The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 47, Issue 1

Article 1
Boom and Bust in Jamaica’s Coffee Industry, 1790–1835

Kathleen E.A. Monteith


This article provides an assessment of the performance of the Jamaican coffee industry in the period 1790–1835. The rapid expansion of the Jamaican coffee industry in the late nineteenth century indicates how well poised it was to quickly respond to opportunities in the international market. Ironically, this was also evidence of the vulnerability of the Jamaican economy in an age of global transformation characterized by structural shifts influenced by the ascendency of British capital in the then emerging world economy. British capital in its quest for cheaper supplies of primary products mainly from the East, guaranteed major structural shifts in the global economy, which among others, included the abolition of the British Atlantic trade in Africans as slaves, and the relaxation of protectionist trade policies, resulting in the dismantling of the old mercantilist framework upon which the British economy and that of its West Indian colonies had been rooted. These shifts led to the fall in the prices of primary commodities, and along with increased world demand, brought “peripheral producers into competition with one another”. This has been well demonstrated for the world [sugar] market,1 but it was also apparent in the world coffee market, the evidence of which is borne out in the boom and bust conditions of the Jamaican coffee industry in the period 1790 to 1835.