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OSCAR MARESCAUX, COLONIAL BANK, KINGSTON, JAMAICA LETTER

This long registered cover has seven stamps of Victoria as postage of five times the 9 pence rate plus 3 pence for registration, a total of 4 shillings. The stamps from left to right are the orange eighteen pence stamp duty, two copies of the pink eight pence stamp duty, the brown five pence stamp duty, a pink four pence as well as a pair of the brown two pence halfpenny stamp duty. They are individually cancelled with the ‘1 over W’ barred numeral with the unframed MARKET STREET/ JULY 22/ 91/ MELBOURNE W postmark, alongside. There are a manuscript ‘Via London’ and ‘413' registration number, a boxed ‘REGISTRATION’, as well as an incomplete ‘REGISTERED LONDON’ handstamp, with a double oval ‘JAMAICA/ SP 18/ 91 REGISTERED’ alongside. The cover is addressed to Oscar Marescaux Esq, Colonial Bank, Kingston, Jamaica and there is a blue crayon manuscript for which I have no definite idea. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

 

Information on Oscar Marescaux is interesting but still fragmentary, particularly in relation to an almost absence of biographic data. He had been the Manager of the Colonial Bank, and before the receipt of this cover he was also President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the ‘aristocracy’ on the Island of Jamaica, and Marescaux Road in Kingston is named after him or one of his family.

To date a photo of Oscar has not been found but there are pictures of the exterior and interior of his home. The Cherry Garden property was originally a sugar estate and Colonel Ezekial Gomersall was the first owner, but after his death it passed into the hands of his family for many years. After the emancipation of the slaves, the property passed into the hands Joseph Gordon, who came to Jamaica from Scotland as an attorney for a number of absentee-owned sugar estates, of which he later purchased several.

In 1845, Joseph Gordon bought the Cherry Garden estate, bought additional adjacent acreage, and lived at Cherry Garden until  one of his sons, George William Gordon took over the property. George was arrested and later hanged for his alleged role in the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865.[See: Addendum August 2010, for a fuller discussion]. The house as it now stands is largely the work of Oscar Marescaux who bought the property from Gordon’s widow in the late 1860's. At this time Marescaux was described as a powerful local banker. He extended and roofed the front and back patios and improved the interior with mahogany facings. The building is listed by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and a photo of the exterior and interior of the building is seen in Figures 2 & 3.

 
 
 
 

In Patrick Bryan’s book “The Jamaican People 1880-1902: Race, Class and Social Control” a description of Oscar Marescaux is not particularly flattering in regards to his views of the workers: “The higher you tax ‘Quashie’ the better it will be for the community. If he has to pay a tax of one shilling he has to work so much the more for it, and the planter gains by his labour. Without being forced, the Negro will not work, it is a delusion to think it, it is useless to appeal to his sense of comfort.” The author further comments on Mr. Marescaux’s person and attitudes as follows: “Going east we pass the Colonial Bank, where Mr. Oscar Mareschaux lorded it and lost much money for the bank in irrecoverable loans to sugar estates. Mr. Marescaux was a very tall man, over six feet, long thin legs, hunched-up shoulders with a growth of beard after the style of a Frenchman. Irascible and arrogant. His views on natives of the country were narrow but not peculiar to himself. They still survive among many of our great landowners today.”

Another facet of Marescaux is seen in a letter that was written to the Hon. Lewis Q. Bowerbank MD FRCP, in which Oscar was one of the distinguished signees. The physician was praised for his service to the Jamaican community especially in the Kingston area on the eve of Bowerbank’s leaving the Island on Sick Leave. The opinions expressed unfortunately only applied to the opinions of the privileged classes. Marescaux’s signature (arrows) is seen amongst other signees at the end of the letter (Figure 4).

 

He had a lighter side to his nature for he is quoted by an ornithologist concerning a specific species of quail which were difficult to find on the Island in 1901: “Oscar Marescaux told me that a single small covey still existed in the garden of his estate, Cherrygarden, near Kingston, but that these were the only ones he knew of”.

Addendum (August 2010):  The son, George William Gordon was extremely generous to his father, Joseph, and he wished to outdo his father in business.  George's business acumen far exceeded that of his father.  Joseph seeing the son's success, although he had completely ignored George previously, called on his son, when  affairs were going from bad to worse.  George took charge and was able to save some of his father's holdings, in particular was the Cherry Garden estate, which he returned to his father, as his home.  It was George William Gordon who was arrested and later hanged for his alleged role in the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, and not his father, Joseph as originally stated. 

Robert immediately followed up with this item derived from a Google Book:  "George Bernard Shaw's neighbour, Mr. Jackson, may have given the playright information about Oscar Marescaux, "King of Jamaica," on whom Shaw modeled the agent who seizes the sugar estate in 'Captain Brassbound's Conversion'.  Brassbound himself may ( be) based upon George William Gordon, executed in 1865, under Governor Eyre of Jamaica."

Oscar's father was Adolphe (from St. Omer, France), and he seems to have a brother Alfred who lived in China?  Oscar's wife was Isabella Anne East.  They were married on the 15th March 1864 at Woodford, Jamaica.  They had a son Oscar Hyde East Marescaux (1865-1926).

I am indebted to Robert Lancashire who provide me with the information to correct my original misstatement, and even moreso for the additional information on Marescaux and his family..

 
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