Agricultural Knowledge from the Friendliest Island in the Caribbean

The Nutmeg Story

The Nutmeg Story

This is an excellent overview on how the nutmeg became Grenada’s most iconic crop:

“It has been positively stated that the first planted nutmeg was introduced to Grenada by Hon: Frank Gurney, with seed brought from Banda in 1843; Belvidere Estate,St John’s Parish,being the supposed site of his activities. This estate was in the hands of Thomas Duncan in 1824. and the name of Gurney has not been traced again until Cyril Gurney, son of a Norfolk clergyman, married a Hankey and joined the firm of Thomson Hankey about 1884. Mr T.J.Gurney is a member of that Board today. Messrs Thomson Hankey were the original merchant-bankers and produce factors of Grenada.

Estate managers, returning from the Far East before 1850, may well have planted nutmegs in the area between Soubise Point and Birchgrove, in St Andrew’ s Parish, the names of Lessey and Munro being associated with Bellevue and Capitol Estates. It is probable that these were the first commercial plantations. A portion of Capitol is now called Penang Estate, which is most significant. This had belonged to the Bell family from 1778 (although not listed in Gavin Smith’ s survey of 1824.). The son of the first owner, Captain John Bell,R,N. “brought nutmegs from the Far East, ‘because he liked his punch’. He also planted them at Penang Estate – date unknown”. It may be postulated that he named the field first planted after the place of origin of his seed, subsequently transferring the name to the whole property, when the crop proved successful—doubtless many years after Smith’s survey. It is noted here that there seems, at the present time, to be a radical difference between the Grenadian and Indonesian nutmeg in colour, shape, size,both oil contents and flavour.

Disaster now struck the Far East. In 1851, “A worm attacked plantations in Bencoolen. In 1859, a worm (or beetle) attacked the Penang trees; by night the tree was attacked &endash;next morning the top branches withered and all leaves fell off—the trunk then disintegrated in a remarkably short time.” The plantations of Singapore were suddenly reduced from 56,000 trees to a few hundred. Penang and province Wellesley were not so badly affected at first, but their plantations diminished progressively from an estimated l4,500 acres of nutmegs to a few small garden plots in the next ninety years. This is reminiscent of the Sudden Death disease or Apoplexie of Clove trees, Eugenia aromatica, (also indigenous to the Moluccas) in Zanzibar island and Madagascar. Something of this sort occurs in Grenada; a plantation of nutmeg losing perhaps half a dozen trees annually. An isolated tree is seen to be sick, the upper foliage wilting within a couple of days. Within a week twigs have dropped and after a further ten days the trunk is virtually rotten. The prudent p1anter will dig a trench two feet deep around the dead or moribund tree; brushwood is then piled within this perimeter and the whole destroyed by intense heat. So far this treatment has perhaps obviated any epidemic, although the approach is necessarily negative. A virus, rather than a worm or beetle is the most probable enemy.

Grenada Takes Over

Grenada became aware of the far eastern disasters and seems to have started planting nutmegs seriously, as an economic crop, sometime after 1860 and after a good deal of experimentation on soil and climate. Belvidere, although the site of the first planting, did not come into economic production of nutmegs until sometime after 1880. Nutmegs retained a scarcity value for some time, as for some years after 1880 a single tree outside the back door of Good Hope Estate house, St Paul’s, produced no less than £40 each year as “pin~money” for the wife of Canon Branch. Exports are, however, recorded for the first time in 1881, when nearly 100,000 lbs of spices, i.e., nutmegs and mace, left the island. In a number of the “Kew” magazine for 1891, there is an article by a Mr Gurney, “who was in charge of Colonel Duncan’s estates”,(believed to have still included Belvidere) in which it. was said that there was a plantation of 10 acres of nutmegs yielding spices to the value of one thousand pounds…”

Read the rest of the story here.


*Image via Harvey Barrison. CC licence. 

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