Giddy for history
Last week, the TEENage Observer team went on its first stop on the Heritage Tour series we intend to bring you this summer.
The first stop was once called the most sinful city in the world. Can you guess where we went?
For those who can’t get it, our first stop was in Port Royal to see Fort Charles, which was the first fort erected there when it was built in the late 1650s. Originally called Fort Cromwell, by 1765 Fort Charles boasted 104 guns and a 500-man garrison.
Our visit to Port Royal was more than to discover the wild lifestyle that the people of this rich and wicked city once lived, but to experience some of the rich history of Jamaica.
Port Royal, once described as the most decadent city on earth, has had its share of tragedies. In fact, its notoriety is as much about the old Captain, the late Sir Henry Morgan, as the three earthquakes that tried to swallow the city — June 7, 1692; January 14, 1907; and March 1, 1957.
From our base in Kingston, it took us about 45 minutes to drive to Fort Charles, and what met us there was a truly enchanting place that was one of the most important naval outposts in the world. Every Jamaican should take a tour of this great landmark.
When we got out of our vehicles, we landed at Chocolate Hole. It is the fort’s present parking lot and was once a strip of land where chocolate was the only commodity traded.
While walking towards the fort, we saw some huge replicas of cannons pointing towards us that would have been used in the past to attack enemy ships at sea.
We then hastily dashed to the gates of Fort Charles, anxious to experience the garrison lifestyle that the soldiers once lived. At the gate, our tour guide, Denise Taylor, welcomed us gracefully.
Taylor led us Nelson’s Quarterdeck, that is a great place to overlook the fort’s courtyard.
Fort Charles has numerous towers that would have been used to look out at any oncoming ship, and those on duty would determine whether they were friend or foe.
We saw many indications of the fort’s history of bloody warfare, not only with humans, but also with nature. In addition to there being guns of past centuries’ design present, the violent earthquakes restructured the original landmass and coastline of the city.
We ventured next into the Fort’s museum. There we saw many tools of the 17th and 18th century that were used both in regular households and by craftsmen. Touch-screen computers were also present for those who wanted to know more, and models in both painting and handcraft depicted the lifestyle of the British settlers in port Royal. The museum is a great place for anyone to learn a bit of Jamaican history first hand.
Based on clocks in the museum, we saw the precise time one the earthquakes struck, (but you have to go see for yourself).
The 1692 earthquake restructured the land that is directly opposite the front of Nelson’s Quarter Deck, where the Victoria and Albert Battery and Giddy House was afterward built, both later sinking in the 1907 earthquake.
Taylor told of the Battery, built in 1888, that had four guns housed in underground bunkers. They where linked by a series of tunnels that are partially filled with sand since the 1907 earthquake. And TEENage co-sport co-ordinator Devaro Bolton, had to try it out.
His slender frame barely squeezed through the sand-filled Battery, and was lost a couple times in the series of tunnels. He was barely able to make it in and out, much to the rest of the group’s merriment.
After that excitement, we ran over to Giddy House, which makes one giddy and dizzy due to its tilt. Also built in 1888 to be a Royal Artillery House, it stored ammunition that supplied the Battery in its two rooms, but the southern side sank during the 1907 earthquake and is still sinking. Giddy House is one of the most interesting buildings in Jamaica for the falling sensation it produces, and TEENage highly recommends you pay it a visit and attempt a moonwalk or two while there.
We were then taken back through the gates of the Fort, to the front-right side of the building where we saw three crosses representing three mistresses of Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) who all died from Yellow Fever they contracted from him. Nelson was the greatest hero in British naval history, an honour he earned by defeating Napoleon’s fleet in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.
This brought an end of our grand adventure through Jamaica’s colonial era and a productive tour of a very interesting piece of Jamaican history.