Jamaica’s Infectious Disease Hospital: Bumper Hall, St. Andrew

by Georgia Rookwood

In 1891, the Colonial Secretary sanctioned the payment of £934.19.7s for the purchase of Bumper Hall Pen, St. Andrew from Larchin Facey. By 1895, the buildings for the new Infectious Diseases Hospital were under construction at Bumper Hall on Spanish Town Road. The contract of £2 030 15s to erect the buildings was secured by the firm of Messrs. Laing, Lothian and Dunbar. After the acquisition by the Kingston City Council,  a section of the Bumper Hall Pen property, adjoining the May Pen Cemetery, was also used for burials. By 1898, the new Infectious Diseases Hospital was in operation. Cases of the Spanish Influenza, Kaffir Pox and Tuberculosis, as well as other diseases, were treated at the hospital.

Jamaica was the first island in the British Caribbean to be affected by the Influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1919. The Gleaner of Monday, November 27, 1918, reported:

On Saturday, there were 111 cases of Spanish Influenza undergoing treatment at Bumper Hall Hospital. The situation is still on the improve and things have taken such a hopeful turn that many of the elementary schools in Kingston, which were closed down will be reopened today.

In 1920, there was an outbreak of Kaffir Pox, which is a mild form of smallpox also known as West Indian Pox, in Jamaica. According to The Gleaner of August 26, 1920, “there were 246 cases of Kaffir Pox at Bumper Hall yesterday. Fresh cases enter the institution each day, whilst a number of patients have been discharged has having been cured.”

Influenza Outbreak in Jamaica
“The Influenza in Jamaica: Decline of the Death Rate” in The Gleaner, November 27, 1918.

A fire at the Bumper Hall hospital in 1943 damaged the wards, attendants’ quarters and kitchen. The site was never rehabilitated.

Fire at Bumper Hall
“After Fire at Bumper Hall” in The Gleaner, October 12, 1943

By 1952, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation issued an invitation for tenders for the demolition and removal of buildings at Bumper Hall. It is not certain when the actual demolition took place, however the site on which the hospital once stood remains vacant.

Notwithstanding the advances in medicine, and the creation of vaccines to handle infectious diseases, institutions like the Infectious Disease Hospital at Bumper Hall continue to be relevant today as we wrestle with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Georgia Rookwood is Senior Research Officer at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

References

Killingray, D. 1994. “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919 in the British Caribbean”, Social History of Medicine, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 59–87

“Current Items” in The Daily Gleaner, October 28, 1891

“Bumper Hall Hospital” in The Daily Gleaner, February 17, 1898

“Fortnightly meeting of the City Council held July 20, 1898” in The Daily Gleaner, July 21, 1898

“The Kaffir Pox in this Island” in The Gleaner, August 26, 1920.

“Municipal notification No. 988” in The Gleaner, March 19, 1952.

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