Because Jamaica is famous for its woods and plants and scented blossoms,
one may be pardoned for roughly cataloguing a few of the three or four
thousand different species of flowering plants, ferns and forest trees.
Little is known of the lichens, mosses and fungi of the island. The
casual explorer will notice the beauty of the mosses, and he will
observe many varieties of the lichen, and there, unless he happens to be
an expert botanist, his interest in these smaller plants will end. But
with the flowering plants, the shrubs, and the gorgeous trees it is
different. No matter whether one is a botanist or a heathen, frequently
the wild luxuriance of a lovely bush forces us to ask its name. And the
name frequently cements one’s first affection for a wild plant’s
loveliness. The _Hibiscus_, the blue and white _lignum vitae_ flower,
the yellow _Kill Buckra weed_, the evening primrose and the passion
flower, the wild convolvulus, the iris and the orchid. All these are
fascinating names representing fascinating plants and blossoms. In
Jamaica, one drives through wild jungleland, and mistakes it for a
cultivated garden. Green bushes are spangled with flowers of flaming
scarlet; yellow bands of dense scrub are patched with fragrant blooms of
the most exquisite blue. The wild passion flower, gawdy yet dignified,
is to be seen everywhere, and in many places, especially on the lower
slopes of the blue mountains, we find a rich profusion of the mysterious
orchids–_Arpophyllum spicatum_, _Phaius grandifolius_, _Dendrophylax
funalis_, and a hundred other species. The forty varieties of the
convolvulus deserve a chapter to themselves. What could be more
beautiful than a field smothered by these graceful flowers, showing
every tint from scarlet to rose colour, violet, crimson, blue and
yellow? Then there are the poppies, the Mexican thistle and John Crow
bush; the buttercups, the wild pansies, sweet-william, the scented
furze, the acres of white clover and the dandelion. We could go through
a list of thousands. I think there is no bush, certainly there is no
acre of rural Jamaica, that does not contain its floral decorations, its
dozen brilliant blossoms.

Of the trees, the first that thrusts itself upon the notice of the
English traveller is the cocoanut palm, which Mark Twain or some one
else once described as an inverted feather dusting-brush. Besides the
cocoa palm there are a dozen other species–the groo groo, silver
thatch, mountain cabbage, oil palm, and the rest. In the Savannahs, near
the coast, we notice the French cotton-tree, and among the malarial
swamps the long-rooted mangrove–a tree which is a certain indication of
the unhealthiness of its neighbourhood. Inland, we


find the _lignum vitae_, hod-wood, calabash, locust, raintree, the West
Indian birch, coccus-wood, the sidis-tree (called woman’s tongue), the
Spanish elm, mahogany, cedar, and the crooked divi-divi. These are
mostly timber trees. Among the fruits we find the mango, plum,
nazeberry, star-apple, the banana and the orange. These are but names,
and though I have not mentioned one tenth of the whole, I will spare you
the rest. Jamaica is the land of wood and water, of rich forests and
richer plains. You drive along a road which forms a natural arbour miles
long, decked at every yard with clusters of flowers, and scented with
all the sweetest perfumes of the universe. Then you break into flat
plain land, and the fields on either side are a blaze of coloured ground
plants; you find the mountain slope and drive along a narrow,
precipitous road, and look down from an eerie height on to a deep valley
clothed in greenery of the most luxuriant beauty. Fruit-trees are
everywhere, oranges green or gold, bananas green or yellow, brown
nazeberries, golden grape-fruit, custard apples, mangoes and plums. Then
you pass a plantation of pine-apples, and come to the coffee district.
It is the richest country in the world, par excellence–the flower and
fruit gardens of the West. If you burn a patch of jungle and leave a
charred acre of black earth, in two months you will return and find no
trace of your destruction. Mother Earth quickly clothes her nakedness in
this land of sunshine. If you plant a banana sprig and leave it alone
for eight or nine months, you then find a seven or eight foot tree, and
a heavy bunch of fruit ready for gathering. In West Africa they say
that if you plant a rotten stick, a barren tree will grow to the height
of twenty feet in twenty months, but if you plant a grain of corn
nothing will appear. They might with justice say in Jamaica, that the
grain of corn would produce a loaf, and the barren stick a lotus tree.

Not only does this wealth of vegetation give to the island a most
picturesque appearance, but also it constitutes a natural wealth which
hitherto has been hardly sampled. The fruit-trees are beginning to be
exploited, and already they support fleets of swift steamers between
Port Antonio and America, and between Kingston and Bristol, and bring
large profits to intelligent planters. But the exploitation of the
timber forest has scarcely begun.

The mahogany is exported in a small way, and valuable logwood finds its
way into the holds of ocean-going steamers. Satin-wood is exported in a
very small way, and there are large fortunes awaiting men who will
develop this trade. Bamboo is valuable, and one occasionally sees a
single negro despoiling a mighty clump of giant trees with a light hand
chopper, but the trade in Jamaican timber is in its infancy.

In the Kingston bazaars you can purchase walking-sticks for a shilling
which in England would cost six times that sum, and the Kingston
merchants make a profit on the transaction of more than five hundred per
cent. Mr. Frank Bullen, whom I met in one of the Kingston hotels, told
me that in the days when he was a seaman on a sailing ship, before he
took to the trade of writing books, he once carried a cargo of
walking-sticks from Kingston to England. I could not find any trace of
the industry in the island to-day. But it should be a most profitable
one. The Jamaican ebony or caccu-wood is one of the most beautiful woods
one can imagine–a dark-coloured, close-grained heavy stick, which,
common enough in Jamaica, is rare and valuable in England. And so it is
with many other species.

I have not mentioned the Jamaican ferns, yet the island contains almost
every species known to the collector, from the tiny, dainty maidenhair
to the giant tree-fern forty feet high. There is a deep ravine in the
island so crowded with the refreshing greenness of a thousand varieties
of the species of the cryptogram that the natives have named it Fern
Gully. Here, and in the shadow of the mountain peaks, the fern collector
can find every variety of his favoured plant. He can spend months in
gathering and cataloguing, but he can never exhaust the resources of the

We drove to the race-course through a tropical heat haze. The narrow
Jamaica lanes and the wider roads were stunned into reverberating
silence by the power of the heavy sun. We drove through crazy scents,
and the wild music of a million insects,–past banana clumps and patches
and plantations, giant cotton-trees and creeping hedge flowers. We
forded rivers and rattled across bridges, covering the parched beds of
narrow streams. Often, from amidst the yellow greenery, the noise of our
horses started a cloud of gaudy moths and painted butterflies. The John
crows showed their ragged heads, red and blue, like raw meat baking
slowly in the sun, above the dusty grey-black of their faded plumage.
Even they found the sun too strong for exercise. So they slept after the
manner of their kind, with one eye every watchful for prey or danger. We
rattled along under long avenues of bamboo-trees, ungainly giants with
feathered heads, unable even in the great heat to prevent the clicking
of their hundred knees. The noise of bamboo clumps suggests the
rattling of the bones of a shivering skeleton. The native people grinned
us a holiday welcome as we drove along, and the animal life–draft oxen,
decaying horses, cheery donkeys and saucy hogs–wondered at the
foolishness of our hurry. We reached the paddock gate, and paid our
entrance silver to a supercilious half-breed whose status was betokened
by the brilliance of his necktie. Then through a green, well-timbered
park, we reached the course.

The measured mile was well-fenced and police-guarded; we flourished
across its quietest part and entered the inner circle of the ring, the
heart of the race-course. The turf was half hidden by a multitude of
sportsmen and their attendant females. Black, and yellow, and brown, and
copper, and red, and white people; patriarchs, and children in arms;
giant negroes and dwarf half-formed half-breeds; programme sellers and
vendors of the refreshing juice of the green cokernut. Buck niggers in
white riding costumes, and shabby country folk in decayed khaki. Racing
touts in militia blazers, and respectable tradesmen in neckties of red,
white, and blue, and black bowler hats. Other things they wore of
course, but their appearance was mainly Union Jack neckties and bowler
hats. The black policemen in dark blue trousers, white tunics and
snow-white helmets, looked impassively nervous and very conscious of
dangerous power. Grinning blackies invited all and sundry to win their
racing losings back by the old system of the three-card trick, but their
customers consisted mainly of their decoy friends. In


vain did the wily ones lose many dollars to their weary accomplices; the
negro proper preferred the excitement of the race.

We saw tables for the dice game, but no gamblers accepted the invitation
of the greasy bankers. Groups of women and children sat under the shade
of giant trees and made the day a perpetual picnic. The children were
very happy, and their buxom mothers slept away the brief minutes in
which they could not eat. The young black bucks ogled the young black
maidens, but there were no ticklers, and the penny squirt was
conspicuous only by its absence. By the weighing shed, and in the centre
of the circle of interest, the grand stand, white painted and decked in
royal purple, supported the weight of Government and officialdom. Some
of those who live in King’s House whispered weighty small talk with the
bloods of the army or the seniors of the hospital staff. In contrast
with the brilliant blackness of the crowd of natives, the grand stand
presented a tableau of white dresses and Paris hats and gay parasols.
Field-glasses were raised, and waves of humour swept the grand stand
crowd in Jamaica just as it happens in happy England. The racing horses
and dwarf black jockeys paraded to the official box, and the white
ladies flung their generous applause to the winners, just as it was in
the days of old, and will be ever more. False starts were made by too
eager jockeys who could not hope to win, and a discordant trumpet
regularly screeched return as often as half the line of horses sprang
forward before the starter’s flag had really dropped. These things
happen everywhere; they are the gin and bitters of every race, the
sportsman’s appetiser, the shower bath to prepare for the cold plunge.
When the horses really got away, the heat vanished and pandemonium
reigned to the tune of risen Africa. Jamaica vanished, and in its place
we saw and heard wild, discordant Africa. We heard the echoes of the war
cries of half the tribes that fight in the savage belt of country
stretching from Tanganyika to Sierra Leone. The sportsman and the
gambler threw off the thin veneer of a chaste and modest civilisation,
and became their fathers’ fathers’ true descendants. The half-breeds
shouted and then were much ashamed. The blacks tore the air with their
eager hands and flung themselves prostrate, biting the grass in the
frenzy of the savage African. And when the race was won, only the
winning blacks admitted the fairness of the race. The losing horses had
been “bridle pulled” or “kicked” or unfairly dealt with, and the loser
paid his debts with great reluctance, conscious of a great grievance.
The winner, on the other hand, presented the appearance of fierce,
overbearing rectitude. The race was fair, the test supreme, the winner,
the fastest horse in the country. The women of the dusky whites were hot
and dusty in their finery, but they sometimes forgot to assume the
appearance of calm indifference peculiar to their quite white sisters,
and shouted with the rest. Then they sulked because they knew that they
had forgotten that they were white. Your true half-breed lady knows
that she is pure white, and seeks to prove it to the world by English
accent, simpering manners, and the exhibition of a large contempt for
black men. Sometimes, it is supposed, she succeeds in impressing
dependant country folk. She talks of the England she has never seen as
“home,” and thinks that heaven is built for white people only. “The sun
is not too hot, but the weather is warm,” she suggests to her buggy man
with fine condescension. The driver agrees and says that he has ventured
to take a drink from the water-bottle.

