The Port Royal Naval Station


Don Juan Lopez.
Plano de la ciudad de Puerto Real, en la isla de la Jamaica.
Madrid, 1782.
20 x 15 cm.
Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 2006-334-1.

The naval dockyard (“los Navios”) was located at the northeast of the town, while Fort Charles (“Fuerte de Carlos”) was in the southwest.

After the 1692 earthquake, Port Royal never regained its status as a vibrant commercial centre. However, it served as the headquarters of the British navy in the Caribbean until the early nineteenth century and remained an important naval base until 1905. From the early 1700s until the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Britain fought numerous battles with Spain and France in a contest over the expansion of empires. Naval forces at Port Royal were under the command of some of Britain’s most illustrious military heroes.

In 1702, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Vice-Admiral John Benbow engaged a French fleet near Colombia; while in 1739, during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon sacked the city of Porto Bello on the Spanish Main. In 1779, in the midst of the North American colonies’ war of independence, a young Horatio Nelson commanded Port Royal’s Fort Charles and prepared for a French invasion. In 1782 Admiral George Rodney defeated a large French fleet in the Battle of the Saints, thus preventing the feared capture of Jamaica. In addition to major military engagements, the British navy at Port Royal continued to pursue pirates in the region and provided transatlantic escorts for ships carrying Jamaica’s massive output of sugar and other plantation commodities.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, various improvements were made to Port Royal’s naval docks, facilities and fortifications. In 1817 work began on a new naval hospital, using pre-fabricated cast-iron beams. This expansive building was famous not only for its modern technology but for its ‘fine air’ and the care provided by African-Jamaican nurses.


Adolphe Duperly, 1801-1865.
View of the town and harbour of Port Royal in Jamaica.
Kingston, 1855.
46 x 68 cm.
National Library of Jamaica, NLJ P/214/VIII.

This lithograph depicts Royal Navy ships of various sizes. Originally an engraver and lithographer from France, Adolphe Duperly settled in Jamaica in 1824 and established a photography firm that was continued by his family into the early 20th century.


J.B. Valentine & Sons.
Photograph of Port Royal. 1891.
24 x 29 cm.
National Library of Jamaica, Port Royal 7070.

Note the densely built wood and brick houses and the Naval Hospital in the background. J.B. Valentine & Sons was a prominent photographic firm in Scotland.

telescopeSpencer Browning & Rust telescope.
Late 18th/early 19th century. 6.5 x 64.0 cm.
Institute of Jamaica, 2006.1.83 (R).

This type of telescope was popular with the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.


Naval button.
18th/19th century.
2.9 cm.
Institute of Jamaica, 1997/0715.

The “foul anchor” motif (an anchor surrounded by a rope) began to be used by the Royal Navy in the latter 18th century.


White-ware medicine container.
19th century.
9.7 x 6.0 cm.
Institute of Jamaica, 1998/1072.

The naval seal on this container includes a King’s (or Queen’s) Broad Arrow above an anchor.

wine measure

Wine measure – one quart. 1821.
13.6 x 10.6 cm.
Institute of Jamaica, 2006.1.85 (R).

During the 1820s, sets of brass measures were introduced to Jamaica’s 22 parishes in order to guarantee fair commerce.


Wine bottle. Ca. 1755.
23.8 x 9.8 cm.
Institute of Jamaica, 1997/0924.

Glass bottles in this squat cylindrical shape became common during the mid-18th century.

Next: Port Royal Today

© 2007 Historical Museum of Southern Florida and the Institute of Jamaica. All rights reserved.