1960s and '70s
In 1961 Aimee Webster deLisser expressed her anguish at the ongoing destruction of Fern Gully, which she had loved since her childhood. As a prominent horticulturalist her appeal should have carried weight, but she found it necessary to make a similar anguished cry twenty years later, and it is not clear that any of her demands for the preservation of this Jamaican treasure have been adequately met more than forty years on.
In July 1961 Mrs Angela Armstrong had voiced the concern Mrs Webster deLisser expressed with such passion later in the year:
Daily Gleaner, July 25, 1961


THE EDITOR, Sir:- How unfortunate the

"Powers that be" did not take steps to preserve that most beautiful spot, Fern Gully, even as they are now endeavouring to save the Blue Hole area.

Fern Gully, one of, if not, the most beautiful

spot in Jamaica, has been brutally desecrated

for the benefit of the speed kings, who are not

satisfied unless they can travel at a

breakneck speed, wherever they are going.

Admittedly Fern Gully was a very narrow

and, in spots, dangerous thoroughfare, but it

meant that travellers had to go slowly and

carefully, which at least gave them time to

look around and enjoy its natural and unusual

beauty. I feel sure if statistics were examined it would be found that far less accidents have occurred on this strip of road than on the

wonderful new highways now constructed.

How could those in authority have permitted such vandalism? Surely an alternative route could have been developed and this made into a one-way drive, thus eliminating the danger element and yet preserving its beauty.

Does Jamaica always have to sacrifice its

natural beauty on the altar of so-called

progress? I can think of no other country in the world that would have premitted such gross sacrilege.

Cannot something be done to stop this sort of thing from happening again and again, and preserve at least what little heritage we still

have left.

Come on Mr. Issa, please use your influence, and save the beauty of Jamaica, not only for

our own enjoyment but also for the benefit of

the hundreds of tourists who seek just such

natural beauty as we have to offer.

I am etc.,


3, Trafalgar Road,

Kingston 5

July 4, 1961


Daily Gleaner, October 29, 1961

Green Leaf bemoans The Rape of Fern Gully

The Postcard  album was inevitable among knick knacks of drawing-rooms when I was young. In our
album, among views of foreign cities, buildings,
lakes, rivers and other landmarks sent to us by the
rare travellers of those far-off days, was a single
Jamaican scene - that of Fern Gully.
How vividly

I remember it! A buggy sat like a ridiculous

decoration among fronds which seemed almost to be

shaking hands across the road. That lush verdure I

never saw. My mother stated categorically that too

many people passed in too many cars "and so the

ferns are dying.

Fern Gully, however, was a fascinating enough gorge, a natural garden that delighted nature lovers, albeit a road demanding slow passage until

recent months. Denudement by the 1951 hurricane

was almost healed; the ferns, mosses, alocasia and

philodendron were returning. How beautiful was the

play of light and shade, how wonderful the [varieties]

of leaf forms.

Then the order went forth that the road be widened.

A crew of barbarians was let loose. Pick and shovel rent the sides of Fern gully, the trees were felled,

ferns ripped out and the sheltering caves [       ?      ].

Fern Gully now is a ghastly grave, a wound on the

face of Jamaica. Once this picturesque valley with

its green sides and dappled floor was the inspiration

of artists and photographers from many lands.

 Jamaica is one of the richest fern-bearing areas in
the world. Botanists made Fern Gully a mecca of study because there they found enormous variety of

fern species concentrated in a small accessible site.

The excuse for the vicious wholesale destruction of

Fern Gully is that motorists had to be


The lie to that is rarely was there a road accident in

Fern Gully. Drivers wormed their way because the winding, narrow road compelled them to proceed at a

sane pace. Their passengers enjoyed respite from

breakneck speed and rested their eyes upon one of

the largest, most beautiful fern grottoes in all the 


Today, rather than pass through the charnel house of Fern Gully many travellers drive extra miles via

Stewart Town or Port Maria on the

northcoast/Kingston journey.

The shocking message of the rape of Fern Gully is

that in the haste of Jamaicans to grasp what they

delude themselves is progress, they rip down beauty

which is irreplaceable. Progress is not destruction of

what existed. Because of blundering stupidity,

Jamaica mourns the loss of Fern Gully. It was the

finest natural garden in the Caribbean.

 Then in October 1963 Jamaica suffered extensively from the flood rains caused by Hurricane Flora, which devastated Cuba to the north: 'the flood rains and high winds which, trailing along with Hurricane Flora, struck heavily at roads and bridges, houses and banana cultivation especially. . . .' (Gleaner report, October 12)
 OCHO RIOS, St. Ann, Oct. 14
(From our correspondent): The parish of St. Ann was lashed by rain on Saturday night last resulting in flooded roads and a collection of debris brought down by heavy streams, left on the main road leading from Fern Gully to the Ocho Rios area.
Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, October 15, 1963

 Rains continued into the following months, causing further flooding and damage.
 Daily Gleaner, January 15, 1964

Road is source of new springs

OCHO RIOS, St. Ann, Jan. 11 (From our correspondent):

A stream now runs out of the main road at Fern Gully, between Moneague and Ocho Rios.

The water crosses the road in several places.

Source of the stream is a spring which broke out at the spot in late December when there was heavy rain

in the area.

Another spring has broken out on the southern side of the road and is sending a second stream of water

down towards Ocho Rios. It joins the first stream.

Fern Gully main road unsafe for motorists

OCHO RIOS, St. Ann, Jan. 14 (From our correspondent): The Fern Gully main road leading into Ocho Rios

from Moneague has been unsafe for motorists since 11 a.m. today, when the road became flooded and damaged.

Since heavy rains November 1 to November 17 and on December 28, the Moneague Lake has been rising

and now covers approximately two acres of land.

Later, in 1980, Mrs Webster deLisser wrote about the work done by Superintendent Vernon James in an attempt to restore Fern Gully after
the Flora rains of 1963:

'The Flora flood alerted the late Vernon James, then

Superintendent of Parks and Gardens, to losses in Fern

Gully. He utilised fallen trees as barriers and re-planted

fern. The task lacked supervision. Workers concentrated on

Roosevelt fern because it is abundant in that area. I urged

Mr. James to save the nephrolepis [sword ferns] and

adiantum [maidenhair ferns]. Even if they are replanted

who would care for them, he objected.'

 a Roosevelt fern
a maidenhair fern        
Daily Gleaner, April 14, 1964
The Minister of Communications and Works, the Hon. Kenneth Jones has announced that the Fern Gully Road, between Moneague and Ocho Rios in St Ann, which was closed in January because of flood rains is again open to traffic.
The minister said repairs have been hampered by the continuous flow of water from underground, but it has now been possible to divert the streams away from the roadway and into side-drains and culverts.
The road is not yet asphalted, but a temporary marl surface has been laid down. Motorists using the road are advised to proceed with caution particularly if it is wet.

 The Phalaenopsis project:
Wayfarer's Flowers (Daily Gleaner, April 25, 1965)
PHALAENOPSIS. About a year ago, Mr Noel Gauntlett, a vice-president of the Orchid Society,
was responsible for
establishing a colony of phalaenopsis in Fern Gully. The plants are not
thriving. Indeed, many have died. Drought
might be responsible for this loss. Or were the plants too young to have been set out in a place where they
would lack regular
A decision should be taken at once to rescue the remaining plants. Either some system of regular
watering and fertilizing
needs to be undertaken, or
more feasible perhaps the plants
could be removed
to a greenhouse, and brought on until they
sufficiently strong to withstand the comparative neglect
involved in the Fern Gully location.

Green Leaf (Daily Gleaner, April 7, 1968)
Pink Phalaenopsis:
A phalaenopsis, of some 200 which were planted in Fern Gully by Mr. Noel Gauntlett, assisted by St.
Ann Boy Scouts,
two years ago, has bloomed. Three open flowers of beautiful, round, form were open last week and three forward buds are yet to open.
What is to be hoped is that this notice will not direct the attention of thieves to this courageous
little orchid, so reluctant in the hands of many growers in Jamaica, yet withstood many hazards and denials in Fern Gully. The plant and its companions were the gift of a United States enthusiast who
hoped to gladden motorists with the spectacle of phalaenopsis fronds in the twilight of Fern Gully.

But Alex Hawkes was to write of this project in 1970:
'In 1964, under the direction of Jamaica's well known orchidist Mr Noel Gauntlett,
some one hundred specimens of lovely Asiatic Moth Orchids (genus Phalaenopsis)
were planted out high
up on suitable trees in the Fern Gully, with the cooperation
of our Boy Scouts. These, with their
magnificent racemes and panicles of white and
rose coloured blossoms, shimmering in the shafts
of sunlight. would indeed have
added splendidly to the predominant greens of the gully. But I do
not believe that
any of these orchids still remain today, having been killed off by the protracted

drought of a couple of years ago, and stolen by vandals.'

Meanwhile others had been expressing their anxieties about the deterioration of Fern Gully --
 Daily Gleaner, March 2, 1967


THE EDITOR, Sir:—The rapid deterioration of

Fern Gully is becoming more and more obvious each day.

I happen to have driven through this gorge twice

weekly for the past three months and observed

with regret the slow but certain destruction of the flora particularly on the banks nearest the road.

This is no way due to lack of maintenance on the

part of anyone lest this be said.

I recall as a youngster on driving through this

beautiful and natural garden, seeing the lush

green fronds of the ferns almost, touching the

sides of the car and rippling in the wind set up by the motion of it as we drove along.

True enough, much damage has been caused by hurricanes, floods, widening of the roads and

enthusiastic plant collectors, but somehow Fern

Gully has been able to maintain some of its

former natural charm up to quite recently.

Over the past couple years however, a greater menace to the flora there has come about and

unless something is done and done quickly to stop

it this vale will become a barren, uninteresting

and unsightlycanyon and probably a dust bowl

eventually. The major cause of damage is due to the great increase in traffic and particularly

heavy trucks which ply their way to the

Industrial Centres in Ocho Rios.

Motor cars contribute to a very small degree to

this damage, but the fumes from heavy trucks and

particularly the diesel burning type are the worst

offenders. Their exhausts are aimed directly on

the sides of the roads and they emit heavy discharges of fumes laden with carbon particles

and carbon monoxide gas which has quite a

noticeable ill-effect on the plants with which it comes in contact.

 Leo A Sullivan was a prominent horticulturalist.

Apart from actual damage to the plants there is

even a certain amount of danger to human beings

as well, due to the fact that the ventilation or air

movement in the gorge is so limited the air becomes heavily charged with smoke which lingers around for long periods and with the

constant traffic of many trucks the atmosphere is

seldom ever cleared during daytime or operating


Many people who have travelled through Fern

Gully have complained of nausea, sleepiness, and burning of the eyes, probably one of these

symptoms could be attributable to the winding

roads, but certainly not all three and it is my

personal opinion than an air sample should be

taken within the gorge at peak operation, the

analysis could well indicate it as an hazard to health.

It appears as if on our march to economical

progress we are trampling down the beauty of our

island which is one thing that attracts visitors,

bestows a sense of pride on our people and provides enjoyment and peace of mind to all.

My native parish St. Ann once famous for its

beauty and a well earned title, "The Garden

Parish" now assumes the appearance of a garden

sprayed with weed killers. What with the loss of

Roaring River Falls, the loss of green chlorophyll in the western seetion of Ocho Rios now turned

red, the bareness of Dunns River Falls and now

the much loved Fern Gully? What have we to

offer our tourists who have heard so much of these beauty spots before they were murdered,

and have come to see them? Aren't we killing our

goose which lays “the golden egg” (The Tourist

Industry) with the use of bulldozer blades,

plucking its feathers and leaving raw flesh on

which to stare?

I am, etc,


1 Widcombe Road,

Kingston 6

Feb. 25,1967.


Daily Gleaner, March 10, 1967


THE EDITOR, Sir— There could not be a more telling letter than that of Mr. Leo A. Sullivan in the Daily

Gleaner of yesterday.

A few weeks ago I drove up to have a look at and refresh my memory of Fern Gully. I was amazed. The

ferns are nearly all gone and I did not see more than three or four birds and none of them sang.

Can't a little good soil be taken there and put against the edge of the banks along the roadsides, to replace that which has been dissipated by the bulldozer and heavy trucks? In fact no heavy vehicles should be

allowed on that road. For there will never, never be another Fern Gully nor Bamboo Avenue. Like there

never has been another Roaring River Falls. Poor us!

By the bye, Sir. Can't the Tourist Board restore the beauty of Llandovery Falls by merely clearing the bush

around them? I refer to those that are off the main road but nearby.

I am, etc,


Brown's Town,

March 2, 1967

 Daily Gleaner, December 23, 1969
. . . and into the seventies 
Daily Gleaner, October 29, 1970

. . . I stopped the car and walked up a small side road a way, where the sudden entry into vivid sunlight was almost shocking finding some marvelous relatively undisturbed ferny hillsides just a scant twenty feet off the highway.
Letter to the Gleaner, December 23, 1970:
'Actually we had three days with over 2 inches [of rain] and one of 4 inches! No wonder Moneague was under water and Fern Gully a raging 
torrent through Ocho Rios to the sea.'   
Rock Cottage,
Ocho Rios,
Dec. 3, 1970.                                                          
 so, on December 17th, Dr Hawkes gave his personal update on the state of Fern Gully:
 Shortly after my article, in the Daily Gleaner series dealing with Fern Gully appeared October 29th, torrential and disastrous rains hit this district of St. Ann and of course most other parts of Jamaica.
I had heard that Fern Gully had been absolutely ruined by the floods, and on December 5th had occasion to visit the gully.
Coming up into the gully from Ocho Rios, via Harrison Town, the road is indeed in a sad condition, with huge potholes on all sides, and still much evidence of serious washing-out along the border area. A few landslips are to be seen along the way.
But happily the rich fern and other flora of Fern Gully itself seems essentially unaffected. Indeed, perhaps, the plants all seem even brighter in colour and more luxuriant than prior to their prolonged soaking! The upper parts ol the roadway are in excellent condition, the roadside is well maintained and clean. and all in all, the damage to this irreplaceable natural treasure is nowhere near as bad as we had been led to believe.
 . . . and members of the public continued to express their opinions as to what should be done to maintain Fern Gully:
 Daily Gleaner, November 27, 1971

THE EDITOR, Sir:— On my many visits to

the Garden Parish, I have been attracted by the many tourists who frequent Fern Gully.

Perhaps many may feel that the development of Fern Gully as an attraction

or beauty spot is unwarranted, but I am

fascinated with the uniqueness of the place.

First of all it is one of the coolest spots in the

parish for one to relax in on a hot summer's

day. Secondly the Gully accommodates a

number of species of bird life not common to

many parts of Jamaica; and thirdly Fern

Gully presents both tourist and native with a first hand example of a tropical forest.


Indeed I think it often presents the tourist

with the closest resemblance of a

primaeval forest he will ever have. May I

suggest, Mr. Editor, that in attracting more

people to visit this peculiar beauty spot, that

the Tourist Board or the Superintendent of

Parks spare no expense at advertising this

erstwhile show place!

I further suggest to these authorities that

the botanical names of each species of plant

occurring in Fern Gully be affixed to the

larger trees or shrubs, and that at

appropriate points or "rest spots", a

concrete bench or chair be positioned with a

permanent placard giving a botanical

history of the flora and fauna found in Fern

Gully's precincts.

I am, etc,


4 Aukland Drive,

Kingston 10

Nov. 10, 1971.

 and Fern Gully continued to feature in the life of the island in a variety of ways, some up-beat, some tragic . . .
Daily Gleaner, April 27, 1972
Residents and visitors in the Ocho Rios area were treated last Sunday night to a feast of folksongs by the singers of the National Dance Theatre Company at the newly established cultural (folklore) centre situated just a mile out of Fern Gully.
Daily Gleaner, August 8, 1972
FERN . . . . The costumed group 'Fern Gully' sponsored by National Cash Register parading around the National Stadium track durIng yesterday's grand gala -- a climax of festival 10

                 Daily Gleaner, January 4, 1973 
            Daily Gleaner, June 14, 1974
 The mere thought of hauling a boiler over 30 ft long and weighing 107,800 pounds (around 50 tons) up through Fern Gully is hair-raising. However, that is what happened in 1974, though whether there were two operations, one in June and one in August, I am not clear. Perhaps the June trip was a trial run. Any way, Fern Gully survived, though presumably moving further down the path of deterioaration from its much earlier state, that Green Leaf remembered.
                 Daily Gleaner, August 11, 1974
The boiler would have to be hauled by barge to the Reynolds Wharf in Ocho Rios and then taken by road to the Plant at Ewarton, via Fern Gully.
. . . .
The first difficulties were encountered up the inclines of Fern Gully. Here, Ewarton's 988 frontend loader was used to push from behind.

The procession arrived at Moneague at noon, where everyone took a break. A fire was lit and a hearty roadside meal prepared.

 In January 1976. the Minister of Works, in the House of Representatives, set out the provisions in the budget for the upgrading of Fern Gully:
Daily Gleaner, January 17, 1976
Mr. Pagon went on to deal with road programmes funded locally, stating that $3.76 million provided for main road improvement, involving nine major projects, was increased by $101,000 in the First Supplementary Estimates for urgent improvement works in Fern Gully.

The Hon. Sydney Pagon,
Minister of Works and Communications.
 In April 1977 Alex Hawkes, who had written with such passion and knowledge of Jamaica and its flora, slipped away from the island, as elusively as he had come some ten years earlier; in spite of his public persona, he was clearly a very private person.
 Daily Gleaner, April 13, 1977
THE EDITOR, Sir. The sudden and untimely passing of Dr Alex Hawkes should be mourned by persons of
culture. His contribution to our historical and horticultural heritage cannot be told in words.
I have met him time and again in the rural area enjoying the serenity of nature with such ease and charm
truly enveloped in the joys that come from knowing nature. I was an avid reader of what he wrote and also
noted the advice he gave on cooking on the radio His departure is another mile stone in the rich heritage of
Jamaica culture that "outsiders" have so vividly dramatized
May his soul rest in peace
I am etc
April 2, 1977.
 . . . so the '70s, one of Jamaica's most troubled decades, drew towards its end, but with no particular indications of real improvements to the conditions in Fern Gully -
 Fern Gully is another of nature's spectaculars for those travelling by car between Ocho Rios and Kingston to enjoy. The two-mile stretch of road known as Fern Gully was once a river bed and is now a gorge dramatically shaded by giant ferns
Cindy Loggins in the HOUSTON CHRONICLE, May 20, 1979

OCHO RIOS was late in coming into Jamaica's tourism mainstream. Up to a decade ago, Jamaica's second largest tourist resort was being variously described as "a small cross-roads village at the head of a palm-fringed bay", and "a sleepy fishing village."
. . . .
The trip from Kingston to Ocho Rios runs through beautiful countryside, including
Fern Gully, a three-mile roadway with numerous twists and turns through a canopy of lush forest foliage and ferns. It is this kind of vegetation, as well as the countless cascading streams, that led the Spaniards to call the area Chorreras (waterfalls). It is generally accepted that it is from this Spanish word that the name 'Ocho Rios' was derived.
Jamaica Tourist Board, Daily Gleaner, June 11, 1979