[ News | Go - Kingston | Discover Jamaica ]

Riots Here: Send Help At Once
Courthouse In Montego Bay where the riots began.

APRIL 5, 1902
At midnight on April 5, 1902 after walking home from a leisurely dinner with Dr. Bill Farquharson, the District Medical Officer, Police Inspector Herbert Thomas received this urgent telegram from Sergeant-Major Phillips in Montego Bay. Inspector Thomas took the missive seriously and decided to make the 25-mile journey from Lucea to Montego Bay. Inspector Thomas located Sergeant-Major Johnson who agreed to use his parry cart (a two-wheeled vehicle not much larger than a wheelbarrow) and the two men set off carrying carbines with bayonets, twenty rounds of ball cartridge and some clothes.

Inspector Thomas and Sergeant-Major Johnson arrived at the Montego Bay police station close to 4 a.m. Sunday morning, April 6, 1902. Like the calm after a storm, it was eerily quiet. The station's broken windowpanes and the many bricks, stones, conch shells and bottles scattered in the station's courtyard spoke of earlier chaos. Inspector Thomas hurried inside to assure himself of the safety of Montego Bay's Sergeant-Major and constables. All reported that they were fine if a bit shaken up.

Inspector Thomas was informed that the unrest began late in the afternoon of Friday April 5, when a drunken sailor named Cooper was arrested for disorderly conduct close to 5 p.m. and the two women who were with him were treated badly by the arresting officer.The arresting officer was attacked by a group of "roughs", friends of Cooper's from the docks. Some 2000 others turned up at the courthouse and began to hail stones down on the windows. Sergeant-Major's home was attacked and his wife and children forced to flee for their lives. The police eventually released Cooper but the rioters were not appeased. Police on beat duty were attacked as was the police guardroom at the courthouse where Sergeant-Major Phillips was stationed attempting to hold off the crowd with his revolver. He was eventually forced to retreat into the police station after firing a shot into the crowd that wounded one of the attackers. At that point the crowd advanced on the courthouse guardroom and destroyed everything in sight. They then turned their attention to the police station. All subsequent arrests were also released and the Custos addressed the people. Rioting ceased for the night and not believing the worst to be over, Sergeant-Major Phillips began to send telegraphs calling for reinforcements. Inspector Thomas and Sergeant-Major Johnson were among the first to arrive.

APRIL 6, 1902
At that point, satisfied that he had been brought to speed, Inspector Thomas took an early morning stroll around Montego Bay to see for himself that calm prevailed before returning to the station for a short nap. Later that morning more reinforcements arrived so that in addition to the town's regular police force, Montego Bay boas ted the presence of the Inspector General, three inspectors, a Sergeant-Major and 60 armed men. Upon arrival at the railway station, however, the reinforcements got an indication of what they would be up against as they were greeted by a confident crowd of close to 1500 many of whom were said to have remarked, "Cho! That is not half enough for us tonight!"

Some of the inspectors, including Herbert Thomas of Lucea, began to suspect that what happened the night before was only a small taste of what was to come. Others, including the Inspector General, convinced themselves that the worst was over and that order would be maintained.All remained quiet during the day and church services proceeded smoothly. Adjutant Simons of the Salvation Army who worked amongst the poor in the community, took it upon himself to address the crowd that had begin to gather once again. Although he is said to have been attempting to place himself over the crowd "in the hope of diverting attention from the police" he staged a march to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers" (as cited in Bryan, 1991, pg. 273). When loud roars and bugle calls could be heard approaching the town centre, Inspector Thomas was ordered to investigate. He wound up walking towards a mob of some 2000 angry people and promptly took refuge in the police station arriving there only a few minutes before the mob. The marchers managed to again attack police officers on beat, rain attacks on the police barracks and even assault the Inspector General.

Police whistles added to the din of angry voices. Stones began to fly and many of the police officers on duty in front of the station were wounded, forced to retreat inside and regroup. Inspector Thomas remembers: "Finding that some of the men had begun to fix their bayonets I immediately ordered them to desist, and showed them how to use the butt end of the carbine...By this time I had unlocked the big gate which was used to allow vehicles to enter the yard and I suddenly flung it open taking the mob completely by surprise and charging right into the heart of it with the butts of the carbines. The streets was immediately strewn with the wounded and the crowd temporarily disbursed...." (as quoted in Black, 1984, p. 38).

