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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

Stasis and Neglect: 1815-45

The history of Martello towers in British North America during the 30-year peace between 1815 and the Anglo-American Oregon crisis of 1845 is marked by two main themes: numerous proposals to build more towers and neglect of the existing ones. Although throughout this whole period none was commenced and only the Sherbrooke tower at Halifax was completed, their frequent proposal is illustrative of the quandary of the Colonial Office and British military strategists. The British found themselves firmly committed to the defence of a vast developing inland area where the range and expense of necessary fortifications was magnified by every survey of the subject. They lacked the financial means and, perhaps, any real desire to make thorough preparations for war in an era of peace. In these circumstances they fell back on the expedient of preparing many fortification proposals, building few works, and for the most part trusting the defence of the British American colonies to naval supremacy, successful diplomacy, and such scattered existing works as had survived the earlier age of war. Martello towers, because of their durability, were a major constituent of that defensive pragmatism.

Although some of the existing towers were of questionable military value and none had been put to the test of action before 1815, the British government found it possible to maintain them in active service during the three decades that followed because of the almost total stasis in the development of ordnance and other offensive military technology throughout that period. All eight of the towers completed by 1812 had been armed and prepared for action, and a number of them had been garrisoned for the duration of the War of 1812. None of the towers was deliberately disarmed with the coming of peace, but neither was the Carleton Tower prepared for war. In every instance a process of uncorrected deterioration and decay set in immediately on the towers. This process was destructive of buildings, everywhere subject to heavy frosts, and, in seaside locations, to the devastating effects of salt air. The ongoing process of decay of the towers was almost everywhere assisted by their on suitability as military barracks. Basically, they were too cold and damp, and in some cases too remote, to be turned into adequate permanent quarters. The consequent general lack of winter heat accelerated the deterioration of the masonry while dampness rotted the wooden fittings.

These natural processes were speeded up by the lethargy and time-consuming administrative procedures that characterized the Ordnance Department, which was exclusively charged with their overall maintenance and carrying out even the most minor repairs on them. With the coming of peace the abundant source of contingency funds, formerly available through the military chest and at the disposal of the commander of the forces, dried up. Thereafter, every repair item, even those as minor as replacing window sashes and fixing door locks, had to be submitted to England for approval of the Board of Ordnance and inclusion in the Ordnance annual estimate for the following year. While this may have been a sound and perhaps inevitable accounting procedure, it was conducive to great delay and often, in that period of fiscal parsimony, outright rejection year after year. Small tower repairs, such as broken windows and shutters, were often not authorized until several years' entry of moisture had badly rotted the interior woodwork. The whole maintenance process was sometimes complicated further by the fact that several military agencies shared partial responsibility for parts of the tower. The engineers were charged with the task of overall repair of the towers but the Royal Artillery, the other Board of Ordnance entity, was responsible for the care of the ordnance and mountings and for the magazine, if it contained powder. At the same time the Quartermaster General's department, a part of the regular military establishment reporting to the War Office, controlled the empty magazines and other storage facilities. On the other hand the Barrack Department, another Horse Guards' subsection, was in charge of the barrack levels of the towers. The important chore of airing the towers in fine weather to prevent mildew and rot appears to have been a much disputed and badly performed joint responsibility of the Quartermaster and Barrack departments. All of these separate and badly coordinated bodies were under some measure of authority from the local military commander.1 The consequence of this ponderous military machinery was that the Martello towers, although they required little repair and maintenance, received even less.

By about 1821 most of the gun powder and warlike stores had been removed from the towers because of their lack of security and the dampness of their poorly ventilated magazines. By that date, also, the terreplein ordnance of the towers began to be dismounted and the platforms and carriages stored within to preserve them from the worst effects of the elements. Despite a local general order at Halifax in the late 1820s to keep all the defences armed for immediate action, this process continued until, by 1834, there was hardly a piece of mounted ordnance on any of the towers in British North America. In 1821 only the two 24-pounder guns remained mounted on the Prince of Wales Tower; at Georges Island the tower retained only its four 24-pounder carronades on top. The lack of a coordinated policy is illustrated by the fact that the Carleton tower remained unarmed after 1815 while guns were mounted on the Sherbrooke tower on its completion in 1828. At Quebec the only pieces in place were the two 9-pounder guns within each of towers 2 and 3. This however, was not as serious a disadvantage as it might seem, as most of the guns and carronades could be remounted in very short order, although few towers were prepared to resist a surprise attack.2

