Overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea lies the imposing Rose Hall Great House and sugar plantation, a remnant of our colonial days when sugar was King. The house was built of Georgian style architecture in 1770 by John Palmer and his wife, and was eventually handed down to his grandnephew by the same name, John Rose Palmer. The house and its surrounding 6,000 acres are stunning but what makes Rose Hall alluring to its thousands of monthly visitors is the legend behind it.
In 1820, John Rose marries Annie, a fiery English girl who was raised in Saint Domingue by a creole nanny after the death of her parents from yellow fever. It is said that this is where Annie learnt the black arts, which she later used to help murder her husband John and become the mistress of the property–the infamous White Witch of Rose Hall. She later murdered her subsequent two husbands and countless slave lovers, but as fate would have it, she was eventually killed by a slave lover named Takoo. Whether or not the story is fact or fictionalized, you be the judge but Rose Hall certainly made for an interesting stop.
Located off A1, the main north coast highway in western Jamaica, Rose Hall is pretty easy to locate. If you’re driving, there’s a security guard by the entrance who’ll take your name and enquire your purpose before letting you onto the property. Parking spaces are few.
For the tour itself, there are two options– the tour by light (daytime) and haunted night. Which one to take depends on how you prefer to explore the place. The day tour allows you to experience the full beauty of the house, its gardens and the view of the Caribbean Sea since it is set on a hill, something I completely missed out on by taking the night tour. The haunted night tour, however, is exciting too with tonnes of theatrics and spooky lighting. I chose the night tour since Rose Hall’s claim to fame is its alleged haunting, so what better time to explore it than at night when duppies (ghosts) come out? Many people have claimed to glimpse apparitions or even caught ghostly figures and supernatural occurrences in their photographs. I’ll get to whether or not I did too shortly.
Either tour lasts 45 minutes and costs US$25 or JM$1,500 with a valid local or student ID. They’re open from 9:15am to 5:15pm, then 6:30pm to 9:15pm for the night tour. Walk-ins are welcome. Restrooms are available and there’s a restaurant and bar in the dungeon. Yes, I’m serious. You can also grab a souvenir from Annie’s Treasures which doubles as the ticket office–very clever. They have lovely things but of course, they’re pricey.
The Haunted Night Tour
Goodness! After purchasing your ticket/arm band, that’s it for proper lighting. The walk from Annie’s Treasures to the greathouse would be pitch black, save for the candlelight flickering in the cool breezes drifting up from the coast. A small involuntary prickle runs down my spine and I glance at my friend who was probably wondering why the hell she allowed me to convince her this was a worthwhile way of spending our Friday night. A man chants uncanny non-English lyrics to a feverish drumbeat and the house is bathed in unearthly red, rather clever lighting for encouraging the spooks. My guide Chaniece begins telling the history of Rose Hall and its mistress with us looking up at the house, then there was an unnecessarily long pause at the Dungeon Bar in case we’d like Witches’ Brew to steady our nerves or get our picture taken which would be printed at a cost. We had no interest in spending more money but the pause was mandatory and as a result, pretty annoying.
We resumed in 15 minutes or so when our guide returned and went from dungeon up to the first storey to admire the restored mansion and its furnishings, plus continue listening to the chilling tale of Annie and her atrocities. No pictures are allowed inside the house, so the ones included in this post are taken from the website, but of course, nothing looked as bright in the night tour’s strategic ethereal illumination. Nonetheless, we could admire the beautiful silk upholstered walls, replaced every five years, along with the European style chandeliers, furnishings and decor from centuries-past. Manually emptied toilets and bidets, oil lamps, lead pails for fetching water, tea leaf boxes and a knife-box with lock and key to “prevent the slaves from harming themselves at night” have no business in the 21st century. On the second storey we got to see all the bedrooms where Annie committed her wickedness, choosing different means of demise for each husband ranging from strangulation, different poisons and even stabbing in the chest.
Apparitions or not, the house is full of white-faced men and women at night who pop out from behind doors, trapdoors and curtains, and the lights flicker unexpectedly throughout the tour’s duration. You’d better step out the way when they walk towards you– or not if you’re feeling cheeky– but I didn’t want to cause the poor actors and actresses any trouble. The theatrics kept us well entertained for the 45 minutes, even though neither of us saw anything paranormal. The tour ends by Annie Palmer’s tomb which is stark except for a few white crosses–oh, the irony.
My criticisms of Rose Hall are the disconnect between the time you purchase your ticket/armband and knowing where to go next or where your guide will meet you, along with the unnecessary wait time before the start of the tour in the dungeon. Also, the professionalism could be improved. We eventually built rapport with our guide being the only two people on the tour, but she initially came across as rude when she asked how come we were the only people on the tour and suggesting that we catch a portion of the tour that was being done by another guide with another group so she wouldn’t have to do that part. This criticism is perhaps unique to my tour experience, so I won’t let it affect my overall rating of the place too much. Rose Hall is a beautiful mansion with an interesting story that’s perhaps make-believe or over-exaggerated which I realized from my own readings afterwards.
Nonetheless, I rate the place four stars ☆☆☆☆ and I definitely concur with the prevailing thought that Rose Hall is a must-see attraction out west. For country music fans, perhaps you’ll enjoy this ballad about Annie Palmer from Johnny Cash and in fact, if you know who that is, his former house is a few minutes’ drive away from Rose Hall and may interest you as well– the Cinnamon Hill Greathouse.
If you’d like another Georgian-style Jamaican mansion to enjoy, check out my post about Devon House. Devon House is a must-see in Kingston and is actually one of my favourite places in Jamaica with a much more appealing history than that carried by most of our great houses.
‘Til next time, friends. ✌🏽