Not what you would associate with Jamaica, Italian-styled relics from the sixteenth century.
Colonized by Spain in the fifteenth century, then by Great Britain from the late sixteenth century until 1962, the island has many remanences of its former colonial masters. Colbeck Castle is one.
Located in Old Harbour, Saint Catherine, this castle is magnificently mysterious. The only one of its kind on the island.
Named after John Colbeck, a British soldier who helped capture Jamaica from the Spaniards. The land on which the castle is located was a gift for his service.
This ancient castle with the walls still intact remains a mystery. Although believed that John Colbeck built it, there are no records. Also, the design does not fit the model of building constructed in Jamaica during that period.
Who built it?
How did this eighteenth-century Italian design castle get to Jamaica, and who built it? These are questions that need answers.
Detailed information on the history of Colbeck Castle is hard to find. No one knows for sure when or who erected it. The accepted story is John Colbeck, the builder from 1655 to 1688. But public records do not confirm ownership.
Another theory exists that the castle came after his death in 1688. This assumption is because of the similarity between these two houses built in Jamaican during the 1700s.
The Stokes Hall, a house near Golden Grove in St. Thomas, was constructed in 1710, and Malmsey Valley near Rock River in Clarendon. These mansions are smaller but share a similar design to Colbeck Castle.
No sketches or paintings are available on this historic site in Jamaica. The record of that time has omitted this place.
Colbeck Castle amazed English writers visiting Jamaica during the late 1890s. The lack of notoriety or recorded account of this castle puzzled them. How has this significant site so little documented history?
Who was John Colbeck?
John Colbeck arrived with the British expedition; they captured the Island from Spain. Officer Colbeck got estate for his service a year or two after the Spaniards surrendered.
This stretches from the foot of Saint Catherine hills to the sea. Colbeck Castle is on a land ridge overlooking Old Harbour Bay.
He helped push the Maroons further into the hills during the first Maroon war. Juan De Bolas came under his command after the treaty with the British.
He represented Saint Catherine from 1667 to 1672 in The House Of Assembly and was a speaker until May 1673. In 1679, Colbeck served on the committee of Council and Assembly for Defence of Jamaica.
A carved memorial flagstone in the south transept floor of the Cathedral of St James in Spanish Town records that he was born on May 30, 1630, and died on February 22, 1682. This church is another historic site in Jamaica that holds the record of the Island’s early settlers.
Colbeck Castle in 2020
Each level of the main building has six rooms. Also, massive windows give picturesque views of the surrounding hills and valleys. The building structures are still intact. No roof or wooden material remains; it has deteriorated or been removed by vandals.
Overgrown trees and shrubs surround the castle. In contrast to its well-kept lawns.
The Colbeck Castle is visible from the main road to Barton, five minutes from the Old Harbour roundabout. Ten minutes drive from the major road will get you there. Bad roads make driving to this property difficult.
Not much is there except for dilapidated houses, a few small farms, and a couple of large chicken coops.
Thick shrubs cover most of the fields once occupied by thriving sugar plantations. Cubans fleeing the 1868 War of independence took over and cultivated tobacco.
Plans for Colbeck Castle
The National Housing Trust (NHT) now owns the land. The Prime Minister, in 2017 asked the NHT to restore the castle. This was at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Colbeck Village construction.
Roads and other infrastructure are in place for the Colbeck Village development. NHT is responsible for this village. A private developer is constructing houses (Colbeck Manor) nearby.
Colbeck Castle is unique but is not popular. No eighteenth-century history of this place is puzzling. Despite being the largest building in the Caribbean. It must have had historical significance.
Although records of the property owners exist, the castle’s record is elusive. Construction might have been after or before the death of John Colbeck. Possibly even before the British arrived.
This could be the reason for its absence from Jamaica’s history during the English occupation. It could be in the Spanish archive, waiting to be discovered.
What do you think?
Know the history of this castle?