The deleterious effects of moisture on the artillery equipment and the terreplein and parapet masonry of the towers, and of seepage within, were diminished by the provision of conical snow roofs for all of the towers after 1823. These roofs, supported by the tower either at its centre or periphery, were generally so contrived as to permit some limited firing of the guns while they were in place. They were, however, intended to be removed in any serious crisis. The roofs of the Maritime towers appear to have been cedar shingled while those on the Quebec towers were later covered with sheet iron as fireproofing. The first use of a shingled roof was on the partially completed Sherbrooke tower in 1818. This covering was perpetuated after its completion in 1827 by the wood-roofed light room then erected upon it. A regular snow roof was ordered for the Carleton tower in 1822 and for the Prince of Wales tower by 1824 The Georges Island, Fort Clarence and Quebec towers were covered about the same time. Only the York Redoubt tower was not provided with a regulation snow roof: it did not require one, as its overhanging wooden terreplein served to some extent to keep moisture off it. This de facto roof, last replaced in 1809, was renewed about 1824 after frequent complaints of its leaking.3

The York Redoubt and Sherbrooke towers were probably the best maintained of all these early works. In the latter case this was due to its regular occupancy by a lightkeeper after its completion, and in the former, because it provided regular quarters for the men of the military signal establishment operated from York Redoubt. This tower was a link in the chain of signal stations down the harbour from Camperdown to Citadel Hill.4 The most the others could hope for was the irregular services of a caretaker.

While the masonry exterior walls of the towers were very enduring and appear, in most cases, to have been repointed often enough to prevent serious damage being done, a great problem had developed with the Quebec towers as early as 1823. Their walls had been constructed with ashlar masonry exterior facings over rubble or brickwork. By that date the facings, which had been constructed without regular headers and stretchers properly bedded, were so bulged in places that they appeared ready to fall down. This problem was not immediately corrected and in 1826 it was reported that the towers

were built originally without a sufficient slope or batter, and the rain having penetrated thro' the surface of the parapet, the severe frosts and subsequent thaws of this climate have caused a good deal of the outer stone work to peel off.5

This problem was subsequently corrected although at least one of the Halifax towers was later allowed to deteriorate to a similar extent.6

All of the completed towers appear to have run a slowly deteriorating course until the new military crisis of 1845-46. At that time the Ordnance reassessed their military condition and some of their guns and carronades appear to have been remounted in anticipation of active service. The Oregon crisis dissipated altogether too quickly, however, to allow an excuse for their general repair, and by the late 1840s most of them were still in an unimproved and unserviceable state, with decayed gun carriages and floors and rotten door and window fittings that exposed the interior to the elements.7 Although the towers remained active components of the British defensive system after 1845, most of them were never refurbished or adapted to meet the new conditions of warfare then emerging, and were accorded only such routine maintenance as was necessary to maintain them while their ultimate fate was decided by the War Office. It is difficult to assess the level of unwarranted neglect of the towers in this period. To some extent their original popularity had depended on their capacity to be shut up and abandoned to await the next war. Most of them were certainly badly maintained by a government preoccupied with massive fortifications but none ever appears to have been completely unusable in an emergency.

While the existing Martello towers were perhaps being maintained in a more slipshod manner than was intended even by the men who built them, proposals for many others were being brought forward to meet the defensive needs of the British North American provinces. This process began immediately after the coming of peace in 1815 and was perpetuated in the Smyth report of 1825 and the subsequent committees, commissions and surveys that sought some manageable means of solving the dilemma of British North American defence.

The first post-war Martello tower proposal came, not entirely surprisingly, from Sir John Sherbrooke. Sherbrooke had been a devotee of towers while in Halifax and by 1816 had been moved on to Canada to become governor general. In July of that year he ordered a report on Canadian fortifications. This document, forwarded to England in December, recommended the construction of a number of towers at Kingston to be used as battery keeps and outworks to the existing Fort Henry. Sherbrooke's report was not implemented, but some of its themes were taken up in 1818 by the Duke of Richmond, the Secretary for War, and influenced the views of the Duke of Wellington, the newly appointed Master General of Ordnance. Wellington in turn exerted a vital formative influence on the deliberations of the Smyth Commission of 1825.8 This commission and the succeeding committees of engineers which met over the next few years to refine the Smyth report and determine the order of its implementation, together constitute the most important departure in British North American strategic and fortification thought in the first half of the 19th century.

