there. So we did the long drive from Montego Bay to Kingston and finally arrived at 5 Holborn Road. I must admit to feelings both of anticipation and some trepidation at seeing my home again. I had seen a photograph of it some time before, but the actual view was indeed a surprise.

My first reaction was: "Good Lord! They've paved over the lawn and the gerberas". But, of course they had to, in order to provide parking for their guests, and different as the outside of the house looked, I was pleasantly surprised on entering it to discover that, apart from renovations to the interior, I could recognize the house itself. It could so easily have been demolished in order to build a hotel there, but instead the owners had built an extension on the existing house and kept the character of the original building. The extension was built around the property to connect with the original outbuildings and garage and excellent use has been made of them. The rooms are on two levels behind the house with a courtyard in the middle, and if indeed the flowers in front were gone, it was more than made up for with the masses of tropical plants in the courtyard.
Here is a view of the upper level of the guest rooms, built around the original house. I stayed in number 12.

The added building extends to the old outbuildings and the detached garage is now part of the entire structure.

Along with the palms and ferns one finds a riot of colour with ginger liles and other tropical flowers. The former garage is the dining room and bar,where I enjoyed a typical Jamaican breakfast of salt fish and ackee.

The interior of the house has changed and yet I could still see traces of my old home. Here is a picture I took in 1960 of our dining room.

At the left rear one can see the door to the pantry, and at the rear the entrance to the latticed in back verandah. (I remember a picture that used to hang on the wall to the right of the window looking out on the back verandah. It was a black and white print of Millais's "Princes in the Tower".). The dining room is now the lobby of the hotel and looks like this.

As you can see, the entrance to the pantry has been blocked off; the back verandah now forms part of the lobby and office and is no longer latticed in, and the windows have been changed. The floors are still the gleaming mahogany that they were when I was growing up here and it was kept that way with a coconut brush and great amounts of elbow grease.

What were my thoughts on seeing my old home again? I was pleased that it had not been changed out of all recognition, and that in fact the renovations made were appropriate to the character of the house itself. It was, of course, no longer home, but it was welcoming and familiar, and strangely enough, seemed quite a bit smaller to me than it had been when I was growing up there.

One last thing ... occasionally I dream of home and family now gone, and when I do it is 5 Holborn Road that I see in my dreams.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Holborn Road Families

What I mostly remember about Holborn Road were the families who lived there while I was growing up. Next door to us, at number 3 Holborn Road were the Bewleys, Arthur and Enid. They had three children: Dawn, who married a sergeant in the British Army who was stationed at Up Park Camp; Sheila, who was about my age, and Richard. Sheila and I were best buds, though we attended different schools. She went to St. Hugh's and I went to St. Andrew's. We played together a lot. The Bewley had a badminton court on the front lawn, with lights, so we played a lot of badminton. We also used to go to the movies together ... the Saturday morning serials at the Carib Theatre. We also used to go swimming at Courtleigh Manor Hotel, where for the princely sum of two shilling and sixpence we were allowed to frolic in the hotel pool.

Tourism wasn't that big in Jamaica in those days and the hotel was very welcoming to local people. We had great times swimming there. And this reminds me that in my last post I mentioned the Skyline Hotel and wondered what had happened to it. Well, thanks to a couple of people in the know, the Skyline was bought out by the Hendrickson family and renamed the Courtleigh, and Courtleigh Manor itself, also owned by the Hendricksons was, sadly, demolished a couple years ago.

When I went back to Jamaica in 2003 Holborn Road had changed drastically from a residential street to a very commercial one, and No. 3 Holborn Road, where the Bewleys had lived, is now a guest house, Holborn Manor.

In fact the street looks quite different. Here is a view of it looking towards Trafalgar Road, with no. 5 and no. 3 Holborn Road on the left.

I do not recognize the large buildings on the left, past the Bewley's house. In my time no. 1 Holborn Road was where the Atkinsons lived, and next to them going towards Trafalgar Road, was the home of Eric and June Clark, whose house address was actually on Ruthven Road behind Holborn Road. Their property was contained between both roads, with gates at either end, and with their permission I used to ride my bike through there as a shortcut to go to school

On the even-numbered side of the road were the Tames. I don't recall their house number. They were very close friends of my Mom and Dad. Captain Frederick Tame had been in the British Army and had settled in Jamaica with his wife, May. They had four grownup children, two girls and two boys. Lily and Violet were unmarried and lived with their parents; Cyril was married and worked at Barclays Bank in Kingston, and Horace the youngest, also married, worked at the Cement Company.

