Barrouallie: Tales of different eras
November 9, 2012

Estate tales continued

Are you ready to go back in time with me again? Let’s take a trip in times of yore to the 1920s. We are standing at the top of Kearton’s Hill in the area of the bus stop, overlooking the valley. The massive New Testament Church building is not there. In its stead is a cattle pen, with another one a few yards down the road. The road we are standing on is a dirt track. It leads to the surrounding communities. Wait! This is a different Keartons to what we currently know. Take a deep breath and look around for a minute or two. Visualize the scene; here’s what we see: vegetation plasters the landscape with a few estate barrack houses and thatched houses placed in between.{{more}}

Remain in your “trance” for a few minutes. Can you hear the voices and dragging of feet? The early workers are making their way down into the valley on their way to work. Suddenly, we are jolted to reality by the loud banging of a bell. The stampede that we hear is that of the late workers as they rush down the hill frantically to begin a day’s work at the Wallilabou/ Belle Isle estate.

Let us get back to reality and see what life was like on the estate for these workers. Work for some began very early. Estate workers were placed in gangs. Each gang was assigned a “driver” whose job was to oversee the work done. Martha Job was one name mentioned as someone who was a driver. (She lived just below Mr Norton’s current residence at Middle Street). Depending on the era, gangs were also provided with a water carrier and there was also a timekeeper, who recorded the information which was used to determine how much each worker was to be paid.

At the estate, a rod was used to measure the task or job that was to be done for the day. Men worked together and were responsible for preparing the land for planting. They also brushed between the coconut palms, dug cotton holes and dug arrowroot. On the other end at Peter’s Hope/Mt Wynne the operation was of a similar nature. At Peter’s Hope also Mr John Hoyte tended seedlings, a job which he was very passionate about.

The women, on the other hand, weeded the cotton, picked the cotton and weeded any other crop which was in season at the time. Others, like Louisa Douglas, worked in the copra house at Wallilabou. The women also engaged in cocoa dancing. Yes, cocoa dancing!! Alvis Johnson remembers her time on the estate, when they placed the harvested ripened cocoa into boxes and covered them with banana leaves after which they were left to “sweat.” A few days later, they squeezed lime juice into water then soaked the cocoa. After soaking, the ladies began their dance. I asked her about the safety since I realized that the cocoa must have been slippery. She confirmed that there were many casualties, but they enjoyed it, nonetheless. She mentioned that cocoa dancing was Miss Isola’s delight; oh how Isola enjoyed cocoa dancing. Unfortunately, I was told that she was another worker whose arm had been severed at Peter’s Hope estate. At the end of the dance, their feet were “murky,” but they got the desired effect….shiny cocoa!!!

Other women were given work at the owners’ residences. These residences were referred to as “yard.” There was a “yard” at Mt Wynne and one at Wallilabou. If you wish, you can visit the locale of the “yard” at Mt Wynne. The women who worked there had to clean, cook and do other odd jobs around the house. My mother remembers that her mother, Elvie Kennedy, along with Miss Blugh, were two women among many who worked at Mt Wynne’s yard.

All the workers were fully engaged in whatever task or job they were assigned. They had a one-hour lunch break, at which time they gathered around Mother Findlay’s hamper basket and savoured the freshly baked loaves and cakes which were sent for sale. Many of those workers credited the goodies with a promise to pay when it was payday. At 10 o’clock the bell sounded again and work resumed. At 4 o’clock the final bell rang, signalling the end of the work day.

Of course there were major operations at the estates. Mr Frank Branch, someone whom I now view as a “walking history book” where the history of Barrouallie is concerned, took me on a journey I have never been on before. He remembers that there was a cotton ginnery at Peter’s Hope. On the other end at Wallilabou, there was an arrowroot factory. There were two local Barrouallie women who held “top class” jobs on the estates. These two were named Adina Caesar and Miss Rosalie Placid (who some I spoke to referred to as Maude). It is the latter who had powers. Miss Placid had a supervisory role and managed work on the estates.

Miss Placid was also responsible for paying the workers. She had the power to hire and fire. Whatever she said or did was all well and good for the owner Mr McGregor McDonald, until she had a “run-in” with Edward Griffith (Dadda Duke). The story, as told by “Adda”, goes like this … Edward turned up for work one day as a labourer on the estate. He was summoned by Ms Placid, who told him that she was going to dismiss him and will inform Mr McDonald of her decision. Edward stood his ground and refused to move. He then calmly looked at her and in not so nice a voice (curse words and all) said to her…”tell McGregor I say I born pon the estate and I not going no way”……

Ms Placid took the message to Mr McDonald, confident that if ever there was a case for dismissal, this was the one. She related verbatim George’s statement to her. Mr McDonald, in his English accent, replied: “…but Rosalie, Edward is right” and that was the end of the story. Edward fought for what was his.

There is so much to mention about estate life and what we have done is to skim the surface. I shall conclude this article by saying that in addition to “yard,” Dasent Cottage holds a bit of history as well. Dasent Cottage was the name given to the building which stood the same spot on as the prime minister’s residence. It was there (the prime minister’s residence) that some estate owners resided back then. They referred to the building as Dasent Cottage. One wonders then about the linkage between the building’s name and the name given to that community. As the years rolled by, that building was passed from Mr Casson about whom we spoke earlier) to his son Kenneth Casson.

Quite a number of our estate workers have since died. Many lay beneath the earth in unmarked graves. Most of their grand and great grandchildren have chosen not to continue with estate life as it was known back then. There are those who chose to remain in agriculture, working their own gardens, the profits of which went into their pockets. Some of our ancestors’ descendants also work in agriculture, but at a “technical level.” We have seen agricultural officers, veterinarians and in one instance the deputy chief agricultural officer emerging from Barrouallie.

For those who are interested in history, the Mc Donalds’ final resting place is at the Anglican Church yard here in Barrouallie.

I wish at this juncture to thank all those persons who would have contributed information, thus making “Estate life” a reality.

Send comments to