By the time the Inspector General arrived at the police station, his white jacket stained with blood and his arm hanging limply at his side, twenty men had been wounded, some seriously, including Inspector O'Toole of Falmouth who had been carried in unconscious due to a blow on his temple from a brick. The Inspector General who knew he had barely escaped with his life, ordered Inspector Thomas to gather all police constables who were able into an armed party to clear the streets and town square, firing if necessary.

Thomas did as he was told. "The street," he remembered, "was so strewn with missiles of various kinds ­ which were also rained up on us as we marched along ­ that men were tripping and falling every three or four yards, and we did not dare leave any of them on the road, or they would assuredly have perished at the hands of the mob....Seeing no prospect of otherwise putting an end to the disturbance, and as our numbers were being steadily depleted by casualties ­ I myself being the only officer not yet disabled ­ I gave the order for independent firing. Some twenty-five shots were fired altogether and the effect was magical...." The mob (many of whom believed that blank cartridges were being used) were stunned when the bullets began to fly.Within three minutes, Thomas noted, "the square was clear while a terrified silence prevailed."
A tearsheet from the Daily Gleaner of Monday, April 7, 1902

APRIL 7, 1902

The Montego Bay Riots had ended but the security forces were taking no chances. On Monday April 7, the H.M.S. Tribune docked in Montego Bay from Port Royal thereby increasing Montego Bay's peace-keeping force to 750 armed men. The Acting Governor Mr. (later Lord) Olivier also arrived by special train as did a company of the West India Regiment (WIR). A reinforcement of 100 police had also been sent to replace the wounded. Of the four officers and 70 other ranks engaged, police casualties were upwards of 50% of their numbers. Two of the rioters lost their lives and some 24 were injured. A meeting of the privy council was held and a Commission appointed to investigate the entire affair.

"Not since Morant Bay has there been such a rising against constituted authority," claimed the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The Commission's conclusion was that the riots were as a result of hostility to the police. Inspector Thomas of Lucea believed they were related to a tightening of police control after years of laxity because Montego Bay, lightly policed and suffering from high rates of unemployment, had become "the most rowdy and disorderly town in the island."Yet the Jamaica Advocate, editorializing on the events of April 5 -7 1902 placed the blame for the riots on the Government's recently instituted land taxation policy in its attempt to deal with a severe economic depression: "Chronic irritation and discontent which have for some time existed among the poorer classes as the consequence of the grinding, crushing, weight of the takes which they are unable to pay, and of the prosecutions which have been recently instituted against them for not being able to pay" (as cited in Bryan, 1991, p. 274). About a week or so before the riots there had been many attempts to collect taxes. Many had been brought before the Resident Magistrate for non-payment. Many also objected to the manner in which they were treated concerning the payment of taxes ­ often arrested or threatened rather than summoned and unable to pay and unwilling to go to prison.

The Inspector General was made a Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George and also received a large cash sum. However, he died 6 months later while on leave in England most likely as a result of the wounds he sustained in Montego Bay. A few other Inspectors received large sums of money.

In a move that foreshadowed happenings during another set of April riots almost 100 years later (the gas riots in Kingston of April 1999), the Government, alarmed by all that had taken place, decided to put the tax proposals on hold for at least a year. History, it seems, does have a way of repeating itself.

Rebecca Tortello.
*Special thanks to Merrick Needham for his contribution to this piece.

Black, C.V. (1984).Montego Bay.Montego Bay: Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce, pp. 36-40. Bryan, P. (1991).The Jamaican People ­ 1880-1902 in the Warwick University Caribbean Studies Series.Macmillan Caribbean.Edwards, A. E. (1992)."Book Review" in The Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF)125th Anniversary Magazine.Kingston: The JCF.Reynolds, C. R. (1999, Saturday, November 27th)."The Tax Riots of 1902," The Gleaner, p. A8.

Coming June 3: This series explores the History of Port Antonio.

Give Us Your Feedback | Read what others had to say

Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

Feedback To the Series

"I have found your articles on the Pieces of the Past most entertaining and interesting to read. For me as a historian these pieces come at a time when Jamaicans need to reconnect themselves with their past and the Gleaner's efforts through this medium is quite commendable.

I have found especially today's article on the 1780 hurricane to be quite of interest to me as I am currently involved in bringing to light the role of natural disasters in the development of Jamaica's history, culture, society, economy and politics and the article on the "Hurricane of 1780" has greatly aided in this direction. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more interesting and historically significant pieces from this series." - Kerry-Ann

The First 500 years in Jamaica

We're taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience with us...

Send your comments to:

Pieces of the Past,
The Gleaner Company Ltd.,
7 North Street, Kingston;

E - mail us:

Fax 922-6223.

A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted May 20, 2002
Copyright 2001. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com