Paul Bogle – From Stony Gut to Contested Identity

Paul Bogle

The copy taken from a tin type is the officially accepted image of National Hero Paul Bogle. In V.S Reid's Sixty Five it is captioned as such: "The above photograph of a tintype which, though not absolutely authenticated, appears to the Jamaica Historical Society to be a genuine portrait".

Paul Bogle, 148 years after his death, is still embroiled in a struggle. Bogle is one of our original rebels and a defining character in who we are as Jamaicans. His historic march from Stony Gut, St. Thomas to Spanish Town (and back) and the resulting 1865 revolt was repaid in kind by the then colonial government with his being hanged. It seemed that his being raised to the status of national hero when Jamaica gained independence should have been a salve on the wound. Yet now we add insult to that old injury by being unable decide who he is, or at least what he looked like. In this the year of Jamaica marks its 50th year of independence, this is a woeful state.

The issue came to my attention through FaceBook (as do most things these days – unless I noticed it on Twitter). I came across three postings which noted that Jamaica’s officially accepted image of national hero Paul Bogle is also the being used as the image of American inventor Thomas Jennings.

For ease of reference, the image in question is the one which had been used on the $2 note and which now graces the 10cent coin (for those of you born after 1990 yes there used to be a $2 note – see Damian Marley’s ‘Welcome to Jamrock” as reference “…before Bogle start dance and deh pon paper money”. The note was discontinued circa 1989.) The issue of Bogle’s monetary demotion (which incidentally also resulted in the removal of that awesome question that accompanied the flipping of a coin – “ackee or toto?” – now we like everyone else have to ask “head or tail”. Of course we could also say Bogle or Toto,) is a matter that deserves its own post. Suffice it to say, with the current state of the Jamaican dollar, the 10 cent coin is largely ignored, which means that Bogle is becoming a figure less and less remembered. (And yes, I realize that Garvey shares an equally ignominious monetary fate.)

Jamaican Two Dollar Note

The Two Dollar note which once held the image of Paul Bogle was taken out of circulation circa 1989

Based on the comments posted on the FB threads, many immediately assumed that the Jamaican researchers must have got it wrong. I find that, in and of itself, disturbing. Why did so many people assume that the assertion that the image is that of Thomas Jennings must be the right one, and we had all fallen for a big lie? Interestingly, the National Library of Jamaica and the National Gallery of Jamaica argue that as Jennings had died before the tintype technology was invented, it is easy to prove that Jennings cannot be the man in the image. David Boxer of the NGJ highlights that it is not merely a similarity of images as it appears the the image being used for Bogle and for Jennings is from the same source.

The question of whether Bogle is the man in the picture, is a different kettle of chicken.  Boxer says that the original tintype photo (now lost) allegedly came to the Institute of Jamaica through a researcher from the Jamaica Historical Society who went to Stony Gut seeking an image of Bogle. However, the image has never been fully authenticated, and has in the past been captioned as such. Boxer believes that there is a good chance that the image is not that of Paul Bogle, but may well be an image of his son or another relative. He notes that the picture would have had to be taken in 1864-65 when Bogle was in his 40s, but the man in the image appears to be younger. Of course, maybe Bogle just aged really well. Edna Manley is among those who rejected the image, instead choosing to base her 1965 Paul Bogle monument on her gardener. Manley’s decision has resulted in its own furor among the people of St. Thomas, including some of Bogle’s relatives, who see Manley’s action as a blatant insult and insist that the monument is not representative and cannot be returned to its former place before the Morant Bay Court House.

But whether or not the tintype Bogle is the real image is now in the main moot. The world accepts artistic impressions all the time. Let’s face it, given the location of Jerusalem, the chance that Jesus was a skinny white man is pretty slim. But for many years it is the only image that many of us knew, and for many of us it remains enough. In the case of our heroes, we have only artistic interpretations of Nanny and Sam Sharpe to rely on. So whether we believe like Boxer that the Bogle picture is a “justified concoction in the national interest” or that the picture is that of our National Hero, our nation has the duty to protect that image.

