Sun | Jan 17, 2021

UPDATED: Celebration of Jamaica's heritage

Published:Friday | June 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Photo by Richard Belto courtesy National Museum of Jamaica Onion bottle N.B.: Photo for one time use for Arts and Education

The city of Port Royal is located at the end of the Palisadoes peninsula at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour in southeastern Jamaica. The town was founded in 1518 by the Spanish. It was once the largest city in the Caribbean, functioning as the centre of shipping and commerce in the Caribbean Sea by the latter half of the 17th century. Though world famous because of the many stories of pirates and buccaneers, the city of Port Royal has endured its fair share of natural disasters.

One of the most devastating was the 1692 earthquake, which caused the liquefaction of the sand spit on which the town was built. This led to the destruction of nearly the entire city and the submersion of additional portions of the city. The earthquake not only caused massive loss of life, but many important objects were lost underwater.

However, in more recent times, the sunken city of Port Royal has been heavily excavated. These excavations have led to the discovering of many of the treasures that would have otherwise been lost to the sea. One such treasure is the Onion Bottle or Glass Onions as they were commonly called. These bottles are hand-blown glass bottles of various sizes that were popularly used aboard sailing ships for increased stability on rough seas. The bottles were fashioned with a wide-bottom shape to prevent toppling, thus making the bottles look somewhat onion-shaped. Onion bottles were used to store and transport beer, wine, oil, and vinegar. They were patented and made by the Dutch.




Donny L. Hamilton, "Pirates and Merchants: Port Royal, Jamaica," in X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, ed. Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen, 1330 (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2006).

James E. Bruseth, Toni S. Turner, From a Watery Grave: The Discovery and Excavation of La Salle's Shipwreck, La Belle. Texas A & M University Press.

Michael Pawson and David Buisseret, Port Royal, Jamaica (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000)

Information compiled by Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica


(EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced the 1907 earthquake in describing the 1692 earthquake which sank a section of Port Royal.)