Devon House – Jamaica

Devon House - Jamaica
Devon House – Jamaica

In 1879 George Stiebel bought 53 acres of land from the Anglican Church. On this land, in 1881, George built the Devon House Mansion on the foundation of the St. Andrew Parish church rectory. The family occupied Devon House until the death of George’s daughter Theresa Jackson in 1922.

In 1965 the Government of Jamaica became aware of plans to demolish the Devon House Mansion and stopped negotiations by placing a restriction order on the property. A restored Devon House was officially opened in 1968 containing collection of 1860-1870 period Jamaican, Caribbean, English and French antiques with some Jamaican reproductions.

George was born in the 1820s to a Jamaican housekeeper and a German Jew. Subject to taunts from his peers as a result of his mixed parentage George quit school at 14 to become a carpenter’s apprentice. At 19 he joined the crew building the famous Ferry Inn, between Kingston and Spanish Town.

In the 1840s George’s father gave him start-up capital to purchase a ship. Before long he had 3 ships trading between North and South America and other West Indian islands. George delivered guns aboard his ships to Cuban rebel slaves, which led to him spending time in a Cuban jail for a gunrunning conviction.

George married his long time sweetheart Magdalene Baker in 1851. With a jail record and Magdalene’s parents being Moravian Missionaries, the wedding occurred after the death of her parents. A son and daughter soon followed, but so did tragedy.

George moved to Venezuela where his business flourished. However, bad weather caused one of his ships to sink off the Venezuelan coast. He survived the wreckage only to discover he had lost everything except the money belt he tied to his waist before jumping ship.

With a young family in Jamaica to support, George stayed in Venezuela where his investments in gold mines paid off. In 1873 he returned to Jamaica as a man of great wealth to discover his teenage son had died while he was away in Venezuela.

Officially Jamaica’s first ‘black millionaire’, the Honorable George Stiebel, as he was known, was a man of respect. It is reported he purchased 99 properties (as then it was illegal to own 100 properties) including two sugar estates, a wharf at Church Street, Great Salt Pond and a Cattle Pen named Minard, in St. Ann. A philanthropist, George assisted the poor and disadvantaged, as well as exhibiting continuous interest in the socio-economic state of the country.

George sat on many Boards, was a Justice of the Peace and Custos of St. Andrew. In 1891, during his tenure as Custos, George along with other businessmen loaned the Government funds to stage a Jamaica tourism promotion exhibition in Kingston. George was awarded the honour of Companion of the Most Distinguished Order (C.M.G.) for his services to Jamaica. His son-in-law Richard Hill Jackson became the mayor of Kingston. George Siebel died in 1896.

Devon House was sold to Reginald Melhado in 1922 and in 1928 to Cecil Lindo.

Bakery in background
Bakery in background

Devon House boasted a library, gaming room, much used ballroom, sitting rooms, a sewing room, dining room, and bedrooms. The out buildings, older than the main structure, contain some of the finest ovens and other brick work of the period. The kitchen (now occupied by the Brick Oven) was located towards the back away from the House. Once the servants’ quarters, the Courtyard Shops sell a variety of Jamaican products and the best ice cream in Jamaica.

Make Devon House a must see on your next visit.


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