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Jamaican treasures

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Today the Jamaica Observer, in collaboration with the Institute of Jamaica, starts a new series that will give wider exposure to the treasure trove of artefacts stored at the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), the former residence of notable Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, situated at 12 East Street, downtown Kingston.

The primary institution tasked with preserving and building the collective memory of Jamaica is committed to showcasing, preserving and revering the Jamaican legacy for centuries to come. The library is well known for housing rare documents that shaped the history of the nation and the world. Here's a look at 10 fascinating pieces the NLJ has in its coffers.

George William Gordon is Jamaica's third national hero who fought valiantly for the rights of the oppressed in the Morant Bay Rebellion. Hours before his death, Gordon wrote a heart-rending two-page letter to his wife, Anne (whom he called Lucy). The letter recounts the unjust treatment meted out to him. With angst, unhappiness and woe, he managed to pen his final words, though shakily, to his wife, his long-time partner and lover who would never see him again. This treasure is particularly beautiful as it captures the love this man had for his wife, that even in the face of death she was his foremost thought. See an excerpt from the sorrowful letter:

“My Beloved Lucy,

General Nelson has just been kind enough to inform me that the court-martial on Saturday last has ordered me to be hung, and that the sentence is to be executed in an hour hence; so that I shall be gone from this world of sin and sorrow…”

Shark Papers

The Shark Papers were recovered over 200 years ago from a “shark's belly”. The papers were instrumental in the 1799 conviction of the captain and crew of the brig Nancy in the old Court House, south-west corner of Harbour and Hanover streets, in Kingston. Housed in a document box, the collection included letters, legal cases, receipts, bills and other correspondence.

The Story of the Jamaican National Flag

In preparation for Independence, the decision was made to hold competitions for the selection of a national anthem and national flag for independent Jamaica. An award of 100 would be paid for the accepted design for a national flag. Over 368 entries were received. Several of these original submissions are housed in the Special Collections of the National Library of Jamaica.

At the Government's suggestion, the Independence Celebrations Committee compiled a short list of 12 designs to be presented to the Joint Committee of Parliament. This Joint Committee was to select a suitable design for the national flag from among the shortlisted entries.

However, none of the entries was found to be suitable and the flag was eventually designed by a bipartisan committee of the Jamaican House of Representatives.

Isolario di Benedetto Bordone… In Vinegia ad instantia & spese del Nobile huomo M Federico Toresano

Considered to be one of the earliest “maps” of Jamaica, The Isolario written by Italian Benedetto Bordone is a unique book in the collection of the NLJ. It is the oldest book in the library's possession published in 1547. Written in Italian, it is located in the Rare Books Collection and is one of the most protected books in the library's collection.


Dulcimina was a radio serial that was broadcast in the middle of the day. This series is being stored in the audio-visual collection of the NLJ. Dulcimina was so popular that when one actress playing one of the more popular characters died, her funeral, which was held in downtown Kingston, was so well-attended that Parade was blocked for hours. Dulcimina was written, produced and directed by Elaine Perkins and ran for 13 years (1967—1980).

Miss Lou's Views

This collection of social radio commentaries/stories was relayed through Miss Lou's alter ego, Aunty Roachy, who offered advice and explanations for developmental changes in the fledging nation. The situations documented are timeless and serve to reinforce the interrelatedness of past and present.

Handbooks of Jamaica

This annual Handbook, 1881 — 1974, chronicles historical and statistical data relating to Jamaica. Published from official and other records, it provides detailed information on subjects connected with the island: flora and fauna; government offices and agencies; names, salaries and dates of appointment of public officer; political constitution, secular and religious institutions; maps; parish history.

Kidd's New Plan of the City of Kingston, Jamaica – Lithographed for and published by A Decordova and Nephew

A fascinating map of Kingston portraying public buildings, streets and their widths, parish lines and water pipes. The map is surrounded with images of selected buildings and places such as the Kingston Parish Church, Theatre, King's House, Ferry Inn, Stony Hill, Port Henderson, and Port Royal.


• Evon Blake's correspondence with the first Premier of Jamaica under self-government, Norman W Manley.

• Henry Holgate's photo album of late 19th and early 20th century Jamaica.

• The archive of Jamaica's revered and loved cultural icon Louise Bennett (Miss Lou)

• Jamaican newspapers dating back to 1718 including Jamaica's first newspaper, the Jamaica Courant.

Visit the National Library at 12 East Street, Kingston; Call us at: 967-2494/6, 967-2516 or visit our website at