Portsmouth, Dominica

Portsmouth, Dominica – The Caribbean’s Most Short-Lived Capital City

From the sky, it’s easy to see just how ideal a capital city Portsmouth, Dominica could have been. There’s the broad, deep harbor set along the calm Caribbean Sea. Fort Shirley, set atop the majestic Cabrits just north of downtown, offered protection during the island’s turbulent past. Not as easily seen from above, though no less important, Portsmouth also rests on the Indian River. Dominica’s widest inland waterway, the Indian River has long proved a vital source of freshwater for settlers here.

Indeed, Portsmouth had all the makings of the perfect capital for Dominica during its formative colonial days. The British certainly agreed when they gained control of the island from the French in the mid-1700s. Plans were set in motion for Portsmouth to supplant Roseau as Dominica’s principal settlement in 1760.

Less than a year into the transition, though, Portsmouth’s capital status was stripped away.

The reason: malaria.

Portsmouth suffered a particularly devastating outbreak of the disease in Portsmouth in 1760. This convinced the British to keep Dominica’s capital further south. 

Today, Portsmouth retains its second city status relative to Roseau. At least in terms of size. The northern city’s many current tourism development projects, though, will likely keep it top-of-mind among travelers to Dominica in the years to come.


*Photo credit: Patrick Bennett Photography.



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