From privateering to profiteering – a new dawn for Port Royal
Jamaica welcomed passengers from the Marella Discovery 2 cruise ship to the Port Royal Cruise Port, Jamaica’s newest cruise destination on January 20. Port Royal has the potential to be the host of several attractions inextricably linked to its history. It is one of the oldest and most historic regions of the country, and has maintained much of its independence as well as its heritage.
Port Royal is located at the end of the Palisadoes and was founded in 1518 by the Spanish. It was once the largest city in the Caribbean, functioning as the centre of shipping and commerce in the Caribbean Sea by the latter half of the 17th century.
It was destroyed by an earthquake on June 7, 1692, which had an accompanying tsunami, and severe hurricanes have regularly damaged it. Another severe earthquake occurred in 1907.
Port Royal was once home to privateers who were encouraged to attack Habsburg Spain’s vessels at a time when smaller European powers dared not make war on Spain directly. As a port city, it was notorious for its gaudy displays of wealth and loose morals.
It was a popular homeport for the English and Dutch-sponsored privateers to spend their treasure during the 17th century. When those governments abandoned the practice of issuing letters of marque to privateers against the Spanish treasure fleets and possessions in the later 16th century, many of the crews turned pirate. They continued to use the city as their main base during the 17th century. Pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal, coming from waters as far away as Madagascar.
After the 1692 disaster, Port Royal’s commercial role was steadily taken over by the nearby town (and later, city) of Kingston. Plans were developed in 1999 to redevelop the small fishing town as a heritage tourism destination to serve cruise ships. Thoughts were that it could capitalise on its unique heritage, with archaeological findings from pre-colonial and privateering years as the basis of possible attractions.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN PORT ROYAL
This restaurant fills daily with locals who get there from across Kingston and other neighbouring parishes. Gloria’s fish is nothing short of glorious and includes a large plate of mouth-watering perfection, accompanied by bammy, festival or rice. Shellfish lovers can go for the curried or honey jerk shrimp or the grilled lobster.
Jamaica’s latitude and longitude are measured from the flagstaff of Fort Charles, a weathered redoubt originally laid in 1655, and the only one of the town’s forts to survive the 1692 earthquake. Originally washed by the sea on three sides, the fort is now firmly landlocked due to the gradual silt build-up.
At its peak, 104 guns protected the fort. Many cannons still point out from their embrasures along the restored battlements. In the centre of the courtyard stands the small, well presented Maritime Museum, containing a miscellany of objects – from glassware and pottery to weaponry – retrieved from the sunken city.
A small redbrick artillery store, the 1888 Giddy House, sits alone just behind the fort. The 1907 earthquake briefly turned the spit to quicksand and one end of the building sank, leaving the store at a lopsided angle. Next to the Giddy House is a gun emplacement with massive cannon – which also keeled over in 1907.
ST PETER’S CHURCH
Built in 1725 of red brick, this church is handsome within, despite its faux brick facade of cement. The floor is paved with original black-and-white tiles, and the beautifully decorated wooden organ loft built in 1743. The place is replete with memorial plaques.
OLD NAVY HOSPITAL
Behind the old garrison wall off New St stands the dilapidated two-story Old Naval Hospital, built by Bowling Ironworks in Bradford, UK, shipped to Port Royal and reconstructed at this site in 1818.
OLD GAOL HOUSE
The only fully restored historical structure in town is the sturdy Old Gaol House, made of cut stone, on Gaol Alley. It predates the 1692 earthquake, when it served as a women’s jail, and has since survived a host of disasters, including 14 hurricanes and two major fires.