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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 15

A History of Martello Towers in the Defence of British North America, 1796-1871

by Ivan J. Saunders

The Era of Great Construction: 1796-1815

Over half of the Martello towers ultimately erected in British North America were constructed and armed in the short span of years between 1796 and 1815. This was also the period when they were most likely to have seen use in combat. This figure includes, as is appropriate, the first three Halifax towers, which were not strictly Martello towers. It also encompasses the two later Halifax Martello towers, the four on the Plains of Abraham in advance of the Quebec Citadel, and the one built on the heights on the west side of Saint John, New Brunswick. In addition to the multiplicity of towers actually commenced or completed at these points, many more were projected for other places in British North America in this period. when tower-building was seemingly contemplated as an expedient for repairing almost every rent in the armour of the defence of the British provinces.

Even at the conclusion of the long war with revolutionary and Napoleonic France, the age of massive British North American defence that culminated in the present citadels at Halifax and Quebec, the fort at Ile-aux-Noix, and the heavy casemated redoubt of Fort Henry, Kingston, remained for the future. In those years, however, there was a qualitative change in the character of British American fortifications. This trend led away from the temporary batteries, refurbished French works and musket-proof wooden blockhouses that had marked previous British attempts to ensure the loyal colonies against France and America.

Both the means and the necessity for rationalizing the defence of colonies thrusting a thousand miles into the interior awaited a more propitious moment, but the year 1794 constitutes a benchmark in British endeavours to lend an air of permanency to the defences of the more salient points of the British American colonies. This process was often obscured by the feverish temporary preparations to meet imminent attack that characterized the early years of war, and was only imperfectly articulated in the more measured responses of the later years. There is, in this period, however, a discernible preference for building in masonry where possible, and it was this penchant for permanence that provided most of the impetus for the widespread use of Martello towers.

At the onset of war in 1793, British North America was a relatively minor constituent of an essentially European conflict, and the height of the danger was the threat of a pillaging assault from the French navy on the Atlantic coast. By 1807, however, after the blunting of the weight of French sea-power at Trafalgar, the focus of danger had shifted decisively to reveal an aggressive and antagonistic imperialism established on the very frontiers of British North America. The hostile appearance of the new United States and the likelihood of American military aggression produced a fundamental alteration in the nature of the requisite British military response in America.

The ten British North American Martello towers initiated before 1815 were primarily the result of a desire for permanent works and the special problems posed by a prospective American war. Their final form, number and locales, however were also influenced by the availability of funds, geographical accident, and the personal predilections of governors, commanders and engineers.

The building process began at Halifax, where three round stone defensive towers were constructed between 1796 and 1799. These first towers, erected before the design or even the name "Martello" had been established in England, not surprisingly failed to conform in many particulars to the structural definition imposed by later British practice, although they were functionally similar to those in England They do, however, display enough features of a common ancestry to merit their inclusion in a general study of such towers. This decision is reinforced by an analysis of alterations contemplated or actually undertaken during the first 12 years of the towers' existence further to adapt them to the general mold.

Halifax, founded in 1749, had served as a counterpoise to Louisbourg and functioned as an offensive naval base and staging port until the collapse of the French empire in America after 1759. The beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 and the ensuing reversal of the functional orientation of Halifax left its strategic role unaltered. The resulting loss of the Thirteen Colonies in 1783 greatly enhanced its value since it was now the preeminent strategic base for the defence of Britain's truncated American empire, and it was launched on its long history of service to the British fleet which constituted the only permanently effective defence of British North America.

For a town and harbour of such enduring importance, Halifax was very imperfectly defended in the 18th century against the threat of hostile naval attack. With the collapse of the Indian danger after 1760, the undeveloped and virtually impenetrable country beyond the town freed Halifax from the threat of serious attack by land for decades, although the danger from the French and later the embryonic American navies remained unchanged. The first temporary Halifax sea defences were erected in 1750. Although they were much expanded, they had achieved no greater permanency when examined in detail in 1784, by Lieutenant Colonel Morse of the Royal Engineers. All of the major works were insubstantially composed of simple sods or fascines, haphazardly situated and constructed, and, in Morse's opinion, collectively incapable of preventing the passage of any enemy up the harbour.1

The ineffectual and decaying Halifax works observed by Morse continued to deteriorate through the decade of peace that followed. Halifax's defences were largely ignored until the outbreak of war with France in 1793. In the summer of that year, General Ogilvie, commander of the forces in Nova Scotia, attempted to bring the old field works into a defensible state and to expand the number of batteries.2 Ogilvie's tenure was brief and his improvements still incomplete when he was replaced by Edward, Duke of Kent, in 1794.

1 Plan of Halifax harbour and defences, 1875, showing works and armament. (Public Archives of Canada.) (click on image for a PDF version)

Edward, later the father of Queen Victoria and a wayward exile from the court of his father, George III, was serving out his banishment in military and other adventures in the colonies. Nonetheless, Edward was a competent officer in many ways, and his arrival signaled a new era in Halifax fortification. All previous Halifax works had been temporary constructions designed to meet immediate emergencies. Though he was bound by the same restrictive regulations as had hampered his predecessors, Edward's personal enthusiasm for elaborate and durable works and the influence of his rank allowed him to circumvent many of those restrictions and, in his six-year tenure in Nova Scotia, to bring the Halifax works to a level of permanency not achieved before, Edward's ill-advised impetuosity soon necessitated the alteration of a number of his efforts, but his penchant for building in masonry wherever possible permanently altered the nature of fortification in Halifax.

The first demand on Edward's attention was the completion of Ogilvie's work of putting the batteries in condition to meet an anticipated French naval attack. By the end of 1794 this task had been accomplished. It included upgrading the new Sandwich Point battery, commenced by Ogilvie in 1793 and later renamed York Redoubt; partly refurbishing the ruined Eastern Battery and Redoubt, later completed and renamed Fort Clarence: and completing three sea batteries on Point Pleasant, defending the harbour channel and the entrance to the Northwest Arm. In his résumé of completed improvements and proposed defences prepared in late 1794, Edward delineated all of the factors that were to preoccupy and condition the defenders of Halifax for the next seven decades. Among them, in addition to the major works he deemed necessary for Citadel Hill, Georges Island and command of the anchoring ground off Mauger's Beach, Edward noted the urgent necessity of defending the rear of the exposed sea batteries on the eastern shore, Sandwich Point, and Point Pleasant. These, he stated, would, with the presence of the fleet, afford adequate security to the harbour. Typically, Prince Edward, like his successors in the command of Halifax, failed to acknowledge the vital role of the navy in any defence. Without the navy the harbour remained virtually indefensible while with its presence the sea batteries were largely superfluous. This enervating view was not articulated and the new works proceeded apace.

By October 1796 Edward could report home that his projects for Citadel Hill and Georges Island were well in train. At the same time he announced that a two-storey blockhouse at the salient angle of the stockade of the Sandwich Point battery was completed, that the battery and redoubt on the Eastern Shore were finished except for a blockhouse he proposed to have erected there in 1797, and that the recently commenced stone tower in the rear of the Point Pleasant batteries was already two-thirds completed.3

Prince of Wales Tower

This last remark referred to the structure now known as the "Prince of Wales Martello tower." Although the completion of this work was delayed until 1799 by a lengthy financial controversy, this speedy beginning ensured the completion of a large two-storey masonry tower capable of carrying up to ten pieces of ordnance on its flat terreplein.4

While the European origins of the tower's design remain obscure, a little is known of its adaptation to the height behind the Point Pleasant batteries. Clearly it was not contemplated by Prince Edward in 1794, for at that time he specifically recommended defending the gorge of each of the batteries by means of log guardhouses and palisades in their immediate rear.5 By the spring of 1796, however, with the whole military establishment caught in a wave of fear of the imminent arrival of the French West Indies fleet off Halifax, Captain Straton, the Commanding Royal Engineer, strongly recommended, and Prince Edward quickly approved,

The erection of a stone tower to carry on the summit of it, four sixty-eight pound carronades and two long twenty-four pounders, in a situation not only most amply commanding the three Sea Batteries . . . but also calculated greatly to annoy an enemy that might attempt to land in the Northwest Arm.6

This tower, it was felt, would remove the danger that the three batteries which constituted the principal sea defences of the western side of the outer harbour might be eliminated by coup de main, by compelling any assault force to reduce the tower some 400 yards in their rear first. It would seem likely that this combined defence was little more expensive and far more satisfactory than protecting each of the batteries individually. A tower was chosen over the more conventional earthwork, on the pragmatic grounds of speed and cost7 because:

Earth being extremely scarce on the spot judged fit for such a work, and stone on the contrary being in great plenty, it was conceived that a stone tower would be constructed with as little trouble as an earthen work would have been.8

On technical grounds, the tower may also have been recommended because of the security from sudden surprise and escalade provided by its high scarp wall. This was much higher than could have been achieved in an earthwork at similar cost.

