Trelawny’s parish capital, FALMOUTH – 37 kilometres east of MoBay and named for the English birthplace of Parish Governor Sir William Trelawny – became the main port of call for sugar ships in the late eighteenth century. Slaves were traded and goods unloaded, while planters built elegant Georgian town houses.
Falmouth fell into a state of disrepair in the nineteenth century, which continued for well over a hundred years, but its long-held sleepy aspect was finally lifted in 2011 with the opening of a new deep-water cruise ship dock on the town’s eastern seaboard. Divers were contracted to individually move over 150,000 valuable corals from a section of reef, thus making space for a shopping mall to service the happy hordes disembarking from the largest cruise ships in the world. With arrivals twice a week in winter and once a week in summer, the dock is in fact only open one to two days each week, and contains the usual selection of faceless in-bond jewellery shops, restaurants and bars. The development was nonetheless supported by most of the town, desperate for jobs and economic uplift. Some residents were happy, too, to see the renovation of much of its best Georgian architecture, formerly in a terrible state of disrepair – albeit now with quaint faux-original signage and uniform timber colours. This includes some of Falmouth’s most impressive constructions: Tharpe House, a block west of the port, the porticoed post office in the middle of Market Street, and the old courthouse, built overlooking the sea in 1895, are still in commercial or municipal use.
Outside cruise ship days and the immediate vicinity of the port, Falmouth remains an easy-going place, with a high concentration of two-hundred-year-old timbers leaning onto the tarmac, and once majestic properties serving as dilapidated shelters for chickens and stray dogs. A wander through the streets provides an unadorned – and due to its slavery connection sometimes chilling – glimpse into Jamaica’s past.
In the late eighteenth century, Falmouth boasted 150 houses and a cage where the market now stands (akin to the one still standing in Montego Bay’s Sam Sharpe Square), used for locking up drunken sailors found on the streets later than the 6pm curfew. Though slavery ended within fifty years of the town being declared parish capital in 1790, Falmouth’s natural harbour ensured Trelawny’s prosperity, and it thrived where others declined, even after emancipation. The advent of the steamship – the first docked at Jamaican shores in 1837 – spelt the first step in the town’s decline. The harbour wasn’t deep enough for larger vessels, and by 1890 Falmouth had become something of a ghost town – traders left for Montego Bay or Kingston, and their houses began slowly to rot. In 1896, however, the Albert George Market was built, and Falmouth’s status as market town still ensures a bustling centre each Wednesday, with fruit and veg, bootleg clothing and brightly coloured fripperies set out along the pavements, in traditional “bend down” style.