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Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Daily Gleaner, Kingston

 

29th December 1953 

OBITUARY

Rebecca Mathilda Browney

 ******

 

Letter to Mrs Rebecca Browney,  Jamaica
from
Miss Geraldine Franks, Superintendent, Catholic Refuge for Friendless Girls,
23 Barclay Road, Fulham,London.

 

Dear Mrs Browney

It is with great concern I write to you regarding your daughter Olga as I do not believe you are aware of her circumstances. 

I first became acquainted with your daughter when she was referred to this home by the Matron of St Giles Hospital because she was pregnant.  Olga remained at the Refuge until she gave birth to her daughter, Marie.

It is part of the Refuge’s policy that we try and maintain contact with mothers in order to see how they cope with their baby and, in spite of my initial doubts as to Olga’s ability to support both herself and a baby in a foreign country, as an unmarried mother and the stigma associated with that, I was impressed with how well she managed. 

However, Olga’s circumstances have now changed and she recently came to me with Marie in some emotional and financial distress.  Her appearance gave me cause for concern, although, I would report that Marie looked well nourished and cared for.  I gave her a little money, but, I suspect that Olga has no job or even a home to go to since she was evasive when I asked where she was living. 

I did my best to try and persuade Olga to contact you but, she is as adamant, as she was when I first met her, that you should know nothing of her circumstances.  I have respected her decision until now.  

 I believe your son Sydney comes to London on business.  I would urge that on his next visit he contacts me and I will endeavour to help him locate Olga and Marie. 

Yours truly

Miss Geraldine Franks  (Superintendent)

******

 Lucy’s Diary

Over the years Martha has been referred to as the black sheep of the family, but my sister has demonstrated that she is  much more than that.  She is a vengeful and wicked woman who broke the heart of a sister that had only ever shown her kindness and affection.  

I realise now the dye was cast for Becky all those years ago when she announced her plans to marry Henry.  Martha thought, irrationally, her dream of becoming rich with her own fashion house had disappeared because of Becky’s decision to marry a black man.  Of course, she was wrong.  She could have continued with her plans and ridden out the storm.  But she lacked courage, something Becky had in abundance. So as an act of spite for some perceived slight all those years ago, Martha finally got her revenge in a spectacularly cruel way, allowing Becky to go to her grave believing her beloved daughter was dead.  How could she do that?

 As for Martha’s hypocrisy, lambasting Becky for marrying a black man when she was secretly living in sin with  one in London, I cannot even bring myself to comment on it. 

Thank God for Geraldine Franks. What a good woman she is, but if only she had contacted us sooner.  Olga is alive and has a little girl.  Sydney says he will go to London to find her and bring them home.

******

 

How The Tale Ends

50 Years Later

 

My mother, Olga, never returned to Jamaica nor was she reunited with any member of her family again after her meeting with Sydney in 1946.   Over the years Mum had been reluctant to talk about her past so I determined to find out what I could myself.  I placed the following advertisement in the Sunday Gleaner in July 1996:

******

 And then two days later we received the following telegram.

 Telegram from Mrs Ruby Shim (nee Browney), Kingston, Jamaica to

Mrs Marie Campbell, Hove, East Sussex, UK.

 

HAVE SEEN YOUR NOTICE IN THE GLEANER.  SISTERS (CISSIE, PEARL, RUBY AND DOLLY) OF OLGA BROWNEY ARE RESIDING AT 9 ANTHURIUM DRIVE, MONA, KINGSTON 6, JAMAICA.  TEL: NO:  809-XXX-XXX.  VERY ANXIOUS TO MAKE CONTACT.  WILL ACCEPT COLLECT  CALL.  RUBY SHIM (MRS)

******

Within a day of receiving the telegram I made the phone call and for the first time in over 50 years Mum spoke to her sisters Ruby, Dolly, Chickie and Pearl.   Ruby told Mum that Mammie, Pops, Sydney, Vivie, Cissie and Gwennie had all died, but the others were still alive.

She said Sydney came looking for Mum twice in the 1950s, but he said she’d vanished without trace.

Slowly my mother’s story unravelled and I discovered much about her family and other things too;  I learnt about my grandmother and what courage she showed in following her heart and marrying a black man knowing she would be ostracised by Jamaican white and coloured society; I learnt how the Jamaican social and class structure mirrored the English pattern of behaviour.  I knew there was colour prejudice (or racism as it is called today) but I had no idea that coloured people felt the same way about the blacks.  I was upset to hear that some of my grandmother’s children railed against Becky for marrying a black man.

I learnt a lot about the wonderful Jamaican culture and folklore – anancy, duppies and, of course, obeah, things I knew nothing about until I started my research.  A couple of times, when I was a child Mum had mentioned, almost sheepishly, that her mother and other members of her family practiced voodoo in Jamaica and that it was a powerful weapon to extract revenge for wrongs committed. 

My Aunt Ruby told me when I met the family in Kingston, that my great aunt Martha narrowly escaped being buried in a pauper’s grave in London thanks to the generosity of the family responding to a request from a Catholic priest for money to bury her.

But the most notable information I acquired was how I was conceived.   It was obvious as Mum told me her story that the anguish of that event had barely diminished even though it had happened decades ago. 

When, over the years, Mum refused to talk to me about my father saying “it’s too painful” it never once crossed my mind that she might have been raped and I was the result.   I can only imagine what it must have been like for her – an unmarried mother, coloured, no family for support – save for a malevolent alcoholic aunt and alone in a foreign country which just happened to be in the middle of a world war.  

My father died in New York in December 1949; waiting on a railway platform he fell under the wheels of an oncoming train and was killed instantly.    By all accounts he was a man with a complex personality, mercurial and prone to depression.  He suffered from mood swings, failing eyesight and dizzy spells, the latter caused by a serious horse riding accident a few years before his death.  Opinion was divided as to the cause of his death.  The medical examiner recorded John Edward’s death as  ‘probably an accident’ since an autopsy had shown nothing untoward.  His family thought it was an accident; his work colleagues thought he’d committed suicide as a result of his depression.

As for how I feel about my father, I take my cue from Mum whom I never heard voice any bitterness about what happened to her.

I wrote this book because I wanted future generations of my family to know something of their heritage and also out of respect to my mother, a gentle and remarkable woman who had huge moral courage.

If the maxim is true, that daughters eventually become like their mother then all I can say is… lucky me.           Marie Campbell

 

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<—- Sydney Shoots a Burglar                 Christmas in Jamaica with John Canoe —->

 

1938 was a very diffcult and dangerous time for the Browney family living in Kingston.  In May of that year workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations.  The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.

The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work.  It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death. 

In that year, Mammie (my grandmother Becky) made a decision regarding her daughter Olga (my mother) that was to have far reaching consequences for Olga that no one could have foreseen and changed her life irrevocably.

 

 

Family Tree

Click to Enlarge Image

Mammie’s (Becky) Diary

Today started with some astonishing news in the newspaper.  Several passengers on the train from Kingston to Montego Bay were seriously injured and taken to hospital when the train they were travelling on derailed at high speed.  A trackman, who witnessed the accident, said the train was going very fast, so much so that he said to the rail man next to him “that the train is moving as fast as an aeroplane.” 

Passengers reported that they had to hold on to something when the train went round bends because it was going so fast and the carriages were wobbling badly. 

What made this news so startling to me was that Olga should have been travelling on that train.  She had wanted to spend the weekend with Cissie and Dyke but because of the riots in Kingston she didn’t want to leave me and her sisters alone, even though Boysie had promised to look in on us from time to time, assuming, of course, he could get through the mobs uninjured himself.   So she didn’t make the journey.  Olga has a guardian angel, I’m sure of it. 

Strikes and Demonstrations:   The rest of the news is still very bad.  Industry is in decline and conditions are terrible.  Unemployment is high, there is irregular work, wages are low, and there is poor housing, poor nutrition and a high cost of living.  This, of course, only applies to the blacks.  We middle and the white upper classes still manage to live quite well. 

There is rioting on the streets of Kingston and I have forbidden the girls to go outside unless they are accompanied by Boysie. 

No cargo has been unloaded from the ships in the harbour for days.  The dock workers in Kingston and the sugar workers in Westmoreland and Clarendon have all gone on strike for better wages and working conditions.     Everywhere on the island, workers are asking for jobs, higher wages and better living conditions. From early in the morning, yesterday, thousands of men and women marched in procession through the streets of Kingston visiting public offices and stopping at the various wharves and forcing work to stop at Myer’s Sugar Wharf, where some labourers had broken the strike. 

The owners of the businesses have threatened that if a solution is not found soon, they will close their businesses down altogether and move off the island    By all accounts it was an ugly scene.  The security forces are everywhere eyeball to eyeball with Alexander Bustamante, who is organising the labourers now.  Mobs are forcing shops to put up their shutters and molesting people in cars, sometimes robbing them of their money.  Mobs are pulling people off the trams and buses and forcing the drivers to take the vehicles off the road.  Last night this leaflet was slipped under our front door. 

 Vengence 

Later on I stood on the veranda upstairs and watched an enormous crowd gather at the end of King Street and then march up the street headed by a large negro with a big drum which he was beating vigorously.   Right in the middle of King Street the crowd was met by a line of police all armed with batons.  Behind them were a line of police with rifles.  The mob was stopped and cleared right off the street with hardly a blow made. 

That same night dozens of cars full of “special constables” armed with any and every kind of weapon patrolled the streets of Kingston and St Andrews.  Stones and bricks were hurled at them from all sides, but they chased people off the streets and beat up those who resisted.  These are frightening times in Jamaica.   

Later that evening:   Sydney came to see me, the first time I’ve seen him since our quarrel, because he is concerned for our welfare and safety.  We talked, rather uncomfortably at first, and Sydney explained at some length what I had failed to realise.  That his business is also feeling the economic downturn,  just like most others in Kingston.   He has agreed to resume helping me financially providing I agree to move to a smaller house.   

We talked about Olga wanting to go to England and I have told Sydney I think she should have the opportunity.   He agreed that with all the unrest on the island and the bicycle  business being quieter these days, it would be good for Olga to go now, particularly, as the threat of Britain going to war has receded since Neville Chamberlain secured Adolf Hitler’s promise that he will not invade Europe further (Munich Agreement).   Sydney has agreed to pay Olga’s fare, providing she only stays six months.  We both agreed this unrest cannot continue for much longer and he is keen that Olga should continue doing his business accounts. 

As Sydney was leaving he bent down and picked up an envelope with my name on and had been slipped under the front door.  In the envelope was a note from Henry and a newspaper cutting.

 Report 3

Henry wrote that the top half of the newspaper was missing, so there was no way of knowing how old the article was.  I decided not to send it to Vivie as she is well and happy in America so why stir up bad memories.  But it demonstrates the power of suggestion. Vivie thought she was Obeahed and suffered genuinely as a result, but here is proof that the act was thwarted, so is Obeah all in the mind?   I have always thought so. 

I know my sojourns into Obeah are of great concern to Father Butler but there is a method to my madness which I have not confided in him because I know he would disapprove.   I believe that psychologically Obeah is very powerful and I learnt from Lucy and John to use Obeah to get the results I want.  I knew that once Aggie Burns heard I’d been to Annie Harvey, she would change her tune and encourage Sydney to be reconciled with us.

 

<—- Sydney Shoots a Burglar                Christmas in Jamaica with John Canoe —>

 

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<—St Andrews, Jamaica                   Letters Between Lucy and Becky 1901-02—>

 

The Advertisement in The Gleaner

Mum had been consistent over the years in refusing to tell me anything about my father or allowing me to attempt to make contact with her family back in Kingston, Jamaica. Whenever I asked about either the reply was always the same. In response to the family question she would say “I don’t want to see them, they’ll only ask questions and, anyway, they’re probably all dead by now”. And in response to questions about my father she’d say “It’s too painful to talk about”.

