Port Royal,the old naval base, lies across the harbour from Kingston. It was founded in 1650, captured by the English and turned into a strategic military and naval base. Merchant shipping developed under naval protection and the town soon became prosperous. It also attracted less reputable shipping and in 1660-92 became a haven for pirates such as Henry Morgan, with gambling and drinking dens and brothels protected by the six forts and 145 guns.
The ‘wickedest city in the world’, with a population of 8,000, soon provoked what was thought to be divine retribution. On 7 June 1692 an earthquake hit east Jamaica, coursing along the Port Royal fault line and bringing with it massive tidal waves. The port, commercial area and harbour front were cut away and slid down the slope of the bay to rest on the sea bed, while much of the rest of the town was flooded for weeks. About 5,000 people died (of drowning, injuries or subsequent disease) and the naval, merchant and fishing fleets were wrecked. The town was gradually rebuilt as a naval and military post but has had to withstand 16 hurricanes, nine earthquakes, three fires and a storm (which in 1951 left only four buildings undamaged).
Nelson served here as a post-captain from 1779 to 1780 and commanded Fort Charles, built in 1655, key battery in the island’s fortifications. The former British naval headquarters are now the Fort Charles Maritime Museum, with a scale model of the fort and ships. 1000-1700 Mon-Thu, 1000-1600 Fri, US$1. Part of the ramparts, known as Nelson’s Quarterdeck, still stands. US$2. The Giddy House was the Royal Artillery store, built in 1888 but damaged by the 1907 earthquake which caused it to tilt at an angle of 45°. The Victoria Albert battery complex was a boiler house and underground armoury with late 19th century guns to protect the harbour and tunnels. The old Naval Hospital was built in 1819 of prefabricated cast iron sections brought all the way from England, one of the earliest constructions of this type and built on a raft foundation. The old gaol can also be seen. This dates from the early 18th century and was used as a women’s prison in the 19th century. St Peter’s Church, though the restoration is unfortunate, is of historic interest, as is the National Museum of Historical Archaeology. The museum is little more than one room and the Fort Charles remains are more informative and substantive. n US$0.30. A US$60 mn tourist project for Fort Royal was announced in 1998, to include renovation of the town, construction of a new museum, concert hall and shopping centre. Getting there: beyond the international airport, some 15 miles by excellent road. Can also be reached by boat from Victoria Pier; they leave 7 times a day, take 20 mins and cost US$0.30.