Smith Barcadere – Smith Cove, Grand Cayman
by Ann Stafford
People came from West Bay by boat to Smith Barcadere. They cut ‘tops’, the new, unopened leaves of the Silver Thatch Palms that were plentiful on the large estate (60 acres) of James Samuel Webster.
Silver Thatch Palm – Coccothinax proctorii, Cayman Islands endemic tree, Cayman Islands National Tree, Endangered, culturally significant.
Silver Thatch tops – the unopened fronds.
Tops were cut on the old moon, after the full moon.
Smith was shipwrecked on the Spotts reef. He was the carpenter on the ship that brought Rex Crighton’s ancestor, Alexander McKeith Crighton (1822-1892), to Grand Cayman in the 1850s.
Smith built a sea-going vessel from the salvaged timbers of the ship that wrecked and timber from trees that grew in the heavily-wooded Smith Barcadere area. It is not very far by sea from Spotts to Smith Barcadere.
The South Sound reef ends at Sand Cay. Smith Barcadere, a sandy cove where there is a break in the ironshore, is just to the north of it, with water of sufficient depth to launch a ship.
Alexander McKeith Crighton (1822-1982) was born in Glasgow, Scotland.
At the age of 19 (1841) he became chief mate, sailing on clipper ships from England to Australia. He was later transferred to the tea trade and promoted to Captain. He came to Grand Cayman (1850s) after being shipwrecked off the coast of Cuba.
Alexander Crighton was a valuable immigrant because he had a thorough knowledge of navigation, which he was pleased to impart to others. He trained and taught many Caymanian seamen and opened the first navigation school in the islands.
Many men from his school became well-known captains here, and some emigrated to the United States and became captains there.
Alexander Crighton was also a merchant and one of the first surveyors in the Cayman Islands. He married Ann Brett Coe (1832-1899), and together they had six children. They lived at Crighton Square at Spotts.
Wall of Honour book p.24
1868 James Samuel Webster, J.P. was born in Bodden Town, the son of William Bodden Webster, who became Custos (Chief Magistrate) in 1879. James married Antoinette Arabella Eden. They had five sons and one daughter. James, a successful businessman, moved his family to George Town in about 1900.
1891 Jamaica Exhibition
“gave Caymanians an opportunity of showing something of their way of life and their trade to their fellows in the Caribbean……
The exhibits included dyewoods*, mahogany and ironwood, that was as durable as metal, and the beautifully grained manchioneal. There was bulrush starch, a product peculiar to the Caymans, and a full range of baskets, hats, lines and ropes made from the dried leaves of the thatch palm. Though the turtle was pre-eminent in the Cayman section of the exhibition, Edmund Parsons, the custos, hoped that a trade could be established in sponges and sea shells.”
* Fustic (Maclura tinctoria) native, and Logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum) introduced from Central America, naturalized in Cayman.
A History of the Cayman Islands by Neville Williams, 1970
The Webster House, built in 1894, was the temporary National Trust for the Cayman Islands Visitor Centre, following Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, when the Eastern Avenue / Courts Road Visitor Centre was badly damaged.
Webster House, 359 South Church St.
Life and Adventure in the West Indies
by Vaquero, 1914
Vaquero was the pseudonym of Dr Richard Keatinge, Cayman Islands Government Medical Officer for most of 1906.
He had a camera.
Chapters II and III In the Cayman Islands
1906 Photographs by Vaquero
Doctor Richard Keatinge’s house in George Town, his servant and pony.
Dr Richard Keatinge, GMO, swam at a small, sandy cove called Smith’s Barcadere, just out of sight of the road, about a mile and a half from his house in George Town.
Cottages and people at South Sound, 3 miles from George Town
Landing place at George Town, Hog Stye Bay. The large white building is the Court House.
The old Court House is now the Cayman Islands National Museum. The J. S. Webster building was on the right. It later became the Viking Gallery and then Bayshore Mall.
Webster building, left, (later the Viking Gallery, then Bayshore Mall), Goring Avenue, and the Market at Hog Stye Bay, c. 1926. Photo: N.L. Booker, in the book by his daughter, Aarona Booker Kohlman 1993: Under Tin Roofs – Cayman in the 1920s.
1916 J. S. Webster moved with his family to Kingston, Jamaica.
An incomplete record and history of the Webster Shipping Line, founded by J. S. Webster, great-grandfather of Alex Webster, in Kingston, Jamaica.