Construction of the two-thirds completed tower was halted in November 1796 on the orders of the Secretary of State, the Duke of Portland, who held that it was a permanent and not temporary fieldwork. Edward therefore, was in violation of the 1791 regulations permitting a local commander to undertake only temporary works in an emergency. The chief difference in the two categories was that permanent works had to be approved by Parliament under the authority of the separate Board of Ordnance, while fieldworks were funded from the military chest on the authority of the commander of the forces. The distinction, however, was often a nebulous one, and in this instance Edward's personal power moved Portland to intercede for ex post facto approval of the tower. Portland was successful in June of 1797 and work resumed thereafter.9 Most of the 1797 working season was lost because of this dispute over Edward's authority and the circumstances of his order for the tower. By the end of 1797, however, only the cutting and placing of the coping stone for the merlons of the tower remained undone. To that date the tower had cost only £1,137.15.9 although a further estimate of £1,293 was then submitted for its completion. Much of this sum was to be devoted to external fixtures such as a ditch, counterscarp, glacis and palisade round the tower, although £387 was earmarked for the merlons and a further £67 apportioned for internal partitions. Approval of this supplementary estimate was communicated late in the 1798 season, and much of the work remained for 1799.10 It would appear, however, that the tower was functional and defensible in 1797.

The finished Prince of Wales Tower was an imposing structure, and, as with many of the other Halifax works, Edward named it after a member of the royal family in 1798. The tower was a circular rubble masonry structure 72 ft. in exterior basal diameter and 26 ft. high from ground level to the top of the parapet. Its slightly inward-sloping wall was 8 ft. thick at the bottom and 6 ft. at the parapet. The two interior storeys were surmounted by a three-foot-thick timber roof, forming a terreplein 60 ft. in diameter behind a six-foot-high parapet. This roof was sustained at the centre by a hollow, circular, rubble masonry interior wall extending down to the foundation of the tower. This wall, concentric with the exterior face of the tower, created a central room 16 ft. in diameter on each of the levels in addition to the larger room, 16 ft. wide all round, formed between it and the exterior wall of the tower.11 The exterior wall was pierced with 35 loopholes on the ground floor as a means of musketry flank defence in addition to eight loopholes on the upper level, which was also provided with four embrasures for cannon. The parapet was pierced for 12 cannon embrasures; the more functional barbette terreplein ordnance system was not adopted in Halifax until some years later.12

The various early means of access to the tower remain a matter of some dispute. It appears certain from a remark of Prince Edward's, in which he referred to, "the bridge and Staircase to the top by which you ascend to the tower on the outside," that a spiral staircase was one of the first expedients. By 1812 a ground floor door had appeared. It could have been created at any time after the inception of the tower and if it were not one of the original features it may have well been opened at the same time as the magazine, which appears to have been constructed about 1805 and which was certainly present by 1810.13 The typical second-storey Martello tower entrance door evident today was only added as an afterthought in the 1860s and it appears the exterior staircase had been removed by 1812.

With the external staircase, interior access must have been provided by a hatchway in the terreplein, leading down by means of a ladder or stairs to the upper interior storey which was used as a barrack. Communication between the barrack room and the lower floor was provided by a narrow stairway winding down through a passage in the exterior wall of the tower near the site of the present ground-floor door. There may also at that time have been hatches for stairs cut through the wooden barrack floor. Lateral communication between the inner and outer rooms on each level was by means of doorways cut through the interior masonry wall.14

The permanent interior fittings of the tower were quite simple. On the lower level they consisted of two cisterns sunk below the level of the floor and, somewhat later, the small brick magazine partitioned off in the outer room. The ground level loopholes were also served by a wooden banquette around the wall. The basement floor was unheated while the barrack floor above was provided with two fireplaces recessed in the exterior wall and vented through it. Wooden partitioned officers' rooms and berths for 96 men were added on this floor on completion of the tower, but were soon removed to improve the air circulation within.15

On the completion of the Prince of Wales Tower in 1799 there were significant disparities evident between it and the common Martello tower type. The most notable were its great overall diameter, the uniquely large dimensions of its hollow central pillar and its lack of bombproofing. It also lacked the typical means of access of such towers and differed to the extent of having no magazine of its own. Neither were its lower floor loopholes or embrasured parapet features of the later structural definition of such towers. Over the succeeding 13 years alterations were undertaken to some of the more changeable of these deviations, bringing the Prince of Wales Tower into much closer conformity to the then well-established functional pattern of Martello towers.

The first of these changes came in 1805 with the addition of a badly needed expense magazine with a capacity of 80 barrels of powder, while the other changes remained for the major reconstruction approved by the Board of Ordnance on 27 July 1810. These instructions gave permission to throw a bombproof arch over the tower to protect it from plunging fire. This was intended at the same time to end the complaints, which had been a running feature of reports on the tower since 1803, that water was leaking through the faulty wooden roof and destroying the interior. This work was undertaken in 1811 and completed before the end of 1812; the old wooden terreplein was removed and a heavy brick arch erected in its stead. At the same time, the parapet embrasures were filled up so that in future the ordnance would be mounted en barbette. Following these alterations, terreplein access from the interior was by an aperture, capped by a wooden cupola, cut through the centre of the new arch. This was reached from below by a ladder or stairs leading from the central room on the barrack floor of the tower.16 All these changes did not make the Prince of Wales tower into a standard Martello tower, but they did provide it with many functional similarities.

The armament of the Prince of Wales Tower was not quickly and permanently established. It may have been armed before 1802, but by that time it mounted four 6-pounder guns on its barrack level and two 24-pounder guns and four 68-pounder carronades on its top platform. The heavy carronades were progressively removed between 1808 and 1810 and replaced by a 24-pounder carronade after the alterations of 1811-12. By 1813 it mounted four 6-pounder guns on garrison carriages on its barrack level, and two 24-pounder guns on traversing platforms and six 24-pounder carronades on traversing slides on top.17 The nature and quality of this ordnance then remained unaltered for 50 years.

By the time its armament was stabilized, the tower had been fitted with those military accoutrements that were to characterize its state of preparedness through the War of 1812 and into the early years of the era of peace that followed. It had been used as a supply house and provision depot for the Point Pleasant position as early as 1805, and it appears that the tower, which had an emergency capacity of 200 men, was shortly thereafter provided with a store of arms and provisions for their use. This amounted to 72 stands of arms, 12 pairs of pistols, and 30 boarding pikes. Thirty-six barrels of powder had once been stored in the tower magazine but had been injured by dampness, so by 1811 the powder was kept in the nearby Point Pleasant magazine. The onset of an American war, however, altered this arrangement once more, and 100 rounds for each piece were stored in the tower in addition to the 10,000 musket ball cartridges previously lodged there.18 With its other fittings, the tower was thus equipped to withstand an extended attack.

It appears that, despite the initial provision of barrack accommodation and the retention of its heating and cooking facilities, the Prince of Wales Tower was not regularly appropriated as a barrack. This was the case, despite the lack of alternative accommodation on the isolated point, as it proved too cold and damp for permanent use. In the event of an attack, the tower, like the other smaller works, was apparently to be manned by militiamen and by such regular gunners of the navy and Royal Artillery as might be available.19 The need never materialized and the tower remained a largely vacant sentinel to the alarms of war.

The design and early history of the Prince of Wales Tower were roughly paralleled in two other towers constructed at Halifax under the direction of Prince Edward. Both of them were undoubtedly inspired by the rapid progress and official popularity of the original tower. However, each possessed characteristic features that made it more than a poor imitation of the first Canadian tower. For the most part these traits carried them farther than ever from the English model, although modified versions of their most salient features were later to appear in other Canadian Martello towers.

Fort Clarence Tower

The first of these towers to merit consideration is the Duke of Clarence's Tower or Fort Clarence tower within the Fort Clarence Redoubt on the east side of Halifax Harbour opposite Georges Island. This position, known prior to 1798 as the Eastern Battery, was first occupied in 1754 when a battery of guns was placed there to co-operate with Georges Island in defending the 1,500-yard-wide eastern passage. This battery was commanded from rising ground a few hundred yards in its rear and subsequently an oblong earthen redoubt was erected behind it to assist in its defence.

