Rowntree & its cocoa plantations

Rowntree and Co., like other chocolate making companies in England, acquired plantations in the West Indies and South America in the late nineteenth century. The company purchased plantations in Jamaica and Dominica in 1898. The company's archives include agreements for purchase of these plantations and early twentieth century plans of the land owned, as well as some administrative and financial records concerning the management of the estates from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Additionally, the company was anxious to inform its workers at home about the plantation workers and to this end from 1902 on the company also produced several articles in The Cocoa Works Magazine: an in-house production distributed to workers in the York factory. This first article, from July 1902, about Dominica included details of the geography and history of the island (starting with the information that it had been inhabited by the warlike Caribs from Brazil who 'descended on some of the islands, then inhabited by the more peaceable Arawak Indians, ate up the latter and remained in possession until the Spaniards came'. They also, of course, spoke about the production of cocoa and lime for Rowntree and the management of the estates.

Cocoa Works Magazine (small)
(Click the image for a larger version)

Additionally the company kept photographs of the plantations and their workers from the nineteenth century on, beginning in the nineteenth-century and going on well into the twentieth century. They also kept some early photographs of other companies' plantations, The photographs here (some of which include their original captions) were taken in 1897, just before Rowntree purchased their own estates and claim to be of the Ortinola estate which was owned by another cocoa producing company. Rowntree seem to have travelled to at least one of their competitor's plantations before purchasing their own. As portrayals of plantations probably intended to depict average life on the estates to those back home both the images and their captions are revealing. Please click on an image for a larger version: