Port Royal


Port Royal, Jamaica - Vision of a Pirate Town 

Port Royal – The sunken Pirate Town
The Vision of Port Royal as a new cultural tourism attraction:
Port Royal is an experience for the heart and mind and spirit. It is rich in the traditions and history of Jamaica, a testament to the wealthy cosmopolitan community that built this amazing maritime centre of world trade and commerce over 400 years ago.


Port Royal at about 1688 

Ghosts muster at the call of the waves and voices of long-dead seamen share their skills and their stories. Other roads beckon visitors to the Forts and Fortifications. Here the sound of drill and musketry speaks to a soldier’s life. Still other roads lead intrepid visitors to experience an earthquake, or to wander in the hospital, where the sick and dying lay so long ago. A museum exhibits a wealth of objects recovered from Port Royal over the ages–everything from Spanish treasure to exotic trade wares to everyday household items.

There is a sunken city, where if you listen quietly, you can just hear the church bells, sunken below the waves, tolling with the tide. A marine centre, long walks along the shore, and boat rides to the mangroves and the reefs and cays let visitors explore the rich and diverse natural resources of this remarkable place. Concerts, dramatic presentations, street theatre and the intrigue of a fine museum add to the mix.  

For the visitor, the experience is knit together with Jamaican hospitality and the vitality and richness of Jamaican culture. Everywhere, in food, in costume, in performance and in vibrant streetscapes, in shops with goods rich in the symbols and icons that grew from the history of this land, in the sound of conch shells and drums, there are invitation and welcome.

It is an exotic place, where visitors can choose many paths. One road leads to the "Old World" city of Port Royal, an outpost of London on a new frontier, a city that housed the riches of Fleet Street, built by trade and pirate gold. Musicians, street performers, craftsmen and hagglers bring alive this town, where the centre of life was the many taverns and shops. Another road leads to the King’s Royal Naval Dockyard and Admiralty Headquarters, a centre of naval life in the West Caribbean for over 200 years.


St. Peter's Church in Port Royal

Bertram Hall, the former warden of St. Peter’s Church. Very sadly, he has passed away. Mr. Alan Ridgeway (to the right) is the new warden of this beautiful church now.

Archaeological Investigations at Port Royal
In 1981, the Nautical Archaeology Program of Texas A&M University, in cooperation with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), began underwater archaeological investigations of the submerged portion of the 17th-century town of Port Royal, Jamaica. Present evidence indicates that while the areas of Port Royal that lay along the edge of the harbour slid and jumbled as they sank, destroying most of the archaeological context, the area investigated by TAMU / INA, located some distance from the harbour and sank vertically, with minimal horizontal disturbance.


In contrast to many archaeological sites, the investigation of Port Royal yielded much more than simply trash and discarded items. An unusually large amount of perishable, organic artefacts were recovered, preserved in the oxygen-depleted underwater environment. Together with the vast treasury of complimentary historical documents, the underwater excavations of Port Royal have allowed for a detailed reconstruction of everyday life in an English colonial port city of the late 17th century.



Artefacts at the Port Royal Museum


Exerpts of the archaeological work done by the Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University.

The Port Royal Project concentrated for 10 years on the submerged 17th-century remains on Lime Street, near its intersection with Queen and High Streets in the commercial centre of the town. At present, eight buildings have been investigated. The work has resulted in a more detailed body of data on the buildings and their in situ artefacts than any previous excavations at Port Royal - on land or on under water.The construction features of five of the investigated buildings exemplify the variety of architectural styles found in the city's centre. Some were well-built, multi-storied brick structures, while others were simple, earth-bound frame buildings, hastily erected, with no intention for them to last. In several instances, a small core building was constructed, and then rooms were tacked on as needed, until the structure formed a complex. Both brick and timber buildings have contributed significantly to our understanding of 17th-century town planning, architecture, diet, cooking activities, and other aspects of daily life. Building 4/5 has produced more in situ artefacts than any building thus far excavated. To the front of the building, in what would have been a part of Lime Street, a large section of a fallen wall was discovered. This wall may have fallen out from Building 5 or from a building to the north. It was in this area of the fallen exterior wall that we found the wooden frame of a four-partition window with leaded glass panes within a wrought-iron frame. Numerous other artefacts were found in association with the building, including two sets of 28 Chinese porcelain Fo Dogs and a minimum of 28 Chinese porcelain cups and bowls. Pewter plates, candlesticks, a brass mortar, an English tin-glazed vase, a decorated Dutch Delft plate, a gold ring, a pearl with a gold attachment, silver forks and spoons, and many encrusted metal objects that are awaiting identification, conservation, and analysis were found in the same area.The remains of a young child were uncovered from under the bricks of the fallen front wall just outside of the two adjacent front doorways. The remains of two more children were found in Rooms 3 and 4. The remains of a ship, which ripped through the front walls and tore through the floors of the four rooms on the east side of the building complex, have also been identified.

Donny L. Hamilton 2000
The Port Royal Project: Archaeological Excavations, World Wide Web, URL, http://nautarch.tamu.edu/portroyal/archhist.htm
Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.
For additional details, contact Donny L. Hamilton dlhamilton@tamu.edu
Credits: Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University.

Visitors walk from the Dockyard area through the grounds of Morgan’s Harbour Hotel where they may visit the old Pitch House of the original Naval Dockyard, now housing a dive shop. (This assumes permission of the Hotel to allow visitors to pass through the grounds.) From the Morgan’s Harbour Hotel, visitors may walk to the Admiralty Housing and the Torpedo Houses. The Admiralty Housing buildings are arguably the finest heritage buildings on site. Even in their current state, they can be interpreted with an illustrated panel, showing their grace and splendour when they housed the officers of the Admiralty.

Visitors marvel at these heritage buildings, arguably the finest on the site.
• The style and spacious splendour of these buildings convey the importance of the site and of the Admiralty staff to the British navy. The Admiralty Housing buildings are interpreted with an illustrated panel, which highlights their grace and splendor, and the achievements they represent for the Admiralty.
• The Pitch House and the much later Torpedo Houses, point to the technologies that supported this naval centre throughout the centuries.

Heritage Features
• Pitch House, Morgan’s Harbour Hotel
• Admiralty Housing
• Torpedo Houses

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