By 1784 both battery and redoubt were in a ruinous state and they continued to deteriorate for another decade. Prince Edward renovated the position after 1794, and in 1796 pronounced it complete, except for the addition of a blockhouse in the interior of the redoubt which he proposed adding in 1797. This blockhouse was not added because Edward soon decided to substitute a round tower for it. The building materials for the tower were already gathered by April 1798, when Captain Straton, the Commanding Royal Engineer, announced his opposition to its construction. Straton urged that the whole work should be abandoned as it was defective in a manner not rectifiable by a tower keep as the redoubt itself was commanded from above. He suggested that the tower materials be moved and used to form a battery keep in a more secure location on McNab Island. Edward persisted, however, and the masonry of the tower was completed by October 1798, although the external stair had not been placed nor the parapet coping provided as late as 1803.20 Thus this tower was erected, seemingly on Edward's whim and against the advice of his engineer officer, in a location effectively commanded at 300-500 yards distance.

Despite its seemingly dubious military virtues, the tower's enduring role in an important harbour position render its structural and defensive features worthy of some consideration. The tower was 50 ft. in exterior basal diameter and 42 ft. high from foundation to parapet, with an exterior sandstone masonry wall uniformly 6 ft. thick. Because of the need to provide emergency accommodation for the whole garrison of the isolated Fort Clarence, it had three rather than the usual two storeys. The whole was capped by an unbombproofed terreplein composed of two feet of layered timber topped by 112 ft. of plaster of paris surrounded by an embrasured parapet. The terreplein and interior floors were supported by a thin-walled hollow central pillar concentric with the exterior wall, extending from top level to ground and forming a small central room some 6 ft. in diameter. This was suitable for communication or for hoisting ammunition to the top of the tower, and was probably employed for that purpose.

In spite of the tower's 42 ft. height, it would have appeared no taller than other towers from a distance because a full 8 ft. of this height were hidden by a seven-foot-wide ditch surrounding the tower. This ditch was spanned by two loopholed caponiers on opposite sides of the tower. They provided both a flanking fire at its base and a secure communication to the timber-roofed subterranean magazine and cookhouse that flanked the tower on either side beyond the ditch. The tower was not intended as a permanent barrack and the external fixtures above enumerated, along with an excellent well, must virtually have eliminated the need for internal barrack fittings. There are, however, later indications of a fireplace and of the internal partitioning of the lower level for emergency use.21 The wall of each of the three interior storeys was pierced by loopholes for musketry and each of the upper and lower barrack floors above the basement was provided with four embrasures for cannon. The parapet on top was pierced with eight embrasures for guns or carronades.22 The completed tower had only one intended means of access, an external iron staircase to the top.23 It is not known where on the terreplein the hatch leading inside was located, nor what means were used in internal communication. The Duke of Clarence's Tower was not as strong a work as that on Point Pleasant, but its position within the fort may have made such strength seem unnecessary.

The completed Fort Clarence tower conformed fairly closely to the Martello tower pattern in some ways, but there were disparities in height and in the nature of its internal pillar, its lack of bombproofing, lower floor loopholing, mode of access and embrasured parapet. Its most interesting feature was its caponiers. In possessing these it was unique among the British North American towers until a variation of this feature was adopted at Kingston 48 years later.

The tower underwent alterations in the 14 years following its nominal completion, although they were of less consequence than those undertaken at the Prince of Wales Tower. The long neglected external stairway was finally put in place, although in 1812 it was removed and replaced by a door at ground level leading into the second storey of the tower. This door was reached by a drawbridge across the ditch. In the same year a small brick magazine of 100-barrel capacity was constructed within the tower, as the subterranean one nearby was badly decayed. The unbombproofed terreplein had been a frequent cause of engineer complaints, but in 1812 it was replaced by another timber roof. This failure to improve the tower top's defensibility against high-angled fire may have resulted from the inability of the thin central pillar to sustain the weight of an arch. Another alteration carried forth at the same time was filling the parapet embrasures on the landward side and cutting the parapet down to 3 ft. toward the water, so as to retain the protection in the potentially threatened rear while converting it into a barbette work on its less exposed seaward face.24 These alterations were undertaken to bring the tower into closer conformity with its military environment, and they much improved its potential defensibility in the war that soon occurred.

The Duke of Clarence's Tower had been built to mount up to 16 pieces of ordnance in all. It was probably armed about 1805, but no tabulation of its mounted ordnance appears prior to March 1808. The tower was a battery keep rather than an offensive sea battery, and was always armed accordingly. It had carronades and howitzers in preference to guns of longer range. In 1808 it contained 12 pieces: four 32-pounders and four 24-pounder carronades on top and four antiquated 8-inch brass howitzers mounted within. By July 1810, two of the howitzers had been removed, and by 1812 all of them had been replaced by four 24-pounder carronades mounted on the barrack level on wooden carriages. In 1812 the top armament of the tower consisted of eight 24-pounder carronades on traversing slides mounted en barbette.25 This armament gave it a ferocious firepower at short range, but denied it a larger role.

All of the tower's defensive equipment was installed by 1812 and was never subsequently upgraded. The barrack floors of the tower were fitted for arms storage, and by 1808 contained 200 muskets, a proportion of pistols and pikes, and 20,000 musket cartridges for the use of the defenders. This equipment, with the addition of 100 rounds of powder and shot for each piece, remained in place for some years.26 The tower was not deemed fit for barrack accommodation, and by 1812 alternative quarters had been prepared for the small regular garrison of the work.

The tower was intended to be defended by up to 164 men, who were to be drawn from a company of volunteer artillery on the Dartmouth side, bolstered by a leaven of the Royal Artillery stationed in Halifax.27 This tower suffered from two great weaknesses: its location below and in front of the commanding height and its vulnerability to mortar fire. Despite its use as a battery keep in the manner recommended by Colonel Twiss and other influential engineer officers, it is perhaps fortunate that its defensive merits were never tested from the land.

York Redoubt Tower

Edward's other Halifax tower was also an innovative structure and is likewise difficult to classify as a Martello tower. This was the Duke of York's Tower in York Redoubt. This so-called "redoubt" was a sea battery located on a high bluff overlooking the outer harbour channel from its western side. Ogilvie had opened a battery there in 1793, and Edward further upgraded and stockaded the position between 1794 and 1796. By the latter year he had also added a wooden blockhouse to the salient angle of the palisade in the rear of the eight-gun battery and at that time he reported the position complete. He soon reconsidered, however, and by 1798 had removed the new blockhouse and replaced it with a round masonry tower of rough quarried stone. His rationale is uncertain, though the blockhouse may not have provided the desired security or carried the weight of ordnance deemed necessary in its isolated location. The whole redoubt remained a very weak one, mainly dependent for its security on the freedom from naval bombardment provided by its great height above sea level, and from an artillery assault in its rear by the rough and inaccessible nature of the land.

The finished two-storey tower was 40 ft. in exterior diameter at the base and 30 ft. high to the level of the terreplein. Its walls were uniformly about 4 ft. thick. The tower had a thin-walled hollow circular central pillar similar to that of the Fort Clarence tower that extended its entire height. The interior space thus created was likewise suitable for hoisting ammunition or for the placement of a communicating staircase.28

The flat terreplein of this tower was of wooden construction as favoured by Edward and Straton. It was, however, unique among Canadian towers in that its circular parapet was constructed of the same material. This expedient was dictated by the need for the rapid completion of the tower rather than by the conscious design of its builders.29 The first wooden superstructure appears to have been formed by simply laying the terreplein timber on top of the exterior masonry wall and extending it four feet beyond the edge all round. The four-foot-high musket-proof wooden epaulement was then attached around the extremity of the terreplein. A de facto machicolation gallery was thus created all round the tower, as a plunging fire could be brought to bear on the base of the tower from holes cut in the projecting portion of the terreplein. The parapet wall was loopholed for musketry and embrasured for cannon. This top defence was supplemented by embrasures, and probably by loopholes, on the barrack level immediately below.

