Earlier in the summer I started an investigation of the history of archaeology in the Caribbean during the late 19th century. When writing the post I came across references to Irish artist and author Lady Edith Blake, wife of the Governor of Jamaica, who was credited with being a local collector and promoter of archaeology on the island in the Institute of Jamaica Journal.
In 1890 Edith Blake wrote an article, "The Norbrook Kitchen Midden", published in the Victoria Quarterly, a short-lived periodical associated with the island's similarly short-lived Victoria Institute. Established in 1887 in association with Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee (celebrating 50 years on the throne) the Victoria Institute was, according to the Handbook of Jamaica, devoted to "the intellectual improvement of its members and the promotion and cultivation of a taste for literature, science and art in Jamaica generally." Judging from the tables of contents of the Victoria Institute's Quarterly (some of which have handily been put online here) it served as a general periodical for science, literature and history – the perfect venue for Blake's article.
At the time I wrote my initial post, I had not yet been able to access a copy of the original article, but surmised that it comprised a summary of her excavation of the site. I've now seen it, and to my surprise it reveals not only Lady Blake's association with the site, but the role of another woman as well.
Blake's "Kitchen Midden" is a summary of discoveries made in fields near the Shortwood Teacher Training College, and Blake's speculations on their significance, rather than an explicit presentation of work that she had directed herself. She reported that children finding shell fragments on a site significantly far away from the shore had collected them and brought the collection to Amy Charlotte Johnson, the Principal of the Training College. Johnson had studied at Oxford, obtaining an "Associate in Arts", and had further obtained teacher training at Cambridge before she took her post in Jamaica in 1885. (Her movement from the UK to Jamaica – and, presumably, back again – is part of a larger history of education in the colonial Caribbean).
It appears that Johnson had some familiarity with archaeology – in 1889, four years after her arrival, she published an article titled "The History of Auvergne", in the Victoria Quarterly. It included a summary of the archaeology of the region and its links to Etruria. Johnson was clearly invested in building up the Jamaica's cultural resources; thanks to the digitised archives of the Jamaica Gleaner I found that she also donated a live specimen to the Institute of Jamaica Museum in 1895. She left her post in 1899, and it's not clear at the moment what happened to her thereafter.
By the time Edith Blake wrote "Kitchen Midden", she had already established her interest in archaeology. While her husband was Governor of the Bahamas, in the years prior to their arrival in Jamaica, she had explored caves in Rum Cay, a small island south of Nassau. The sketches she made of petroglyphs from this cave, and her short report documenting her trip, were published in the Journal of the Bureau of Ethnology.
It's hard to say at this stage how much involvement in the excavation of the Norbrook Kitchen Midden either Edith Blake or Amy Charlotte Johnson had. The Institute of Jamaica Journal records that the Committee of the Institute was responsible for directing the work; but I suspect that both women were involved in some capacity, probably unofficially. There will hopefully be more to come!
Blake, Edith, 1890. The Norbrook Kitchen Midden. Victoria Quarterly 2(4): 26-33.
Coburn, Patrick, 2011. The girl in the painting. Independent. 28 June: 12-13.
Daily Gleaner, 1889. The Victoria Quarterly Magazine. 5 August: 2.
Daily Gleaner, 1891. Institute of Jamaica: The Museum. 13 November: 2.
Daily Gleaner, 1899. The Case of Miss Johnson. 21 March: 7.
Mallery, Garrick. 1893. Picture Writing of the American Indians: Bahama Islands [Edith Blake's report]. Tenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnography. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office. pp. 137-9.