Uncle Henry

Cathedral tower in Panama Viejo, demolished by Uncle Henry

Panama City has a lot of statues – but we can’t find one of former president Manuel Noriega nor, more interestingly one of my distant ancestor (oh yeah?) Henry Morgan, also of Glamorgan in South Wales, the same county my dad was born and grew up in (Peterson Super Ely versus Henry’s stomping ground of Llanrhymny just 11 miles away) . Since neither was the most constructive contributor to Panama’s past it’s hardly surprising. In fact there’s a warrant out still here for Noriega who is expected to be extradicted frm France after he finishes his sentence there – and no doubt there’d be the same for Uncle Henry if he were still Governor of Jamaca. In 1671 Morgan sacked this city and made off with its loot loaded up on a couple of hundred donkeys. We went looking for the ruins of the old Spanish city that he raised and there is some, but not much, of it still left on the foreshore, squeezed in between the skycrapers that nowadays dominate the Panamanian skyline.Apparently Uncle Henry was arrested for his successful raid (as Spain and Britain were at peace that month) and had to stay in the Tower of London at his own expense for a couple of years before being pardoned, knighted and given the lieutenant-governorship of Jamaica.

The Panamanians have belatedly realised the cultural significance of the old city so its few ruins are now protected, one of the gold altars that Uncle Henry coveted but was painted black so he wouldn’t find it, is in the church in Bolivar Plaza nowadays. But apart from these bits and bobs there’s not much around.

And as for Uncle Henry? He died in 1688 from liver failure, caused by excessive drinking.  But he’d used his years in office to build a substantial fortune, owning 3 plantations, 122 black slaves, seven Indians, eleven white servants and amassing a personal wealth of around £5250. I’ll drink (his rum only of course) to that!

Photos here.

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