Once again the nature and extent of the entrances to the tower are difficult to determine. It is known that entrance to the tower was later achieved by an outside staircase to the top, and, given the examples of the Prince of Wales and Clarence towers, this was probably the original means of access. This was later supplemented by a barrack-level entrance reached by a drawbridge over a ditch from the exterior of the work and by a ground-floor entrance door. The original means of internal communication is uncertain, although later the space within the central pillar was appropriated for this purpose. The first terreplein entrance hatch was probably also at this point.30

The Duke of York's Tower appears to have been provided with its own small bombproof brick magazine after 1811. Otherwise its main military features remained unaltered for several decades, as it missed the flurry of alteration just prior to the War of 1812. Despite Captain Fenwick's early allusions to the weakness of the wooden parapet and terreplein, Lieutenant MacLauchlan, his successor, who appears not to have been very competent, declined to renew them in masonry. MacLauchlan commented that the local building stone was so "weak, bad and expensive" that such an endeavour would not be worth the effort. Consequently the old roof was replaced by another one of wood in 1809, and nothing else of substance was altered until the 1860s.31

Probably the tower was armed before 1808, although its first ordnance return dates from that year. At that time it mounted two 6-pounder guns in the interior embrasures and two 12-pounder and two 24-pounder carronades at the embrasures on top. By 1810 the top ordnance had been altered to six 12-pounder carronades, at which level it was to be maintained. The heavy carronades were apparently removed without qualms, perhaps because several smaller pieces were more desirable in a position whose main danger arose from an infantry assault. This trend to more pieces of smaller calibre was general among the three towers. By 1812 it had also been provided with 111 muskets, pistols and pikes, and 10,000 ball cartridges.32 Afterwards its armament remained unchanged for 50 years.

This tower was in fairly constant use for barrack purposes. It was occupied as early as 1800, though it contained no adequate regular barrack facilities. Its small garrison fluctuated from a few privates and a non-commissioned officer to eight Royal Artillery gunners in the 1800-15 period.33 Their primary function was to raise the alarm and man the guns in case of attack, as the redoubt was the first harbour position to take up an approaching fleet. In the absence of an enemy, however, theirs was largely a caretaker role over the arms and facilities of the isolated position. They may also, from the outset, have performed the signalling function that was to keep the tower in use for many years. In a real emergency this small force was to be supplemented by up to 100 militiamen lodged in the tower.

It can be seen that the Duke of York's Tower was the most primitive of the three Edward had constructed in Halifax. In many ways it resembled the other two but its most salient feature was the accidentally created machicolation gallery, making it more reminiscent of a frontier blockhouse than a bomb-proofed masonry Martello tower. Despite its structural inadequacies, it was not badly adapted to the requirements of its almost inaccessible position, and when armed and prepared for war it was undoubtedly the strongest feature of the weak redoubt, not only at that time but until the 1860s.

Prince Edward left Halifax in 1800 soon after the completion of his three stone towers. Despite their common overall structural pattern it is evident that none was a Martello tower in a narrow sense, their divergent origins being displayed most particularly in their hollow pillars, mode of access and lack of bombproofing. All were adapted to rectify defects of design and meet anticipated future military needs in the years before the War of 1812. In the case of the Prince of Wales Tower, these changes brought it closer to a definition of a Martello tower, but all the work was undertaken more to bring the towers into conformity with purely local defensive needs than from a deliberate desire to turn them into regulation Martello towers. While the towers were apparently adequate for those needs after they were properly armed and equipped, they were on the whole an evolutionary dead-end not copied elsewhere in British North America.

While Edward's towers were not copied, their completion by no means exhausted the popularity of round stone towers in the Halifax area. In 1801, Captain William Fenwick, the Commanding Royal Engineer, who was generally a severe critic of Edward's works, proposed three massive masonry towers, two to defend the extremities of the Citadel Hill work and another to command the dead ground below the Georges Island star fort. These works were large and elaborate caponiered towers 78 feet high and 50 feet in diameter, and, at £9,600 each, so costly that the proposal was quickly dismissed.34

These and Edward's earlier proposals had been designed to meet the threat of French naval attack, but by the end of 1807 a new danger of hostilities with the United States had emerged. At that time MacLauchlan, the engineer, proposed a round tower to occupy a height to the north of Needham's Hill on the Halifax peninsula. The work was approved under the authority of the local commander of the forces, but the lateness of the season for masonry work forced the substitution of a musket-proof blockhouse. War preparations continued into the spring of 1808, and a number of Martello tower proposals were put forward, chiefly at the instigation of Captain Gustavus Nicolls who had replaced MacLauchlan as commanding Royal Engineer in Nova Scotia.

Captain Nicolls' proposals were prompted by the virtual indefensibility of the town, harbour and dockyard, and were seconded by Major General Martin Hunter and Sir George Prevost, successive commanders of the forces in Halifax. Nicolls adopted MacLauchlan's plan for erecting towers on the hills to the east of Halifax in the rear of Fort Clarence,35 and General Hunter said of this proposal:

It is the opinion of the Chief Engineer here, in which I perfectly agree with him, that on the Dartmouth side of the harbour of Halifax, where there is only one Martello Tower that three more could be placed to great use, indeed I think absolutely necessary for the protection of the Dock yard and Town.36

The general's comment constituted the first explicit Canadian recognition of Martello towers, for Edward's towers were not known by that name. It achieved little else since a shortage of building materials prevented construction of the Dartmouth towers.

Nicolls further proposed three more towers, mutually supporting and for 120 men and 4 pieces each, to shut off the entrance to the Halifax peninsula. Lastly, he recommended that a Martello tower be constructed within Fort Needham to command the adjacent ground. He defended his choices by saying:

I consider the construction of the towers . . . would constitute the cheapest, most permanent, and most effectual defence; at the same time requiring the smallest number of men.37

Captain Nicolls' scheme was still born with the declining likelihood of an Anglo-American war. Its most enduring virtue rests in the insight it provides on the colonial popularity and attractions of the new Martello towers. Nicolls was a competent and intelligent officer who later achieved high rank in his corps. He approved the towers primarily because they were cheap and could be completed in a single season, providing both emergency protection and fortifications of enduring value.38 They must also have seemed a god-send in a climate where hard frosts could destroy laboriously constructed earthworks in a single season.

Nicolls' proposal also indicates an early and basic adaptation in the use of such towers. He may not have been intimately aware of the British principles of locating these works, construction of which had only recently begun. He proposed shielding some of his towers behind ditch, glacis and counterscarp, but his plan violated the prevailing orthodoxy and the almost universal custom at home of not generally building the towers in inland locations where they would be exposed to fire from land-based artillery. It was the generally, and perhaps accurately, accepted view that they would be breached quickly in such circumstances.

Quebec Martello Towers

Gustavus Nicolls's tactical heresy at Halifax was of little immediate significance. At Quebec, however, it was at that moment being carried into effect for much the same reasons it had appealed to him and other officers in the Halifax command. The reasons behind the commencement of the Martello towers across the Plains of Abraham in 1808 rested in the whole lethargic history of its fortification since the British triumph in Canada in 1759. The towers were finally precipitated by the same Anglo-American crisis that had prompted the new proposals for the defence of Halifax.

The city of Quebec was the key to the control of the continental interior for both France and England, and both nations understood the basic principles of its defence. Quebec is located on a triangular point of land at the junction of the St. Lawrence and Saint-Charles rivers. The French exploited these natural river flanks and extended a line of works between them facing toward the plain in the rear of the town. The St. Lawrence scarp rose so steeply as to be unassailable within the line of works, but on the other side the land dropped off more gently toward the shallow Saint-Charles River which was fordable at low tide. Before 1759 this vulnerable flank was not defended by even a continuous wall around the town.

Despite the importance of Quebec and the danger of a renewed French war, the English were slow to improve its defences after 1763. Some work was carried out on the Cape Diamond promontory between 1779 and 1783 but because of the peace it was left unfinished. For many years nothing more was done, though as early as 1791 Gother Mann reported to Lord Dorchester the proper principles for its defence.

Mann proposed enclosing the entire two-mile circumference of the upper town to prevent a coup de main and reduce an enemy to one point of serious attack, across the Plains of Abraham. To defend this vital flank he wanted to carry a line of outworks to the Heights of Abraham, forcing an enemy to reduce them before he could open batteries against the main defensive line. Mann further proposed a citadel on Cape Diamond to serve as a keep for the whole. In Mann's opinion these three defensive lines, in conjunction with the short Canadian campaign season, would be sufficient to retain Quebec until it was relieved by the onset of winter or the arrival of reinforcements. No immediate action was taken and Mann left Quebec, only to be recalled from the army in Flanders in 1794 for the express purpose of carrying into immediate effect part of his design for its defence. Priorities changed again and almost nothing had been accomplished as late as 1804, though Mann reiterated his proposals in 1799 and 1804, each time stressing "the manner and expediency of occupying the Heights of Abraham . . . for the better defence of the City of Quebec."39

Mann listed the occupation of the heights as second in importance after the completion of the line wall around the upper town. Once it was finished any attack must necessarily be funnelled across the Plains of Abraham, from which the whole main defensive line was commanded from the Ursuline to the barrack bastions at 800 yards distance. From there an attacking force could open a regular siege and bombardment of the main works. The heights were a difficult defensive proposition because, as Mann explained.

although too near the Town to be left to the possession of an Enemy they are on the other hand too distant to allow of the works which might be constructed there, to be connected with those of the place. They must, therefore, be regarded as detached works.40

Mann therefore recommended four strong mutually flanking redoubts across the heights, scarped in masonry and provided with defensible masonry blockhouses as keeps. The redoubts were to be connected by fieldworks and supported in an emergency by an entrenched camp in their rear. He felt it unnecessary that these works have a great profile, and, as well, it would have been difficult to excavate deep ditches in the rock. He estimated the redoubts would cost £12,000 in all.