That's Vi on the left with Captain Tame. She's holding one of their Pekingese dogs. I remember they had two, at different times.

This is Lily, the eldest. Lily was secretary to Mr. Bertram, the rather august manager of Barclays Bank. Thanks to Cyril both my brother, Micky, and I worked at Barclays. Micky was probably there longer and moved around to various branches. I worked there after leaving school between 1953 and 1957, when I got married and went to Trinidad.

Other families who lived across the road from us were the Parchments, Lal and Cissie, next door to the Tames, and next to them the Evanses, Fred and Sybil with their three children, Bev, Phyllis and Richard. On the corner of Dumfries Road and Holborn Road at no. 10 were first the Williamses, Baba and Verna and their children, (Verna was the sister of my Aunt Maisie who married my Uncle Lucius.), and later on after the Williams family moved, the McCullochs. On our side of the road, next door at us at no. 7 there were the DeMercados, Roy and Rose, sister and brother, and later the Dadds. My mother was very fond of Roy who was quite a character. The funny thing is that in a way our families were connected through marriages between Da Costas and DeMercados, but I don't think any of us were really aware of that. It's something I found out much later when I began to do family history research.

The Evans home is now the Indies Pub, and that section of Holborn Road, looking towards Chelsea Avenue, is much different to what I remember as a child.

In fact, no. 7, next door to no. 5, is now a financial institution, Dehring, Bunting & Golding Ltd.

In my next post I'll describe how it felt to return after twenty years to my old home and experience the changes that time has wrought.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Going Back ... Holborn Road Then and Now

In April 2003 I returned to Jamaica for a visit after an absence of twenty years. My cousin, Rosemary, had invited me to stay with her and her husband, Norrie, for a few weeks at their home outside of Montego Bay in Coral Gardens. It was quite a trip, going back after all that time. Things were the same, and things were different. My plane landed at Sir Donald Sangster Airport in a hot and humid afternoon. When I arrived at Immigration the officer welcomed me back to Jamaica. It was almost like coming home!

I'll write more about that trip to Jamaica but what I really want to talk about is our weekend in Kingston, or I should say, New Kingston. We discussed where to stay while there and I suggested that we stay at my old home, 5 Holborn Road, which is now the Indies Hotel. But, before I describe my experiences there, let me tell you something about Holborn Road, then and now.

The above map is a recent one and the terrain I'm going to describe was probably a bit different from the present. As you can see, Holborn Road runs off of Trafalgar Road (which in turn runs off of Hope Road). Presently Holborn Road runs into Chelsea Avenue, which in turn ends at Half-way Tree Road, but when I was a child living on Holborn Road it didn't run right through ... that came later. I remember that Renfrew Road ran off of Holborn Road, just south of Trafalgar Road, and then lower down there was Dumfries Road which dead-ended at a gully, past which was Knutsford Park Race Course.

When the races were on we could hear the noise from the race track at our house on Holborn Road. I remember going to the races with my cousin and her family and even placing a bet.

The race course is gone now ... Knutsford Park became New Kingston with hotels, stores and businesses, and horse-racing is now carried on at Caymanas Park. The postcard below shows the Skyline Hotel, New Kingston, probably from the sixties or early seventies, one of the first hotels built there.

This is where the late Perry Henzell filmed The Harder They Come (1972). The postcard from which this picture comes is unused, but someone has written on the back:

"This is one of our best hotel [sic] the Skyline and in the background is another hotel it is called the Sherton [sic] hotel I can stay at my school and see the top of Skyline"

What happened to the Skyline? Did it morph into one of the other hotels, the Pegasus for example? If anyone knows, please leave a comment. In my next post I'll write about some of the other families who lived on Holborn Road.

Monday, 2 July 2007

You Can't Go Home Again

Yesterday, July 1st, was Canada Day, the 140th anniversary of Confederation. I spent the day at the Highland Games at Embro, near Stratford, and sang our national anthem, "O Canada" with everyone there. The first line of that anthem always gives me pause:

"O Canada, our home and native land" .... well, like the thousands of Jamaicans who have made their home in this wonderful country, Canada is indeed our home. I have spent two-thirds of my life here ... I'm a proud Canadian citizen, and my children and grandchildren are Canadians, but home? That's a tough one. After forty-seven years, yes it's home, but I still feel a connection to my "native" land. (It's too bad that they can't come up with a better word than native in the national anthem for those of us who chose to make Canada home.)

I'm looking at a certified copy of my birth registration, number BM 8896, in the District of Cross Roads, Saint Andrew. It's too long to scan on my little 8 1/2 x 11 scanner. I was born at Nuttall Memorial Hospital, 31 May 1935. My father was Michael Leopold Levy, civil service clerk of 7 Anderson Road, Woodford Park, Saint Andrew, and my mother was Maud Dey Levy, formerly Smedmore. My father registered my birth on July 3, 1935. Well, I don't remember Anderson Road in Woodford Park, because when I was about six months old, my parents bought a house at 5 Holborn Road, St. Andrew from a Mr. Garsia, and moved there, and that house was the only home that I knew for my life in Jamaica, until I left there in 1957.
This is the house I remember ... 5 Holborn Road. It was situated off of Trafalgar Road. At one point Holborn Road ended in a dead end, which later was developed as Chelsea Avenue, which in turn ran out to Half-way Tree Road. Holborn Road ran south of Trafalgar Road, and there were two side roads off of it ... Renfrew Road and Dumphries Road, before it ran into Chelsea Avenue. In my childhood Dumphries Road was a dead end which ended at Knutsford Park, the major horse-racing venue at the time. Now it's all gone and the area I lived in is known as New Kingston, but more of that later.

Here I am as a child with my brother, Micky, with our nurse, in front of the house at 5 Holborn Road.

The house, as I remember it, was quite large. There was a large front verandah with four large pillars supporting a gable roof. Off of the front verandah were four French doors. The two in front opened into the dining room. One on the left opened into the drawing room, and the one on the right opened into my parents' bedroom. On the left side of the house, behind the drawing room, was a bedroom with a full bathroom. This was my brother's but I also remember that during the war it was occupied by a boarder, a mysterious Mr. Wellard. Moving back, on this side of the house were the pantry and kitchen. On the right side of the house, was my parents' bedroom. Off of it was a dressing room with a sink, the bathroom which contained the bath only, and there was a separate room for the toilet. Behind this was my bedroom, and behind that, a spare bedroom which was occupied for some time by my Aunt Tess when she lived with us. In the middle of all this was the dining room, off which the other rooms were situated, and at the back an enclosed latticed verandah. To me the house was quite large. It sat on a quarter acre of land. In the front there were two gates and a grassy driveway connecting them, and a lawn enclosed by a privet hedge. (It was not really privet, as I discovered later, but a type of barberry.) My mother's pride and joy were the garden beds in which she grew flowers. The ones I mainly remember were gerberas, also called African Daisies.

We had a detached garage, though for a long time we had no car. This sat at the end of the driveway leading from the south gate entrance.
By the time this photo was taken we did have a car. These photos aren't that great. They were taken with a Brownie 120 camera, but hopefully you get the idea. Though it's a bit hard to make out, on the right side of the photo you can see that there was a separate entrance to the bedroom on the left side of the house (Micky's bedroom aka the spare bedroom).

In the backyard we had all sorts of trees: a huge breadfruit tree which my brother climbed and claimed he could see Kingston Harbour from it -- a grapefruit tree, a Valencia orange tree, mango trees (Bombay, Julie, Number Eleven, Hairy), an ackee tree ... and we also had a chicken coop and kept a few chickens who came to a sticky end so we could have chicken dinner.

These are my memories and I think this photo of me with my parents is one of my favourites.

On either side of the verandah were planted pink oleander. I remember also that we had pointsettias and euphorbia which were a riot of colour, red and white, come Christmas.

These are my memories of the house at 5 Holborn Road. My parents sold the house after I left home. By then my brother was married and the place was too big for them. They sold the house to a Canadian from Guelph who turned it into a hotel ... more of this later ... and moved to 11 Dunrobin Avenue. Later they moved with my Uncle Rodney to 4 Carvalho Drive.

The house at 5 Holborn Road still lives in my memory as my home till I was 22 years old and left Jamaica. It has changed dramatically, and those changes will be the subject of my next post. But still ... the memories are there and they are what I see when I think of "home".

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor