The "Joy and Sorrow" Lakes of Moneague.
Twice during the 20th-century lakes appeared at Moneague in St. Ann
of such considerable size that they could be used as major recreational facilities.
On these two occasions, in 1917 and 1934, there were many accounts in the Daily Gleaner of boating and other entertainment activities at Moneague, and also discussion of the history and origins of
the lakes. As well as these positive reports, there were also accounts of more
negative aspects such as destruction of property, the loss of livelihood and loss of life resulting from the rising waters
which were caused, it seemed, by the heavy rains, storms and hurricanes of the preceding years.
The existence of lakes or ponds in the Moneague area
had been recorded from the early years of the British presence in Jamaica, although it must be assumed that both the Spaniards,
and earlier the Tainos had also been aware of their existence. Stanley’s
map of 1678 indicates a "Tortois pond" and other maps up to the end of the 18th-century also indicate a pond or ponds, and
specifically a Turtle Pond or Ponds. Sir Hans Sloane in his History of
1707 refers to "'Lagunas', or great Ponds" and Edward Long's History of 1774 speaks
of "a large Lake of immense depth". In a letter to the Gleaner in January 1917 Oscar Plummer wrote:
"It may further interest your readers to know
that in 1723, Mr. Job Williams, of St. Mary and St. Ann, writing to his friend, Mr. George Balch of Bristol, invited him to
come and recoup his health in the the Garden of the Western Paradise, where he would gather new lungs by inhaling the healing
perfume of aromatic plants wafted o’er the Monesca of the Indians from whence could be seen the placid waters of an
inland lake, 'a smile of the Great Spirit.' Moneague is said to be the 'Monesca' or 'Monkey Hill' of the Indians."
That explanation of the name Moneague was challenged by three other explanations given in the Gleaner in 1934: A. S. Byles said that it was probably a corruption of two Spanish words "monte" and "agua", therefore
meaning mountain water, which explanation was slightly modified by G. R Machado who suggested that it came from the Spanish
word "Managua" meaning a place where there is water; J. L. Peietersz thought that it probably came from the word "manigua"
commonly used by the Spanish in Cuba for bush or jungle. Plummer also referred to the lake appearing in 1780 "after the great
storm'', tantalizingly deciding to give no further information, but this appearance of the lake was also mentioned by H. E.
Henderson-Davies in 1934.
The ponds also appear on maps published in 19th-century
and it is at the beginning of that century that accounts begin to appear of occasions on which much larger bodies of water
appeared quite rapidly in the area.
In 1810-11 a large lake estimated at some 3000 acres
developed. Reportedly the lake covered a "very valuable sugar work" and other
buildings, the tops of some of them still appearing above the water. Much valuable
land was inundated, and several other ponds appeared in the surrounding regions. On
this occasion, as later, canoes and boats were taken to the lake to "afford a pleasant amusement". Another writer referred to the view of the lake from Walton School:
"… the prospect of such an immense sheet of water, interspersed with small islands covered with palm and
other trees, is picturesque and romantic beyond description, and considerably heightened by the abundance of wild fowl skimming
about the surface of the lake."
The Vestry of St. Ann sensibly withdrew the parochial
taxes on the properties which had suffered from the expansion of the lake.
The next appearance of a large lake occurred in 1863-4. According to Plummer the high water level disappeared within three days, but another
letter-writer in 1917, James A. Marshall, wrote of the lake subsiding “in the course of time”. Before disappearing the lake had reached depths of up to 40 or 50 feet, a length of some three miles and
in places a breadth of about an eighth of a mile. According to this writer, Mr.
Mais, the head master of Walton School obtained a boat, "The Lady of the Lake", for the boys to use. The boys also used to
shoot wild duck and other birds around the lake. E. C. Smith in 1934 also had recollections of
this period, though he recalled the water being at its height in 1875 and disappearing by 1881. On one occasion he remembered, at a place called "Flash’s" where the boys used to bathe, the headmaster
was given a ducking by one of his pupils, who afterwards claimed it was a mistake. For Mr. Mais, however, the rising of the
lake brought tragedy, as it was to do to others later, when one of his young daughters and her nurse were drowned while bathing
in the lake. Marshall also referred to the lake appearing again, though not on as large a scale, in 1874. He commented of the scene in that year:
"A fine picture might be taken from the top of Mount Diablo looking down on the
lake with the driving fog and the sudden appearance of the sun shining on the water....
It was a glorious panorama."
When the lake or lakes reappeared in 1917 and 1934, there was considerable Gleaner coverage of the phenomenon, especially in its more pleasant characteristics. Both were difficult
years in Jamaica – 1917, the fourth year of World War I, was one of increasing shortages and hardship, and the ongoing
recruitment of young men for the war in Europe; 1934 was in the middle of the Great Depression, in which Jamaica was suffering
economic and social dislocation along with the rest of the world. Cheerful news was at a premium.