At that stage I had no idea who my father was nor the circumstances surrounding my birth. In the nineteen forties, when I was born, there was a huge stigma attached to being an unmarried mother, coloured or not, and I assumed it was that stigma which was imbedded in my Mums psyche.  I was later to find that there was another reason.

Her near death experience made me determined to find out more about my family, so I placed the following advertisement in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s national daily newspaper.

    ad-in-gleaner42

A Result!

I suppose, because Mum had been so adamant over the years that all her famiy were dead, I didn’t hold out much hope of a reply. But 24 hours after the ad appeared in the paper I had a phone call a woman called Audrey who was married to Anthony Shim. Anthony was Ruby’s son and Ruby was an older sister of Mum’s and he and his wife lived in London. It was highly emotional phone call for me particuarly when Audrey told me the family in Jamaica believed Mum to be dead. And within hours of that phone call I received a telegram from my Aunt Ruby:

telegram-copy

 

On My Way

The first inhabitants of Jamaica, the Arawaks,  gave the island its name Xaymaca – meaning “land of wood and water” and as I looked at it from the air, the name seemed very appropriate. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to see their Jamaica or even the idyllc island Mum had left behind so long ago.  Kingston had changed a lot since Jamaica gained its Independence.  Now, because of the violence, certain parts were  ‘no go’ areas and visitors were warned to be vigilant to ensure their safety.  

Our plane had started its descent into Kingston and I looked out of the small cabin window at the island I had spent much of my childhood daydreaming about.  From the air, it looked stunning.  Jamaica is a mountainous island with the rugged mountain ranges of the spectacular Blue Mountains to the east of the island. One of the flight attendants announced that we were in a holding pattern over Norman Manley Airport and would have to circle over the island for 10-15 minutes until we could make our final descent into Kingston.

And so the captain gave us a bird’s eye view of Jamaica – I could see the smaller John Crow Mountains next to the Blue Mountain range. I thought I could have been flying over the Amazon Jungle as I looked down at a dense tropical forest no doubt completely uninhabited. A blue haze, from which the Mountains get their name from, wafted lazily over the top of them like a long pale blue gray chiffon scarf. Now we were flying over Cockpit Country in the center of the island where direct descendants of the Maroons still lived. The word Maroons comes from the Spanish word “marron” meaning brown.

The Maroons were slaves owned by the Spaniards when Spain ruled Jamaica. After the British conquered the Spaniards and took Jamaica for themselves, many of the slaves escaped into the mountains and forests in the remote Cockpit Country and set up communities there. The British soldiers tried on several occasions to recapture the slaves for themselves but the Maroons were fierce and resourceful fighters who could outsmart the British soldiers. They were led by a woman, the indomitable and formidable Nanny – now one of Jamaica’s national treasures! Eventually a truce was called and the Maroons gained a considerable measure of self-government they still enjoy today. And every year on 6th January the Maroons celebrate the fact that they were the first black people in the West Indies to gain their freedom, nearly 100 years before Emancipation.

As we continued to fly over the island I could see through my cabin window rivers that criss-crossed over the island and ran from the mountains all the way down to the coastline. I could even see huge waterfalls on the side of the mountains, We carried on flying westward and there were miles and miles of white sandy beaches surrounded by the clean, clear sapphire-blue water of the Caribbean.

We passed over fertile fields crammed with healthy looking crops and I couldn’t help wondering whether we were flying over fields where ganja was growing. Mum had told me how it was smoked quite openly when she was a child in Jamaica, most notably by my Great Aunt Lucy.  I took one more look at the Blue Mountains we started our descent into Kingston.

 

marie-stuart-patsy-and-aunt-ruby-welcome-home-partyfor-marie12 

“Welcome Home to Jamaica” Party for Marie
from l. to r. Patsy, Aunt Ruby, Marie and Stuart

 <—St Andrews, Jamaica                   Letters Between Lucy and Becky 1901-02—>

 

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