I met Marina Delfos about two years ago when I started volunteering with Falmouth Heritage Renewal (FHR). To say that Marina is passionate about heritage would be an understatement. As founder of Jamaica Heritage Walks, she conducts walking tours of Falmouth’s historic district, the town’s Jewish cemetery, and introduces visitors to local foods.
Last February, at its annual preservation seminar, FHR presented a session on historic metalwork and Marina took us on a tour of the 200-year old Jewish cemetery, which has some fine examples of metalwork. Following the session, I asked Marina if I could interview her about the work she’s doing to help preserve the historic town.
1. Tell us a little about yourself. For example, how long have you been leading the tour? Are you a native of Trelawny?
I started Falmouth Heritage Walks in February 2011 with a tour of the historic district of Falmouth. Last year I expanded the tour to include a culinary walking tour – “Falmouth food tour” (a collaboration with Jamaica culinary tours) and a walking tour to the Jewish cemetery.
Officially I have been doing a tour of the Falmouth Jewish cemetery since December 2013. I volunteered to take over the maintenance of the cemetery back in 2011 as there was really no one else to do it, and occasionally i would be asked to show persons around.
I was born in Kingston but I like to think that I am from Mandeville as that is where I spent most of my younger life. I was drawn to Falmouth because of the history and with the master’s degree in heritage management that I obtained in London back in 2005, it was the perfect place to locate to.
2. Tell us about your family’s history in Jamaica. When did they arrive? What country did they come from? (I’m also interested in the Jewish story in Jamaica)
On my mother’s side, my grandfather’s (Vivian Mervyn Bromfield) family has been in Jamaica from the mid-1700s. He is descended from Andrew Bromfield and his coloured slave. These Bromfields originated from the border of England and Scotland.
My maternal grandmother was third generation Irish from Canada and met my grandfather in the mid-1930s when she came to Jamaica with her first husband, a Welshman suffering from tuberculosis. They had heard that the air of Malvern, St. Elizabeth was healing and stayed at my grandfather’s guesthouse near Malvern. Her husband died and somehow my grandfather got in the picture and she moved to Jamaica in 1939 with her two young sons. It was quite a thing to marry a “coloured” man in 1939. My grandfather was very successful in the apiary business at a young age and then went into the hardware business following in the footsteps of his uncle, Duncan Clacken.
My father is a Greek born in Alexandria, Egypt, and met my mother in London. They returned to Jamaica a couple of years after they got married, and he worked at Pan Am then the Jamaica Tourist Board, before leaving Jamaica in 1972 to go to Australia.
I am not sure if I have any Jewish connections but my father had family in Corfu, which had a very large Jewish population before World War II and sometimes I am told Bromfield is a Jewish name.
3. How old is the cemetery?
We estimate just over 200 years old. The oldest readable grave is dated 1815 – Isaac Simon Esq.
4. How significant is the history of the Jewish people in Jamaica?
Very significant, yet it is not taught in our schools. Personally, I was not really aware of our Jewish population until 15-18 years ago. The Jewish community is the oldest continuous community on the island and some scholars believe it to be the oldest Jewish community in the Western hemisphere. Before they gained civil liberties in 1831, as merchants they played an important part in helping to develop our economy. When the slaves held their Sunday markets it was the Jews who were open for trade that day for slaves to purchase material goods with money earned from their sales. This relationship carried over after the granting of civil liberties for free men and Jews in 1831 and after emancipation in 1838, for they could now participate in politics and supported each other. The first housing development in Jamaica was started by a Jewish family, the Matalons. The first Jamaican ambassador to the U.S.A. was Jewish, Sir Neville Ashenheim.
5. Have you discovered any important or interesting stories about any of the people buried there?
Most certainly. David Lindo, the great-grand uncle of Chris Blackwell of Island Records and Island Outpost fame, can be traced back to a Lindo mentioned in the Inquisition papers. The first Ashenheim in Jamaica, Dr. Lewis Ashenheim from Edinburgh is buried here and he is the great-grandfather of Sir Neville Ashenheim. Robert Nunes was the custos of Trewlawny 1864-1876 and actually quite a bit is mentioned about him in the Jewish encyclopedia http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11624-nunes-robert. There are some sad facts, especially the number of children that died during the 1850s due to an outbreak of Asiatic cholera. Two families, George and Lydia Delisser and Robert and Rebecca Nunes lost three children during this time and there is a lot more information and stories to discover.
6. All except one of the graves face west. What have you been able to find out about the one that doesn’t.
I haven’t been able to find out that much, but his name is Lazarus Solomons Esq, and with esquire behind his name that probably indicates that he was a gentleman, had property and status. It is the second oldest readable burial in the cemetery yet there is no Hebrew. He died before full civil liberties were given to Jamaican Jews in1831.
7. When was the last burial, when did the cemetery close?
I am not sure when the cemetery closed but the last burial is that of Alfred Leopold Delgado, b December 25, 1861, d December 31, 1944.
8. Anything else you’d like to add?
The preservation of our cemeteries is important to preserving out history, telling our story as a nation. By giving tours of the Falmouth Jewish Cemetery, I hope to establish a maintenance programme for the other Jewish cemeteries on the island, which could be as many as 21, maybe more. I established a Facebook group – Jewish Jamaican Journeys – to have dialogue with members and allow them to share information. There is also a Facebook page of the same name, which is used more for posting links and photo albums and to generate more interest in Jamaica’s Jewish history.
If you’re going to be in the Falmouth area and would like to book a walking tour or a tour of the Jewish Cemetery, contact Marina Delfos at email@example.com.