The Port Authority of Jamaica is creating a new floating pier and port facility at Port Royal to take cruise ships. Consequently, parts of Port Royal such as Fort Charles are being renovated as a visitor attraction and these works are to be welcomed. However, other buildings which could have been repaired and incorporated into the tourist offering, are languishing and the Naval Hospital falls into this latter category.
This pioneering iron frame building, fabricated at the Bowling Ironworks in Bradford, shipped out and erected in Port Royal between 1817 and 1826, measures 380 x 56 feet.
In 1988 the hospital and nearby ancillary buildings were all badly damaged by Hurricane Gilbert. Although re-roofed in 2015, the hospital and its increasingly ruinous ancillary structures, Kitchen, Pharmacy etc. still need much conservation and above all a viable use.
The building is not in good shape notwithstanding its recent re-roofing in 2015 as that contract included neither repair of the iron frame nor repair of the brickwork.
The iron frame has accumulated fractures over the years, a few in principal structural members, and has lost alignment and robustness due to racking of the roof frames, some foundation settlement and damage to its connections.
The brickwork has been extensively fractured by the corrosion of embedded iron and, in places, damaged by being rendered using cement which then splits off due to salt crystallisation.
Once these structural defects have been remedied, work to restore the architectural detail and quality of the building would also be needed.
FGSJ’s view: Overall, this is a substantial project but entirely achievable given the right ambition and resources. The Hospital is one of the most admired colonial era buildings on the island, is locally much loved by the people of Port Royal for the shelter it has provided after hurricanes and earthquakes. It is also on a simply magnificent site looking over the harbour – people could be ferried there across the harbour from Kingston, not bussed round by road, and thereby enjoy a quite marvellous experience. Until a few years ago part of the main building was used to display the findings of the underwater archaeological investigations of the parts of Port Royal that sank into the harbour in 1692, and a wealth of artefacts. A museum could, once again, be accommodated in the restored building and again be accessible to the public. The building would also be a fine site for an hotel, and cultural/artistic pursuits.
There is every reason to pursue the Naval Hospital’s restoration and expressions of interest are being sought.