I’m not sure why it’s called King’s House as no king has lived there but the official residence of the governor-general, the Queen’s representative in Jamaica, and the home of visiting royalties and heads of state, is known as King’s House.
The current King’s House is the third governor’s residence. Although Jamaica has had governors since at least 1661, there was never an official residence. They had to find their own accommodation. This changed around 1690, when the first residence was established in Port Royal. By 1762, however, a new King’s House was completed in the colonial capital, St. Jago de la Vega or Spanish Town, as it is now known.
In 1866, when Sir John Peter Grant, the governor at the time arrived, he set about to make radical and far reaching changes in the country, which was almost bankrupt. Sir John, who was quite private, lived in the governor’s residence in Spanish Town for three weeks before moving to the home he bought in the Port Royal Mountains, where the climate was more to his liking.
Sir John thought the capital should be in Kingston and by 1870, the government had acquired Somerset Pen, the 190-acre property that for 46 years, had been the residence of the Anglican Bishops of the Diocese of Jamaica. Sir John stayed at Bishop’s Lodge, the bishop’s residence on the property while construction of the new King’s House took place. Two years later, the capital was moved to Kingston.
Unfortunately, the house was destroyed by earthquake, and a fire in 1908 that destroyed the stables, a coach house and some of the manservants’ rooms. Some of the features of the old house were incorporated.
The current King’s House is three stories covering approximately 16,000 square feet, and includes a 60-foot indoor swimming pool, which is fed by a natural spring. The pool, which was part of the original house, was frequently used by Sir John, who had a habit of lying on a sofa or in the bath while doing his paperwork.
On the ground floor are the official entrance and reception area and a ballroom where ceremonies are held. Also on the ground floor are portraits of past governors, governors-general, kings and queens.
The second floor houses the drawing room, where the governor-general meets guests, including visiting heads of state. It is decorated by gold leaf hurricane globe chandeliers that were brought over from the house in Spanish Town. Also on the second floor is the morning room, where the governor-general’s wife greets her guests, has meetings, etc. It has a fine collection of silver which was owned by the British West India Regiment. Living quarters are the third floor.
An exceptional feature of King’s House is the mile-long driveway, which was known previously as Governor’s Road. It is now called Palm Tree Avenue. Several trees, some planted by visiting dignitaries, can be found on the property: a cotton tree which was imported from South Africa in 2009, mahoe and banyan trees from India, and flowers, ferns and plants from all over the world.
The lush grounds are the venue for the annual ceremony on National Heroes Day when the governor-general presents honors and awards.
Interestingly enough, Bishop’s Lodge, which has been around since the 1800s, has never been destroyed.
When you arrive at King’s House, it’s hard not to miss several nests on the portico. Those belong to swallows, that are now dubbed King’s House Swallow, that seemed to have followed the governor from Spanish Town to Kingston.
During his time in office, Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke (1991-2006) started a vegetable garden, which still provides vegetables and fresh fruits to hospitals in Kingston.
King’s House in the Movies
King’s House was a shooting location for the 1962 James Bond film, Dr. No. In the movie, however, Bond calls it Government House.
How to Schedule a Tour
Guided tours of King’s House are available by appointment from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday. Apply in writing to:
The Office of the Governor-General
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.