S POWELL THOMPSON - lecturer and teacher,

from Guyana

'My ancestors were Africans and Negroes. I,

therefore, although born in British Guiana,

am an African Negro.' 

S. Powell Thompson, 1897.

a brief account

   Samuel Powell Thompson was a Black man, from what was then British Guiana,

who lived in Kingston, Jamaica, from perhaps 1870 until 1883 when he left for

Colon, in Panama. During his little more than a decade in Jamaica he contributed

in a variety of ways to the life of the island. I have never seen any references to

Powell Thompson, so I think it may be of some value to report on the activities of this

Black man from another part of the Caribbean in the later 19th century; he reminds

me to some extent of the Black Bahamian, Robert Love, who made similar, but much

more extensive, contributions to Jamaica, in the 1890s and 1900s.

(There is no consistency in the spelling of the surname - Thom[p]son.)

early life >>>

   S. Powell Thompson's name first appeared at the very end of 1870, and  he soon

became a prominent lecturer in Kingston, Spanish Town and the West of the island.

Daily Gleaner, December 28, 1870

   We have been requested to announce that Mr. S. Powell Thomson, a black

gentleman, of British Guiana, will Lecture this evening, at Wolmer's Girls' School,

on British Guiana.

more on his lectures over time >>>


   Another activity Powell Thompson engaged in was using and teaching shorthand; at
that time Pitman's shorthand was referred to as phonography and one who wrote it
was a phonographer.  Thompson seems to have taught shorthand for much of his time
in Jamaica:

Daily Gleaner, January 24, 1872
To the Editor of the Gleaner
Sir - Permit me, if you please, to state that my Lessons on Short hand Writing are
given every Monday and Wednesday, instead of every Monday and Thursday, as
previously announced.

Your obedient Servant.
Kingston, January 23rd 1872.

[Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897) was born in Trowbridge, U.K.. He trained and worked
as a teacher but is best known for the invention of a stenographic system of shorthand.
Pitman's phonography or 'writing by sound', still used in some offices today, was
commercially successful as well as widely popular and internationally renowned.
In 1837 he first published his system of phonetic shorthand, in a pamphlet entitled

more on 'Phonography' >>>

  About this time Powell Thompson was appointed Fourth Master at Wolmer's School
for a trial period of
three months.

Daily Gleaner, February 2, 1872
   A Meeting of the Trustees of Wolmer’s School was held at the School House at 11
o’clock yesterday. There were present the honorable H. J. Kemble in the chair,
Henry Hutchings, R. J. C. Hitchins, C. A. Robinson, and John Parry, Esquires. . . .
A letter was read from Mr. Edward Pinnock, resigning the office of Fourth Master
of the Institution. There were eight applicants for the vacancy - James B. Millington,
S. Powell Thomson, William Carey, Robert W. Maxwell, William Murray,
W. P. Lawrence, George Ashly, and William Allen. The Head Master reported upon
the merits of each of the candidates. Of George Ashly, he said he was well qualified
to teach, having been a former monitor of the School, but was too young to take
charge of a responsible place in the School. Mr. Thomson, he said, was deficient in
some respects, but this he attributed not exactly to lack of knowledge, but rather to
his being “rusty”, but he considered that in the course of three months by devoting
some attention to the duties required to be performed, Mr. Thomson would do well
for the office. Upon this condition he would recommend him to election. The Trustees
adopted the recommendation, and elected Mr. Thomson accordingly for three months,
at the end of which time the Head Master would make his report.

   It appears that this appointment did not work out, as the post was advertised again
later the same year:


   Information on Powell Thompson is rather thin over the next two years, which is

possibly because he was off the island for part of that time:

In cleaning up this image, I may have got some of the names wrong!

   Later in the same year a letter from Thomson made a suggestion to the Local

Board of Health, which is not set out in any detail, but seems to have left the

Board rather at a loss!

Daily Gleaner, September 3, 1873
A letter was read from Mr. S. Powell Thompson, asking for £ 00 to introduce
a new method of sewerage, "more suited to the sanitary condition of the city."
He assured the Commissioners "the people would thank them." The
commissioners seemed at a loss how to deal with the proposition, and found
their only relief from the difficulty by ordering that the letter should lie on the

[Unfortunately there is no date for the letter and the essential number is
missing in the amount of money he was requesting.]


Four years later he got up a petition to the Legislative Council:

Daily Gleaner, June 14,  1877
Legislative Council
. . . The minutes of the previous meeting having been read and confirmed, Mr. Solomon
rose; and, addressing the board, said that he had to present a petition - a very long one,
but one full of grievances of a very serious character; so full of grievances that he found
it necessary to ask the board to receive it. It was, said he, from Mr. S. Powell Thomson,
on behalf of that gentleman and of all the poor people of Jamaica, and was respectfully
   The petition contains 15 paragraphs. It shews the hardship of imprisoning, with hard
labour, for debt, parties who are endeavouring to pay their debts. It declares that the
District Courts law with regard to Judgment Summonses is in its operation oppressive
and unjust, and calculated to lead to discontent of an alarming character; and it prays,
on behalf of the petitioner and all the poor of the land, that the petitioner be called to
the bar of the Council to support the petition; or, that the board do issue a commission
of enquiry into the working of the law, with a view to its modification, and act in the
premises as in its wisdom seemed fit.
   Mr. Oughton, the Clerk, having read the first two paragraphs of the petition, paused
for a moment, then went up to His Excellency the President and held a short conversation, inaudible to the board. Mr. Oughton next left the President and returned to his place,
and, addressing the board, said, the petition asked for things impossible, and did not
seek for Legislative interference. Whereupon, Mr. Solomon said, that having heard from
the Attorney-General a day or two before that it likely that he (the Attorney-General)
would deal with the debtor and creditor law, he (Mr. Solomon) would withdraw the
petition; but with much less reluctance than he would otherwise have done, and the
matter dropped.

more to come on this topic