The beauty of the lakes was the first concern of many
reports. S. A. H. in January 1917 wrote:
“It is a beautiful fresh water lake extending fully four miles in length
with an expanse of half a mile. It is the most marvellous thing I have ever seen; and no words of mine can accurately describe
this wonder! …extending up the valley was a great pool of clear water surrounded by lovely hills and palm trees with
ferns and wild flowers along the edges of the banks….I was fascinated!”
In June 1934 E. M. N. waxed lyrical on the same topic:
"The blue skies above, the vast green country beyond is all and more than one can
want of beauty on which to feast the eyes, fill the senses, and ponder over....
the glistening dazzling sunlight, the rich emerald green, the well-kept pastures that rise up from the valley that
is now filled with water, the cradle of picturesque mountains with its green of darker hue -- all is marvellous -- beautiful!"
How one wishes for colour photography to preserve these views
for us; unfortunately the black and white photographs printed in the press at the time totally fail to capture the exquisite
scenes described and one has to fall back on imagination to bring the descriptions to life.
large expanse of water attracted many to take part in the same recreations as their forebears – bathing and boating.
In February 1917 an advertisement promised --
"Rafting and Boating on the Magnificent
FRESH WATER LAKE"
and a report from a Moneague correspondent declared "Touring by boats, canoes, and
bamboo rafts is heartily indulged in [by visitors], and thus a regular business is kept up by those who invest in these provisions." The attractions of the lake were utilized by fundraisers for a proposed local hospital
who held a Gala Day on Easter Monday. Advertisements for this event promised "bathing, boating on the Lake, regatta, balloon
race, and sports of all kinds." The function was apparently a great success,
though the newspaper report makes no mention of any balloon race! On a more sober note it must be mentioned that a free ferry
had started operation on the lake on February 14th, making two trips an hour normally and four trips an hour on market days. A notice was posted "that the barge will not be used for excursions on the lake."
The entertainment on the lake in 1934 was similar to that in 1917. Advertisements and photographs promised swimming and rafting, and a variety of boating activities including
motor and row boating, "whoopee" and "joy" floating. In April 1934 three youngsters
from Wolmer's, Calabar and Mico School set out at 4 o'clock in the morning to cycle to Moneague, which they reached at 9.30
am. They spent some time swimming, as one of them still remembers, then set out
at 4:30 pm to return to Kingston, reaching the city at 9 pm. The Gleaner photograph
of them records their trip for posterity.
In 1917 one of the major attractions near the lake was the Moneague Hotel, which
was at the time leased from the government by an enterprising young businessman, Ben Oliphant.
An advertisement for the hotel in February starts off:
"Vast Expanse of Fresh Water!
Termed a LAKE -- now predominant in the Garden Parish
of Jamaica, (St Ann). Picture in your mind's eye a FOUR MILE extension of FRESH
WATER, free from all disagreeable odours, and encircled by woodlands of verdant foliage."
There were frequently lists in the Gleaner
of visitors, who came from all over Jamaica and from abroad, staying at the hotel. Most
accounts of visits to the lake included glowing appreciations of the manager "that energetic and popular young man... who
has put his money and brain into this hotel enterprise and has thus made it a success.... the Moneague Hotel is voted one
of the best equipped hotels in the island and by far the most picturesquely situated."
Although Oliphant was apparently still at the hotel in 1934 it a rated little mention; most of the advertisements were
for an operation called the Moneague Lakes Co., Ltd. and possibly another different outfit operated by Mr. and Mrs. R. Coke
Kerr. On offer then were boats, bath sheds, swimming, refreshments and an "aerial
runway"; a plank driveway negotiated the flooded roadway and on rainy days boats would meet customers at the road.
Boating on the lake was cause for at least one lawsuit. In August
1917 Ivan Wright, Dilbert Gardener and Adrian Nelson were charged with criminal trespass for entering the enclosed property
of the Hon. Col. Moulton-Barrett. The incident involved a boat with a number of passengers passing on the water over Moulton-Barrett
property. The Resident Magistrate , C H York-Slader, after a month to consider the matter, gave judgement in favour of the
"... the water has no owner; the water that may be over
'Rio Hoe' and 'River Head,' may be over somebody else's property at another time, -- blown by the wind. If the boundaries of River Head and Rio Hoe properties are submerged, the fences are beneath the surface,
and as a straight direction can be obtained from the main road on one side of the lake to the parochial road on another side
of the lake, there can be no criminal trespass in travelling the direction. Even
if the defendants were seen on the shores of the lake on the property there could be no case of criminal trespass, but one
of civil trespass."
Sadly, for some the perils were far greater than merely
the danger of prosecution. In 1917 two deaths from drowning were reported and
in 1934 one death. In April 1917 a man drowned when he went to bathe a horse
in the lake and got out of his depth, and later, in July, a 12-year-old girl called Lena Crearcliffe also drowned:
"Her father has been ill for some time now, and desirous
of having a change to a house opposite to where he lived [in the Castle district], Lena volunteered to
captain the raft in conveying her father. The father did not agreed to this,
but that a boy who was a neighbour should be attached to the crew. Crearcliffe
was safely taken across. The crew of two was on their way back, when the oar
used by the boy slipped into the water. The girl in attempting to catch the oar
fell into the deep."