The issue with the Bogle image therefore questions whether we are doing enough as a country to protect the legacy, contributions, image (real or imagined) of our heroes. How can we simply allow others to appropriate an image we have accepted as that of our national hero without even a whimper?

Officialdom generally honours our heroes on their birthday and on Heroes Day. By honour I mean we lay a wreath and have a one hour function (usually at heroes park). As the birthdays of Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Bogle and George William Gordon are unknown they are only honoured in the general ceremony on Heroes Day (which is also celebrated as Nanny Day by the Maroons).

Bogle’s plight I believe (and I await correction from either the Jamaica National Heritage Trust or the NLJ and will update the post should it arrive) seems special. At least with George William Gordon, we may have sold off Mutual Life but the Cherry Gardens Great House (and numerous images) remain. In the case of Sam Sharpe the Burchell Baptist church where he once preached was rebuilt by the JNHT. There remain remnants of Nanny Town and in Moore Town there is Bump Grave. Bogle’s church, home and much of the village he once lived in were razed in retribution for the revolt. Even the original road leading to Stony Gut no longer exists, and the Morant Bay Court House was (not so recently) lost to fire and with the country’s continued economic woes, who knows if or when it will be rebuilt. Indeed, if we take the roads leading from St. Thomas as any indication, it appears we have given up on that parish. So Bogle is left with a contested monument and a plaque at the place that used to be Stony Gut.

This means that should we lose custody of this photo, Bogle’s legacy will be plunged into even further depths of abstraction. The value of the internet as the route to knowledge (if you do not know it, Google it) means that Jamaica must officially counter the use of this image to represent Jennings and ensure that it is stopped.

There has been much talk about the return of Civics to the school curriculum, which some argue will create greater patriotism. In my view, the return of Civics will simply give children one more class to be bored to death in. What is of greater urgency is fixing the ways we remember our heroes, removing ignorance where possible and allowing them to become a part of popular culture. We cannot ignore the contribution that Reggae has played in keeping Marcus Garvey relevant even in the face of the Ministry of Education’s woeful behaviour. Indeed, Bogle’s appearance in literary fiction is one of his greatest saviours. His exploits were captured in Alma Norma’s poem ‘Ballad of Sixty Five’ and (to some degree in V.S. Reid’s Sixty Five (which is on my to-read list). Both of these however are no longer widely used in schools. Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante have the two political parties to protect their legacies. However, it appears that our other heroes may well be at risk of becoming endangered memories, and it seems that Bogle is highest on the list.

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21 thoughts on “Paul Bogle – From Stony Gut to Contested Identity

  1. A people without knowledge of their history are truly lost. There may yet be some benefit to formally learning of our heritage. Many an hour has been spent learning the history of others who oppressed us for many a century…

    • Agreed. Learning is great formally and informally. When you think about it much of what we remember is what we learn outside of school.

  2. omg, this is a terrible mistake on somebodies part,how can this man be paul Bogle the Jamaican hero and he is also Thomas L Jennings the freed american slave who owned the 1st dry cleaners in America…..google both names and please resolve this mistake of Black History….you should be ashamed of yourselves…….

    • Michelle, all the experts say that the image cannot possibly be that of Jennings, as he died before that type of photography (the tintype) was invented. But you are right, it is a glaring error that must be corrected.

      • I am truly shocked by such a huge error,my partner and I learnt about this today via stylzfm Port Antonio online radio,and he was adamant the said image was that of his national hero “Paul Bogle” simply because this is what he learnt growing up in Jamaica,I cannot exept how this error could happen,I personally believe the image is more likely to be a jamaican man than an American man,why would Jamaicans lie over their own history and why would a american lie over theirs,bear in mind history in America was told by a white man….May I add to this that I am a white English lady…Many thanks for this info…UNBELIEVABLE

  3. We need to get this right, regardless of the reasons, there must have been a panel of men who sat down and made this decision in particular, the picture must have been authenticated by some one or more than one person, the question I ask are there any of these persons around, they will have to weigh in on the debate.

