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A Visit to the Hanover Museum #Jamaica

Places that hold memories of the past lose some of their emotional sting over time and free us to fill in the spaces with our imagines of how things were.

On a visit to the Hanover Museum in Lucea, Jamaica, I saw for the first time the inside of a colonial jail and I could almost feel the pain that stained the walls.

The Hanover Museum Jamaica is located in what was formerly the Hanover Workhouse, a two-story structure that was built of cut stone, about 12″ thick, that was transported from England as ship’s ballast. It is uncertain when this workhouse was built but there are references to it at the time of the Hanover Conspiracy, an attempted slave uprising in 1776.

The Hanover Workhouse consisted of four rooms, a jailor’s house and, on an upper level, two “apartments” for debtors. It served as a place of incarceration for male and female slaves who were held there for a variety of offences. (According to one of the storyboards, one woman said she was there for having too many children — eight.) Some were also sent to the workhouse to be ‘broken in’ upon arrival in Jamaica.

Prisoner bed at Hanover Museum Jamaica
Hanover Museum Jamaica – concrete bed with ‘pillow’

The tour begins in the main area that is said to have held up to 50 people. Off this area is a cell with a concrete bed that runs the length of the room, almost filling it. About 3 feet off the floor, the bed had a pillow — of concrete — and reportedly slept up to 15 prisoners. Seeing this bed, my mind drifted to the words from Bob Marley. “Cold ground was my bed last night, and rock was my pillow too” from Talking Blues.

Next to the sleeping area, are two smaller cells where prisoners were sent for solitary confinement. There were no beds here and I wondered if they were kept shackled in collars or other contraptions.

There’s another large room but it’s unclear what that was used for. Only the cut stone outer walls of the upper floor remain.

The Hanover Workhouse, as the name suggests, was not a place of relaxation. Prisoners were fed minimal rations and they had to work – breaking stones, clearing brush and fixing roads – and they were chained together to get it done.

There were other methods of punishment: prisoners were put in collars or on a treadmill, a brutal mechanism that resembled a waterwheel above with a horizontal bar which they had to hold, their feet just touching the wheel. They had to keep pedaling the wheel in order to avoid serious injury or a whipping from the overseer who stood nearby.

A Disturbing Artifact

One disturbing artifact that is on view is a metal cage, called a gibbet, in which a prisoner was enclosed from head to toe. I felt a chill down my back as the guide explained that after being secured in the gibbet, it would be hung outside until the slave died.

In 17th century England, judges could impose a sentence of gibbeting for those found guilty of capital crimes like murder, pirating, etc. Thomas Thistlewood, a British plantation overseer, recorded in his journal that gibbeting was used in Westmoreland during the 1760 Tacky rebellion.

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