Greenwood Great House, the entertainment home that once belonged to the family of Pinkie, subject of the famous painting by Thomas Lawrence, looks largely the same now as it would have when she left Jamaica more than 200 years ago.
Though she died of whooping cough at age 12, about a year after its completion, because of the painting’s resemblance to Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, she has become more easily recognizable than her famous niece, the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Pinkie was born Sarah Goodin Moulton Barrett in Jamaica in 1783. Her father was Charles Moulton Barrett. She left the island with her brothers around 1793 to further her education in London.
The Barretts had established themselves in Jamaica in 1655. Hersey Barrett, was an officer in the unsuccessful 1655 raid on Hispaniola (now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic) that was led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables. Following their defeat in Hispaniola, the British captured Jamaica, which was less fortified, from the Spaniards later that same year and Hersey Barrett was granted lands on which he settled.
In time, the Barrett’s fortune from sugar grew. They owned 84,000 acres straddling two parishes – St. James and Trelawny – and 2,000 slaves. When Pinkie’s brother, Edward, father of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was head of the family, he reportedly received income in excess of 60,000 pounds a year, a considerable sum in those days.
The family resided at Barrett Hall, which was located in the hills a few miles from the border of St. James and Trelawny, and entertained at Greenwood Great House, further down the hill. They also owned the nearby Cinnamon Hill Great House, and a house in London, which is near what is now Selfridges.
The 15-room Greenwood Great House is a Georgian-styled mansion that was built in 1790 by Pinkie’s cousin, Richard Barrett, who was a speaker of the House of Assembly and custos rotulorum (representative of the governor) of St. James.
During the Christmas slave revolt of 1831, many of the more than 200 great houses in Jamaica were razed. Fortunately for the Barrett family, they had been good to their slaves and their properties were spared.
Greenwood Great House, which was purchased in 1976 by Bob and Ann Betton and carefully maintained, has always been occupied. It houses the finest collection of antique furniture in the Caribbean, the Barrett family’s Wedgwood china and their library numbering about 300 books with some first editions dating to 1697.
Also included in the collection is a grandfather clock which tells the time and date (it was accurate the day I visited), a punch clock, clothes press, desks with secret compartments, a step ladder that unfolds into a chair, paintings, letters, and rare musical instruments, among them a rosewood inlaid piano made by John Broadwood, who reportedly was the only piano maker whose work satisfied Beethoven. The instruments have been restored and are all in good working order. In this video, Bob Betton, demonstrates one — the polyphone, an upright music box that plays parts for several voices or instruments.
One fascinating piece is a chatelaine, which the lady of the house would have used to keep items such as scissors, thimble, notebook, pencil, etc., handy. It would have been worn attached to her belt.
Just outside the main house, are two posters: one advertising for the purchase of “Negro Coopers,” the other announcing that a slave woman, Mary Gold, had run away. It’s unclear whether they are connected to Greenwood. There’s also a mantrap, a horrific looking contraption that was used to capture runaway slaves, as well as a bathtub that was carved out of a single piece of wood, water jars and farm implements.
A few yards from the house is the kitchen, now a licensed bar called The Level Crossing. Our guide explained that as the slaves carried food from the kitchen to the house, they were required to whistle. The thinking being that if they whistled, they wouldn’t be able to steal the food. On the other side of the kitchen/bar are the souvenir shop and garden.
The 17-foot verandah at Greenwood Great House provides a commanding 180 degree view of what would have been the Barrett family holdings, which stretched east to west as far as the eye could see and right down to the Caribbean Sea. From this vantage point, you can also see how the land curves into the sea. Standing on the verandah, it isn’t difficult to grasp what it must have been like to be a Barrett, with all you own — land and slaves — right at your feet.
Not surprisingly, Greenwood Great House is said to have its own ghosts, two to be exact, but the Bettons do not emphasize that information. They don’t have to — there’s so much more than that to see and experience at Greenwood, a magnificent relic of 19th century plantation life.
Getting there: Greenwood Great House is located 15 miles from Montego Bay, 7 miles from Falmouth, off the main highway in a community called Greenwood. Make the turn at the shopping plaza and follow the signs up the hill.
Hours: 9-6 p.m. everyday
Guided tours: US$20