HISTORY OF BELLEFIELD
Bellefield Great House and its Estate has the distinction of being one of the oldest sugar plantations in Jamaica. This lush tropical estate sits on 10 acres of land, and for more than eleven generations has been part of the Kerr-Jarrett family holdings.
The Plantation comprises of the following:
The Great House which was built in the late 1600’s was initially a St. James Militia outpost and then served as the official home to the Kerr-Jarrett’s for some seven generations. The Plantation Architecture is typical for a house of this period which includes wrap around verandah and the jalousie windows which are designed to take full advantage of the prevailing winds.
The Sugar Mill, built in 1794, is a very strong structure made of cut stone. The stone was shipped from England, as Ballast, on the ships coming to Jamaica to collect their precious cargo of sugar and rum.
The Chattanooga, which was the main structure inside the sugar mill used to grind the sugar cane. A smaller version of it now sits just outside of the Sugar Mill and is still in operation. Today it is mainly used for tour demonstration where the cane is pressed right in front of guests and then sent to the boiler room where the juice is boiled until it becomes wet sugar.
An authentic Jerk Pit and Smoker, where demonstration on how to make jerk seasoning from an ancient recipe and the process of jerk and its history, are explained to guests and most importantly, sampled.
The Kerr-Jarrett family has played an integral role in the development of Montego Bay and a visit to the Estate provides you with a unique window into a very vibrant and lucrative period in Jamaica’s history.
THE KERR-JARRETT’S LEGACY
The Legacy began with the merging of two respective families from Britain. The Kerr’s of Scotland were part of the team that sailed from England in 1655 to execute Sir Oliver Cromwell’s plan to wrest the island from the Spanish. The infamous plan also known as the ‘Western Design Campaign’ was led by Admiral Penn, General Venables and Captain Henry Morgan. The latter would later be known for his exploits as a Pirate and as the first Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica. As a reward for aiding in the successful accomplishment of Cromwell’s objective, the families of many of these men were rewarded with vast parcels of land on the newly acquired colony. Upon receipt of his ‘bounty’, John Kerr chose to settle in the Western part of Jamaica.
On the other hand, Colonel Nicholas Jarrett, of Camerton Court near Bath in England, was a member of the British aristocracy. In a show of gratitude for his loyalty to the monarchy of England, Charles II rewarded him with vast parcels of land which included the Bellefield Estate. Colonel Jarrett opted to settle in the western section of the island making the Estate his home.
Major-General David Kerr (nephew of John Kerr), a bold and daring adventurer who fought for the American side during the War of Independence in 1776, came to Jamaica and was hired as a medicinal doctor for the estate. He soon set his sights on Colonel Nicholas Jarrett’s only daughter (Sarah Newton Jarrett) and they were soon married - spawning the famous Kerr-Jarrett surname. It also signaled the start of the creation of a legacy which gave the parish of St. James the historic and vast Barnett Estate, crowned by the majestic Bellefield Great House. Barnett Estate spanned some 60,000 acres which stretched from Montego Bay to Falmouth.
The intermarriage of these two families created a powerful alliance that played a central role in the growth of Jamaica as a nation from colonial days to Independence. Both families eventually got involved in sugar production, which was the staple of the colony’s economy at the time.
The Sugar Plantations prospered during the 18th century, however, by mid 19th Century many plantations faced rising costs and falling prices. At this point Barnett Estate transitioned from Sugar to Banana production and subsequently into Tourism.
Sir Francis Kerr-Jarrett – 1886 to 1968
The momentous tourism thrust for Montego Bay was spearheaded by the stately Sir Francis Kerr-Jarrett, who was guided by the belief that the lands he had inherited and acquired were part of Divinity’s grand plan for him to be a ‘steward’ for Montego Bay. As a result of his foresight and generosity, Montego Bay evolved from a small fishing and agricultural settlement into a vibrant town that came to be known as ‘The Republic’, and later into a full-fledged city. His dream was to see one plane land per week at the airport ( which was built on lands he donated) in what can now be described as the Tourism Capital of Jamaica.
He holds the distinction of being the longest serving Custos of the parish of St. James, as well as being the last in a long line of planters who spent their entire lives on a Sugar Estate, for which he was still owner and operator at the time of his passing at the age of 85.
His generous donations of land made major landmarks of Montego Bay and many other critical infrastructural development projects possible. Notably, the Sangster International Airport, Cornwall Regional Hospital, Charles Gordon Market, Jarrett Park, and the Montego Freeport.
He also had the sagacity to sell John Rollins, a top US Real Estate Developer & Businessman, prime lands at Rose Hall, which would spawn the Rose Hall development. He recognized that an investment of that size could only serve to further enhance the already flourishing tourism industry.
Sir Francis quickly foresaw the creation of many more valuable jobs for his beloved Jamaicans, as well as a steady increase in the direct foreign investment inflows which later proved so crucial to the sustained development of Montego Bay.
Perhaps what is most memorable about Sir Francis was his fierce loyalty to the cause of political independence for Jamaica, which frequently caused him to be at odds with the colonial authorities – often at the risk of dismissal from his public posts by its representatives. He was awarded a knighthood from the Queen (Elizabeth II) for his unwavering service to Jamaica, but refused to have the title officially bestowed on him until 1964 when a local Governor-General was appointed.
He declared that the proudest moment of his life was the reception he received from a crowd of 7,000 people at Jarrett Park while being knighted, on Jamaica soil, by Jamaica’s first local Governor General, Sir Clifford Campbell.
The family continues to actively support nation building and local community development across the island. Barnett Estate, operators of Bellefield Great House, is owned and managed by Mark and Paula Kerr-Jarrett.
The Company recently broke ground for the Barnett Tech Part – a 46 acre development which will house Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies. Land was recently sold to the University of the West Indies for the construction of a major campus and medical facility. These developments are all part of the Montego Bay South Project – an ambitious 20 year urban development plan that will transform the area into a modern 21st Century metropolis. Further information can be obtain by visitingwww.barnettlimited.com