The Smyth report and its proposed extended use of Martello towers was antedated by a number of ad hoc local defensive proposals and works, which were one of the contributory factors to the report being commissioned. Among them were: the long mooted Quebec Citadel, which was begun about 1820 to secure access to the Canadas: Fort Lennox on the Richelieu, taken under consideration about the same time: the search for a secure alternate water route from Montreal to the Great Lakes; and, in the Maritimes, an 1824 proposal by James Arnold, the commanding Royal Engineer, to construct a number of towers to defend the naval dockyard at Halifax. The anticipated cost of such works helped precipitate Sir James Carmichael Smyth's review of the overall defensive needs of the colonies. Arnold's proposal serves as an example of the pressure for new defences operating upon the British government. The cost of Arnold's proposal was not stated but it must have been substantial. It was essentially an amalgam of those earlier proposed by Fenwick, MacLauchlan and Nicolls. Its key was the provision of two towers for Citadel Hill, two towers for Needham's Hill and a line of towers across the peninsula.

It also took cognizance of the earlier suggestions for a range of towers on the Dartmouth side, although in view of General Mann's dictum for economy and his predilection for confining permanent works to the defence of the harbour, dockyard and town of Halifax, he did not press the issue. Finally he urged the completion of the tower on Mauger Beach.9 All of his suggestions except the last were stillborn in the wake of the 1825 reassessment of British North American defence.

Awakened to the prospect of some future military disaster and prompted by the necessity of piecemeal and heavy future expenditures on an antiquated defensive system largely neglected for a decade, the Duke of Wellington, Master General of the Board of Ordnance, ordered a thorough examination of existing and necessary defences of the British North American provinces early in 1825. A commission of three under the chairmanship of Major General Sir James Carmichael Smyth, R. E., toured the provinces and made its report later that year. The commission found most of the old works in ruins and determined that, although the Canadas shared a 900-mile military frontier with the United States, the Americans had only three worthwhile avenues of approach. These were by the Richelieu route against Montreal and Quebec, across Lake Ontario to Kingston, and against the Niagara frontier. Rather than reconstruct most of the old scattered decayed works to meet an attack along these avenues, the commission proposed an essential consolidation of the garrisons within a few strongly fortified points strategically located to check an American advance along the likely avenues of assault. In conjunction with this strategy they proposed to leave much of the intervening area to the command of a disposable field force. While the commission found it could not recommend elimination of all the minor points, it proposed defending them mainly with towers of one sort or other. This whole defensive system was to be sustained by good water communications withdrawn as far as possible from the American frontier.

The strategy proposed by the commission was quite simple. It surmised that, because of the opening up of the surrounding country, Fort Lennox on the Richelieu could be by-passed. The members believed, however, that with the defence of St. John's and Chambly, it would make the Richelieu an untenable avenue of approach to Quebec, the final object of any assault. Assuming that an enemy could be turned against Montreal first they contemplated its defence by a citadel on Mont Royal supported by outworks at the mouth of the Châteauguay River and Ile-Sainte-Hélène. The commission generally favoured the use of large masonry barrack towers costing £L50,000 each, like Fort Wellington near Ostend in The Netherlands. Two of the works, however, were to be Martello towers at a cost of £5,000 each.

At Kingston the Smyth Commission proposed to improve Fort Henry greatly, repair the existing batteries and erect three Martello towers, one on each of Cedar and Snake islands and one in advance of Fort Henry. To the west of Kingston they proposed a major fortress on the Niagara frontier sustained to the south and west by four redoubted Wellington towers and three Martello towers. One of the latter was to be at the mouth of the Thames River, and one at each end of Bois Blanc Island. At Quebec the commission urged the completion of the citadel, which was then only one-third finished, general improvement of the town works and preparations for a defensive fieldwork line utilizing the Martello towers, and a new Martello tower on the right bank of the Saint-Charles River.

