Jamaica in 1962 Part 2
Published: Sunday, August 13, 2017
The Sunday Gleaner
by Martin Henry
What was Jamaica like in 1962? We continue taking a peek from the Handbook of Jamaica for that year.
The Handbook listed the 41 government grant-aided high schools, 17 of them boarding schools turning out a handful of graduates immediately qualified for the civil service and private-sector entry-level jobs if they had their subjects. There were only a few thousand full-scholarship places available from the Common Entrance Examination, which the N.W. Manley government had introduced in 1958 with 2,000 places. There were eight technical schools. The colleges were listed and the one university, the UWI, Mona, had 1,077 students, many of them, especially in medicine from other Caribbean territories.
The Handbook could list every barrister-at-law and solicitor practising in the island long before the merger of both branches of law practitioners into attorneys-at-law. Doctors, dentists, notaries public, and JPs were also listed every one. The various religious denominations were listed and described. Rastafarianism didn’t make it, neither did Revivalism or any other non-Christian faith.
In 1962, something called the Whitely Council for the Civil Service of Jamaica, established in 1940, was in operation. The council was made up half and half between Government and the Jamaica Civil Service Association. Its object was “to secure the greatest measure of cooperation between the Government as employer and the general body of civil servants in matters affecting the civil service, leading to efficiency and well-being and providing machinery for dealing with grievances and bringing together different points of view of representatives from the various branches of the civil service. Where is the Whitely Council? It might have been useful up to today.
Jamaica ran budget surpluses for 1960-61, 1961-62, and 1962-63. For 1961-62, the revenue estimate was £42,130,983, and estimates of expenditure 42,007,645, leaving a positive balance of £123,343. The actual figures for 1961-62 left a real surplus of £897,007. Debt in Independence year stood at £37,865,592. We all know of the rising Budget deficits and debt burden rising to as much as 140 per cent of GDP since then, which have seriously handicapped the Jamaican economy.
The balance of trade data for 1961, the difference between export value and import value, were: exports – £61,415,905; imports – £75,182,624; balance – £13,766,719. This would only worsen over the years.
In 1962, six commercial banks operated here. The Handbook published their financial data and their branches. Where are they now? The Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Bank of London & Montreal, First National City Bank of New York. Except for the Government Savings Bank in a different class of its own, no indigenous bank. The number of banks, including indigenous ones, grew, then shrank back to six under the squeeze of FINSAC.
The Handbook set out trade by country for both exports and imports. And what a fascinating list of exotic places to which we sold and from which we bought in 1962. I believe the list is much narrower now. In addition to the traditional Big Three of the UK, the USA, and Canada, we sold stuff to Australia, Hong Kong, India, Malaya & Singapore (then one country), Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, and what the Handbook listed as ‘Argentine’, to China, Japan, Thailand, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Sweden, and the Soviet Union, and the European Common Market. We bought from the Big Three and France, Norway, The Netherlands, West Germany, Hong Kong, British Guiana, and Trinidad & Tobago. The world map of countries has changed dramatically in the past 55 years.
We sold pimento, a crop I helped with as a child, not only to the Big Three, but to Finland, West Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and a big buyer, the Soviet Union. How might pimento have offset the decline of banana and sugar? Codfish came from Canada and France, and mackerel from The Netherlands, and from Norway, which has replaced Canada as salt fish supplier after the Canadian cod stock went bust from overfishing. Flour came from Canada, the USA, France, and West Germany. Rice was imported from British Guiana, the USA, and The Netherlands, which does not grow rice.
There was a dog tax of 4 shillings in 1962. Motor vehicles, then as now, were taxed by CC rating, £12 for 1,199-2,999CC. Property tax, now very much in the news again, was one shilling and four pence on every £10 of value. Income tax had a graduated scale after exemptions: “For every pound for the first £200, one shilling and nine pence.” And so on, up the income ladder.
The 1962 Handbook of Jamaica reported a zoo being constructed at Hope Gardens.
In 1962, more steamship lines served the country than airlines. Among the airlines flying here were: BOAC BWIA, Pan-American, Delta. The steamships have all gone, and the airlines have either died or changed, with a few exceptions like Delta and KLM. In the great migration waves to the UK, travellers had the option of the plane for £85 or the ship for £75. For poor Jamaicans, many of whom had to borrow the fare, that £10 difference made a big difference. I have several relatives who did the migration trip in ’62 itself.
The Jamaica Railway Corporation and the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) for Kingston and St Andrew were set out in the Handbook. Both have since died. The railway has had no real replacement. The urban bus service has passed through several changes.
Every post office was listed. A local letter could be sent for two pence postage, and a surface mail letter to any Commonwealth country was three pence, outside the Commonwealth for twice as much. The Handbook carried telegram rates as well.
The bauxite companies of the day, Alcan, Reynolds, Alcoa, and Kaiser were all there.
There were 74 insurance companies operating in the country in 1962! None of them is around today, at least under that name. Among the building societies, only Victoria Mutual is recognisable by name today.
There is an entire chapter of the Handbook on the affairs of The Cayman Islands and the Turks & Caicos Islands, which Jamaica, in independence, continued to administer as ‘dependent territories’ for a while before they reverted to Britain. These territories are far richer than we are today. Jamaicans migrate to them.
Ever the reader, I found the “principal newspapers and periodicals” a fascinating list. The Daily Gleaner, then 127 years old, was the only daily morning newspaper, with its sister, THE STAR, following in the afternoon. The Jamaica Times was then still being published as a weekly. But then there was a wide range of periodicals, some of them with some famous well-known names behind them: Public Opinion/O.T. Fairclough, The Sunday Tribune/Vernon Witter, New Day/Evon Blake, Spotlight/Vic Reid, The West Indian Economist/Peter Abrahams, Caribbean Quarterly which is still alive/PM Sherlock.
At the stroke of midnight on August 5, Jamaica became an independent nation as the Union Jack was hauled down at the brand new National Stadium and the black, green, and gold of Jamaica’s national flag hoisted in its place to the singing of the prayerful national anthem.
The following day, a large crowd gathered in the Victoria Park to see on temporary closed-circuit television the state opening of Parliament, which was taking place at Gordon House. The viewing was courtesy of The Gleaner Company Limited and Phillips Electrical Industries Limited.
The biggest and culminating event of the Independence celebrations, the float parade, took place on August 11 with 5,000 people and 90 floats taking part. The Government gave silver spoons with their name engraved to babies born in the 24-hour period between midnight August 5 and midnight August 6.
Living memory of ’62 fades and passes away. The documentary evidence of the times, much of it housed in the National Library, will have to be dug up and the children of Independence offered accurate portraits of the period when the nation was born. Only eight per cent of the present population, those 65 and older who were at least 10 at the time, are old enough to remember Independence Day, 1962.
– Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns