was in the Victorian era, however, that man's passion
for them reached its zenith. The craze for collecting ferns
period reached such epidemic proportions that
affected the very existence of the plants themselves.
Although in previous centuries
ferns were valued for
their medicinal worth,
and played an important role in
and folklore, it was only in Victorian
they were coveted for aesthetic reasons. Ferns were
proudly displayed in homes, either alive or dead. It was
fashionable for ladies, especially, to compile albums of
pressed ferns. . . .
the latter stages of the 19th century
the interest in
ferns changed from an obsession with their collection to
cultivation. The mania also spread from the
plant to depicting it in stone,
iron and glass. Even roads,
and terraced houses were named after the fern.
Through Fernland' : The Victorians' Passion
just a part of the 'Fern Craze'.
Jamaican ferns had been creating interest at least since the 17th century. Hans Sloane had 32 pages of ferns in his Natural History of Jamaica. Sloane reportedly visited the Ocho Rios area, but I have seen no reference to a Fern Gully.
Jamaica, interestingly, played an important role in the history of fern cultivation. In the late 18th century, DR. JOHN LINDSAY, one of the numerous Scots medics and scientists who have lived in the island, finally figured out how ferns reproduced, a puzzle which had long perplexed botanists and others. The ability to propagate ferns led to an growing enthusiasm for them in gardens and homes, and spawned the 'Fern Craze' in Victorian England.
Polypodium Effusium (Jamaica) c.1850
In the 1850s a remarkable woman, Anna Atkins, whose husband owned coffee estates in Jamaica, used an early photographic process, the cyanotype process, to create incredibly beautiful images of botanical specimens, including Jamaican ferns.
For more of these wonderful images go to:
Daily Gleaner, Jamuary 28, 1867
Paris Exhibition, 1867
Thomas Harry was a Black shoe-maker and politician, who was arrested during the 1865 'Rebellion' and taken, illegally, to Morant Bay. He was among those who, unlike George William Gordon, survived and continued to participate in political activity.
Jamaica will also be able to draw upon her exquisite varieties of ferns and tree-ferns, her lovely flowers and the least perishable of her fruits; in fact, with all the resources at her command, she ought to be able to present a show as attractive as any in the building.
Daily Gleaner, February 21, 1890
A great feature in the laying out of the grounds will be a large variety of tree ferns. Many of the paths will be planted with avenues of these giant ferns which will lend a specially beautiful aspect to the gardens.There will be no hedges planted around the gardens, but the fences will be overgrown with flowering creepers of every variety. The interior of the building will be beautified with flowering plants, ferns, etc., and the Botanical Gardens people have already some three thousand flowerpots filled with roses and other plants in preparation for this purpose.
In the run-up to the 1891 Exhibition there were Parish Exhibitions around the island. Excerpts from reports show that fern work featured in these local Exhibitions.
Daily Gleaner, November 14,
St Catherine Exhibition
J. A. S. Vaz, the wife of the
energetic Secretary of the
Exhibition shows pressed ferns most artistically arranged in
frames, the work of her own
Daily Gleaner, November 24, 1890
excellent exhibit was a rustic bracket
from the arrows of the wild cane
gathered on the banks of the Milk
and two photo frames of the same
with ferns, both exhibits being shown by Miss E. A. Bonitto, Mandeville. Another Mandeville lady, Miss Scharschmidt, exhibited some beautiful and artistic work, fans made of ferns and lace bark, and palm
'FernAlbums, elaborately bound, Morocco,
toned card board, to hold 100 ferns 15s
This when filled will make a good present
to send abroad.'
a page from a fern album
I apologise for the gaps in the advertisement, but this
is the best I could do, comparing four copies of the advert,
all very messy and blurred!
In the Daily Gleaner in 1878
must ask to see Mr. Gall's collection
of Jamaica Ferns, collected from all parts of the island, very beautifully preserved, and mounted on card-board, each Sheet containing a very large variety of Ferns.
► Ask to see Gall's Fern Albums, 21s
which are gorgeous; they are not only
for the variety of their Ferns,
but also for the magnificent manner
in which they are arranged, so as to
present not only anatural, but very
OUR FERN ALBUMSIn no other country – we may venture to assert
this, albeit no great Botanist – is to be found so
beautiful or diversified a distribution of Ferns as
can be gathered within Jamaica. From the
broadest leaf to the most delicately designed
lace-work of Nature's tracery, the most beautiful
vegetable life is developed so clearly as to make
specimens of these plants an absolute necessity as
well for every Museum as for the Library of the
student, or for the Drawing-room table of those
who, with their c/vases[?] of growing Ferns in
the window alcove, desire to compare the living
family of local habitat with that of far-distant and
furtherance of this idea – and we
thanked for the information we
- there can be purchased in
Albums containing ten [graceful?]
[specimens?] of Jamaica Ferns, not only
tastefully, but artistically arranged for
preservation and study. Each group is
carefully selected with reference to affording
[specimens] of the abundant fertility of
nature in the growth and variety of
delicate plants, while the method of
preservation affords full security to their
[possessors?] that they will endure for any
period so long as but ordinary care is taken
when removed from the Album for
It affords us pleasure to notice
collections are the work of
Mrs James Gall
of Myrtle Bank, Kingston
and to add that,
as memorials of
affection to absent friends,
fair cousins at home, no more
graceful or acceptable present could be
Setting aside their value to
research, as specimens of what
achieve in native production,
they are as creditable to the Colony as they
are to the lady whose admirable taste has taken a [direction? rty] to make these albums a speciality for the strangers visiting the Colony. To [ ] to [ ] and to admire and so to purchase.- County Union
As late as 1915, Astley
Clerk, the secretary of the Jamaica
Literary Association, was responsible for a volume of the Association's Magazine - Vol 2 No11 (March 1915) -
which was a special
issue on ferns of Jamaica,
containing pressed and dried specimens.