Jamaica Gleaner


the ex­tinct vol­cano

- Joan Wil­liams Con­trib­u­tor

IFIRST heard of the ex­tinct vol­cano at Black Hill in Port­land dur­ing a cy­cle ride to the parish. At one of our stops atop a long, te­dious hill just be­yond Or­ange Bay, a young man, mis­tak­ing us for tourists, ap­proached and of­fered to take us on a tour to the vol­cano at Black Hill. He said we would see ev­i­dence of lava flow and some de­nuded hills.

When I en­quired as to when it last erupted, he chirped, “About 50 years ago, ma’am.” That was my laugh for the day as I told him that if it had erupted 50 years ago, I would have heard about it! Poor kid. To him, 50 years seemed like more than a life­time away!

Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia.com, ex­tinct vol­ca­noes are those con­sid­ered by sci­en­tists as un­likely to erupt again be­cause the vol­cano no longer has a lava sup­ply. A dor­mant vol­cano, on the other hand, is an ac­tive vol­cano that is cur­rently sleep­ing but is ex­pected to erupt again some­time in the fu­ture.

I de­cided to re­search vol­canic ac­tiv­ity in Ja­maica but un­able to find any­thing ex­cept that the is­land was formed by un­der­wa­ter vol­cano erup­tions mil­lions of years ago, I quickly for­got about it.

But a few years later, I got an email from the Nat­u­ral History So­ci­ety of Ja­maica (NHSJ) an­nounc­ing, “The next NHSJ field trip is planned to the Or­ange Bay area in Port­land. We will climb the ex­tinct Black Hill vol­cano, blah, blah, blah ... .”

Well, that was enough to im­me­di­ately pique my at­ten­tion!

So off we headed on the day, with no bet­ter tour guide than the head of the Univer­sity of the West Indies’ Ge­og­ra­phy & Ge­ol­ogy Depart­ment, Pro­fes­sor Si­mon Mitchell, a Bri­tish na­tional who has been in Ja­maica for 18 years.

First, we walked up to Grange Hill, Port­land, where we saw a bunch of kids lyming at the front of an un­fin­ished shop while oth­ers hung out on tombs at the back. Again mis­tak­ing us for tourists, some of the fel­lows of­fered to be our tour guides to take us to the top of the hill they called Honey Hill. They said it was around two and a half miles away. How­ever, we went by our­selves and it was much closer to half a mile!

This was a most in­for­ma­tive trip, where we were learnt many things such as basalt rocks be­ing formed from the rapid cool­ing of basaltic lava. Bro­ken down over mil­lions of years, basalt has given the beach at Or­ange Bay its black sand. In fact, we also learnt that Black Hill it­self de­rives its name from the colour of its rocks – near black due to the high con­tent of iron ox­ide.


I learnt a lot, too, about lime­stone and the fact that Ja­maica has the po­ten­tial to earn bil­lions from this prod­uct, which is among the purest in the world. Well, you know that’s how us Ja­maicans are, full of un­re­alised po­ten­tial! These are things that we see around us all the time with­out grasp­ing their im­por­tance.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Mitchell, this ex­tinct vol­cano is quite “young”, hav­ing erupted only 12 mil­lion years ago. “Young” be­cause Ja­maica was at first formed by un­der­sea erup­tions some 40-50 mil­lion years ago. This field trip was mas­sag­ing our minds. We also learnt that Black Hill was ‘dis­cov­ered’ around 1860 when the colo­nial mas­ters, hav­ing lost their cheap labour fol­low­ing the abo­li­tion of slav­ery, opted to do ge­o­log­i­cal sur­veys in all the colonies in the search for pre­cious met­als and min­er­als.

Cer­tainly, we all gath­ered a wealth of in­for­ma­tion from the knowl­edge­able pro­fes­sor. In ad­di­tion, an in­ter­est­ing piece of folk­lore came up on the trip from a lo­cal young man named Adrian. He had re­cently grad­u­ated from An­notto Bay High School and told me he planned to en­rol at HEART to study elec­tri­cal in­stal­la­tion.

His ver­sion of the ex­tinct vol­cano is that it last erupted just as Christo­pher Colum­bus ap­proached the is­land in 1492. On see­ing the belch­ing smoke, Colum­bus quickly veered away from Port­land and went to land at Dis­cov­ery Bay in­stead. So I guess Dis­cov­ery Bay should be grate­ful to Black Hill! Good ver­sion, Adrian!

From atop Honey Hill, we had a fab­u­lous view of the Or­ange Bay area, and my as­sis­tant-guide, Adrian, pointed to a prop­erty be­low by the sea at Or­ange Bay which, he ad­vised, was the birthplace of the late, great T. P. Lecky.

For the ben­e­fit of those who might be un­aware, T. P. Lecky was a great Ja­maican sci­en­tist who, through ex­per­i­ments in ge­net­ics, de­vel­oped the Ja­maica Hope cat­tle in the 1950s. These cat­tle were a com­bi­na­tion of the Bri­tish Jersey cow (small and light feed­ing) with the Hol­stein (heavy milk pro­duc­ers) and the In­dian Sahi­wal breed (dis­ease re­sis­tant and adapted to the Trop­ics). The Ja­maica Hope could pro­duce up to an av­er­age of 12 litres of milk per day, i.e. three times that pro­duced by other cat­tle on the is­land. The de­vel­op­ment of the Ja­maica Hope trop­i­cal dairy breed cat­a­pulted Lecky to in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion.

Lecky’s work rev­o­lu­tionised the Ja­maican dairy in­dus­try and sci­en­tists from many other coun­tries flocked to Ja­maica to wit­ness his achieve­ment.

Not rest­ing on the lau­rels of his suc­cess, Lecky then turned his at­ten­tion to cre­at­ing a Ja­maican breed for good meat pro­duc­tion. He worked with cat­tle farm­ers and looked care­fully at In­dian cat­tle. He se­lected from a few breeds of In­dian cat­tle that had been brought into the is­land and cre­ated a new breed known as the Ja­maica Brahman, which has since also be­come pop­u­lar across Latin Amer­ica.

Farm­ers then noted that the im­ported English Red breed of cat­tle did not prove re­sis­tant to ticks and trop­i­cal dis­eases, but when cross-bred with the Ja­maica Brahman, pro­duced cat­tle of top-qual­ity beef. This breed be­came known as the Ja­maica Red, which then be­came the main meat-pro­duc­ing cat­tle on the is­land. (If you went to Den­bigh this week­end you would have seen some ev­i­dence of Lecky’s out­stand­ing work in the prize-win­ning cat­tle on show.)

So not only did I learn a bit of ge­ol­ogy, ge­og­ra­phy, and folk­lore on this in­ter­est­ing field trip, but I also saw where the great man T. P. Lecky al­legedly grew up.

Af­ter our les­son in ge­ol­ogy, we drove down to the beach to look at an old rail­way tun­nel, which had been in use up to the early ’90s when we had a rail sys­tem con­nect­ing Kingston to Port An­to­nio and Kingston to Mon­tego Bay.


We did not ven­ture in­side, how­ever, as rain wa­ter had leaked into the tun­nel and it was full of (Chik-V?) vec­tors.

On this trip, I was also in­tro­duced to Sa­vanna Point near Or­ange Bay. Here, the black sand on the beach is a per­ma­nent re­minder of the vol­cano that erupted here mil­lions of years ago.

This was an ab­so­lutely won­der­ful day spent with mem­bers of the Nat­u­ral History So­ci­ety and a day when I gained so much more learn­ing about our beau­ti­ful land, plus great folk­lore to boot, com­pli­ments of young, bright Adrian from Grange Hill in Port­land.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Basalt rock as ev­i­dence of past vol­canic ac­tiv­ity.
Basalt rock as ev­i­dence of past vol­canic ac­tiv­ity.
 ??  ?? Basalt rock up close.
Basalt rock up close.
 ??  ?? Prop­erty by the sea where T.P. Lecky was said to be born.
Prop­erty by the sea where T.P. Lecky was said to be born.

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