STORIES OF OUR FAMILIES
To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.
"Morne Jaloux" - Grenada
Written on July 1, 1988
by my father, Andrew Desmond Sheppard
(transcribed from personal family memorabilia)
January 1941. An automobile accident in Trinidad, I was thrown out of the “rumble” or “dicky” seat of a car when a drunken taxi driver collided with the car in which I was a passenger. This occurred at the early hours of the New Year. When I could, I accepted an invitation by friends to go to Grenada to recuperate. I suffered broken ribs and was black and blue all over. Otherwise fine.
My mother’s sister was married to Uncle Louis, a Grenadian, who survived his wife who died in childbirth. Louis owned a basic hotel “Halifax” and I spent my stay between Uncle Louis and my cousin George, whose mother died upon his birth.
The natural charm and friendliness of all Grenadians was impressive. My house is your house. I quickly made several friends and visited many places. The one place that has stuck in my mind is “Morne Jaloux”.
It was a beautiful morning and we swam at Grand Anse beach and picknicked in the countryside. Around 5.00 p.m., another cousin took his sister, her friend and myself for a long drive over the hills, passing the Richmond Hill Prison on the way. We were to visit “L’Anse aux Epines” which area is now occupied by the airport. While driving, I noticed a derelict building at the end of a long driveway. Inquiry informed me that this was the notorious Morne Jaloux Estate Great House.
Youthful curiosity and the quest for adventure attracted us to investigate this ancient and obviously neglected abode. Diffidently, our nervous driver, Gordon, drove his little Hillman down the badly overgrown dirt road which appeared to be unused for a long period. It was still light, but the sun was about to disappear. We cautiously approached the forbidding looking structure, whose 12 front steps of concrete were cracked and dangerous to climb. We all stayed close together, being uncertain of what lay within the crumbling walls of this erstwhile mansion of better days. Doors did not exist. Those there were rotted and lying on the wooden floor. Windows were hanging at various angles. The floors had long rotted, which was due to the lack of a roof, which had also “gone through the eddoes”. The base of a large concrete water cistern was all that was left. We carefully picked our way through this victim of time, neglect and weather. It must have been a beautiful residence and was quite large. We searched diligently for some evidence of human habitation, but there was none. Morne Jaloux house looked so unattractive that no one would really choose to stay there. So there she stood, a skeleton of the past overlooking the quaint city of St. Georges and the roaming countryside. Beautiful site, but not for living. Satisfied that there was nothing at Morne Jaloux we continued our drive to “L’Anse aux Epines”.
On our return trip, I persuaded Gordon to take us back to the old house to see if anything had changed. You see, this gaunt, lonely structure had gained the unenviable reputation of being a “haunted house”. Under protest and with much apprehension, we went back to the house. It was now dark, about 7.30. We parked facing the front steps with headlights on, engine off. Sitting quietly in the car and with nothing happening, we decided to walk closer to the house - car lights shining on the entrance, but what were we looking for? - there was just nothing! After a few minutes we headed back to the little Hillman. No sooner had we entered the car than all hell broke loose. There, right in front of us with the car lights shining on it, was a man-sized figure, not solid but transparent and glowing white, moving quickly to and fro in front of the house and the steps. Simultaneously, the most horrible and loud sounds emanated from the house - like grinding metal - like a sugar factory. This was accompanied by other dreadful noises which sounded like several footballs being bounced all over the interior of the old house. Meanwhile, the remaining windows were flapping and flying. The fallen doors were being flung out of the house, down the steps. Worse was the constant flying through the air of large pieces of wood and stones which were slamming into our car. The two ladies fainted from sheer fright. Poor, nervous Gordon could not get the car started. In anxiety and altered judgement he had flooded the carburetor. We had to wait - now truly fearing for our lives. The theatre of horror played on - getting worse - we had to get out of there now! To get to the high grass driveway, we had to reverse towards a cliff which plunged at least a thousand feet down. Luckily we made it and pelted down the long, long driveway. All the way, with glasses rolled up, we were hearing and feeling sticks and stones hitting the poor little car. Later checking showed not a scratch.
Once out of there, we hurried to the Richmond Hill Prison, where our good friends, the Banfields lived with their parents. Mr. Banfield was the Resident Superintendent of the prison. We were heartily welcomed by this lovely family who breathlessly listened to our horrible tale and were most concerned for the two young ladies who were still in a severe state of shock. Gordon was crying uncontrollably. He eventually suffered an irreparable nervous breakdown. Also, his sister, whose nervous nature was further provoked. She had many subsequent nervous traumas. The other lady had a most disastrous marriage, ending in her tragic demise. I pretended that it was all a big joke, but my hair still stands on end when I think, talk or write of this awful event in my life.
By way of useless explanation, Mr. Banfield of the prison, and later Gordon’s grandfather, Uncle Louis, and several reliable people condemned our actions as irresponsible and crazy. For instance, we did not know that the area of Morne Jaloux was a large sugar estate. The house we investigated was the Great House where the French master resided with his family. We were told that this person was a tyrant and treated his staff and labourers with contempt, deprivation and cruelty. He was reputed to have put to death or tortured many who crossed his path. He was as ruthless as Napoleon. The resentment and ire that this terrible man evoked, built up to a crescendo, when one night he and his entire family were butchered and their remains scattered in and around that hateful house. Thereafter, the estate was abandoned and deserted. It was said that unseen knives and cutlasses had killed or maimed many intruders. The premises were uninhabitable. No one could tolerate the aura of hatred and terror which pervaded the atmosphere - Morne Jaloux house would also perish violently.
Several years later, I visited the scene of that horror-filled evening. To my great relief, I saw that there was a beautiful residential settlement in place of the Great House and its surroundings. “Morne Jaloux” house was mysteriously destroyed by fire.
Our of evil cometh good.
Richmond Hill Prison, Grenada (source: The U.S. National Archives)