Mann had been closely concerned with the defence of Quebec from 1789 when he was a relatively junior officer, but by 1804 he was a major-general in the army and an influential colonel of engineers. His last proposal was taken up by the Committee of Engineers in England and sparked a controversy with its chairman, General Morse, the Inspector General of Fortifications. Morse refused to recommend the works of the plains because from the heights the town works could not be reduced, and "in the event of these advanced works being forced the troops would be liable to great loss in their retreat." Mann responded that if the heights were not defended they could be used to provide covering fire to move batteries within 450 yards of the main works, from which distance they could be breached.41 Mann's view was strongly sustained by the Earl of Chatham, the Master General of the Ordnance, who took up his case with the Earl of Camden, the Secretary for War, saying,

as I have no idea of any circumstances, under which the attack of Quebec could be likely to take place, that would not render this measure of peculiar advantage and utility, even independent of the assistance of these outworks to the Defence of the place.42

At the same time Chatham saw no urgency in constructing the outworks as the Plains of Abraham could be occupied quickly by guns and fieldworks in an emergency.

Fifteen years of endeavour on Gother Mann's part failed to achieve a commitment to permanent works for the Plains of Abraham. As long as the drawn-out French war remained an essentially European conflict, the proper defence of Quebec was a matter of no great urgency or consequence as any attack on it was contingent on the triumph of French sea power. By 1807, however, deteriorating Anglo-American relations and the imminent prospect of another American war placed a hostile power at the doorstep of Quebec. The British government feared that in the event of war American naval inferiority might produce a compensatory invasion of British North America. Any attack along the extended and indefensible frontier would necessarily be directed at Halifax or Quebec; a sudden successful attack on Quebec could deprive Great Britain of the whole continental interior and the means of re-entering it before succour could be sent from England. Consequently the new governor general of British North America, Lieutenant-General Sir James Craig, was instructed in August 1807, just prior to his departure from Britain, to improve the defences of Quebec and defend it to the utmost.43

2 Plan of the city of Quebec, 1845, showing the locations of the four Martello towers. (Public Archives of Canada.) (click on image for a PDF version)

Craig arrived at Quebec late in 1807, with instructions to build temporary works to prolong the siege in case of war or to improve the permanent works if there were no war. The Embargo Act passed by the American Congress on 22 December 1807 eased but did not eliminate the possibility of war.44 In the spring of 1808 Craig found an essential conflict in his instructions, as the measures demanded by each contigency were quite different, and he confessed himself unable to assess the likelihood of war; at the same time he felt it would be foolish to wait on a result. Craig was opposed to unnecessary and wasteful expenditures on temporary works, and so compromised by commencing those permanent works that would be of the most immediate use in supplementing the dangerously exposed existing fortifications.

In general, Craig accepted Gother Mann's assessment of Quebec's tactical needs. The order of priorities was: completing the wall around the town, covering and protecting the exposed town walls, strengthening the outworks in front of Cape Diamond and occupying the Heights of Abraham with advanced towers. Craig stressed that if all were not done the remainder would be useless and Quebec not defensible for four days. He acknowledged the necessity of a citadel on Cape Diamond to complete the defences, but deemed it beyond his time and resources.45

Craig's first three measures were not at all controversial; they were in accord with the accepted needs of Quebec and within the scope of his instructions. These same instructions, however, had specifically precluded his proceeding to a permanent occupation of the heights before referring his views to the home government for decision. In the event Craig, impressed by the vulnerability of the works from the plains, did not report any of his measures home until July 1808, when all were in progress.46

Using the general ambiguity of his instructions as an excuse, he stated that the absolute necessity of occupying the heights was too obvious for much deliberation.

But the mode most eligible under the circumstances of our situation of doing so, required every consideration that we could give to it. . . the occupying them at the least expense of men has been the principal object with us — and it is upon that principle as well as on the consideration of their requiring the least time in their construction, that we have determined on a range of Towers on the most commanding spots across the height, four of them will be sufficient but in order to furnish a more considerable line of fire than they would afford, we proposed a small work connected with that which has the most extensive command, — we are well aware of the objections that may be made against the mode, but we are not the less convinced that under all the circumstances of the situation, it has very far the advantage over every other that could be proposed and we shall endeavour in their construction to adapt the best means for meeting the circumstances on which those objections are founded. I have no doubt my Lord that Engineers whom your Lordship may consult will advance and enforce those objections, nor will the limits of a letter admit of my entering into that discussion upon the subject, that might be necessary to encounter their arguments; but I agree most perfectly with Lieut.-Colonel Bruyeres who commands the Department here, and a reference home on a subject, on which there would be such a diversity of opinions, would certainly have consumed that time in which they ought to be constructed.47

Thus the British government was informed that four Martello towers were already in process of erection at Quebec. A reference to Mann's experience would indicate that Craig was correct in his private view that a referral of the issue would "probably have been the occasion of its never being done."46 His action was accepted without demur and construction was permitted to proceed.

While Craig's contravention of his instructions ensured the building of the towers, his disinclination to discuss the issue leaves the origin of their choice in some obscurity. It seems likely that the decision to use Martello towers originated with Craig himself, rather than with Bruyeres, the Commanding Royal Engineer. This is particularly indicated by the fact that Craig was responsible for the commencement of two towers at the Cape of Good Hope in 1796 and was the commander of one of the affected English military districts when the English tower idea was conceived in 1803 and 1804. This assessment is corroborated in a letter from Bruyeres to his counterpart in Halifax in March 1808, asking for plans of the largest tower constructed there and for a description of the point on which it was located. This information was returned on 18 March 1808. In the event, the Quebec towers, three of which were completed by November 1810,49 owed a far greater structural debt to their counterparts in Great Britain than to the Prince of Wales Tower. The reference to Halifax was probably an attempt to justify the use of the towers in a land defence role.

The proposed towers were not named but simply numbered consecutively from the left, or St. Lawrence, flank. They were to be of one design but of two different sizes. Towers 1 and 4, at the extremities of the line overlooking the St. Lawrence and Saint-Charles rivers respectively, were intended to be one-gun towers 45 ft. in diameter and 30 ft. high; towers 2 and 3, spaced evenly along the centre of the line, were to be three-gun towers of the same height but 52 ft. in exterior diameter. The cost of the four was estimated at £8,000 in all, while a proposed redoubt in advance of tower 2 would have added another £5,000 to the cost of the line. This redoubt, with a masonry scarp, two bombproof caponiers to defend its ditch and bombproof casemates for troops and stores, was intended to bolster the tower line at its highest point. The line of towers was about 850 yards in front of the main works of Quebec and in advance of the suburbs of the town. They were placed at roughly equal distances in a 1,200-yard extension across the plains.50

While the four Martello towers were one of the salient points of Craig's and Bruyeres' plan of 1808, they by no means exhausted the anticipated utility of such structures at Quebec. The same plan called for a one-gun tower in advance of the old Cape Diamond outworks to command the beach and cliff of the Anse des Mines, at a cost of £1,800. A strong one-gun tower similar to those on the plains was to be built on the opposite side of the Saint-Charles to command the point of enfilade of the town works some 900 yards distant at £3,000, and a similar one-gun tower on Point Lévis on the opposite shore of the St. Lawrence, 1,500 yards away, to prevent a bombardment from that quarter. However, the short working season for masonry and the labour shortage induced by wartime prosperity combined to slow the works in 1808, so none of these three towers was ever built.51

The same factors mitigated against an early completion of the towers on the heights, though Craig accorded them a high priority. At the end of 1810 he had to report that, "with all the assiduity we could extend on them, however, we have only been able to finish three of the four proposed towers and lay the foundation of the remaining one." Work on tower 4 overlooking the Saint-Charles River continued in 1811 when the construction was carried to an advanced stage, though it was not completed in that year. The tower's advanced state and the threat and then outbreak of hostilities in 1812 ensured its completion early in that year,52 and all four towers were serviceable by the onset of war.