Capt. Charles Christopher Bush (1864-1942) was in partnership with J.S. Webster and in charge of what is known today as Smith Barcadere and Websters Estate.
People came by the boatload from West Bay. They cut Silver Thatch ‘tops’ (the new unopened fronds) and collected Mangoes. They used to back them down to Smith Barcadere and return to West Bay by boat. They had no money, they paid in rope.
Rope-makers were paid 25 cents for 100 fathoms of rope (600 feet)
Capt. Malcolm CARL Bush (March 9, 1903 – July 26, 2004), son of Capt. Charles Christopher Bush (1864-1942), Cayman Islands National Archive, Oral History.
Capt. Carl Bush’s house on South Church St (next to Sand Cay Apartments). Tea Banker – Pectis caymanensis, Critically Endangered little mat-like herb with a lovely, lemony smell, grew plentifully in the sand. The house, built c. 1931, has since been demolished and Tea Banker has disappeareared.
Silver Thatch Palm – Coccothrinax proctorii, Cayman endemic, Cayman Islands National Tree, and Mango tree – Mangifera indica, naturalized in Cayman, grows wild, (first introduced into Jamaica in 1782).
Catboats: unloading cargo. Cayman Islands $1.60 stamp, Aug. 31, 2011.
Thatch rope was made in 3 sizes:
Head-rope – small
Big rope – medium
Hauser – large
It was shipped to Jamaica.
West Bayer Billy Banker: b.1935
“There were a few silver thatch palms in West Bay, [but] all that land now is subdivisions, mostly,” he said. “But you really needed a lot of those tops to make rope, which were collected on the full moon, or a few days after.
You would need a lot of land to have enough trees, so many families would take their catboats down to South Sound, or Newlands and other places and cut the tops there, where there were a lot of silver thatch palms growing.”
The cog holds the three strands together while the rope is twisted.
“We would take the rope to the store, where we would exchange it for household supplies. We never sold it for money. The stores would sell the rope on.”
Jamaica needed a lot of rope in 1945 after its fishing fleet was devastated by a hurricane in 1944, making for a huge year for Cayman rope exports which totaled 1.5 million fathoms.
Silver thatch rope, said Mr. Banker, was very good for saltwater due to its resistance to rot, but not well suited for freshwater. The ropes were used for fishing boats and sailing boats, mostly for anchors, sails and tying up.
Eventually, synthetic rope took the place of rope made of natural materials, bringing an end to Cayman’s little domestic industry.
Mr. Banker says he cannot remember any rope being made by the time he left Cayman at 19, in 1954, to go to sea as a messman.
DID YOU KNOW THAT? 58 Tidbits of Cayman’s History….
By Captain Paul Hurlston
The first sea going vessel ever built in Grand Cayman was built at Smith’s Barcadere by a carpenter who was shipwrecked on Spotts Reef. He was the carpenter on the vessel that brought Rex Crighton’s ancestors to Cayman. Tidbit 36
Dolly Well There was a well in South Sound called “Dolly Well” located in Webster’s Estate somewhere in the back of Lemuel Hurlston’s old house on Antoinette Avenue. It was round and not very deep and where all South Sounders got their water. It has since been filled in. Tidbit 13
South Sounders got their water from the Dolly Well, across the road from Smith Barcadere.
Capt. Paul Hurlston (born 1931) grew up in his family home, close by Smith Barcadere. The house, built c.1922, still stands (764 South Church St).
Looking towards Hurlston family home, where Capt. Paul Hurlston grew up.
March 3, 2010
Dec. 4, 2010
Jan. 23, 2016
Jan. 23, 2016
Feb. 7, 2016 Smith Barcadere ironshore
Wedding at Smith Barcadere, Oct. 20, 2011
Rare, Critically Endangered Trichilia trees (Trichilia havanensis)
Trichilia – an attractive shrub or small tree – is almost extinct in Grand Cayman. A few survive in the George Town area, including Smith Barcadere, and Walkers Road where property owners have preserved them.
A beautiful stand of these trees grew by Burger King on Walkers Road. They were cut down and replaced with common, non-native landscaping plants. They also grew in the airport vicinity, but they too, were cut down.
They haven’t been recorded on Little Cayman or Cayman Brac. Trichilia havanensis is native to Cuba, Jamaica and continental tropical America.
Trichila very rarely flowers and fruits, so propagation by seed hardly happens.
