Although born in Scotland, John Imray was a man who spoke for and acted on behalf of the newly liberated people of Dominica after the emancipation of slaves in 1838, fighting against members of his own elite for the rights of the mass of the people in the areas of health care, education and agricultural independence. He can be seen as the father of modern welfare and social services in Dominica and is widely recognized as the savior of its agriculture after the collapse of coffee and sugar as major cash crops. He was a ceaseless campaigner for the interests of the “free peasant farmer” against the conservative interests of the large plantations.
Using private funds and encouraging the support of philanthropic citizens, he established the island’s first public hospital and alms house for the poor. He researched and helped to provide scientific solutions to the major diseases of the age such as malaria and yellow fever on an international level based on his experiments in Dominica. The Imray ward at the Princess Margaret Hospital was named in his memory.
In education he lobbied for the first boards of education and helped administer the funds of the Mico Charity for the establishment of the first non-denominational government schools. The Imray School Room in grounds of the Anglican Church, which was destroyed by Hurricane David in 1979, was a reminder of this.
As a botanist and agriculturalist he saved the economy of Dominica by introducing new crops such as limes, Arabica coffee and several smallholder crops to the island through his botanical garden in St. Aroment and land at Batali. Although he died in 1885, his contributions laid the groundwork for the future of modern Dominica in the twentieth century.
A marble plaque erected in the Anglican Church after his death, but destroyed by Hurricane David, had this to say about Imray: “His sterling qualities, scientific research, medical skill, kindliness of disposition and patriotic love for his adopted home endeared him to the entire community and won for him universal respect.
Article by Dr. Lennox Honeychurch