Saturday, 7 April 2007

Leaving Port Royal

In the September 19, 1873 issue of the Daily Gleaner and DeCordova's Advertising Sheet there appeared an unsigned article headed "Port Royal". The author reported on his recent visit to Port Royal and while he commented favourably on its healthy atmosphere, thanks to the constant sea breezes, he could not help asking:
... "how do the people live? — When ships are in all is astir and a livelihood easily gained. Beyond the permanent residents, such as the naval and military authorities, the townspeople, but with few exceptions, are composed of the lower order. It is known that there is scarcely any employment beyond that given at the Dockyard, and then nearly all the seamen on board the guard-ship, the Aboukir, do duty in the Yard, so that the people have few opportunities of gaining a decent livelihood — thus they are poor, ill-fed and badly clothed. The town, therefore, with such a community represents a miserable appearance. The houses are not only shabby, but in wretched order, made more for sunny days than rainy ones."

It is no wonder, then, that families such as the Smedmores and the Browns would leave Port Royal for residence in Kingston. William Smedmore would have been ready to retire. He was not a well man, being subject to crippling headaches and most likely suffered from high blood pressure. (He died in 1914 at the age of 77 from a cerebral haemorrhage.) The Dock Yard was winding down and would close completely in 1905. Another family connection, George Christopher Baylis, who also worked at the Dock Yard as a writer, in the Victualling Department, had left Port Royal with his family about 1887 and settled in Kingston, though he continued to work at the Dock Yard as a clerk. George Baylis had married Elizabeth McDonald, the elder daughter of Sarah Letitia Brown by her first husband, so the Browns and Baylis were close. The Baylis family was fortunate in that John William Jones who married his grandmother, had left his house in Kingston at 119 Upper King Street to George and his family.

A View of Upper King Street, Kingston

I am not sure when the Browns left Port Royal. All Daniel's children were born there and baptized in the Methodist Church. They must have left some time after the birth of the youngest child, Theresa, in 1874. Daniel died in 1891 at 115 East Street, Kingston, and his death was registered by Sarah, his third daughter, who gave her address as 49 Rose Lane, Kingston. Daniel's widow, Sarah Letitia, died at 49 Rose Lane in 1898 and Bertha, the fourth daughter, was living there in 1901 when she gave birth to an illegitimate child. (She married the father, Percy Esterine, in 1904 from the same residence.)

William Smedmore and his family left Port Royal some time after 1896 when Rodney was born. I rather think that William must have left his employment at the Dock Yard at that time. The family settled at 49 Beeston Street which remained the family home well into the 1950s, long after most middle class families had fled Kingston for the suburbs of St. Andrew. Since William had retired the older boys, Victor, Owen and Norman, had to go out to work to help support the family. Apparently they worked as clerks at D. Henderson & Co. at the corner of King and Harbour Street.

D. Henderson & Co., was a firm of hardware and lumber merchants, founded by David Henderson, a native of Scotland, whose sons, James and Alexander, carried on the business until it was bought out by a group of British capitalists who kept the name. Victor would have worked there until 1915 when he left for England to enlist in the Lifeguards. Norman left Jamaica in 1918 for New York City where he lived until his death in 1953. Owen worked at Henderson & Co. until he retired.

Looking back, it seems to me that there would have been all sorts of considerations for the move from Port Royal besides the matter of employment. There was the matter of schooling for the children, and Kingston would have offered more opportunities for that.

My mother would have been very young when she left Port Royal so her memories of it are cloudy. Apart from mentioning that she had been born there she had very little to say about it. Port Royal settled into a quiet little fishing village with a historical past which is today a tourist attraction for those who would venture out to see it.It rates a couple of pages in the Rough Guide to Jamaica. If you would like to know more about its history then take a look at the excellent article written by Dr. Rebecca Tortello in the Gleaner series "Pieces of the Past"


Judy said...

Dorothy, I love how you've added your post card collection into the stories. I'm enjoying your blog and look forward to the next chapters.

patricia said...

Yes, I do love the postcards, too. It's a wonderful feeling to actually see a photo of where some of my great-uncles actually worked. And I've never really given much thought to Port Royal in the past. I should look into it in more detail. Or, I could just get you to do it...

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor