Without a resident population of informed experts, the study of the geology of Jamaica during the nineteenth century relied upon visits by peripatetic specialists. Such visitors were rare, coming about every 35 years or so: H.T. De la Beche (mid–1820s), Lucas Barrett and J.G. Sawkins (1860s), and R.T. Hill (late 1890s). The theory and practice of geology had moved on with every visit. In the 1920s and 1930s, with improved international travel, geologists were more common visitors. C.A. Matley, of the second geological survey of the island, and C.T. Trechmann, a wealthy amateur, sought data that supported their conflicting theories of Jamaica's geological evolution, although their primary interests were field mapping and paleontology, respectively. At the same time, W.P. Woodring described the diverse mollusks of the Bowden shell bed, a key biostratigraphic horizon in the Antillean Neogene, without actually visiting the island until much later. Following the Second World War, the foundation of the modern Geological Survey Department based in Kingston encouraged new field studies, under the leadership of V.A. Zans and L.J. Chubb.
Following Draper's model, the geological evolution of the island is considered to have involved four phases: island arc volcanism during much of the Cretaceous; early Paleogene uplift and intrusion; mid-Cenozoic quiescence and limestone deposition; and late Cenozoic tectonic revival. This framework relies on a plate tectonic synthesis which was only formulated after the death or retirement from active research of the geologists that form the focus of this volume.