We drove into the estate and paid our
£2.50 to the lady, Ward was our guide for a fascinating look at an estate,
working plantation and so much more.
The oldest living thing at
Belmont is an ancient Tamarind tree, hurricane
damaged with a split trunk, it still thrives and fruits. From one of its
branches hangs the Belmont Bell brought in by one of the earliest Scottish
owners. It was rung at the start and end of the day calling the slaves -
workers in from the fields. It is said that if an innocent slave was
ever hung from the tree, from then on you will see his or her face in the
Bear ringing the
Belmont Estate dates back to the late
1600's, during the colonial area, when plantations were first established under
the system of land allocation under French rule. First owned by the Bernago
family of France, it became the property of Mr. John Aitcheson Jr. of
Rochsolloch, Airdie, Scotland, following the cession of the island by the French
to the British in 1763. Mr. Aitcheson appeared to have taken an active role in
affairs of the island as in 1764 he signed a petition to the King protesting
instructions to Governor Melville that would deprive the privileges of the
representatives of the people. He was also a signatory to several other
petitions throughout the 1760's. Upon his death Belmont Estate became the
property of his father, Mr. John Aitcheson Sr. Mr. Aitcheson was mostly an
absentee landlord who in 1770 leased the estate to Mr. Alexander Campbell Esq.,
owner of the then adjoining estate, Tivoli. The lease was for a period 13 years
at a price of £2,520 a year.
Mr. Campbell was a colonist of high
standing, a former colonial agent for the island and speaker of the Grenada
Assembly, the hero of the "Campbell V Hall" case of 1764 - 1774. He was also a
close friend of planter Ninian Home who later became the island's governor. On
the night of the 2nd of March 1795, the beginning of Fedon's Rebellion,
Campbell and Home were at Home's estate in Paraclete, they were captured the
following morning. In Fedon's Declaration of the 4th of March 1795,
only two names - Home and Campbell - were cited among the forty prisoners
captured at that time. Campbell and Home were executed on the 8th of
mistress of the estate is very fond of Chico a mona
monkey. Bear sucking a cocoa seed. Us sipping the delicious
estate spiced hot chocolate
In 1779, the French regained control
of Grenada and the island was not returned to British rule until 1783. It is not
certain what effect this change of ownership of the island had on Belmont but in
1780, Mr. Aitcheson Sr. left Scotland for Grenada and died at Belmont Estate on
the 31st of May 1780 at the age of 75. He was buried in the estate's
cemetery and his tombstone can still be viewed.
In his will, Aitcheson bequeathed
Belmont Estate to his eldest daughter Bethia, stipulating that she was to sell
it in the event of his death, after paying all his debts and to share the
proceeds among herself and her two sisters, Margaret and Isabella, also his
nephew Gilbert Hamilton, a merchant in Glasgow. At the time of Aitcheson's
death, the total value of the estate's assets - including the slaves, animals,
sugar mill, coppers, stews, ladles, skimmers, sugar pots, stills, furnaces,
still heads, tools, implements, chattels, lands and buildings - was £21,183.00
about £1.5 million by today's standards.
Following Aitcheson's death Belmont
was sold to Robert Alexander Houston of Clerkington East Lothian, Scotland.
Following his death Belmont was bequeathed to a family member, Major James
Flower Houston and his son Lieutenant Alexander Houston of Her Majesty's Royal
Artillery, both of whom were from Montepelier Square, London. The estate
remained in the hands of the Houston Family for more than 170 years and in 1944
Norbert and Lyris Nyack of Hermitage, St. Patrick purchased it from the trustees
of the Houston Family.
Lyris and Norbert
marry. Norbert. Lyris.
The Nyacks were the first Grenadians
of Indian decent to own an estate on the island. Though simple people with only
a basic education from the River Sallee Government School, they were both
entrepreneuring, diligent and savvy. They made Belmont Estate their home and the
base of their new business - operating the plantation. At one time they owned
six of the most productive estates on the island - Waltham & Diamond in St.
Mark; Plains, Mount Horne in St. Andrew, Le Tage and Belmont - and employed
more than a thousand people. They also purchased the Hankeys business in
Grenville and commenced the business of a supermarket, hardware store and
Lydia, Jolly Miller and Jockey Nuban St Clair and winning in
Mr. and Mrs. Nyack were also horse
lovers. They owned several horses over the years, racing and winning in
Grenada, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana. They established the Telescope Race
track, just outside Grenville, a popular sporting and social destination in
Grenada in the fifties and sixties. They were a socially vibrant couple -
entertaining and being entertained. They both had strong social and civil
consciences. Quiet philanthropists, they gave of their time, talent, love or
means. Without fanfare or pronouncement, they shared benevolently with Grenada's
Homes for children, the elderly, hospitals, churches and schools, also to
individuals or causes of need. Mr. Nyack was actively involved in
politics, he was appointed Senator by Premier Eric M. Gairy, a post he held
until his death in 1969. His wife Lyris continued to reside at and manage the
affairs of Belmont Estate up until her death on the 19th of
December 2001, aged 94. She was laid to rest close to her residence on
the estate. Belmont continues to be owned by the Nyack family. Though they had
no natural born children, they were blessed to raise several nieces and nephews
as their very own children including: Tommy, Jean, Leah and Norbert's
Lyris and Norbert with Lydia, Morris and Osbert. Tommy and
Wilberforce Nyack. Leah Nyack.
Throughout its history, Belmont has
played a major role in Grenada's agricultural economy. In the late 1600's and
early 1700's, it was one of the 81 plantations established on the island with
coffee being its major produce. Sugarcane was introduced as the main crop later
in the 1700's; the ruins of the water mill remain as testament to that part of
its history. Cotton was also a major crop of the estate, being later replaced
with cocoa, nutmeg in the 1800's and bananas coming later. The estate is still a
major producer of cocoa and nutmeg.
As with most businesses, Belmont
Estate has faced several challenges through the years, and has gone through
peaks and troughs. Grenada has seen the disintegration of the plantation
system, the partitioning of land, and today very few plantations have
survived. The transformation of Belmont Estate to this agri-tourism product is
the brainchild of Shadel Nyack Compton, grand niece of Lyris Nyack. The estate
first opened its doors to tourists in April 2002, offering plantation tours, a
museum and a charming twenty seat restaurant. The product was well-received by
locals and foreign guests, and within a year, the restaurant had grown to one
hundred and ten seats.
Belmont was devastated by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, resulting in
total destruction of the restaurant, museum and significant damage to the cocoa
drying facilities. The fields also received significant damage, resulting
significant loss of tree crops, particularly nutmeg, and to a lesser extent
cocoa, other fruits and vegetables. The tourism component of the business
reopened in 2007 after being closed for almost three years.
Through all of the challenges, and in
particular the recovery since Hurricane Ivan, the team of committed staff has
worked ardently to restore, re-build and preserve Belmont Estate. A unique
experience to tour and witness a traditional historic plantation at work.
The fusion of agriculture, tourism, food, history and cultural traditions,
crowned with outstanding warmth and friendliness of the people made us feel this
was a destination so far unparalleled in Grenada.
In the museum we
saw how Norbert's office would have looked, the dressing table and the washing
Quite a special
invitation to Norbert and Lyris seen in one of the presentation
A ledger from the
sixties that we were allowed to look through, I was particularly taken
with the earnings of Dodoo
Chocolate and Spices
Grenada has earned its name as the
Isle of Spice and The Spice of the Caribbean because of the extensive selection
of spices grown on the island. Being the world's second largest producer of
nutmeg, this precious spice naturally tops the list of fragrant spices produced
here. The exotic spice array includes cinnamon, pimento, cloves, bay leaves,
turmeric, ginger and mace all are grown at Belmont. Nutmegs and mace are
exported and are used extensively for culinary and pharmaceutical purposes.
Locally they are both used as food flavourings, and seasonings, while the
pericarp (fruit ) is used for making jams, jellies, syrups, juices and candy. A
local company, Noelville Ltd. uses nutmeg oils to manufacture the now world
famous Nut-MedT, a proven formula for joint and muscle pain relief.
Prior to Hurricane Ivan, nutmeg and
mace were the number one agricultural products grown on the estate. Nutmeg
production has decreased by about 75 percent since then. Cocoa has now replaced
nutmeg as the number one agricultural product. The cocoa adventure at Belmont
begins with a visit to the cocoa fields where the captivating story of the
transformation of raw cocoa beans into a delicate product that is used for
making chocolate unfolds.
Ward took us across a little stream in
search of a ripe cocoa pod, he cracked it open
and gave us seeds to suck. They go into the mouth a bit slimy but you soon taste
the mild flavour of chocolate. Bear and pod.
Cocoa is harvested by snipping the
colourful oval shaped pods off the trees using mitten-shaped knives called cocoa
knives. The pods are heaped into piles, then cracked with a machete and the
white beans (seeds) are removed and placed into buckets or bags for
transportation to the fermentation point. There the beans are placed into a
sifter where excess water is drained and debris (leaves, stones, broken
pods etc.) are removed. The beans are then weighed and placed in large wooden
bins - fermenting boxes, covered with banana leaves and jute bags. The beans
remain in boxes for 7-8 days during which time fermentation takes place. During
fermentation the white substance covering the beans disappears; the beans turn a
rich shade of brown and the flavour develops. The beans are turned from one box
into another every two days to allow an even distribution of the heat that is
produced during fermentation at about forty five degrees centigrade.
The drying trays all on runners - an idea taken from the
original roof at Wimbledon
Ward talking me through the walking / turning / drying process. I
was quite pleased with my straight drills
Once fermented the beans are placed
outside to dry in the sun on big wooden trays for six to seven days. During that
period workers walk through the beans every half an hour to allow air to flow
evenly through the beans, to aid with the drying.
The beans then go through a cosmetic
process called polishing. Traditionally, beans were polished by dancing on them
in large copper pots. Polishing removes any dried pulp residue on the seed and
gives the bean a smooth, polished look.
Polishing is done by commercial
polishers. Belmont Estate has forged a strategic alliance with The Grenada
Chocolate Company, to make the world's finest dark organic chocolate. The
Grenada Chocolate Company and Belmont Estate are members of the Grenada Organic
Cocoa Farmers Co-operative Society Ltd that grow organic cocoa to make the
product. The co-operative consists of about twelve farmers that have received
organic certification through the German certifying company Ceres.
Because of their superior quality,
many of their beans are shipped to Lindt and Cadburys. They are shipped whole to
preserve the flavour.
The sorting tray. The "composting bins" and Bear was very
taken with the numbering system for the
Belmont Estate is also an agent for
the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) the local farmers association. The GCA
manages the cocoa industry, buys cocoa from the local farmers and markets and
sells internationally. Belmont Estate purchases wet cocoa from the farmers in
the community every Wednesday, ferments and dries the beans, then sells to the
Association. On buying days at Belmont, visitors can see the
actual purchase of the beans from farmers using a number system on
bits of cardboard.
On any day of the week you can see
beans being fermented and dried.
The story of the cocoa is brought to
life at the fermentary with the display of several pieces of machinery that are
used in the semi-processing and by the demonstration of the traditional method
of polishing the bean, by dancing in old copper pots.
Visitors are shown a video entitled
"Cocoa - Food of the Gods, From the Field to Chocolate " and can sample
Belmont's "cocoa tea" (local hot chocolate) as they allow the fine bouquet of
fermenting cocoa beans and the aroma of nutmeg, cloves, bay, pimento and other
local spices to permeate the senses.
For small people there is a talking
parrot, an unfriendly macaw, tortoises, rabbits and goats. Goats cheese in a
variety of flavours is made at Belmont and is on sale. There is also
a souvenir shop.
A huge thank you to Ward for making
our visit so interesting.
The modest estate house that was terribly damaged in
Hurricane Ivan. Lyris now looks over the Blue Garden
she so loved. The ruins of the sugar factory that is
now a popular backdrop to weddings.
ALL IN ALL AN
AMAZING PLACE TO