KINGSTON PAST: Rockfort Gardens

'Knowing the history of our country - that's the important thing.'
   Studs Terkel, (1912-2008) February 2008 (BBC interview)    

1899 - 1900          how it all started


For about four decades, from 1900 to 1940, Rockfort Gardens was Kingston's most important venue for a wide variety of forms of entertainment; to day it is all but forgotten and the site is occupied by power generating equipment of the Jamaica Public Service Company.


 1899                                                                                                1900 >>>

                                                     Daily Gleaner, July 19, 1899
Daily Gleaner,  July 20,  1899

Excursion to Rockfort Gardens

   Rockfort Gardens was the scene of intense

animation on Tuesday evening last, the

occasion being the formal opening of the

future recreation ground for Kingston.

   From early in the afternoon cars on the

Rockfort route were crowded with

passengers, to such an extent that standing

room was unavailable, and as the evening

wore on the rush to the Gardens became

larger, and in spite of the fact that several

special cars were put on the line, they were

inadequate to convey all the people, and

several had to return to their homes. The

gardens were lighted with electricity and

presented a beautiful appearance while the

band of  the Kingston Infantry Militia

rendered a much appreciated programme of

music from early in the evening until after 10

o'clock. There were also refreshments to be

had on the grounds. Between 4,000 and

5,000 people visited the gardens during the


Daily Gleaner, July 27, 1899


Promises have been made that the gardens at Rockfort should be of such an attractive character that

they would become the popular resort of the people of Kingston, but few believed that the [West India

Electric] Company had in view the ambitious plans which are now disclosed. The site is a triangle of

bush between the Windward Road and the sea, where the road and the shore converge at the Third Mile

stone. When first acquired by the Company it was an unpromising piece of bush, the scanty vegetation

of which was parched and bare. Twelve months hence it will be, if there be no interruption of the

operations now begun, one of the prettiest spots in Jamaica. A good deal has already been done. The

bush has been cleaned away and only the more pretentious trees remain. The ground has been cleaned

up. Two fine circular pavilions and a band stand have been built. The gardens have been fenced off. But

still the effect is not very brilliant The gardens look bare and sombre. Here is order however where

chaos was before. On Tuesday the first step was taken towards making this order beautiful, and now

that the process of transformation has begun it will be of interest to give an outline of what the


will be like.

   It should be stated first of all that the laying out of the Gardens has been undertaken by the Botanical

Departments at the expense of course of the Tramway Company, Mr. W. Fawcett Director of Public

Gardens and Plantations has entered heartily into the Company's project, and as a garden is to be made

he is anxious that it should be one worthy of the city and one of which Jamaica may be proud. Mr.

Holgate [manager of the West India Electric Company] has realised the importance of making the

Gardens representative of tropical plant life and flora of Jamaica's economic plants. In this way the

gardens will become a great attraction to tourists who will hail with pleasure so convenient and pretty a

park where they can see all that is novel and interesting in tropical plant life.

   On Tuesday last Mr. T. J. Harris, of Hope Gardens, visited Rockfort and commenced the task of

planning oat the gardens. The first step taken was to peg out a plot in the shape of a heart the apex of

which is about fifteen yards from the entrance. Paths have been cut out round the sides of the heart to

the base within a few yards of the central pavilion. Within the heart all kinds of short decorative trees

and growing shrubs are to be planted, and the soil is being prepared for the planting of the shrubs,

which are being sent to the Gardens daily. The soil proves to be a very fine alluvial deposit and it is

believed that the park will prove a splendid success from a gardener's point of view. About half-way

along the point to the left of the apex, it bifurcates, one branch continuing round the heart to the central

pavilion and the other going straight along westward parallel with the shore. It ends at the smaller

pavilion within a short distance of the western boundary of the Gardens. Between this path and the sea,



the tropical or sea almond, Terminalia catappa L., probably

introduced into Jamaica at the end of the 18th century

trees is to be planted, the principal purpose of which will be to stem the ferocity of the south-west

breeze, which would break the more tender shrubs to be planted. In twelve months the almond trees

will grow about ten feet and when at maturity will reach about 40 feet. On the leeward side of the trees

towards the path, strong shrubs are to be planted and they too will protect the more delicate plants in

the centre of the park. The effect of this bank of foliage along the path will be very pretty. The fear may

arise in the minds of some that the glorious but boisterous ozone is to be excluded for the sake of the

plants. The fear is groundless. Here and there breaks will be made in the wall of foliage through which

lovers of a blow may go to the sea front along which seats will run. This frontage commanding as it does

a beautiful view of the harbour, and against which the waves are driven by the strong south wester that

prevails will be one of the most attractive delights of the Garden. Before the paths from the apex of the

heart meet at the pavilion they will come out upon a beautiful gravel promenade which will lead to the

band stand lying between the two pavilions. The promenade is to be of considerable width and each side

will be lined with seats which will give rest to the promenaders on band nights. It is proposed to have


   As has been stated, the site of the Gardens is roughly speaking a triangle.

   The base at the west end runs from the Windward Road to the sea, and the sides are formed by the

shore and the road. The entrance is at the apex and the band stand is near the centre. So that there is a

considerable area from the entrance, along the road, and down towards the sea not yet accounted for.

This land it is intended to convert into green sward, bordered by plants, trees and shrubs. The stretch of

sward will be broken here and there by the luxuriant banyan trees, under the cool shade of which many

a picnic will in all likelihood be held.

   The well near the central pavilion promises to give an abundant supply of sparkling water. A pump is

now on the way from America and the fountain will be a boon to visitors.

   This is but a brief outline of the metamorphosis that is to take place. Arbours are to be built, where

lovers may spoon without dread of the vulgar eye and other details are to be carried out which will

make the garden the show place of the city.


*[Rosherville Gardens: In 1815 the first steamboat started plying between

Gravesend and London, an event which was to bring much prosperity to the area.

The number of visitors steadily increased, and in the course of the next ten years

several new and rival steam packets were started. With the regular service given

by the steam packets, amenities for the entertainment of visitors began to spring

up. One of those amenities was Rosherville Gardens.

   The gardens were laid out in 1837 by George Jones in one of the disused chalk

pits, covering an area of 17 acres. Their full title was the 'Kent Zoological and

Botanical Gardens Institution'. They occupied an area in what was to become

Rosherville New Town.

   A pier was built to carry these crowds ashore, and a railway station opened on

the Gravesend West branch railway. It was one of the steamboats from

Rosherville Gardens that was involved in a horrific accident in 1878.

   The Rosherville Gardens, on what was previously a barren tract of chalk pits,

on the estate of an enterprising person of the game of Jeremiah Rosher, are

highly picturesque grounds of about 18 acres, constantly open for a small

admission fee, and possessing a rich combination of attractions, variously

natural and artificial. Tea gardens, taverns, archery grounds, gipsy tents,

abundant lodging houses, salubrious air, cheap living, good bathing appliances,

the stir on the river, fine rambling. grounds in the neighbourhood, and ready

communication by steamer and by railway with London, also draw hither a great

and constant concourse of visitors. The town is full of these during all the

summer months, and absolutely swarms with them on Sundays.]

                              Daily Gleaner, July 24, 1899

                         Daily Gleaner
, February 7, 1900

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