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TOURS - St. Thomas | Hills of Kingston | Spanish Town | Hellshire Hills | Port Royal
Tour 5 - Historic Port Royal
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.
PLACES OF INTEREST
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
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
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
PORT ROYAL BY ROAD
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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