    • Actually, a part of the reason this is a very tricky/sticky situation is that there is no evidence that the picture was ever “authenticated” as the people around the metaphorical table could not come to an agreement on the issue.

  4. The forerunner to Tintype was the Ambrotype. Both are collodian processes. The Ambrotype was made on glass and the tintype on japanned iron which is very thin. Very popular in the 1850s.
    Jennings died in 1856. He was a free man which is why he got the patent for his invention of the dry cleaning process. He became an abolitionist and may have travelled to Jamaica. Adolphe Duperly and Sons
    established a photo studio in Kingston in 1841.
    The chair in the photograph of Jennings is the same as that in the pic of the doctor who treated Lincoln when he was shot. No evidence that Bogle sat for a picture which would have to be with Duperly. There descriptions of Bogle available. Check Rev. Devon Dick of the Boulevard Baptist Church.

  5. Well we have the bogle dance which was named after the famous dancer but after whom was that dancer named?

    • No idea actually, which is why I’ve always found that Jr Gong line which conflates the two identities so interesting

  6. Thanks for airing this issue, I had not heard of it before reading your post, which I have forwarded to some Bogle descendants, some of whom are already concerned that this generation only know the dance, not the man. We need to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. This, to me, is of way more importance that getting rid of the Queen or leaving Caricom.

  7. I have looked at both pictures and have analyzed them based on my artistid skills and knowledge in clothing. These pictures are one of the same. If you look at the background of both pictures, it is uncanny to observe that they have the same markings in the background. The picture of Bogle has been cut at mid bust, however if you observe carefully, on the right side of the Bogle’s image you will see a string at the neckline similar to that on Thomas Jennings. Also if you look at the creases on the sleeves; it would be unlikely that both sleeves of both men would be creased in the exact places. Lastly, the eyes. Look carefully at both eyes and you’ll see that they are angled in the same direction.

    Somebody needed to have a picture to represent Bogle and it was provided by someone who thought no one would find out as the two were from distant places. However, technology has brought the world on one playing field and nothing is distant anymore

    • Hey Pauline, thanks for your input. You’ll notice that the post does admit that its the same picture (not just a similar one) as stated by the curator of the NGJ. But the explanations I’ve heard doesn’t suggest any nefarious intentions to deliberately lie to people. I find it interesting that people question that its an image of Bogle while assuming that it is definitely Jennings and it hasn’t been proven either way. What I really hope for is some resolution

  8. I was thinking the same thing, how can we tell for sure that it is not Bogle? The Americans could be mistaking, it’s not like they are the authority of accuracy. If it means that the government mandate an official investigation into the issue we must ensure that we get to the bottom of this.

  9. Great debate……just to say that my understanding is that Edna Manley’s image was drawn from sketches of a decendant of one of Paul Bogles brothers. Further if u can find and read the offical “wanted poster” of Bogle it does not describe the “Bogle” that we know. Still we are entitled to creat our own myths……..thats part of the process…….dont be destracted !!

    • Tom, you are so right, many times this is about myth-making and I certainly accept that. I do say however that if you’re gonna build a myth you should defend it. Re Edna Manley’s Bogle, I have heard that she used one of his descendants, although of course, that doesn’t mean the person looked even remotely like Bogle (I don’t look like most of my relatives). This wanted poster sounds interesting and it would certainly be interesting to see.

  10. I keep referring to the dress code of the man in the picture. He dress smartly as would a man of means of the era. Perhaps an inventor, a freed slave? Was it that Paul Bogle has the means to dress as such?

    • It is possible, that as a Deacon he would have been able to. And please remember that this is post slavery, and the kind of man he was, as a leader etc, he would have occasion to have at least one good suit. He doesn’t look wealthy, just well put together.

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