Continutinuation of the 1895 letters to the Kingston Daily Gleaner about the origins of White Witch of Rose Hall.
The Kingston Daily Gleaner published a letter in 1895 that sparked a controversy over the story and identity of the White Witch of Rose Hall. This public debate went on for several months through the publication of several letters to the Gleaner, catching the attention and interest of the general public and ultimately shaping it into the story we now know.
Who, after visiting the monument of Rosa Palmer in Montego Bay, wrote the initial letter published on May 2nd, that sparked the public discourse.
LETTER TO A FRIEND. No. 2.
Since my last letter to you, which the GLEANER (the Times of Jamaica) kindly published in its valuable columns, quite a number of interesting letters have appeared relative to Mrs. Palmer, arising out of the statement made by me, viz: that I could not bring to my mind that the lovely creature as represented by the monument in the Montego Bay Church, could have been guilty of the charges laid against her (by tradition) of killing five husbands. The letters of Mr. Plummer, Mr. Gruber, and the late Hon. Richard Hill prove beyond doubt that Mrs Rose Palmer whose monument was erected in the Church at Montego Bay was not the bad Mrs. Palmer, and that there were really two Mrs. Palmers.
I have read a copy of the pamphlet "Legend of Rose Hall" which was published, and which Mr. Hill characterised "as altogether wrong". From beginning to end it is incorrect. The pamphlet begins by saying that the superscription on the monument purports that it was erected to the memory of "Mrs. Ann Palmer" There is no such monument in the Church at Montego Bay. The monument, which is there, states that it was erected to the memory of "Mrs. Rosa Palmer."
The pamphlet at the end states that "Mrs. Ann Palmer was found dead in her bed, having been strangled, that a grave was dug, and she was buried in sight of the mansion she bad stained with so many crimes." This may be true as regards Mrs. Ann Palmer, but not at all true as regards Mrs Rosa Palmer, because (according to Mr. Gruber's letter) "Mrs. Rosa Palmer was interred on the left-hand side, not far from the front entrance door, on approaching the Church at Montego Bay, as indicated by the inscription on the tomb stone, informing us that Mrs. Rosa Palmer died 1st May, 1790, aged 72 years, which is corroborated by the Mural Tablet in the Church.
This shows that Mrs. Rosa Palmer was buried in the Church-yard at Montego Bay, and the inscription on the monument begins by saying: "Near this place are deposited the remains of Mrs. Rosa Palmer, &c., &c
Mr Richard Hill's letter states that Mrs. Rosa Palmer was a Miss Rosa Whitter, and was an aunt of the Chief Justice Thomas Whitter Jackson, (who by the tway was a Grand or Greatgrand-Uncle of the present Mayor of Kingston. the Hon. Richard Hill Jackson.) She must have been a sister of Norwood Witter who was member of Assembly for Westmoreland in 1756 afterwards called to the Council in 1760 and of William Witter member of Assembly for Westmoreland in 1764. I mention this to show that Mrs. Rosa Palmer must have been lady of high birth, and not the Irish emigrant girl, who, according to Mr. Plummer, had the will of iron, and the temper of the devil."
Mr Richard Hill (in his letter) said [t]hat his mother's recollection of Mrs. Palmer, the Irish immigrant, was in 1793. Now mark you Mrs. Rosa Palmer died in May 1790, so that Mr. John Palmer must have got married again after the death of the good Mrs Palmer, and his second wife became the notorious lady of Rose Hall Estate, after having killed two previous husbands, and drove one away from the Island.
In order to set aside (as well as to clear up) all doubts as to whether there were really 2 Mrs Palmers, perhaps Mr. Gruber might be kind enough to consult the Parish Church Register, and find out whether the honorable John Palmer got married again after the death of his wife Mrs. Rose Palmer in 1790, and if possible whether the records would show that Mrs. Rose Palmer was thrice married as is alleged before she became the wife of John Palmer.
The taxes rolls and returns in the Collector's office might also give an account of the early history of Rose Hall estate, especially as to when Mrs. Rose Palmer became the owner, or otherwise connected with it.
Mr. Richard Hill in his letter said that Mrs. Rose Palmer was by the record married to Mr Palmer in 1767, but he did not state what was her name when so married, although he states that Mrs. Rose Palmer was a Miss Rose Whitter. As Mr. Hill was a gentleman of education, and must have known what he was writing about, it must be inferred, and taken as conclusive that Mrs. Rose Palmer was only once married.
