Bananas and Progress

1867-1900: Bananas Change the Economy and a Governor Creates History

After the rebellion at Morant Bay, things settled down in Jamaica. The Assembly had finally been convinced to give more control to the Governor. And although Eyre had been removed from that position, his replacement Sir John Peter Grant made use of these changes.

The Architect's Work

The period of Grant's governorship was certainly a successful one in which the island of Jamaica made leaps and bounds forward. The changes were so widespread that Grant has come to be known on occasion as the "architect" of modern Jamaica by historians. He himself boasted upon his arrival that he intended to change the island so much that the dead would no longer recognize it.

Many different kinds of changes took place during this period, including a political change that reduced the number parishes of Jamaica from 22 to 14. Vestries, which had previously run the parishes, were replaced by Parochial Boards. Grant also cleaned up Jamaica's judicial system.

Another political change that was a long time coming was the movement of Jamaica's capital. Kingston became the capital in 1872, after many other changes in that city. Roads and other transit options, including street car service, were begun or vastly improved.

Funding for the immigration of East Indian laborers, which had been cut by earlier governments, was reinstated. In fact, programs were added for their protection, and the population of immigrants grew again.

The Anglican Church was also disestablished, though this meant simply that it would no longer be supported by government taxes and salaries. This money was put toward education, which improved greatly over the following years. Many new schools were built and many of Jamaica's black residents were given the opportunity to learn to read and write.

In 1870 Grant also began a plan for the Rio Cobre Irrigation Works. Though it would take six years to complete, the Irrigation Works became quite important much later. Initially, few people in the St. Catherine plain - where the irrigation works would bring a great deal of water - had little interest in farming.

Growing in Bananas

Though bananas had been grown on Jamaica since the time of the Spanish, the fruit was cultivated only for use on the island itself. In 1866 the first attempt was made to export bananas from Jamaica to the U.S. The quality of the Jamaican bananas was evident to Captain Busch, who had been carrying bananas from Cuba for a long time. He encouraged the small farmers around Port Antonio to grow the fruits, but the larger plantations had no interest.

Though Busch made the first attempts at export, banana trade truly began on Jamaica when Captain Baker picked up the fruit in 1870. Again, the quality of Jamaica's bananas was a winning trait, and by 1879 Baker became the agent for a shipping company and secured the ships he would need to carry bananas from Jamaica regularly, changing the shape of Jamaica's economic history.

Speed was important in the shipment of bananas. Any delay, and the bananas would become overripe before reaching port. Steam freighters were soon used for banana trades, and ice refrigeration also eased the process.

The Panama Canal

Though a number of Jamaicans went to Panama in the 1860s to help build the railway across the isthmus, larger numbers migrated in 1879. The French began their attempt to build the Panama Canal this year.

The French project eventually failed - yellow fever was a devastating problem for the builders. Though European and Chinese workers quickly succumbed to the disease, the Jamaicans and other West Indian workers held up much better.

Though it was 9 years before the project failed, there were no plans to return any of the workers to their homelands. Many of the Jamaicans decided to stay in Panama and made their way. The later American attempt to build the Canal also attracted a good number of Jamaican workers.


Jamaica experienced a few more political changes as a Crown Colony. Several British territories in the region came under the protection and leadership of Jamaica. Among these were the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos.

Further changes occurred in 1883 when Sir Henry Norman was appointed Governor of Jamaica. He brought with him a new constitution, at least in part due to political objections over the intervening Governors' poor management of the island. This new constitution included a Legislative Council with nine elected members and nine appointed members. Later the elected members were increased to 14, one per parish.

Though many changes took place on Jamaica during the twilight years of the 19th century, these changes were all peaceful. Sound leadership and positive advances in trade did a great deal to alleviate the stresses of the island's most recent history.

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