“You done perfectly right,” says the white lady graciously.

Since white men are near, and she wishes to display her accent, she
adds, “You ’ave my permission to refresh you’self from the bottle as
frequent as you desire.”

A black man resplendent in a red coat, white riding breeches and yellow
gaiters, frankly admits his inferiority to the white man by begging for
a penny, a holiday penny. Refused this trifle, he immediately assumes an
attitude of equality. Patronisingly he sweeps the ground and the grand
stand with his riding switch (his leggings are incorrectly strapped),
and asks whether we agree with him that, “These be ver’ funny peoples,
eh? Too much dirt. Too little money.” He sees Forrest making sketches
and suggests that we might do infinitely worse than take him as a
subject. He switches his leather boots with the riding cane (it is only
a hedge switch), and shouts to his brother black dude a hundred yards
away, that he will join him as soon as he has finished with his “pals.”
He adds a P.S. that he is quite prepared to introduce his friend, if
that gentleman is so inclined. We are his “pals.” Then he cocks his hat
and chuckles at two passing girls, who respond with great enthusiasm.
“Nice girls, eh? But not good enough for me, eh? Like to know them, eh?”
But it should be admitted that the worst of the black men is not vainer
than some of the whites. Before the people of the grand stand, some of
the junior officers of the army and the hospital and the medical
service, even the civil service, are engaged in a ceaseless parade–the
strut of self-conscious vanity. It is these jackanapes that the black
men imitate, and it may be that it is the caricature that shows the
fatuity of the picture. Black vanity is not worse than white. Just as
the buck nigger struts for the edification of the black damsel and her
parents, so does the white officer or official. The effect in each case
is equally ludicrous. One white official drove to the course wearing a
hunting rig-out, spurs, a single eye-glass, and coloured cammer band. He
wore an air of perfect self-satisfaction. In Jamaica, single eye-glasses
are as common as orchids.

Horse-racing has become a most popular sport with white Jamaicans. It is
easy for any one to enter a horse or a pony and enjoy the sensation of
being an owner. A twenty-guinea polo-pony race is just as good as a mile
handicap for thoroughbreds, and, truth to tell, the winning owner gets
even greater praise. It may be that this is as it should be. But the
pity is that


subalterns enter ponies bought on credit, and lose money in order to
impress a pitying crowd of nonentities. When a race-horse costs but
twenty pounds, and the entrance fee for a run costs only two or three
pounds more, no junior officer can afford not to run. The youths of the
regiments expect it. So officers under the rank of senior captains must
run their ponies as well as attend the meetings. Then they must “back
their gees” (as it is said in the vernacular), and lose more money in
one day than they should have spent in six weeks.

The seamy side of life is not so well represented on a Jamaican
race-course as it is at the average English meeting. Sharpers are not
numerous; the three-card experts and die manipulators are few in number
and faded and dejected in appearance.

The coloured jockey is a type by himself. In his amber and gold, or pink
and yellow, or green and red, and with his bent legs and humped back, he
would delight the heart of any disciple of Darwin. On his horse, he
looks for all the world like a clothed monkey on a London barrel-organ.
He rides with an air of bravado, and a most cruel switch. He gets
excited, but seldom loses nerve or head. It is probable that the race is
more to him than it ever is to his English prototype, because the heart
of a black man is full of jealousy and love of praise. A black jockey
never looks a part of his horse. The two are separate and distinct; a
comparison between the two would be to the advantage of the horse.

The race-horses and the unharnessed buggy ponies save the Jamaican
race-course from absolute vulgarity. Without them the place would have
been impossible, quite apart from a racing point of view. The heart of a
race-horse is clean, and his nature is superior to that of a half-breed
three-card sharper, or a whisky-soaking junior army man of great