In May 1934, another young woman drowned after falling off a boat. Thelma
MacCaulay, an attractive 18-year-old from Spaldings, was at the lake with her father and a group of friends. The group went on the lake on two floats and a row boat; out on the lake Thelma stood up on one of the
floats and then fell into the water. In spite of many efforts to rescue her,
the unfortunate young lady drowned and her body was only retrieved three days later.
The jury at the inquest on June 27th found no one criminally responsible for the accident but added that, in future,
users of floats should be able to swim and should be warned of the dangers of possible accidents. Earlier, in January 1934, Lucius Richards of Moneague had written a fairly sombre letter to the Gleaner recounting legends and superstitions connected with the lakes. One of
these was the "fear that these lakes will never abate unless its [sic] human toll is exacted."
Other stories that Richards recorded were the presence of a "Yellow Dog" with eyes
of fire near the lake (he claimed to have seen this phenomenon himself) and also the sound of a woman and baby which many
claimed to have heard in the same area. Richards had lived in the area since
the early years of the century so possibly these stories had a long history going back to the earlier appearances of the lake.
For many people in the Moneague area boating and yellow dogs were of little interest
-- their main concern was loss of property and disruption of communications. As
early as January 1917 S. A H. in his article on the beauties of the lake commented on the submerging of cultivations and roads. In February the Moneague correspondent wrote of the two lakes in the area:
people are homeless, as a result of the newly formed lake, and the general distress ought to be represented to the authorities.
The lakes continue to rise, and here and there all over the town suburbs spots are being gradually inundated by a subterranean
outflow as the flow continues. Every two weeks, or so, a home is deserted and
left to its fate."
On April 4th the Hon. T. L. Roxburgh presented a petition in the Legislative Council
from the people of St. Ann. They detailed the disastrous impact of the rising
of the lakes on the economy of the area and particularly asked for speedy construction of alternative roadways to enable them
to get their produce to market. Later in the month a report showed that the conditions
were continuing to deteriorate:
lakes are rising daily, and fear is now entertained for the safety of the immediate town.
If Tadmore Lake runs in the River Head stream, the Dalyrimple Park District will be inundated. Walton Lake will then be flooded, and Kensington ravine will surely swamp the town of Moneague. Homes are still being abandoned and the hardship is great.
Representations should be made for a relief of taxes to those people who have lost their homes as a result of the rising
In January 1934 Lucius Richards had taken up the topic of the various lakes. Writing of the Moneague and Tadmore Lakes he said:
separate names make the matter more significant, because the two lakes are absolutely detached. Legend asserts that they united at a certain time in the old days when the district from Tadmore to Moneague
was flooded. Landmarks are in the town here where history asserts that boats
took anchorage almost opposite the police station. There was one stretch of water
from a spot here to Blue Hole and across the Goshen Road into Tadmore pasture up to Amity Hall."
The lakes continued to rise and by March 3rd had reached the 1917 levels. By early May the Moneague and Tadmore Lakes had joined together and were some six miles in length. The road at Goshen was covered and Richards’ scenario seemed to be proving true.
By this time the authorities were beginning to take notice: D. T. Wint, the Member
for the area, visited the affected parts of the parish and promised continuing efforts to deal with the problems with the
roads. He spoke at length on Moneague's problems in the Legislative Council on
May 8th, and shortly afterwards the Acting Governor, Sir Arthur Jelf, and his wife visited St. Ann to see the situation
for themselves. Sir Arthur promised to set up a committee, chaired by the Custos, Sir Thomas Roxburgh, and including Wint
and Moulton-Barrett, which would deal with the problems with the roads and the destruction of property. Similar action had
been taken in other flooded areas.
One of the interesting facts brought out in the discussions of Moneague’s problems
was that other areas, much less publicised, had been suffering similar problems because of the heavy rain and storms of the
previous year. Although mention was made of Newmarket and Chigwell, the other main area of inundation was the district of
Harmons in Manchester, where similar inundations had apparently occurred in 1886, 1898 and 1907. There, as at Moneague, serious
losses had been incurred and transport had been disrupted. The lake had attracted many visitors and boats were available for
those who wished to row on the water. The Governor had visited the area in early January 1934 and set in motion the relief
measures which were later advocated for Moneague.
The lakes at Moneague even appeared in a Gleaner
cartoon, about some now long-forgotten municipal issue; six members of the K.S.A.C. (three Black, three White) are shown urging
the unfortunate Mayor, Sir George Seymour Seymour, to jump in to the “Colleague Lakes” where the Water Board is
bobbing on the surface. The Mayor is secured by a rope around his neck (he is wearing a very fashionable swim suit!) and his
colleagues are shouting “Jump Off Georgie! If yo born fe heng, yo can’t drown; if yo born fe drown, yo can’t
(The most useful single account of the history of the lakes that I found was by Frank
Cundall, Daily Gleaner, May 12, 1934, page 16. Most other information also came from issues of the
Gleaner in the first half of 1917 and of 1934.)