the extinct volcano
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.
LOTS TO LEARN
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.