The year was 1919 and transportation across Jamaica was still cumbersome, with trains running to just a few sections of the island and donkey or horse carts the main means of transport to get to a desired long-distance destination.
The car at the time was not mass-produced, but this, however, did not stop James Thompson from Richmond, St Mary to journey into the Corporate Area to acquire a passport which, at the time, was novel to the island as travel overseas was only by sea.
That passport has so far stood the test of time, with great grandson, Florida-based Attorney-At-Law Hanton Walters, now in possession of the document which he found among his mother’s belongings when she died in 2014.
Walters recently brought the passport to the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) offices in St Andrew and was also able to furnish three other family members’ passports from different eras.
According to Walters, his mother had enlarged and framed his great grandfather's picture from the passport, but he was unaware of the travel document’s existence until he discovered it after her death. He said it was ironic that the passport survived almost unscathed despite not having any protection beyond being placed inside a drawer.
Walters stated that among his great grandfather’s rich travel history was a 20-year stay in Cuba, which he said set the trend for the generation that followed including his mother, who migrated to the United States before he was born.
“I have the blessing to have a family of travellers to basically be able to go decades upon decades with examples of travel documents as passports. This passport of my great grandfather was a year after World War I. Travel as we know it now didn’t exist then as we know it now for the most part,” Walters told OBSERVER ONLINE.
“For my great grandfather to live in Richmond, St Mary at the time, which is relatively farm territory… and embark on this process to get a passport, that was a novel thing for that era,” Walters said.
Walters added that he was especially appreciative of the fact that the passport has given him a vivid picture of the features of his great grandmother. At the time, wives were not allowed to own passports so they had to travel on their husbands’ documents and had to be described in detail because their photographs were not a part of the travel document.
In the meantime, Chief Executive Officer of PICA, Andrew Wynter, said the memorabilia will enable PICA to enlighten Jamaicans on the journey of the entity, which is celebrating 15 years since it evolved from the former Immigration, Citizenship and Passport Services Division of the Ministry of National Security following a modernization programme which started in 2005.
“This is very significant for the agency because (we are) celebrating (our) 15th year and one of the things we are considering to do is give Jamaicans a good history and perspective of where passports are coming from and where we are actually going to, in terms of work and travel identification,” Wynter stated.
“So getting this opportunity to even get something that’s over 100 years old really helps to put the whole thing of the passport in a good perspective, especially for the generations going forward,” he said.
Walters stated that his mother lived in Brooklyn, New York but returned to Jamaica to give birth to him because his father was afraid that the newborn would later be drafted by the US Army to fight in the Vietnam war.
He returned to the US towards the end of primary school.