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1692:Earthquake of Port Royal

I Was There
By Claude Mills, Staff Reporter

I WAS running, running all out across the square, my arms pumping in short jabbing strokes at my side, dodging the people milling around in the late morning foot traffic of the city. The red-brick shoulders of Fort Charles rose like a dinosaur in the distance.

The light sack at my side banged unpleasantly against my hip with my prize in its belly. I hazarded a glance back and saw that the man was gaining, Big Jim was gaining all the time. Even from 20 metres away, I could see the cords in his neck standing out like a nest of riled-up snakes as he strained to keep up.

Big Jim was the ship's mate on the Bloody Moon, a ship owned by Captain Andrew Morgan, the kindest hearted gentleman to ever cut a throat or scuttle a ship on this side of the Caribbean Sea. Big Jim was not a misnomer, he was a hulk of man, at least 6 feet 7 inches (metric was centuries away), and he liked to boast that he had the biggest musket in his pants in the New World.

And if he had had a few pints, he would gladly prove it to you as well.

I zigged past a lady dressed for some morning prayer service, hung a right at Bonney's Tavern, took a left at the Presbyterian church, then another right at Macey's Whorehouse and Grill where pirates after weeks of plundering Spanish treasure galleons, came to engage in a 'little drinking, swearing and whoring' as my mom liked to say.

I ducked down a narrow alley, artfully dodging the low-hanging clothes lines that crisscrossed the length of the alley. I glanced down at my watch, it was 11:37 a.m., and my head came up just in time to ram my forehead into one of the metal lamp-posts.

The world swam out of focus. Forget about stars, I saw whole constellations. I was struggling to my feet when a pair of rough hands lifted me up, and set me one-handed against a nearby wall.


He drew back his meaty right hand to hit me, and then the low rumbling began. At first, I thought it was Big Jim's stomach, but soon, it began to spread. The building beside us began to shake, a few bricks rained down upon us. Invisible hands crushed the cobblestone streets like parchment paper. A woman screamed, but failed to drown out the crunch of giving metal. I saw a nearby building lean drunkenly to its right.

Big Jim dropped me and began running, he had forgotten about the pearls at my side. He never made it to safety. One minute he was running, the next second he had been gobbled up by the ground. Only his head was now visible. He bellowed in pain.

"Help me," he screamed. When I failed to respond. He spat at me and yelled loud profanities, which while colourful, do not have any place in this account.

I was in a daze. My legs would not move. Using the ball of my fist, I rammed it up my nose to break the stupor that I was in. It hurt like hell, but it got the desired results. My nose hurting like hell, I ran back to the stylish arches of a Catholic school, I splayed my hands out in a T against the brick surface -- almost like Samson -- this is where I would make my last stand.

All hell was breaking loose.

People were streaming past me in the streets. It had been at least three minutes since the rumbling had begun. Huge columns of smoke billowed into the sky. People were throwing buckets of water on a fire that had broken out at Macey's brothel. The clothes of a girl, no more than 6 years old, had burst into flames on my right, her mother was using a large towel to smother the blaze. I smelled something in the air like burning pork.

The smell of faeces, smoke, piss and blood profaned my nostrils. One man, with a red handkerchief draped over his head, shot another at point blank range, and immediately hunkered down to search the pockets of his victim. A drunken trio, arms linked, swaggered down Wright Lane. They were singing '15 men on a deadman's chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum'. One of them screamed when the heavy cedar marquee which read Henry's Woodwork and Carpentry fell on him. His friends hardly missed a beat.


A man with a 'tortoise-back' dining table on his head sprinted past me. The looting had begun in earnest.

Something. Something to my left. I looked up and in the left quadrant of the sky saw a foaming wall of water, at least sixty feet high, rise up like boiling Armageddon. It carried three schooners in its wake, and there was an almost musical crash as the water slammed into the heart of the city. One of the schooners smashed a huge stone monument to Lord Horatio Nelson. I peered through the smoke, my eyes were watering, protesting slits against the acrid fumes, and saw Fort Charles, and took solace that it was still standing.

The day seemed darker somehow, it seemed that even sunlight failed to breach the dark chambers of this wretched city. I heard the wail of a far-off siren. It was 11:49 a.m.

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Major Earthquakes in Jamaica
June 7, 1692, Port Royal destroyed
August 28, 1722
October 20, 1744, Savanna-la-Mar destroyed, Kingston
and Port Royal badly damaged
November 11, 1812
January 14, 1907, Kingston and Port Royal destroyed

March 1, 1957, 8 on Richter scale, epicenter in Hanover

Port Royal today...

TODAY THE town's population is ....and the Port Royal Development Company under the direction of Robert Stephens is working to revitalize the community and bring its historical infamy to light.

This multi-dimensional initiative involves the creation of a history theme park in which the earthquake of 1692 is prominently featured. Through a simulation exercise, visitors will not only experience 21st century Port Royal, but 17th century Port Royal before, during and after the earthquake.

Visitors will also be able to go underwater and see parts of the sunken city preserved almost exactly as they would have appeared in 1692. They will be able to compare these sights with present-day Port Royal as well as watch and interact with underwater archaeologists who will be unearthing artifacts to be placed on display.

Visit www.portroyal-jamaica.com/ for more information.

Learn more about the intriguing sunken city at the Port Royal Museum established in 1977 at the Fort Charles Complex. The museum exhibits the history of Port Royal and Jamaican maritime life from the Taino period to the present day.

Opening hours: Monday to Thursday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Call 922-9620-6 for more information.

The First 500 years in Jamaica

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Sources: Important Dates in the History of Jamaica - Natural Disasters and Events in Jamaica - compiled September 1988 by Madeleine Mitchell and amended November 18, 1996.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature
Copyright 2001. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com