A Historic Look At Kingston
IT CAN be said that the city of Kingston was founded first out of disaster and then out of trickery. In 1692 when a massive earthquake destroyed Port Royal, long the seat of the island's trade and a large residential area, the land across the harbour known as the Liguanea Plain after the giant iguana, began to look more attractive. After witnessing the massive destruction and sinking of Port Royal, the desire to rebuild that town was lukewarm at best. At the time of the Port Royal earthquake, there were probably only 8 or 9 houses on some 530 acres of the Liguanea Plain all related to Colonel Samuel Barry's hog pen or hog crawle as it was more commonly known. Sometime in the early 1660s Barry sold the land to William Beeston so that in June of 1692 when a new town was needed to provide homes for former Port Royal residents, Nicholas Lawes, acting on Beeston's behalf, sold 200 of the 530 acres to the Jamaica Council (the island's governing body). The total cost was £1,000. When Beeston returned to Jamaica as Lt. Governor in 1693 (a post he would hold until 1700), he declared the sale of his lands illegal and repossessed the property, which by that time consisted of some 800 lots, most 150 ft. long and 50 ft. wide. Beeston resold the lots at a large profit, well aware that future profit was in store as he owned the 330 acres surrounding the new town.
Soon after, the Jamaica Council instructed an English surveyor to draw up a plan for this new town on the southeast section of the island. The town, as orig inally drawn by John Goffe and eventually laid out by engineer-general Colonel Christian Lilly, was a chessboard-like parallelogram running one mile in length from north to south (Port Royal Street to North Street) and half a mile wide from east to west (East Street to West Street). These four streets formed Kingston's original boundary and were regularly traversed by other streets and lanes that alternately crossed each other at right angles. In the centre of the parallelogram that was Kingston the main street ran south to north and was known as King Street. It was intersected in its centre by Queen Street and a four-acre square area around that intersection was the site of a military camp known as Parade.1 Like many other English colonial towns, it came to be known as Kingston (possibly from King's Town).
Around Parade, in addition to the military camp, was the Parish Church and later a playhouse, the Theatre Royal. The commercial buildings and the courthouse were found closer to the sea. Wealthier residents favoured the eastern section while poorer residents made do with the west, many living on land owned by the merchants John Hannah and William Rae, which was close to swamps. One of the island's first burial grounds, May Pen Cemetery, lies near this area. Hannah Town would become one of St. Andrew's first residential settlements. Many regarded Kingston as having been well laid-out with wide streets of varying widths. (See map attached.)
Kingston was made a parish in 1713. It had a natural harbour, massive defences in its ring of forts, fertile soil and access to water supply.
By the mid-1700s, Kingston had grown from a seaside town with 6 miles of waterfront to a city which was awash in houses, stores and wharves. Clearly the island's commercial capital, it was said to be strange to see less than 200 vessels in the bay before the town at any given time. In 1774 the Chamber of Commerce, one of the first in the New World, was formed. By the end of the 18th century, Kingston's population reached 25,000.
In 1834, the year that marked the abolition of slavery on the island, publication of The Gleaner, which has become one of Jamaica's main newspapers and certainly the oldest one still in print, began in Kingston. By mid-century there were 24 newspapers in print in Jamaica; 19 were published in Kingston. Mico Teachers College was started on Hanover St. in 1836 and St. George's College at Winchester Park in 1850. Following the full emancipation of slaves in 1838, more and more schools and hospitals began to be built all over the island.
In 1872, Kingston was named capital of Jamaica, formally transferring this title from Spanish Town. As the beginning of the 20th century approached, Kingston was a natural choice to host the 1891 Great Exhibition an international showcase for the island's natural beauty and talent. Magnificent hotels were built in Kingston including the Myrtle Bank on Harbour Street and Queen's at the corner of Heywood and Princess Streets, to house visitors to the Exhibition and they marked the beginning of Jamaica's tourist industry today the island's most substantial earner of foreign exchange.
Kingston continued to grow until January 1907 when another earthquake, followed by a catastrophic fire, brought it to a sudden halt. Much of downtown Kingston was destroyed. Almost 1500 people were said to have died and over a million pounds of property damage was incurred. Trying to recover and rebuild, people wanted to move out of the old city and they looked to the merchants who owned much of the land bordering the city. These merchants were sitting on a gold mine -- the foundation of much of what is today known as residential Kingston.
entire Liguanea Plain was built on between 1907 and 1957. Buildings
were now made of concrete as a result of a new building code, which
remains among the strictest in the world. This time no
TODAY, WHAT was the original town of Kingston is now a part of the capital city's commercial area. In 1923 the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew were joined to provide better administrative management of each. Together they constitute the Corporate Area. Kingston then became both a parish and a city. Although St. Andrew is a much larger and more populated area with similar conveniences and commercial centres, today many Jamaicans still refer to locations in St. Andrew as part of Kingston so vast is the influence of this small historic section of the island.
Much of the country's poor still live in Kingston's narrow, and now crowded streets and lanes. A great number of Kingston's streets are named after former Governors and army personnel.
narrow streets and lanes speak silently of prosperous days gone before.
Much of the rich musical
Although perhaps not as handsome a city as in the past, Kingston today remains no less vital. The population of Kingston and St. Andrew numbers over 700,000 almost 30% of the island's population of over 2.5 million. Kingston remains a centre of commercial, political, religious, athletic and cultural activity. The Coronation Market, The Jamaica Conference Centre, numerous shops carrying a vast range of goods, Gordon House the present House of Parliament, and Headquarters House, the former House of Parliament, and a number of government ministries and historic places of worship including the Scots Kirk Church, St. George's Cathedral, Coke Methodist Chapel and the Jewish Synagogue, as well as Sabina Park, the National Gallery of Art, the Ward Theatre, St. William Grant and National Heroes Parks, can all be found within its domain.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted May 7, 2002
Copyright 2001. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com