Within any given week I fantasize quite a bit about leaving Beijing. In one version of my fantasies I sleep overnight at the airport so as not to miss my flight, and actually enjoy the 22+ hours travel time to Jamaica. In addition to these fantasies, I regularly check the cost of the flights from China to Jamaica and remind myself of my “when to buy ticket” timeline.
Yep, that’s how badly I need to leave China!
So after once again recently checking the prices of the Beijing to Kingston one-way flights, I got to thinking about the Palisadoes and the history of this bit of roadway. How did the Palisadoes come about? Why is it called the Palisadoes? What is the historical significance of the Palisadoes in Jamaica’s development?
What is the Palisadoes Spit?
The Palisadoes Spit is a strip of land between 14-16km long, joining the town of Port Royal to the parish of Kingston, and that almost completely encloses the Kingston Harbour (Robinson, Rowe and Khan 2006a). It was formed many centuries ago by a process that involved “ocean waves coming from the southeast and river sediment coming down the Hope and Cane Rivers” (Robinson, Rowe and Khan 2006b). This eventually formed a spit that gradually extended itself westwards towards the various cays on the island shelf, with one end attached to the shore and the other sticking out into the Caribbean sea.
In fact the Palisadoes Spit was still forming when the Spanish first arrived towards the end of the 15th century. At that time, Port Royal was still a cay, which the Spanish called “Cayo de Careno,” meaning Careening Cay, reflecting the main use they found for it: “to beach their ships and scrape barnacles from the hull” (Senior 2003, pg. 392). When the English took control of Jamaica in 1655, they mistakenly called Cayo de Carena “Point Cagway,” taking the Spanish name for Passage Fort, “Caguaya,” as that for the Point. The British officially changed the name from Point Cagway to Port Royal in February 1674 (Cundall 1915).
For centuries after the English occupation began, Port Royal was only accessible by boat. This was until 1936, when the road along the Palisadoes, from Harbour Head to Port Royal, was completed by the Public Works Department, utilising the labour of inmates from the General Penitentiary (Neita 2008).
How did it Get its Name?
According to Olive Senior (2003) the name “Palisadoes ” was derived “from a breastwork of ‘pallisades’ or wooden staves that was built at a point between Port Royal and the rest of the peninsula to cover any land approach” (Senior 2003, pg. 365). This was a part of the general fortifications of Port Royal before the 1692 great earthquake. In time the whole spit became known as the Palisadoes.
Why is the Palisadoes Spit Important?
The obvious answer to this question is the Norman Manley International Airport. The completion of the road along the Palisadoes made it possible for an international airport to be built. Norman Manley International Airport, formerly the Palisadoes Airport, began operations in 1940/1941. The airport is located at the widest point of the Palisadoes, as indicated in the image above.
The Palisadoes also holds historical importance as being:
- The location of the Plumb Point Lighthouse: built in 1853 the lighthouse stands at 21m tall and is made of stone and cast iron. It has two lights: a white light over the entrance of the eastern navigable channel that’s visible for about 40km; and a red light over the south channel that’s visible for 20km (Senior 2003).
- The former location of the Palisadoes Plantation: the strip of land leading to Port Royal, including the area of land covered by the airport, was once the location of a 91ha coconut plantation, the Palisadoes Plantation, that was established in 1869. There is currently a monument on the side of the Palisadoes road to Port Royal, less than a mile from Plumb Point Lighthouse, commemorating the first coconut trees planted on this former plantation. Inmates from the General Penitentiary were used to clear the land for the planting of the coconuts. The plantation did very well in its early years: by 1880 over 500 acres was planted, there were 23,000 palms, 2,300 were in bearing and 49,000 coconuts were harvested. However, the optimism surrounding the plantation was dashed due to rat infestations and disease. For instance, the yield increased to 75,000 coconuts in 1881, but 75 percent of those were lost to rats. The salinity of the ground water also proved too much for the salt-tolerant coconuts (Harries 1980). Today, the only evidence that coconut trees once existed along the Palisadoes Spit is in the form of this monument.
- Location of the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI): the CMI was established in 1980 as the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute (JMTI), a collaboration between the governments of Jamaica and the Kingdom of Norway. At the time the school intended to train Jamaicans to mann the Jamaica Merchant Marine (JMM) fleet of five ships. The JMTI’s first location was at 9 Norman Road, Kingston. The Institute later moved to its current location along the Palisadoes Spit in 1984.
The Palisadoes Spit has played an integral role in Jamaica’s development since the occupation of the island by first the Tainos then the Europeans. There is no other formation like the Palisadoes anywhere else 0n the island.
Until next time…
Buisseret, David (1996). Historic Jamaica from the Air. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.
Caribbean Maritime Institute. Historical Overview of the CMI.
Cundall, Frank (1915). Historic Jamaica. London: West India Committee.
Harries, H.H. (1980). The Natural History of the Coconut. Jamaica Journal Vol. #44, pp. 60-65.
Neita, Hartley (2008). Palisadoes and its Airport. Jamaica Gleaner, Saturday, January 26, 2008.
Robinson, Edward; Rowe, Deborah-Ann C.; and Khan, Shakira A. (2006a). Hazards of the Jamaican Coastline – The Palisadoes: Safe access to the Airport? Pt. 1. Jamaica Gleaner, Thursday, August 31, 2006.
Robinson, Edward; Rowe, Deborah-Ann C.; and Khan, Shakira A. (2006b). How did the Palisadoes form? Pt. II. Jamaica Gleaner, Thursday, September 7, 2006.
Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.