Unearthing Treasure in Orange Valley

Upon the invitation extended by Dr. Ivor Conolley of Falmouth Heritage Renewal in collaboration with the University of Virginia Field School in Historic Preservation & the Digital Archaeological Archives of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), I along with a few members of the Georgian Society of Jamaica’s St. Ann/St. Mary and Falmouth Chapters volunteered to assist with the recording of buildings  as well as conducting some archaeological investigations/excavations at Orange Valley.

Having never done anything remotely like this before I was quite excited to be a part of it. By day three when we got there, things were well under way and the teams were hard at work digging and washing the artefacts that had been found. Before we ‘got our hands dirty’ though, we decided to tour the estate which spreads across over 2000 acres.

Rich in history, the estate was first purchased from the Allen family in 1757 by Herbert Newton Jarrett 11 who had a great part to play in the existence of what was without a doubt one of the most impressive ruins that has been wonderfully preserved; the Slave Hospital. It was the work of Architect E. Earl and when built in 1797 by H. Jarrett, was one of only three to provide a hospital for its slaves.

The well ventilated Symmetrical cut-stone structure with Venetian windows all around was once rendered in lime mortar which over time faded away. [I must say I prefer seeing the cut-stone anyway] The interior which was built with timber is not existent today and there is no evidence of the location of the staircase(s) which would lead to the upper floor. At the entrance is the Latin inscription which translates as “not unmindful of the sick and wretched’. At that time there were few hospitals which were built of this calibre.

We continued along to the Great House which was built about 1760 by Herbert Newton Jarrett II.

sorry … at this point I turned around and took the photo …..

Up until the late 1900’s it was still standing in fairly good condition but unfortunately it collapsed as a result of thieves slowly stealing away the remarkable structure. (Quite similar to what happened to the RADA building in Falmouth) Today one would never know that it once was a beautiful two storey dwelling that overlooked the slave hospital and sugar works mill.

Unknown Photographer c 1900 Collection Andrew Kerr Jarrett

Special thanks to Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins for allowing me to use his photos and quite a bit of the information here.

It had enclosed galleries along the entire front on both the second and third floors. Behind the Entrance Gallery on the second floor was a large square central Drawing Room flanked by a Dining Room on one side and a Library and a Bedroom on the other. Behind the upstairs gallery on the third floor was another large share central room, used as a family Sitting Room, flanked by 4 more Bedrooms, two on either side. There were also two enclosed galleries which ran the entire length of the back of the house on the second and third floors which contained the mahogany staircase which connected the second and third floors.

The second floor front gallery was used as an Entrance Hall and the second floor back gallery was used as a Breakfast Room. The third floor front gallery, which was later partially opened up in the centre, was definitely used as an outdoor Sitting Room. It had a wonderful view over the Overseer’s House and Sugar Works and much of the plantation. The third floor back gallery was basically just a staircase hall.” Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins

Sadly this is all that remains today

In the 18th century Orange Valley was the second largest sugar plantation after Tharpe’s Good Hope. The ruin still in existence now is one of the best examples of the layout and buildings.

Hard at work getting some measurements for his drawing

Measured Drawing by David Keeling

After the decline of sugar production, the estate reinvented itself and in 1966 became the first commercial stud farm. To date this is still an active component of the family business now run by Alec Henderson and his wife.

If you look real closely you’ll see horses!

With that out of the way, it was on to the main event. I insisted that I was going to do some manual labour so I borrowed some gloves….. IT LOOKS EASIER THAN IT ACTUALLY IS. Two minutes later I was out of breath but felt quite accomplished. So yes, you guessed it, I went right back to taking photos!


Most of the finds were broken pottery, nails, pieces of metal …. among other things from the 19th century and a few from the 18th century. This however was just a test run so hopefully soon they will do a more extensive dig based on these findings. I can’t wait to see what will happen next!

Once completed, the labeled bags were taken to the ‘washing station’ where the artifacts were cleaned and laid out.

Yes, there are some ribs in the mix. rumour has it that we tumbled upon a baby in a jar cemetery….. shhhhh!

Finally, I had this wild idea that it would be fun to frolick in the grass SO KeVaughn humoured me and took a couple of photos …. I’m guessing this is why I found a few not so friendly critters on me :S SERVES ME RIGHT! I dare not share the full extent of my escapade lest I be forever teased about it!

 Thanks also to this video that I found on the ‘Hidden Treasures’ website! Really nice episode: http://vimeo.com/9135868


12 thoughts on “Unearthing Treasure in Orange Valley

  1. Hi there, I love your piece on ‘Unearthing Treasure in Orange Valley’. I am from the UK and am researching material for a book I am writing on my home village (Offchurch in Warwickshire). The Reverend Lawson Jarrett was vicar of Offchurch for thirty years and I see from research that his family were associated with the Orange Valley estate for many years. Would you mind if I used some of your wording and a couple of the photos in the book? I would of course acknowledge this. Kind regards, Sue Lyne

    • Hey, i have no problem with that as long as you cite me or the photos. Thr old black and white and a bit of that info isn’t mine though. I can talk to you ‘offline’ about contacting him. Thanks for reading and all the best with your project!!

  2. I have fond memories of that location playing there as a child. Funny though that I am not saddened by the pilfering of the building and artefacts, thinking instead that it is much like archaeology but with private versus public gains. As well it leaves buildings with a fantastic story to tell. Great work… keep it up – I’m sure your measured survey experience came in handy.

    • Really 🙂 That is nice! I would agree that it’s a wonderful place to play!

      Well I think what saddened me was that the building endured hurricanes and other natural things and deteriorated rapidly because of persons wh couldn’t have possibly appreciated its value. hope they find lots more though!

      Unfortunately I didn’t get to do any measured drawings was busy ‘helping’ to dig but I’m sure that would have been great!

  3. Thank you! I had so many to choose from! think that’s the hardest part of writing up my posts. It was really great.

    That sounds like an unforgettable experience! Will look that place up.

  4. This is wonderful! Great photos as usual and quite fascinating. Physically delving into history – archaeology – is remarkably satisfying and absorbing. I first did it at the age of sixteen, when a Roman villa was being unearthed in the south of England (at Fishbourne, Sussex).
    I worked there during my summer holidays, in the dig’s early days. It’s quite famous now!

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