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The underwater city of Port Royal is a World Heritage Site contender






Jeremiah Murphy’s diving career and adventures spanned almost the entire second half of the 1800s, and took him not just to nearby reefs and islands like Silver Shoals and the Bahamas.

In Jamaica he was the first person to dive on the sunken city of Port Royal, to Bermuda where he worked as a “submarine engineer,” and to St. Thomas where he and his brothers spent four years clearing the harbor of ships wrecked during the disastrous hurricane of 1867.

It was there at nearby Salt Island that he raised gold bullion worth $60,000 from the wreck of the Royal Mail Steam Ship Rhone. But such success came with a hefty price tag. Tragically, one - or both - of Jeremiah’s brothers died in diving accidents while working in St. Thomas.

At the tender age of 20, he and a colleague talked a company into lending them the necessary diving equipment so that they could stay behind and continue to locate and salvage shipwrecks.

At that time “hard hat” or brass helmet diving, was a newly emerging technology, barely 20 years old. The equipment was still evolving and looks primitive to modern eyes. Jeremiah’s mentor, James Whipple, was an innovator who is thought to have designed the diving bell as well as a protective (armoured) diving suit, used in the submariner's explorations.

Helmet divers were the astronauts of their day, pushing the boundaries of the possible, risking life and limb, going where no one had gone before. However cumbersome looking the equipment was, the principal of operation, with air supplied via hoses from a surface ship, remained largely unchanged for almost a century until SCUBA became popular in the 1960s, after the invention of the demand valve, fed from high pressure cylinders.


In 1859 he located the remains of Fort James, old Port Royal, using a diving bell.

Although born in Ireland, Murphy became a true son of Grand Turk, living there until his death in 1895, during which time he was a deep sea diver, salt merchant, guano miner, US Vice Consul, Justice of the Peace, Freemason, and ex officio member of the Legislative Board.


Jeremiah married into the Manuel family with ties to Bermuda. He was buried with his wife, brother, two sons and a daughter in St. Thomas’s churchyard. His memorial reads: "In loving memory of Jeremiah Denis Murphy. Born at Courtmasherry, Co. Cork, Ireland March 21 1832. Died at Grand Turk Turks Islands, Sept 21, 1895."







A diver using SCUBA gear to explore Port Royal





Captain Sir Henry Morgan was a pirate, and privateer, ending up as the Governor of Jamaica. He was buried at Palisadoes Cemetery, then Port Royal was washed into the Caribbean Sea, the result of an earthquake and tsunami in 1692. Not to be seen again for 300 years.






Underwater explorations and excavations have been conducted in Port Royal over the years. Here is a listing of such excavations. After the 1692 earthquake, people tried to salvage anything considered to be valuable from the area, which became known as the Sunken City.

1859: Jeremiah Murphy a naval diver, using a diving bell located the remains of Fort James.

1956 - 1959: Edwin Link dug test pits in the King's Warehouse and Fort James.


1960: Norman Scott explored Fort Carlisle.

1965 - 1968: Robert Marx excavated between twenty to thirty buildings in the Sunken City.


1969 - 1970: Philip Mayes Excavation. Mayes was hired by the Jamaican National Trust Commission to continue research. Mayes is accredited with uncovering St. Paul’s Church of Port Royal, the largest building of the 17th century city.

1981 - 1990: Institute of Nautical Archaeology of the Texas A&M (Agricultural & Mechanical) University in close cooperation with the Archaeology Division excavated buildings near the intersection of Queen and High Street.








Port Royal mangroves: Hurricane Refuge lagoon, Fort Rocky lagoon and Cemetery lagoon.





An earthquake in the Caribbean struck Port Royal, Jamaica, on the 7th of June 1692. A stopped pocket watch found in the harbor during a 1959 excavation conducted by Edwin Link and his wife Marion, indicated that the resultant tsunami occurred around 11:43 AM local time.

Known as the "storehouse and treasury of the West Indies" and as "one of the wickedest places on Earth", Port Royal was, at the time, the unofficial capital of Jamaica and one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the Americas, as well as a common home port for many of the privateers and pirates operating on the Caribbean Sea. Sometimes called the Sodom of the Universe.

The 1692 earthquake caused most of the city to sink below sea level. About 2,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and the following tsunami, and another 3,000 people died in the following days due to injuries and disease.






Port Royal is a contender for World Heritage Site listing to become a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance. 











 A timepiece was recovered from the sands at old Port Royal, with the exact moment recorded, when the wearer was taken by the tsunami, as being 11:43 on the 7th June 1692.










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