Fri | May 14, 2021
The Classics

Grim picture for a destroyed city

Published:Thursday | February 18, 2021 | 9:56 PM

Tales of the 1907 earthquake, the second such instance to destroy sections of Kingston, have been re-told many times over but as time has passed, those tales have had to be told by those who have only heard of the devastation. Thus is the nature of history. Except … The Gleaner was there.


Published, Friday, January 18, 1907


The business centre of Kingston is today a mass of ruins, and practically no portion of the city has been left untouched. At 3:35 on Monday evening we were struck by an earthquake, and within 40 seconds our capital had fallen and over 1,000 persons lay dead and dying on the ground.

The blow has been terrible. Just when we were talking of returning prosperity the land of adversity has again touched us, and once more we are called upon to fight our way forward. We will do so. We will not allow ourselves to be terrified. We will build Kingston again, and, with God’s help, we will build it better.

We have not received a setback for another fifty years, as some are saying. Time and again the capitals of Spanish America countries have been destroyed, but never have the people despaired. We are not made of inferior stuff. We shall recover from this blow as we have recovered from all former ones. The industries of the island are absolutely uninjured. In this and our energy lies our future hope. We must “work and despair not”.



It will be weeks and perhaps months before the story can be told in detail of the almost complete destruction of Kingston by earthquake and by fire on the afternoon of Monday 14th. It is a fearful story and can never be amply told. The first destructive shock occurred at 3:35 p.m. It lasted about thirty seconds. And these few moments served to throw the city into woe and consternation.

When the shock subsided, thousands of buildings have fallen with a terrible roar. Not so much fallen, perhaps, as crumbled to dust and debris. Huge walls fell in the commercial part of the city. Some from the south went northwards; and others from the north toppled over to meet the crash from the opposite side. These walls all tumbling together crushed all who happened to be on the side-walks or in the streets. Hundreds of people were killed instantly in this way and omnibuses, and in one and two instances, street cars were crushed to atoms.

A member of the “Gleaner” staff who fought his way through the office wreckage was one of the first persons on Harbour Street after the disaster, looked at the east and to the west, and not a living soul was to be seen. In a moment or two a few figures came struggling through the mass of broken timber and scattered bricks. They were mostly all injured, and blood was flowing freely.

A few thoughtful individuals, although injured themselves, started to rescue several of those who were buried.

But this humane work was interrupted within five minutes by the approach of fire which had before made its appearance to the west of the city.

The fire brigade had been demolished by the earthquake and there were no means of fighting the outbreak; and the fire swept over an area bounded by the sea to the south, South Parade to the north, Mark Lane to the east and Orange Street to the west.

Next morning hundreds of bodies were found burned and charred along the principal streets. It is believed that many who had been injured and unable to help themselves were burnt to death by the flames. All these bodies were at once taken up for burial.

With the large number of deaths the supply of coffins soon gave out and the bodies were buried wrapped in sheets and in hastily dug trenches. Up to this morning bodies were still being recovered.

It is conservatively estimated that the death list will exceed one thousand when all the bodies have been recovered.

On Tuesday morning the military and police authorities took control of the city and a stop was put to petty looting that occurred in some parts of the city. Lines of sentries were stationed in all the streets to prevent indiscriminate ingress and egress.

On Thursday the U.S. warships Missouri and Indiana came into the harbour and at once landed bluejackets, took some of the injured on board for proper care, and placed their stores at the disposal of the Government.

At the hospital; which was overtaxed from the start, the scene has been very busy. On Tuesday and Wednesday Lady Swettenham and Miss Copeland served as cooks at this institution, whilst Mrs. Bourne, Mrs. Ker and other ladies served as nurses.

The hospital staff was largely augmented for the occasion and considerable pressure still obtains there. Dr. Ker, S.M.O, went to work with the staff doctors, and several districts medical officers were brought in, including Dr. Turton, from Stony Hill; Dr. Thomson from Chapelton, Dr. Neisha from Spanish Town; and Dr. Campbell, from St, David’s. Dr. Edwards, of Gordon Town, who was a patient in the hospital, forgot his own ailments and at once proceeded to join the hospital staff. All hands have been working night and day and yet there are cases still to be attended to.

On Monday night 27 legs were amputated. The same evening several clergymen and priests went over the city ministering to the injured and the dying. The Governor gave the clergy money to provide conveyances to the hospital for the injured.