I recently woke up with a hankering for a day trip to Port Royal. Why? No particular reason really. Like my travel back in time along the Kingston Waterfront, this was a spur of the moment decision, and it also had a great advantage: it inspired two blog posts, concerning this important town in Jamaica’s historical development, including this one.
So after completing some business, I took an easy and relaxing drive from Half-Way-Tree to Port Royal via (just to name a few of the major roadways I traversed) the Sir Florizel Glasspole Highway (the stretch of road leading from the Rockfort intersection to the Harbour View roundabout renamed in 2002 in honour of Jamaica’s former Governor General, Sir Florizel Glasspole, who died in 2000), and the Palisadoes Spit, passing the entrance to the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA). For those of you also interested in taking a day trip to Port Royal using the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), you have to find your way to downtown Kingston, come off at Parade and take a no. 98 bus to Port Royal. The ride is quite relaxing (talking from my own experience).
Welcome to Port Royal!
Upon entering Port Royal I was immediately struck – as I always am when I go there – by the lack of any outward evidence linking this quiet fishing village to its pre-1692 reputation as not only the “wickedest city on earth” but also one of considerable wealth. There’s much more evidence of Port Royal as Britain’s former naval base in the Caribbean for two and a half centuries (Senior 2003), including such architectural structures as Fort Charles and its various guns, the Old Naval Hospital, and even the old Naval Cemetery, located just before you enter the town.
Armed with my cameras ready (both phone and digital camera), I headed straight to Fort Charles and took the tour of the Fort, walked through the two museums located on the property that exhibits items found from the sunken city as well as relics from Port Royal’s naval base days, and made my way to the “Giddy House” and the Victoria and Albert Battery, all the while taking as many photos as I could before the sun went down.
Here are a few of these photos from my tour of Fort Charles and several of the surrounding heritage sites in Port Royal and, of course, notes about their history.
When they captured the island from the Spanish in May 1655, the British immediately saw the strategic importance of the Point (the name the British called Port Royal, which the Spanish earlier named Cayo de Carena). In early July 1655, they began constructing a fort, which they named Fort Cromwell, to protect the harbour and the island’s capital at St Jago de la Vega (Cundall 1915). The fort was renamed Fort Charles in 1662 in honour of the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660 (Senior 2003; Pawson and Buisseret 2000). Fort Charles remains the oldest standing British fort in Jamaica.
Figure 3: Sections of the grounds inside Fort Charles. (Click each to enlarge.)
Figure 4: Several of Fort Charles’ guns. (Click each to enlarge.)
The Victoria and Albert Battery and the “Giddy House”
Named after the reigning sovereign, the Victoria and Albert Battery was installed towards the end of the 19th century at Fort Charles to replace the aging guns. The “Giddy House” was the Royal Artillery Store for the Victoria and Albert Battery, built in 1888. Both structures were shaken during the 1907 earthquake. The Royal Artillery Store was shaken askew, resulting in it having a very lean-to appearance, thus giving persons who visit the structure today a giddy feeling when they enter it. Hence its popular name, the “Giddy House.”
It should be noted that when Fort Charles was built, the sea came up to two sides of the Fort. Over the years, however, the inland side gradually silted up, and now persons can walk from the Fort to the Battery and the Giddy House.
For those interested, the cost for the Fort Charles tour, which also includes access to the Giddy House and the Victoria and Albert Battery, is quite reasonable: J$400 for adults. And the tour guides are quite knowledgeable and friendly, the majority of whom proudly call Port Royal home. Thanks to Mr Andrew Gordon, one of the tour guides, who was quite helpful not only with the tour of the Fort, but also a short walk through St Peter’s Church.
St Peter’s Church
Figure 9: Sections of St Peter’s Church. (Click each to enlarge.)
I ended my day trip to Port Royal with a walk through the small cemetery of St Peter’s Church. I wasn’t able to do a tour of the church as it is currently being renovated.
Within the cemetery lies the final resting place of the famous Lewis Galdy who was swallowed by the earth during one of the shocks of the great 1692 earthquake, and miraculously escaped with his life when, shortly thereafter, another shock spat him out.
Next to Lewis Galdy’s final resting place is a grave with the bodies of three children who died during the 1692 earthquake. Their bodies were found during an archaeological excavation conducted during the early 1990s.
As I drove out of Port Royal, driving past the new Port Royal Cemetery, the Old Naval Cemetery, Morgan’s Harbour Hotel and heading towards the open road that is the Palisadoes Spit, I slowly began to forget about this sleepy town. The Port Royal of today sleeps atop its history, and seems quite content in letting its past lie exactly where it is, not to be disturbed. Who can forget the residents’ very vocal and angry responses to the proposed redevelopment of Port Royal as a heritage tourism attraction and cruise ship port? I remember attending a town meeting at which the plans were laid out by the Director of the Port Royal Development Company (PRDC) Limited, Mr Robert Stephens, and listening to the angry outbursts from the residents who indicated that they were not too happy with the plans these outsiders were making for their own town. Some persons felt they were not consulted enough or not at all. At one point during the meeting I was certain some of the residents were getting ready to run Mr Stephens off the podium and out of town the way they were so angry!
I definitely support the idea of Port Royal being developed as a heritage tourism site, incorporating the remaining architectural evidence from the very distinct periods of its development, and to continue advocating for the town’s inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In the meantime, I would strongly recommend to the relevant authorities to include some historical re-enactments within the Fort Charles tour. That should be very interesting to see and the relevant government agencies could easily incorporate the town’s residents in such an activity, which could be a further form of income for the latter. I’m not so certain about promoting Port Royal as a cruise ship port though.
However, whichever route is taken to develop this fishing village, the inclusion of its residents is paramount, so they can own this process, be proud of it, and move it forward along with the technocrats and investors. Without their blessing, per se, I really can’t see how such a plan can ever be implemented for the long term.
So folks, I would highly recommend going to Port Royal for a day trip and then, if you have the time and with good company, have a nice fish meal at one of the many restaurants there.
Question: Do you think that Port Royal should be developed into a heritage tourism attraction and cruise ship port? How should the Government go about this?
Until next time…
Pawson, Michael and David Buisseret (2000). Port Royal, Jamaica. 2nd ed. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press.
Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.