The Quebec towers were built under the authority of the commander of the forces in Lower Canada, and as such were funded from the military chest and not carried to Parliament as part of the Ordnance estimate. The towers were constructed as far as possible with military labour and under the direct supervision of the engineer department. This method of constructing the towers resulted in a confused tenure of the ground on which they stood, as the sites were simply appropriated by the military in the 1808 emergency. All of this land was owned by the Ursuline and Hotel Dieu convents which, until 1787, had kept it entirely open. In that year, against Gother Mann's advice, they were allowed to enclose and lease it. By 1808 most of the property was in the possession of long-term leaseholders who claimed losses as a result of the action of the military. These claims were not sustained, but the tenure of the land around the towers was only regularized piecemeal by purchase, between 1811 and 1822, at a cost of £6,624. Such purchases were necessary to ensure that the towers would not be closely enclosed by substantial fences and buildings that would restrict their fields of fire and hamper their military use. In 1808 part of the town works had already been blocked by houses53 and later the towers in their turn were to be masked as land prices inflated beyond the military capacity of purchase. At Quebec and throughout British North America generally to a lesser degree, the military fought a losing battle against relentless civilian encroachments on the accepted 600-yard clear fire arc in front of works.

In 1812, however, all of the towers on the Plains of Abraham were completed well in advance of the town and armed to resist the invader, though that capacity was never used and their military value never tested. The proposed redoubt around tower 2 was not completed due to the remoteness of the war, though materials were gathered for it and the ditch excavated in 1811. At least towers 1 and 2, and presumably all four towers, were surrounded by picket fences in addition to the ditch around tower 2. These fences would have been intended for domestic security rather than active military use. All of the towers were, apparently, later provided with ditches to reduce the dangers of escalade.54

The four towers were not built exactly according to the dimensions laid down by Bruyeres in 1808. Their external dimensions as completed were: tower 1, 44 ft. 6 in. diameter and 29 ft. 1 in. high to the parapet; tower 2, 56 ft. diameter, and 33 ft. to the parapet; tower 3, 56 ft. diameter, and 33 ft. to the parapet; tower 4, 42 ft. 6 in. in diameter, and 26 ft. 6 in. to the parapet. All sloped inward somewhat toward the top. Thus towers 2 and 3 were identical while towers 1 and 4 showed minor variations. This pattern was carried over into other aspects of the tower construction; the structural variations between the supposedly identical towers 1 and 4 being greater than between the other supposedly identical pair. All the variations were in detail, however, as all four towers were of an essentially similar pattern. All were of sandstone ashlar masonry exterior construction with a circular exterior form and circular interior compartments within their thick rubble walls. These compartments, comprising the basement and barrack floors of the towers, were not concentric within the exterior faces of the works, but were in the English fashion offset toward the eastern face. This added to the thickness of the walls on the western side toward the plains, the only possible avenue of attack. The approximate wall proportions were 6 ft. minimum and 11 ft. maximum.55

Again, in emulation of the English Martello towers, the only entrance to those at Quebec was by a single door opening into the barrack level of each tower. All of the doors were on the side nearest the town works. The lower floor of each tower appears to have been ventilated by baffled air holes.56

The interior compartment of each tower was surmounted by a bombproof annular arch. In the Quebec towers the pillars were solid masonry and extended uniformly from the foundation to the spring of the arch. Each of the brick arches was topped by several feet of masonry to the base of the platform on top, giving a total thickness of 5 ft. of bombproofing in towers 1 and 4 and 6 ft. in towers 2 and 3. Each of the towers was also equipped with a small bombproof magazine in the basement, with an approximate capacity of 75 barrels for the smaller towers and 150 barrels for the larger. The remainder of the basement floors was unpartitioned and reserved for storage purposes. The earliest available tower plans do not indicate the presence of water storage tanks beneath the wooden basement floors of the towers. They are, however, clearly indicated in later descriptions57 and this may well indicate a deficiency in the early plans.

The floor between the basement and barrack levels was of wood, and access to the basement was provided by a trapdoor and stairs through the floor. The basement floor itself appears to have been only about 7 ft. high, while the barrack level above was 8 ft. to the spring of the arch. Each of the barrack floors contained a fireplace venting through a chimney to the parapet,58 and each was at one time fitted up with a tier of double wooden berths (though these were later removed) between the embrasures of the interior of their western walls. In this manner the larger towers could provide regular accommodation for 20 men, though all were intended to house larger numbers in an emergency.

Each of the four towers was pierced by two embrasures for guns or carronades at the barrack level. In both the two larger towers (2 and 3) these faced north and south directly along the axis of the tower line, while in towers 1 and 4 the embrasures were angled slightly back toward the main works. Thus none of the embrasures in the interior of the towers was designed to fire directly out upon an enemy force advancing from the west, but each was limited to a lateral or reverse fire.59 The offensive fire role was reserved to the ordnance mounted en barbette on the top platform of the towers.

In each case access to the platform was by a stairway from the barrack level set into the thickest part of the exterior wall. The parapet of each tower was higher as well as thicker on its westward face, thus providing extra protection for the gunners on that side and rendering the platforms untenable if taken by an enemy intending to turn the ordnance against the main works. The terrepleins of the towers were not regular circles as they were in Edward's Halifax towers. At Quebec, in the English manner, the top of each tower was filled in so as just to accommodate the intended arc of the traversing platforms of the ordnance.

Towers 2 and 3 were intended for three guns and were shaped accordingly. During the War of 1812, however, tower 2 was adapted for two extra pieces of ordnance so it mounted five guns on its terreplein in addition to the two 9-pounder guns in embrasures on the barrack floor. These included one 68-pounder carronade in embrasure, two 9-pounder guns en barbette on traversing platforms and two 24-pounder guns similarily mounted. Tower 3 was armed in like fashion, except that it had no 9-pounders on top, though preparations were made for them. The two smaller towers (1 and 4) were much more lightly armed as they contained no interior ordnance and only one gun each on top. At tower 1, armed at the same time as towers 2 and 3, this ordnance was a 24-pounder gun. By December 1812 the newly completed tower 4 facing the Saint-Charles was armed with a single 18-pounder gun. On towers 1 and 4 the guns were mounted on traversing platforms en barbette and traversed a full circle from a central pivot.60 This ordnance remained unaltered until long after the conclusion of the War of 1812.

The only strikingly unusual terreplein feature of the Quebec Martello towers was at tower 4 where a surface gallery was formed within the parapet itself, extending nearly half the way around the tower in its east and north faces. This gallery, set back 2 ft. 6 in. from the exterior of the parapet, was 3 ft. 9 in. wide with a banquette step, and offered about 5 ft. of cover on its exterior side. It was apparently designed to accommodate infantry firing in the direction of the Saint-Charles River without hampering the working of the gun at the centre of the terreplein.61

The Quebec Martello towers, conceived and carried to completion on the personal initiative of the military governor of Lower Canada, were to be the most English of all those constructed in Canada. There were, however, minor structural discrepancies undertaken to adapt the towers to local circumstances which the English design was never intended to meet. Their positioning was analogous to that of the English towers in that they had only a single obvious avenue of approach: this approach, however, left them exposed to a severe battering fire from stable land-based guns. Although the towers were completed, armed and equipped for service by the beginning of the War of 1812, and apparently garrisoned against a surprise attack, Craig's wisdom in ordering their construction was never put to the test of battle.

Georges Island Tower

Although neither the main permanent sea or land defences of the eastern inhabited portion of British North America was tested between 1812 and 1815, Edward's Halifax and Craig's Quebec towers were joined by another Martello tower before hostilities were more than barely under way. This last work was the Georges Island tower located on the island of the same name in Halifax harbour. While Nicolls's 1808 proposal for Halifax and Craig's Quebec towers of the same year had been prompted by fears of an American overland assault, the new Halifax tower was inspired by the worry in both England and Nova Scotia that Halifax's aging and inefficient sea defences might fall to a small American naval force in the absence of the British fleet. In that eventuality, Britain would lose at once her principal naval base in the western North Atlantic and one of her two main springboards for offensive operations against the Atlantic coast of the United States.

While the Halifax sea defence batteries were never adequate in the era of smoothbore ordnance because of the great breadth of the harbour, Georges Island was the principal bulwark of those defences and was reorganized as such.

