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Tour 5 - Historic Port Royal
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

An interesting and inexpensive way to visit PORT ROYAL is to take the ferry across the harbour. Two round trips per day leave from the waterfront pier beside Ocean Boulevard. The journey takes about 30 minutes and offers a fine view of the city with its misty blue backdrop of mountains. Most of your fellow travellers will be Port Royal residents returning from shopping trips and burdened with everything from crates of beer and bunches of bananas to lengths of steel. The ferry docks at a jetty beside the largest fishing beach and just a stone's throw from the tiny town square . Everything of interest including Morgans Harbour Hotel is within walking distance.

Originally Port Royal was a large offshore cay used by Arawak fishermen. The Spanish careened their ships here, hence its first name: Cayo de Carena. The cay was connected to the mainland by a submerged ridge, which, accumulating silt and gravel over the years gradually became a strip of land, a natural causeway now known as The Palisadoes.

In the seventeenth century, the Brethren of the Coast (pirates and buccaneers bearing letters of marque from the English) found Port Royal an ideal base; so did merchants engaged in legal or illegal maritime commerce. During the seventeenth century Port Royal grew to be a city of 8,000 persons with fine brick houses (some of them four stories high), piped water, beer gardens, and prisons. It was one of the richest cities in the known world and reputedly the most wicked and debauched. A contemporary report says that it was customary for the buccaneers to spend between two and three thousand pieces of eight on one night s revelry. Port Royal s foremost citizen was Sir Henry Morgan. One of his boldest exploits, the sacking of Panama City, took place when England and Spain were technically at peace. For this Morgan was arrested, taken to England and imprisoned in the Tower of London. At his trial he was acquitted, subsequently knighted and then sent back to Jamaica as Governor. He later died in Port Royal despite the ministrations of his Jamaican folkdoctor.

On June 7, 1692 judgment came to Port Royal when a massive earthquake mangled the city, plunging two thirds of it beneath the sea, killing 2000 persons and destroying most of the ships in the harbour. Most of the survivors sought refuge across the harbour, and thus began the city of Kingston. What was left of Port Royal later became an important British Naval station, but the town never regained its former prosperity. Disaster dogged it: a fire in 1703, hurricanes in 1721, 1726 and 1744, another disastrous fire in 1815, and an earthquake in 1907. In modern times, the hurricane of 1951 left only 10 out of 260 modern buildings standing. After this, the government rebuilt the town supervised by a statutory body known as the Brotherhood of Port Royal . Today it is little more than a fishing village with perennial (unrealized) plans to restore it as a cultural centre and tourist attraction.

Port Royal remains a historical treasure chest with most of its archaeological riches still buried in the sand or beneath the sea. Because of its legendary wealth it has attracted many wrackers , looters or modern buccaneers. It has also been the site of scientific marine archaeological explorations. The first by Edward Link of the National Geographic Society recovered many artifacts. Another in 1960 by a commercial treasure salvager produced very little. In 1965 and 1968 marine archaeologist Robert Marx, commissioned by the government, excavated and mapped more than two acres of the sunken city discovering markets, taverns, three ships, dwellings, a cistern and numerous artifacts. More recently the Institute of Nautical Archaeology of Texas has been co-operating with the government in more exploration. Land excavations at the Port Royal Dockyard revealed another section of the old city including a buried church and a long-boat but due to lack of funds this dig was put on hold. Over the years a wealth of artifacts have been recovered but strangely, considering that the site was once reputed to be the richest city in the world, no gold or precious stones have surfaced.


was rebuilt in 1725 -under the direction of lucky Lewis Galdy after three previous churches had been destroyed by earthquake and fire. Galdy s tombstone in the church yard tells his story: Here lies the body of Lewis Galdy who departed this life at Port Royal on December 22, 1739 aged 80. He was born at Montpelier in France but left that country for his religion and came to settle in this island where he was swallowed up in the Great Earthquake in the year 1692 and by the providence of God was by another shock thrown into the sea and miraculously saved by swimming until a boat took him up. He lived many years after in great reputation. Beloved by all and much lamented at his Death . It does not add that he was buried across the harbour at Green Bay but that his remains were removed to St. Peter s so H.M. Queen Elizabeth could view his tomb on the occasion of her visit in 1953. Buried beside Galdy are the remains of three children discovered under a sunken wall by marine archaeologists.

St. Peter's decorative organ loft displays the skill of eighteenth century craftsmen and its walls are thick with poignant memorials of sailors who died of yellow fever or in battle including one to a bold adventurous youth William Stapleton Esq. a Lieutenant of the HMS Sphinx, who in attempting to fire a cannon was so terribly wounded with its bursting that he expired a few hours afterwards on the 8th of May 1754. Legend claims that the church s resplendent communion silver was the gift of Sir Henry Morgan.