Their main means of reproduction is by root runners, such as at Smith Barcadere, where it is hoped that they will be preserved in their natural habitat for future generations.
Trichilia trees have a distinctive bark.
Trichilia havanensis is protected under Schedule 1 Part 2 of the Cayman Islands National Conservation Law.
Trichilia trees, Critically Endangered, original growth on Smith Barcadere beach ridge.
October 5, 2016 National Trust for the Cayman Islands Statement on the proposed development of the north side of Smith Barcadere (also known as Smith Cove)
There is a rare plant on the Smith Cove site (Trichilia havanensis), almost extinct on Grand Cayman and considered critically endangered, growing on the wooded section of the lot that is slated for development. This plant is protected under Schedule 1 Part 2 of the National Conservation Law. It is common elsewhere in the Caribbean and was probably once quite common in the area south of George Town between Walkers Road and South Church.
Trichilia trees (original growth), conserved, form a hedge for a private property on Walkers Road.
Silver Thatch Palm – Coccothrinax proctorii Cayman Islands National Tree
Cayman Islands endemic, Endangered
Only the newest unopened leaves (“tops”) could be used for making rope.
Extract: Thatching was not always restricted to roofs. Before the days of electricity, kitchens and cookrooms were often separate constructions, to reduce the risk of fire. Some had thatched walls, which created a cool cooking area. With the availability of corrugated zinc roofing in the 1920’s, thatched roofs and thatching skills have now become rare.
Silver Thatch Palm leaves were also used to weave hats, baskets and fans. Shoes known as “wompers” were made with a flat leather sole and held on the foot by straps -like a thong – of thatch rope. Nowadays, hats and baskets are in demand in tourist and craft shops. Many of them are still made by those who were taught their skills over fifty years ago!
Items made from Silver Thatch Palm lasted far longer than similar products made using other materials available at the time. The tree’s real value, however, lies in the ability of its dried leaf to resist the effects of salt water.
This proved particularly important in the rope-making industry. Cayman had relatively few natural resources that could generate income, but the thatch rope was highly prized in Cuba and Jamaica for use in the shipping, fishing and sugar industries. While the men were away at sea, or busy with their farms, the women and children would make rope.
Sea Grape – Coccoloba uvifera (Critically Endangered) and Broadleaf – Cordia sebestena var. caymanensis (Cayman Islands endemic variety) (Vulnerable) at Smith Barcadere. Both are culturally significant native trees.
Broadleaf – Cordia sebestena var. caymanensis. Cayman Islands endemic shrub or small tree, with rough, Alternate leaves that were traditionally used to polish turtle shells. Versatile Broadleaf grows in varied habitats.
Cordia sebestena called Geiger Tree (US) or Red Cordia, is widely distributed in coastal thickets in Florida, the West Indies and the eastern coasts of continental tropical America. It is used in landscaping.
Sea Grape – Coccoloba uvifera (Critically Endangered) and Popnut – Thespesia populnea (Endangered) native trees, both culturally significant.
Sea Grape – the large round leaves were used as plates.
Popnut trees were used in boat-building. The trunks and branches often grew already curved.
Popnut / Plopnut, (Seaside Mahoe in Jamaica, Portia Tree in USA) – Thespesia populnea, belongs to the same plant family as Hibiscus. Popnut, an extremely salt-tolerant, fast-growing, pan-tropical tree, has heart-shaped leaves and pretty pale yellow flowers with maroon centres. The whole flower turns maroon later in the day before dying. Popnut was used in Catboat construction in the Cayman Islands, where it is Endangered.
Cat Claw – Volkameria aculeata synonym Clerodendron aculeatum, a shrub with showy little white flowers.
Cat Claw was cut down, but has started growing back, Feb. 14, 2020.
Ironshore plants grow in a harsh, rocky habitat
Stunted Buttonwood – Conocarpus erectus and Bay Candlewood, Seaside Oxeye – Borrichia arborescens
Juniper, Sandfly Bush – Rhachicallis americana, a little shrub with bright yellow flowers, and Sea Grape – Coccolba uvifera, and Buttonwood – Conocarpus erectus, both stunted, due to the harsh environment of the ironshore, with waves crashing over them when the sea is rough.
St. Andrew’s Cotton Stainer (Love-bugs) – Dysdercus andreae, on Popnut / Plopnut, (Portia Tree, Seaside Mahoe) – Thespesia populnea.
by William M. Ciesla
St. Andrew’s Cotton Stainer – Dysdercus andreae on Wild Cotton, Short-staple Cotton – Gossypium hirsutum (which doesn’t grow at Smith Barcadere).
From 1780s cotton was grow in Grand Cayman. 1802 Thirty tons of cotton per year were exported from Cayman, but cotton had peaked by 1810.
James Samuel and Antoinette Arabella (née Eden) Webster
James Samuel Webster was the great-grandson of John Webster who was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1777. He arrived in Grand Cayman (Bodden Town) in 1803 and married Elizabeth Bodden, daughter of William ‘Governor’ Bodden II. John died on Jan. 18, 1805, age 28. John and Elizabeth had two sons, William Smith Webster and John Michael Webster.
Inscription: In Memory of James Samuel Webster and his wife Antoinette Arabella (née Eden). This bathing cove, formerly called Smith’s Barcadier, is dedicated by their son William Burnett Webster and their grandsons, James George Eden McMurray and David McMurray to the people of Georgetown and the stranger in their midst.
James Samuel Webster (1868-1954)
Antoinette Arabella Eden Webster (1866-1939)
William Burnett Webster (1909-1992)
(James George Eden McMurray) William George Eden McMurray (1939-1999)
David McMurray aka Jerry Webster (1941-1987)
[William Burnett Webster, George McMurray and Jerry Webster were the Registered Owners of the Webster Estates private roads, Antoinette Avenue and Websters Drive.]
Webster Memorial Sea Grape and Popnut trees in the background.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.
South Sound began at Old Crewe Road and ended by Capt. Denham Thompson property, now Pure Art.
Stepwells and old stonewalls, turtle nests and shipwrecks, mangroves and dyke roads, Sand Cay and Pull-and-Be-Damned Point, Grand Old House and Miss Lassie’s House, Smith Barcadere (aka The Cove), the J. S. Webster Estate, Silver Thatch and rope-making, English Point and Portuguese Point, Rugby, Tennis and Squash Clubs, butterflies and bugs, Whistling Ducks and Hickatees, herons and egrets, schools and churches, Valentine’s Mile and Fun Runs …
South Sound area
The old South Sound to George Town footpath (a 6ft. Right Of Way that no longer exists), was edged with native Birch trees (Bursera simaruba), naturalized Mango trees and barbed wire, before Walkers Road was built.
Birch Tree Gate location, on the old South Sound to George Town footpath, at the junction of Hinds Way, Academy Way and Aspiration Drive.
Walkers Road and Smith Road were named after the engineers who built them.
Cayman 27 TV News July 12, 2018
Emotions run high as government unveils its concept for a redeveloped Smith Barcadere to the public.
George Town South MLA Barbara Connolly and other officials introduced the nuts and bolts of the plan Tuesday night at a well attended public meeting.
Those in attendance provided no shortage of feedback for their consideration once the floor was turned over to public comment.
“There’s nothing here carved in stone, this is just a concept,” said A.L. Thompson, who chaired the two and a half hour meeting.
The public got its first look at government’s planned redevelopment of Smith Barcadere. …
Cayman Compass July 8, 2018
A passionate crowd showed up at the South Sound Community Centre Tuesday night for a meeting about the redevelopment of Smith Cove, also known as Smith Barcadere.
George Town South MLA Barbara Conolly was on hand to share the plans for a refurbished beach site, and the community turned out en masse to provide its feedback….
Special thanks to:
Tricia Bodden, Cayman Islands National Archive.
Capt. Paul Hurlston (b. 1931) for his wealth of knowledge, grandson of Capt. Charles Christopher Bush (1864-1942) and nephew of Capt. Malcolm Carl Bush (1903-2004). Capt. Paul grew up next to Smith Barcadere.
Life and Adventure in the West Indies (Cayman Islands in 1906), by Vaquero 1914
Notes on the History of the Cayman Islands by George S.S. Hirst, 1910
A History of the Cayman Islands by Neville Williams, 1970
Capt. Malcolm Carl Bush, Oral History, Cayman Islands Native Archive, 1990
Under Tin Roofs – Cayman in the 1920s by Aarona Booker Kohlman, 1993
Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Frederick Burton, 1997, 2007
Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor, 2012
Founded Upon the Seas – A History of the Cayman Islands and Their People by Michael Craton and the New History Committee, 2003
Wall of Honour, The book, Quincentennial Celebrations Office, 2003
Find A Grave
When doing the research, I have come across some inconsistencies in facts, names or dates.