The island had first been fortified in 1750, only a year after the founding of the town. At the end of the American Revolution its batteries mounted 48 pieces of ordnance behind decaying earthworks. Shortly after his arrival in 1794, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, described it as "of all situations the best for the defence of the Harbour, as it makes a formidable cross-fire, with the Batteries, both on the adjacent and opposite shores." At that time he deemed it indefensible in its existing state and resolved on erecting there a "star fort" for 300 men with a blockhouse keep in the interior. This work was accorded a high priority and completed before his departure in 1800.

The fortifications were defective in every essential; there was a lot of dead ground on the island and the square wooden blockhouse provided insufficient accommodation for the intended garrison. It was these defects that gave rise to Captain Fenwick's first unsuccessful proposal to build a tower there in 1800.

In 1805 Fenwick renewed his suggestion for a strong tower to prevent the earthworks being carried by assault and the whole harbour defence jeopardized. It too was rejected. Nonetheless, the American war scare of 1807-08 emphasized the necessity for some alterations. Partial reconstruction was rejected as ineffectual, and on 4 March 1810 the Committee of Engineers in England, of which Colonel William Twiss was a member, authorized the total reformation of the earthwork and the erection of a stone tower in its centre to replace the blockhouse and substitute for the defective subterranean magazine. The armament of the new tower was intended to sweep both of the new island batteries and command the shoreline beyond. Although this plan was approved in April 1811, a labour shortage in Halifax delayed construction until the spring of 1812 when, with war in the offing. it was rushed forward. The walls were six feet high in July and it was completed and very probably armed before the end of the year.62

When completed, the circular tower was approximately 43 ft. in exterior diameter at the base, with a masonry exterior wall 7 ft. thick at bottom. By then it appears to have been a standardized two-storey stone tower surmounted by a terreplein and parapet. It had four cannon embrasures on the barrack floor besides being loopholed for musketry on both floors. Its bombproof arch and the masonry platform over the barrack floor were supported by a solid central brick or masonry pillar 5 ft. in diameter. The means used to enter the tower are not known, though it appears the main access was by a ground floor door on the Citadel side where the tower was presumed to be liable to covering fire from that shore if it was assaulted. Communication from ground to barrack levels was by a staircase in the wall. A brick magazine 15.3 ft. x 10.3 ft. x 5.3 ft. was built on the lower floor of the tower and pressed into immediate service to store the island's reserve ammunition. The remainder of the lower level was fitted up with a wooden banquette all round to serve the loopholes. The barrack floor above had two fireplaces for cooking and heating, and a wooden officers' room was later partitioned off on that level.63

In the war period each of the barrack floor embrasures was equipped with a 12-pounder carronade mounted on an oak slide. There were four 24-pounder carronades en barbette on traversing platforms. This armament appears to have been light for so important a work, but, in fact, would have been quite adequate for a tower sandwiched between two heavy sea batteries. Its principal task was to sweep the perimeter of an island only 800 feet by 500 feet.64 The above ordnance could have performed this chore at pointblank range.

Though the tower may have been garrisoned against a surprise attack during the War of 1812, its armament found no employment. Neither did it make any structural contribution to the evolution of Martello towers, being, from all reports, a most orthodox structure. Its presence on Georges Island, however, was a classic application of the Martello tower. It combined Twiss's recommended use of them as battery keeps with the English requisite that they be exposed, if possible, only to gunfire from naval vessels. The impossibility of opening land batteries against it at a moderate range and the capacity of the island's batteries to keep ships at a distance must have made it in 1812-15 the most secure Martello tower in the British empire.

Carleton Martello Tower

The safety of the Georges Island tower was in marked contrast to that of another Martello tower erected in British North America about the same time. The Carleton tower was constructed on an isolated height of land on the west side of the harbour of Saint John, New Brunswick, between 1813 and 1815. It also was built largely on the British pattern, and circumstances were to combine to make it among the least useful of all those constructed in British North America.

The Carleton Martello tower had its origins in a survey of the New Brunswick defences executed by Captain Gustavus Nicolls, who was still Commanding Royal Engineer at Halifax in October and November 1812. At that time Halifax and most of Nova Scotia were considered immune to overland attack, barring major and unexpected reversals at sea. New Brunswick, however, was not so fortunately situated as it shared an extensive, sparsely populated and largely indefensible land frontier with the United States. Nicolls despaired of holding the interior in the face of an American overland expedition, and commended its defence to the militia and to such fieldworks as they could erect.

The city of Saint John, as the province's main entrepôt, commercial centre and chief repository of naval and military stores, fell into quite another category. Nicolls felt its hastily prepared harbour batteries were capable of defending it against such desultory raids as the Americans were likely to mount against it by sea, as it was of small overall strategic importance. Nevertheless the threat was still present, for while geography nearly precluded assault by an American military force landed by sea to the east, it was subject to a land attack from the west either from troops landed on the nearby coast or coming overland via the St. Andrews road. Thus any military expedition against Saint John would bring an enemy to the same point, the town of Carleton on the western shore of the harbour opposite Saint John. From this point the city could be safely bombarded.

3 Plan of Saint John, N.B., 1814, showing carleton tower and other defence works. (Public Archives of Canada.)

Consequently the heights in the rear of the town constituted a position of some considerable military significance. The position was also potentially strong, flanked on the right by the Saint John River and on the left by the Bay of Fundy. In November 1812 Nicolls proposed defending it with a chain of four redoubts, adding, "I . . . think the importance of the situation merits a Stone Tower in addition." Although this proposal was generally approved by the War Office, the exigencies of war precluded its completion, and in the end only the Martello tower was built. By the summer of 1815 it and the Drumoend blockhouse, erected on a height 200 yards to the south in 1812, formed the only defence for the western land approaches to the city.65

A plan for the Carleton tower had been drawn in Halifax by March 1813 and, given the prevailing military emergency, it seems safe to assume that construction began early in the working season of that year. It was undertaken as a field work under the authority of Sir John Sherbrooke, the commander of the forces in Nova Scotia. Though the New Brunswick assembly voted funds for some of the wartime Saint John fortifications, the tower was erected entirely at the expense of the British treasury.66

The tower was still incomplete at the end of 1814. Delays had been occasioned by a shortage of materials and probably also by a shortage of workmen, owing to a wartime boom economy. Some military labour was employed, but it was still necessary to hire skilled workmen at exorbitant rates of pay. In the winter of 1814-15 the gathering of materials continued under the direction of Captain Walker, who had replaced MacLauchlan as superintendent of the tower, and it was apparently completed about mid-1815.67

This structure was a typical Martello tower, 50 ft. in exterior diameter and 30 ft. high with a tapering rubble masonry exterior wall 6 ft. thick all round at the parapet. The 2 ft. 8 in. thick bombproof brick arch above the upper, or barrack, floor of the two-storey tower was supported at the centre by a masonry pillar with a small chute in the centre suitable for the passage of ammunition. The pillar was squared in the basement but rounded and 5 ft. in diameter above, extending from the foundation to the spring of the arch. The tower was filled with rubble between the top of the arch and the level of the masonry terreplein. The latter was surrounded by a five-foot parapet en barbette. The tower had two embrasures on the barrack level and was loopholed for musketry in the basement wall. The only entrance to the completed tower was through a door on the upper level. The barrack floor was of wood, and the basement, reached by stairs and a hatchway through the wooden floor, contained a bombproof arched brick magazine and a peripheral wooden banquette step for the service of the loopholes. The barrack level had a fireplace recessed in the exterior wall for heating and cooking. Access to the top of the tower was by a narrow winding staircase cut into the exterior wall, which was thickened at that point to accommodate the passage without loss of strength.68

The Carleton tower was originally intended to mount two 24-pounder guns on traversing platforms and two 24-pounder carronades on traversing slides on top, but the end of the war obviated the necessity for its armament. Some locally available ordnance may have been supplied after the war, but it was almost certainly not mounted.69 The original specification for heavy gun ordnance is indicative of the magnitude of the tower's intended role; on one flank, for instance, it was intended to cover the sloping ground all the way to the Fundy shore, 1,200 yards distant.

While this tower is architecturally representative of the concentric circular construction and hollow central pillar seemingly much favoured in Halifax, its contemporary military virtues were much more circumscribed. In the light of Nicolls's 1808 Halifax proposals, it is easy to understand his 1812 recommendation for a stone tower on Carleton Heights, particularly as he conceived it as an adjunct to a heavy fortified line. It is much more difficult to discover the military rationale for its solitary construction there, as it was completely exposed and highly vulnerable to a land-based artillery bombardment.

The reasons, perhaps, can be discerned more readily in the political needs of the governmental establishment to give the appearance of military interest and industry to a populace that had a hostile power established on its own immediate frontier. While the fate of Saint John, and in fact the province of New Brunswick as a whole, was of small intrinsic consequence in the military councils at Halifax, the province was the principal military bulwark of Nova Scotia, and its utility in delaying an attacker depended largely on the loyalty and enthusiasm of its populace. It appears to have been felt in Halifax that both this support and some cursory measure of military protection for Saint John could be purchased at moderate cost in the form of the ostentatious Carleton Martello tower. In the circumstances it was fortunate to have been brought to completion after the end of the war.

Sherbrooke Tower

Another, less fortunate, contemporary was the Sherbrooke Martello tower in Halifax where, in 1816, work on the half-built tower was halted by the general prohibition on further construction of fieldworks that followed in the wake of peace in Europe.70 Sherbrooke Tower was the last Martello tower constructed in the Maritime provinces. It was begun in 1814, largely on the whim of Lieutenant General Sir John Sherbrooke, lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia and the commander of the forces in the Maritimes. In 1812 Sherbrooke proposed that a tower be located on the seaward extremity of Maugher Beach, a low-lying wind-and water-swept shingle on McNab Island opposite York Redoubt. He felt it would contribute materially to the Halifax defences. "In taking up shipping before the Battery at York Redoubt and bringing a fire on those parts of [the harbour] entrance under the high cliff on the Eastern Shore, not seen into by the guns from that Battery," although it was later determined that smoothbore guns so mounted had never been adequate to span this 1,764-yard-wide channel. In 1813, Gustavus Nicolls, who was instructed to prepare a supplementary estimate for the tower, did not much approve of it, and consequently couched his recommendation in such terms as to ensure Board of Ordnance rejection for 1813 at least. Sherbrooke persevered, however, and construction began in 1814.71

Work on the tower proceeded very slowly due to faulty estimates, the inaccessibility of the site and the difficulty of procuring and transporting materials. There was no suitable stone on McNab Island and the tower was built of granite quarried on the Northwest Arm. Only the foundation (masonry on a base of hemlock logs) was completed in 1814. In 1815 little was accomplished, as Lieutenant Colonel Wright, the new commanding Royal Engineer, insisted on suggesting revisions of the approved plan and waiting on a reply. His suggestions, involving the use of counterarches to strengthen the foundation of the tower and the building of the whole work in close-pointed ashlar (rather than rubble) masonry, were eventually to be incorporated into the finished structure. At 1815 prices his additions added another £1,998 to the already expensive tower. In 1816, difficulties of transporting the granite to the site and the failure of the specified Harwich cement to arrive from England resulted in the wall of the tower having only been carried up 8 ft. when the stop-work order arrived from England. This partial wall was subsequently covered over to await the revival of the project which did not come until 1827.72

Both Nicolls and Wright visualized an essentially similar structure. It was to be a two-storey bombproof Martello tower fitted on top for four heavy guns en barbette. This was the basic design carried out in 1828 on the same foundation. When finished it was a circular tower 50 ft. in external diameter and about 30 ft. high with a wall 7 ft. 6 in. thick at the base, diminishing to 5 ft. 4 in. at the parapet. A solid circular central pillar supported a 2 ft. 6 in. bombproof arch above the barrack floor.73

When the Sherbrooke tower was finally completed, more than a decade after its inception, it was immediately pressed into primary service as a lighthouse, and one cannot but feel that it was of greatest use in that capacity. Functionally it was never capable of performing the duties of a small self-defensible sea battery as envisioned by Sir John Sherbrooke. Even with a maximum armament the weight and range of its fire would not have halted or severely hindered the passage of a vessel up the main channel, which was a mile wide at that point, although it would have been difficult for an enemy naval force to have eliminated the work itself. Its only salutory effect would have been to deny an enemy naval force use of the sheltered anchorage nearby, and at that it would hardly have seemed to repay the cost of construction and maintenance.

A detailed examination of the inception, construction, and function of the early British North American Martello towers does not yield a satisfactory universal principle of their design and tactical employment. It is immediately obvious that none of the Duke of Kent's Halifax towers originally fitted the architectural definition of a Martello tower as it came to be understood, and that only one of them, the Prince of Wales Tower, was subsequently sufficiently altered by bombproofing to bring it within reach of the narrow functional definition of such structures. The other seven towers built after 1808 were erected within quite narrow structural parameters. All were two-storey self-defensible, bombproof, arched, masonry gun platforms, embrasured on the barrack level and mounting ordnance en barbette on the terreplein above. All approximated the general dimensions of a 50 ft. basal diameter, 30 ft. high scarp wall, and 7 ft. thick wall. Six of the seven incorporated a solitary elevated entrance opening onto the second floor. Although there were numerous minor structural divergences from tower to tower and between those in the Maritime provinces and those at Quebec, many, it seems, were simply products of chance or the adaptation of a particular tower to peculiar local circumstances. The remainder may be accounted for by the personal predilections of the two Royal Engineer officers involved in the planning or construction of all of them, Bruyeres at Quebec and Gustavus Nicolls in the Maritimes.

This last factor would seem to explain the adherence, at Halifax and Saint John, to a pattern of towers with an exterior face concentric with its interior compartment and a fully circular terreplein; while the Quebec towers had, in emulation of their British counterparts, been constructed with an interior compartment offset within the outer wall and the terreplein shaped to the traverse of the ordnance.

While there is an architectural discontinuity between Edward's and the post-1808 towers built in the English pattern, all ten Canadian towers find a negative unity in the discordant strands that governed their tactical employment, in almost universal violation of their accepted uses in England. Eight of the ten early British American towers were constructed in positions where they could be subjected to some measure of relatively accurate land-based artillery fire. In every instance the towers seem to have been taken up as a cheap and expedient means of resolving some local defence problem without regard for their weaknesses or the broader principles of their employment. As it is improbable that the engineer officers, or at least their masters on the Board of Ordnance, were unaware of the effects of gunfire on the walls or mortar fire on the exposed terrepleins and gun mountings of such masonry structures, it is necessary to seek elsewhere for reasons for their widespread use in exposed positions.

It would appear, on analysis, that Martello towers were so readily embraced because, in almost every instance of their use, they were more economical of men and money, more durable, and more immediately impressive and useful than their alternatives, rather than from any necessary intrinsic military value they might have. Martello towers were the logical military successors of wooden blockhouses in the dawning age of heavier and better guns and superior powder. In terms of good earthen redoubts, the logical alternative means of fortifying the positions they defended, their military superiority from surprise and escalade, cannot be ignored, but on the whole it was non-military factors that governed the choice of towers in most instances. The influences of fads and politics, together with superficial military attractiveness and a desire for permanent works within the British service, all contributed to their erection without a particular regard for or understanding of their military capacities and limitations.

Between 1796 and 1815, Martello towers were the only economical means of widespread permanent fortifications available to English engineers. In the evolution of British North American patterns of fortification they can be seen to mark a transitional phase between the wooden blockhouses and sodded earthworks of the 18th century and the heavily casemated, massive and expensive masonry fortresses and redoubts of the 19th century. Martello towers fairly quickly outlived whatever military utility they might have had, although the tremendous costs of alternative means of defence led to their continued acceptance for many years. The years before the War of 1812, however, marked the high point of the popularity and usefulness of Martello towers, and witnessed the progressive standardization of a design of light permanent work that in 1796 had been only a vaguely understood expedient in the colonial outport of Halifax.

While one may speculate about the reasons surrounding the widespread choice of Martello towers as a type of fortification, the needs prompting the choice are quite simple. Prince Edward's towers were a direct response to a French naval threat in the western North Atlantic, while all of the others, both proposed and actually built, came about as a direct result of the war-like stance of the United States in 1807 and thereafter. The more immediate and severe nature of the American danger placed a premium on permanent works that could be quickly defended against a surprise attack by the full weight of the American armed forces. The danger from the French had never extended beyond a naval squadron cruising the British North American coastline in summer. The Americans, however, inferior at sea and with a single landward direction for their aggression, provided British North America with a much more serious, enduring and undivided impediment to its continued separate existence. This basic threat was magnified by the long common frontier and the assumed capacity, real or imagined, of the American backwoods armies to move quickly and in all seasons of the year in a manner that a European force could not emulate. The ephemeral French threat and the growing American danger had together produced a number of Martello towers by 1815. The continuing American threat was to condition their adaptation and maintenance, the proposal of many and the construction of a few others, before the permanent fortification of the interior of British North America was effectively abandoned 33 years later.

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