Several persons have written respecting the "monument" and they have all fallen into the error of mixing up the good with the bad Mrs. Palmer. In the Handbook for 1881 the following occurs "The Parish Church of Montego Bay contains some fine monuments, among which is an exquisite specimen from the chisel of Bacon to the memory of Mrs. Palmer of Rose Hall Estate, of whom tradition has said so much."
In the Tourists Guide published in 1831 by M. C. DeSouza the following occurs: "One monument in this church (Montego Bay) has a strange story attached to it, a story which we may charitably hope to be apocryphal. This is the statue of a lady by name Palmer, who lived at Rose Hill, an estate in the parish of Trelawny (should be St. James) It is reported of this lady that she had murdered no less than five husbands, and that she herself died a violent death by strangulation. It appears strange that the memory of this female fiend should be perpetuated by the monument in church but it is still strange that after the statue had been erected there appeared round its marble neck a mark such as would be made by a hang man's rope, and that this mark had not been visible before the erection of the statue." This statement is reported verbatim in the Handbook published in the interest of the Chicago Exhibition, 1893.
A special correspondent of the GLEANER also (on 20 July, 1891) published an account of the monument as follows" on the left of the altar in the wall is a sculptured tablet by Baron. It represents a woman leaning over a vase, and on the slab beneath is an inscription which will be read with interest on account of the notoriety attached to the name of the person it commemorates. This is the lady about which so much gruesome myth has gathered. The Bell ringer -- a little old man who conducted me round the church and up to the tower -- pointed out" the blood" on the base of the monument. It was strikingly like a splash of crimson blood, but on closer examination proved to be a part of the variegated marble-probably a species of Jasper."
I have not repeated the inscription, as it was already given in my previous letter. The Pamphlet "Legend of Rose Hall" gives the following description of the monument of Mrs Ann Palmer (not Mrs. Rose Palmer) "In the Church at Montego Bay directly over the pew appropriated to the Magistrates, is small marble monument (the Italics are mine) of the purest white, without a speck or blemish (the italics are mine). A broken pillar, an overturned lamp a dead tree, a declining head-stone, a setting sun, and a scull artistically grouped together, are all its ornaments. They are few and simple, but though few and simple, they are beautifully and delicately carved and sculptured, and in their very plainness and simplicity, the chief beauty of the monument consists. It is one of those monuments that attract attention, and please the eye, and you return to it again and again; but perhaps if you were asked the question, you would be at a loss to state why you were so pleased with it."
The monument in the church to the memory of Mrs. Rosa Palmer, is anything but a small monument. It stands over six feet high.
In the "Tourist Guide" published by Messrs A. W. Gardner & Co, in 1893 the following ocurrs: "The church (Montego Bay) is interesting on account of the number of fine monumental marbles which it contains, amongst others a memorial of a lady named Mrs Palmer, whom tradition makes out to have been a Jamaican Lucretia Borgis, who poisoned or otherwise removed a number of husbands, and was herself put to death by her last marital companion. The marble of the tablet, which was executed by the elder Bacon, shows some anxious markings which it is alleged, were not apparent when erected. Round the neck appear the marks of straggling while the nostrils seem to exude blood. Whether these markings are due to the realistic touches of some artistic joker, or are really in the grains of the marble it is not easy to determine."
I give you these "extracts" to show what fallacious and erroneous statements have been made from time to time by different writers, including the pamphlet" and Mr Broderick's letters, who said that Mrs, Palmer was killed at Palmyra although the pamphlet which was "got up" by him state that Mrs. Ann Palmer was killed at Rose Hall.
Rose Hall Estate has recently been advertised for sale, and the advertisement states that the Great House, (of legend fame) would make a first rate Hotel or Health resort.." I have not had the opportunity of seeing this famous place, but on my next visit to Montego Bay, I shall (D V.) make it a point of paying the place a visit. It is about 9 miles from Montego Bay on the road to Falmouth. I was much disappointed at the very meagre description of this great mansion as given by the pamphlet. The house I am told has 365 windows, and an immense number of bedrooms. The staircase which is one of the grandest in the Island was made in England out of mahogany sent from Jamaica specially for the purpose. The pamphlet states that a Governor General once offered £500 for the staircase, to be taken down and sent to England.
Montego Bay being now opened up to the public -- thanks to the railway -- a good number of visitors will no doubt be flocking to the place, who will, as a matter of course, visit the Church for the purpose of gratifying their curiosity respecting the much talked of monument, and the much abused Mrs. Rosa Palmer. It is well, therefore, that the correct version should be arrived at of this famous Legend.