Morris Cargill was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, on June 10, 1914, the same year the Great War began. His father was attorney-at-law the Hon. Henry Cargill, his mother Isobel Halton Morris—Cargill, home maker.
He attended Munro, and after witnessing and experiencing a few public canings, grew to passionately dislike the draconian methods of the headmaster, Custos Albert Edward “Wagga” Harrison, who ruled by the stick and got academic results that stood up internationally. As he tells it, he kept running away from Munro until he was finally never caught. He grew to later respect Munro for the institution it is, and even became a fan of the egalitarian bastion it became by the Roper era, but never forgave Harrison for what he viewed as a singularly medieval approach to discipline. Cargill is however on record, perhaps surprisingly, as supporting corporal punishment, especially for boys, but made sure to specify that such corporal punishment should never go as far as Harrison took it.
Cargill was a rebel. While very young – maybe six or seven, he noticed that the black civil servant, who joined his father and friends for tennis, drove away after tennis while the others repaired to the house on the hill for tea. He asked his father “Why?” to which his father replied, “You see Morris, he knows his place.” Morris, it turned out, despite his privileged circumstances, was egalitarian in nature and never really bothered himself with matters of “place,” except in language. For some reason he was vehemently opposed to the idea of native patois peacefully co-existing with the Queen’s English.
His Unconventional Career
On leaving Munro he attended the Stowe School in England. In 1937 he was articled to a solicitor in England and during World War II, which started in 1939, he worked for the Crown Film Unit.
In 1948, on a brief visit to Jamaica he visited a friend near Highgate in St. Mary and without seeing the property, bought the seven hundred and fifty acre Charlottenburg. He calls this reckless purchase “a mad thing to do which could have been disastrous.” As it turned out, things worked out well, but not before several baptisms of fire turned the urbanite Morris Cargill into a countryman steeped in knowledge of folkways he had never encountered or even thought imaginable. He turned the run-down property between Highgate and Richmond into a successful banana farm, employing about sixty workers.
When he came back to Jamaica permanently (via Trinidad where he was a newspaper editor), he and one Dr. Evans, no doubt over a few drinks, created the legendary Tia Maria. It was automatically the world’s best coffee liqueur, as it just happened to be made from the world’s best coffee, Blue Mountain coffee.
In 1964 he persuaded his friend Ian Fleming to write the introductory article for a guidebook to Jamaica called “Ian Fleming introduces Jamaica,” and in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, he collaborated with John Hearne, using the combination alias “John Morris” to write three thrillers about an imaginary Jamaican secret service. Using the alias “Thomas Wright” up until the 1970’s, he was a noted columnist for the Gleaner newspaper from 1953 with some interruptions until his death in 2000 at the age of eighty five. He was survived by a daughter, Veronica McDonald.
An Infamous Character
He was cantankerous, he was controversial, he was irreverent and satirical, he was harsh, he was opinionated, but he was always thought-provoking, fearless, analytical, often very funny, and sometimes even charming. Such was his agile command of the language and his dry but outrageous wit, that as soon as he started using his own name, he quickly became a household name in Jamaica, and the most widely read columnist in the region.
Less well known is the fact that Morris Cargill was one of the first of many politicians Munro produced. He represented St. Mary from 1958-1962 in Bustamante’s Labour Party in the Federal Government of the West Indies headquartered at Chaguaramas, Trinidad. He was Deputy Leader of the Opposition. In this position he claimed to have read all the Agatha Christie novels he had not previously read, for there was nothing to do in that august chamber. The referendum of 1961 put an end to the Federation, paving the way for Eric Williams to declare “one from ten is zero,” for Norman Manley to call a general election, and for the winner Bustamante to lead Jamaica into Independence in 1962.
Michael Manley’s PNP administration came to power in 1972, opening a new chapter in the fertile Cargill mind. Cargill welcomed many radical changes spawned by that regime, including the controversial bauxite levy. Then he began to see mismanagement of good ideas leading to economic slippage, the blame of the West, and the embrace of international socialism by Manley, and he tried to correct matters with his pen.
Judging his efforts as futile, he left Jamaica in 1978 and went to New York to work for publisher Lyle Stuart, where he edited a study of the Third Reich in Germany called “A Gallery of Nazis.” Before leaving Jamaica, he had written the informative and equally humorous “Jamaica Farewell.”
In 1980 he was back in Jamaica and at the Gleaner to fight the Manley regime with his pen, forming a formidable team with David DaCosta, Wilmot Perkins, John Hearne and Carl Stone. An unpredictable man, he often espoused causes conservatives eschewed, for example the decriminalization of ganja. Truer to form, he was against music being played at a volume that disturbed others, whether it came from a dance session or a church. In a largely Christian society where intellectual radicals like himself tend to drift away from religion entirely, he instead converted to Buddhism. On any issue one might always be in doubt as to where Cargill would stand, but once he had written doubt evaporated.
Columnist Daniel Thwaites says, “I like that Mr. Cargill wasn’t prone to glib resolutions of the country’s problems…it’s a lot easier to say a thing than to do it.” University professor Dr. Carolyn Cooper is diametrically opposed to Cargill on the use of patois but enjoys his humour. Diplomat and law professor Stephen Vasciannie says of Cargill “He played a good, controversial, sensible innings; we will miss his words,” Cargill, love him or hate, him, was a riot, and unless you were the one, he was criticizing, and sometimes even then, he was usually good fun.” A German journalist colleague, Peter Jebsen, describes the “powerful style” with which Cargill bashes Jamaican politicians. He also comments, “…even those rants that strike me as uncharacteristically closed-minded are fun to read!”
In 1983, he was recognized by the Government of Jamaica and awarded the Order of Distinction for his work as a journalist, and his iconic status as a journalist is enshrined in that fact that the annual Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) award for opinion journalism is called the Morris Cargill Award.
For these and other reasons, Morris Cargill has been inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.