My car drama on Thursday, 8 October 2015, inspired today’s article.
There’s one undeniable truth every car owner knows: when one ting wrong wid yuh cyar, sinting else a go pop up, and most of the times not while yuh at di mechanic! That’s a lesson I was reminded of on 8 October, when, after visiting my mechanic during the morning to deal with one issue that increased to two, a third issue popped up later that afternoon in the most dramatic of ways: one ah mi tire dem nuh go buss pon mi pon Dumbarton Avenue!
With no spare in the trunk (the spare was already on), I patiently waited for my mechanic to come rescue me and take me to buy two tires at a nearby auto parts shop on Waltham Park Road. It was while waiting on the tires to be balanced that the inspiration for today’s post hit me when my meandering eyes landed upon this nearby road sign.
Immediately upon seeing the name of the avenue, I remembered one fact that may not be well known about Hellshire Hills. Then I thought: what is Hellshire’s story, in addition to being famous for its beaches? So here are four things you (probably) didn’t know about Hellshire Hills in St Catherine.
1. The Tainos once called the Hellshire Hills home
The Tainos, before the arrival of the Spanish, once called the Hellshire Hills home. Evidence of their former occupation and use of this area has been found at the Two Sisters Caves, in which they left behind carvings of adult faces (petroglyphs) on the wall of the eastern cave.
2. Hellshire’s original name was “Healthshire Hills”
In fact “Hellshire” is a corruption of its original name “Healthshire Hills.” According to Edward Long, the 18th century settler-planter-historian, in Vol II of his History of Jamaica (1774, pg. 43):
Spanish Town is defended on the South by a range of hill, called Healthshire, corruptly Hellshire, about nine miles in length, and fix in breadth; which space contains about thirty-four thousand acres, for the most part so rocky and barren, as not to be worth inhabiting.
The name “Healthshire Hills” may have come about initially in response to the healthy appearance of the area, as Long further described (1774, pg. 43):
The air on these hills is extremely healthy: the rocks are concealed from view by innumerable aromatic herbs, shrubs, and trees, possessed of great medicinal virtues, though hitherto explored only by a few curious persons.
The corruption of the name may have been due to the area’s close proximity to extensive malarial swamps at the time (Taylor pg. 13). So although officially the area was called Healthshire Hills, locally people referred to it as Hellshire Hills, much to the chagrin of many who did not think it decent to include “Hell” in a place name. The corrupted name also found its way onto many maps, with variations such as “Hell Shire,” Hell Shire Point,” or “Hell-Shire.”
By the late 1960s, however, the official decision was made to retire the name “Healthshire Hills” and to refer to the location officially as “Hellshire Hills.” According to F. Seal Coon in The Daily Gleaner article, “How healthy is ‘Hell’?” for Thursday, October 30, 1969, pg. 3:
… the St. Catherine Redevelopment Company, understandably concerned with the area’s image, wished to change back to Healthshire and referred the question to the National Trust Commission and the Jamaica Historical Society, both of which rejected the proposed change.
3. Enslaved persons often ran away from plantations to the Hellshire Hills
According to James Hakewill in his Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica from Drawings made in the Years 1820 and 1821 (1825, pg. 6):
The Healthshire Hills, in the parish of St. Catherine, are the favourite haunts of the runaways of that side of the island, who establish themselves there until their numbers attract the attention of the government, which is obliged to call for the aid of the military to dislodge them.
4. Hellshire Hills was the location of one of Kingston Harbour’s many forts and batteries, Fort Clarence
Fort Clarence beach preserves the name of one of the many forts and batteries built to protect the Kingston Harbour. Fort Clarence was initially called Fort Small, after its builder, and renamed to its current name in 1799 after William, Duke of Clarence (Senior 2003, 197).
There are many more historical facts about the Hellshire Hills that we could explore; but, alas, this article would be just too long.
Question: What other facts do you know about the Hellshire Hills?
Until next time…
Coon, F. Seal (1968). “How healthy is ‘Hell’?” The Daily Gleaner, Thursday, October 30, 1969, pg. 3.
Hakewill, James (1825). Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica from Drawings made in the Years 1820 and 1821. London: Hurst and Robinson, Pall-Mall.
Long, Edward (1774). The History of Jamaica, Vol. II. London: Printed for T. Lowndes in Fleet-Street.
Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
Taylor, Frank Fonda (1993). To Hell with Paradise: a History of the Jamaican Tourist Industry. Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press.