FORT CHARLES is one of six forts that guarded the town. Built in 1655 right after the English had captured the island it was first named Fort Cromwell after the Lord Protector but when the monarchy was restored the name was changed to Fort Charles for Charles II. Originally the fort was almost completely surrounded by water and the metal rings in the front wall were once used for mooring ships which sailed into Chocolata Hole, now a parking lot. The anchors at the entrance were salvaged from the sea and are from eighteenth century men-of-war. In the 1692 earthquake the fort sank 3.5 feet into the ground and was rebuilt as it stands today. It became a key garrison during the naval wars of the eighteenth century. By 1765, 104 guns were mounted here. Famous admirals who flew their flags here at one time or another were: Benbow, Vernon, Rodney and Parker. Admiral Lord Nelson, hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, served here as a young officer and was in command of the batteries for three to four weeks in 1779. Shortly afterwards, as post-captain of the HMS Hinchinbrooke, he left for Nicaragua where he contracted both fever and dysentery; returning to Jamaica he was nursed back to health by Couba Cornwallis, a beautiful quadroon, famous herbalist, and mistress of the island s Governor. A marble plaque on the wall of the fort says:

In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson. You who tread his footprints remember his glory. You can do just that by walking along Nelson's Quarterdeck where he would have kept watch for enemy vessels. Outside the fort, near the water s edge are the remains of the Victoria and Albert Battery built c1890 and its erstwhile artillery store the Giddy House which was tilted to its present 45 degree angle by the 1907 earthquake. The same quake sunk the battery and cannons 10 feet below the surface but one of the massive guns was retrieved and restored. The small museum and gift shop inside Fort Charles are open on weekdays.

Adjacent to Fort Charles is H.M.J.S. Cagway, headquarters of the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard. The name derives from the Spanish Caguaya, the original name of the adjacent passage. The coast guard has 5 patrol vessels, the largest being H.M.J.S. Paul Bogle.

THE NAVAL HOSPITAL west of the town centre houses the National Museum of History and Archaeology, a conservation laboratory and storerooms. The original naval hospital built in 1942 to treat the many cases of fever was sited above a part of the old city that had sunk in shoal water. It was destroyed by fire and replaced in 1817 by a two-storey structure of cast iron and brick prefabricated in Bradford, England and designed to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. It has stood the test of time and after the 1951 hurricane flattened the town, served as a refuge for most of the population. It is now used as a storehouse for innumerable artifacts recovered from the sea. The small museum is currently closed, but there are plans to re-open it soon. Salvaged artifacts include: A large collection of pewter, some William and Mary spoons and a syringe, probably for bloodletting. Numerous clay pipes (thousands have been found) attest to the fact that the buccaneers were inveterate smokers. There are also onion bottles, medicine bottles, porringers, a puncheon spigot, part of a copper still and a watch with hands stopped at some minutes to noon the time the 1692 earthquake struck. A collection of ceramics from all over the world include wig curlers, a Delft chamber pot, and a grey stoneware jar from Thailand which may date back to the late sixteenth century. The most valuable piece on display is a late Ming blanc de chine porcelaine statuette labelled as the Madonna and child. The child s head is missing but it is otherwise flawless. Some experts query the identification and believe it depicts Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. A collection of coins salvaged by Robert Marx is on display at the Museum at the Bank of Jamaica downtown.

Places to eat

in town facing the harbour and GLORIA's on the beach facing the ocean are famous for seafood. In town, patrons sit on the veranda outside the office of the Port Royal Brother-hood. Adjacent is BUCCANEER INN and across the road, on the fishing beach, is the idiosyncratic FISHERMAN S CABIN, run by ex-patriate Scotsman, Charles Cameron.


From Kingston, take the Windward Road passing the Flour Mills and Shell installation to Rockfort. Just west of the old fort and the Caribbean Cement Co. factory is L ROCKFORT MINERAL BATH with two slightly saline mineral springs feeding a large public swimming pool with a continuous flow and excellent private facilities which include double baths, jacuzzis, and arty pools that can accommodate up to 8 persons. There is also a pool for handicapped persons. Snacks and drinks are available. The Bath is leased to and operated by a subsidiary of the Caribbean Cement Co. The fort beside it was last activated in 1865 when an invasion of rioters from Morant Bay was feared but never materialized.

The CARIBBEAN CEMENT COMPANY L and R of the road was recently upgraded with the help of a Japanese loan. It is the only cement factory in the island and dominates the construction sector. It produces cement from limestone mined in the hills above and has in the past been a source of considerable pollution which mostly affected residents of Harbour View. The dust problem was addressed and is now more or less under control.

Circle the HARBOUR VIEW roundabout and turn along the Palisadoes road, passing R the Jamaica Gypsum Company. A short distance from here an entrance road leads L to Gunboat Beach, an abandoned beach park where the water is too poll-uted to swim and R to the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute, a training school for Caribbean seamen which was established with help from the Norwegian government. Continue R for the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club, a private members club which welcomes bonafide members of other yacht clubs.

At the next roundabout turn R for the airport. Opposite the roundabout you can park on the slope L overlooking the eastern shoreline, the open sea and the mountains of St. Thomas. Do not attempt to swim, the water is deep and there are dangerous currents. The beach is made of smooth stones and the sea breeze is bracing.

As you head towards Port Royal between cactus scrub and mangroves you pass L the PLUMB POINT LIGHTHOUSE, a concrete pillar marking the spot where the first coconut tree was planted in 1869 and then R an old naval cemetery. Another marker erected by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust shows the location of Fort Rupert submerged in a mangrove fringed lagoon on the east of the road. It was built in 1660 with an octagonal redoubt of 6 guns. Henry Morgan is credited with its erection.

MORGANS HARBOUR HOTEL & MARINA, just before you enter Port Royal is a member of the Swiss International Hotels chain. The rooms are comfortable and very spacious. There is a freshwater swimming pool in the garden and an ocean swimming pool at the water s edge. A circular bar fronts the boardwalk of the marina from where you can see Hangman's Cay, otherwise called Rackham's Cay where pirate Calico Jack Rackham met his fate. The 1692 disco is located in an eighteenth century pitch storehouse and there is a small aviary in the courtyard.

Boat trips to Lime Cay can be arranged here, at the old Naval Dockyard next door, or at the fishing beach in town. The small coral cay has white sand beaches and clear water.

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