In the Maritimes, in essence, the commission proposed a road from Rivière-du-Loup to Fredericton to facilitate communication between the Canadas and Nova Scotia, a work at Fredericton on which to rally the militia, a strong tower to reinforce a heavier battery at Partridge Island, and erection of a citadel at Halifax and improvement of its sea defences to prevent a coup de main. The suggested Halifax works included completion of the Sherbrooke tower on Mauger Beach.

The whole projected cost of the commission's scheme, including the Rideau Canal, the New Brunswick road and the fortifications, reached the very high sum of £1,646,218. Although work soon commenced on the canal, the Halifax Citadel and the casemated redoubt at Fort Henry, and work on the Quebec Citadel pushed to completion, their financial requirements exhausted most of the available funds. The remaining proposals were refined and redefined over the next two decades, but little or nothing was accomplished beyond the preparation of elaborate plans and the completion of a few surveys.10

The Smyth Commission did not rely overmuch on Martello towers in the new defensive system, preferring instead the more commodious and less assailable Wellington towers. It did, however, appear freely to advocate their use when necessary, and to favour them in circumstances where a cheap, durable light permanent work was required to delay and hamper an enemy briefly rather than to stop him for a protracted period.

Although a number of Martello towers were later erected at Kingston, the only one of the many suggested in 1825 that was completed as proposed was the Sherbrooke tower in Halifax. The commission suggested that "as a further defence contributing equally to the Security of the Harbour, and to impede any attempt at a 'coup de main' or surprise by the North West Arm, that Sherbrooke's tower, commenced upon the Mauger Rocks, should be completed."11 Another important impetus to finish this Martello tower came in 1826 when the provincial legislature voted £1,500 to erect a lighthouse on the beach. Gustavus Nicolls, again Commanding Royal Engineer at Halifax, suggested that it would be both necessary and inexpedient for the province to erect such a building if the tower were completed. In such an instance the lighthouse would effectively mask the fire of the tower. On the other hand, the tower was too isolated to become a permanent barracks, and peacetime storage facilities and accommodation for a lightkeeper could be supplied without loss to the military.12 His suggestion was submitted to the Board of Ordnance in June and received its approval in July 1826. The tower, which was eight feet high at that point, was virtually complete by November 1827, though the lighthouse was not in operation until April 1828. The intended platform armament of three 24-pounder guns was put in place in 1827 before the wooden lighthouse superstructure was placed on top of the tower. This light room caused almost no compromise in the military design as it was balanced on a single masonry kingpost rising from the centre of the platform. The umbrella effect of this arrangement permitted the unrestricted traversing of the guns.13 Part of the interior of the tower was given over to the purposes of the light. The four 24-pounder carronades for the barrack level were not mounted. although they were placed in the tower.14

4 Map of the Province of New Brunswick, 1845, showing the course of the proposed military road surveyed in that year. (Public Archives of Canada.) (click on image for a PDF version)

The fact that only the Sherbrooke tower was completed out of all those recommended by the Smyth Commission did not prevent plans being drawn for others of those proposed and the later projection of many more. The first of these was the revised Partridge Island battery and tower plan called for by the Inspector General's office in July 1826. Captain Graydon, the Royal Engineer officer in New Brunswick, proposed a heavy battery for each end of this small island at the entrance to Saint John harbour. The batteries were to be enclosed by a continuous parapet encompassing the whole upper part of the island. He was of the opinion that such a work would make both harbour entrance channels impassable in most circumstances. He further recommended a respectable tower midway between the batteries to sweep them if they were taken by assault and to serve as a bombproof barrack with storerooms sufficient to contain supplies for a long siege. In its general features this proposed defence was very similar to that of Georges Island. Both islands were difficult of assault and offered an all-round perimeter defence of a position primarily subject only to naval gunfire. This met the ideal conditions for the employment of a Martello tower.

While neither tower nor batteries were constructed, a brief examination of the tower's specifications and features allows an assessment of the state of the tower building art in 1826. It was intended to be a two-storey bombproof arched building with caponiers communicating with each of the batteries. It was estimated that it would cost £5,780. It was to be composed of one-third dressed masonry, to be used in making the exterior of the wall, stairs, central pier and the crest of the parapet. The remainder was to be of rough or rubble masonry with brick arches and chimneys. Its woodwork and roof were to be of spruce scantling with pine covering the floors. The same kind of wood was to be used in the door and window fittings. The doors themselves were to be of oak and the snow roof covered with cedar shingles. The tower was to be heavily armed, with two 24-pounder guns on traversing platforms and two 8-inch mortars on top and eight 24-pounder carronades in the upper storey. This ordnance (including the only proposed use of mortars on Canadian Martello towers), Graydon felt, would prevent an enemy holding either battery if he should obtain it by a sudden attack.15

The above proposal was hardly an isolated example. In 1827 Colonel Nicolls recommended the construction of a number of towers. These included several for the defence of St. John's, Newfoundland, and one each for Needham's Hill in Halifax and Fort Edward, Windsor. The detailed plan for the Needham's Hill tower was drawn and approved by Major General Smyth. In New Brunswick two more towers were later proposed for the defence of Saint John against a surprise attack. In Canada plans were drawn for two 2-gun Martello towers, one for each end of Bois Blanc Island. They were on the pattern of the one proposed for Snake Island, Kingston. Although the Snake Island tower was never constructed, there was a proliferation of the works proposed for Kingston in the years 1825-29. The Smyth Commission recommendation had been deemed inadequate for so important a point. By October 1829 a new defence plan had been approved by the Board of Ordnance in an attempt to provide an all-round defence by a system of works encompassing a new Fort Henry, a series of redoubts and batteries and six Martello towers. These towers were not constructed as planned due to a lack of funds and the natural precedence of the main work at Fort Henry. While the towers were not built they remained an integral component of the defensive system and revised plans of some of them were ordered in 1839 and 1840.16 These persistent tower proposals emphasized the assumed continuing military utility of Martello towers, both among senior officers of the Board of Ordnance and engineer officers in British North America, at a time when their general use was becoming the subject of criticism in Great Britain.

The question remains, however, whether the espousal of towers was primarily a military or political counter in the interminable debate on British North American defences. The Duke of Wellington had delineated the problem in March, 1819, while founding a hope of its solution on the securing of an alternative means of inland communication further removed from the American frontier than the St. Lawrence River. His dictum was stated in the instructions to the Smyth Commission, in which it was pointed out that:

It is quite obvious that if the Lines of communication proposed by the Master General . . . for your consideration and report cannot be carried into execution, or some other distinct from the St. Lawrence discovered, the defence of those distant Provinces will become so difficult as to be almost impossible.17

His views were reiterated in a letter to Lord Bathurst, the Secretary for War, after receipt of the completed report at the end of 1825. Arguing that British honour would prevent a withdrawal from Canada, he gave it as his belief that if the communications line were built it could be defended by means of fortifications. He further noted that if the works were not constructed the loyalty of the populace would be lost to the United States.

Even by the greatest exertion of the military resources of His Majesty's Government in time of war, these dominions could not be successfully and effectually defended, without the adoption of the greatest part of the measures proposed; but if they are all adopted, and attention is paid to the militia laws of these countries and care taken to keep alive a military spirit among the population, the defence of these Dominions ought not to be a more severe burden upon the military resources of the empire in war, than such defence as was made proved to be during the late war.18

None of these reviews challenged the essential defensibility of the Maritime Provinces in the hands of the Royal Navy. By 1828 the defence of the Canadas by a line of works and communications erected on a Quebec City-Kingston-Short Hills-Lake Erie axis was firmly accepted into British military orthodoxy and its prime essential, the Rideau Canal system, was already under construction. In that year Major General Smyth elaborated his views on the necessity of permanent fortifications and established a rough equation between their completion and the number of regular troops required for the defence of the country, and as well for the effective use that could be made of the militia. He argued that the substitution of a few judiciously placed and defensible works for the many small posts formerly scattered along the frontier would provide more effective rallying points for the militia. The locations for the new works had been selected with this view in mind and Smyth felt it was a very important one, as he placed small value on the militia in an offensive capacity, although he felt it praiseworthy if used in a static defensive role. By careful employment of the militia, primarily in strong permanent works, he felt that the necessary wartime strength of British regulars could be reduced to 5,000 infantry, a regiment of cavalry and two brigades of field guns, in addition to the troops required in the Maritimes. This he opposed to the currently estimated necessary strength of 13,050. In Smyth's view his plan would ease the sudden heavy manpower burden on the empire at war, effect a real economy and improve the chance of success with works properly constructed in the leisure of peace. Smyth certainly felt that permanency was the overriding consideration and in 1827 he lamented how little of a permanent nature had been accomplished at Halifax since Morse's report to Sir Guy Carleton in 1783.19

Despite Smyth's cogent arguments for the construction of permanent fortifications, the financial resources and sense of urgency necessary to carry the system to completion were lacking. Work was initiated on a continuing basis on the major fortresses at Halifax, Quebec and Kingston but beyond that nothing of importance was actually completed before 1840, when Lord John Russell, the Colonial Secretary, ordered most of the works contemplated by the commission of 1825 deferred for future consideration.20

Russell's action appears to have been prompted by the fact that the Smyth recommendations were by then 15 years out of date, and that the effective and irreparable loss of naval supremacy on most of the Great Lakes might have permanently altered the conditions and theatres of war in British North America. By 1840 it was evident to Sir Richard Jackson that the command even of Lake Ontario depended on the British capacity to hold Kingston with its harbour and dockyard facilities.21 It appears that there might have been a general if unvoiced, suspicion that nothing to the west of Kingston was permanently and assuredly defensible in any event.

In 1840 Russell's doubts and the unsettled state of Anglo-American relations produced a thoroughgoing reassessment of Canadian defences. The opinions of officers in the British American provinces were canvassed through the intermediary of the Governor General, and the whole correspondence returned to Britain, it produced a reiteration of the familiar arguments but yielded no definite general conclusions as to the desirability or extent of permanent fortifications. On 18 February 1841, the Ordnance Office was moved to recommend that for the present, at least, "It would be advisable to confine ourselves to carrying out the fortifications at Kingston and Quebec, as proposed by the Inspector General."22 Even this was not done to the full expected extent and the resolution of the whole question awaited a pragmatic solution induced by the appearance of another Anglo-American crisis.

The reports and memoranda of 1840-41 do, however, indicate that Lieutenant Colonel Oldfield and his superiors in the Board of Ordnance accorded a continuing and extensive role to Martello towers. In March 1840, Oldfield proposed that six round stone towers be built in a half-circle in the rear of Montreal for its defence,23 and plans for the defence of Ile-Sainte-Hélène by towers were being forwarded to Britain as late as January 1847.24 Oldfield's 1840 survey of desirable fortifications was drawn up in reference to the suggestions of the Smyth Commission of 1825 and included the tower for the left bank of the Saint-Charles, first suggested in 1808; the six Kingston towers recommended by the committee of 1829; a Martello tower for Chippawa and two for Bois Blanc Island; another Martello tower as a bastion keep for the fort at St. John's, Lower Canada; and numerous other similar structures.25 While none of these towers was ever constructed exactly as planned or suggested, and only the Kingston towers were ever built at all, their continuing military acceptability as a viable pattern of fortification is again clearly illustrated.

Further corroboration of the proposed use and continuing popularity of round stone towers can be derived from Newfoundland, where, in 1841, Sir John Harvey. the lieutenant governor, revived Gustavus Nicolls's 1827 suggestion and proposed a semi-circular series of eight such towers for the land defence of St. John's harbour. His suggestion was rejected out of hand from its unreasonable and unwarranted expense.26

While factors contributing to the eventual construction of the Kingston Martello towers can be discerned in almost every facet of the long British North American defence controversy extending from 1816 to 1845, little of specific structural or functional consequence can be ascertained from their often-suggested use, because none was commenced and most were not even carried over into detailed plans. They were projected in a wide variety of circumstances ranging from a keep to the inaccessible sea batteries on Partridge Island to semicircular, mutually supporting arcs of land defence in the rear of Montreal and St. John's, Newfoundland. Their more common projected role, however, was as an expedient means of defending exposed and isolated points, as at Chippawa, "by posts, which although not calculated to withstand a protracted siege, may be sufficiently respectable to oblige an enemy to bring up his artillery, and thereby afford time for our troops and militia to assemble for their support."27 Martello towers with their high, thick scarp walls were ideally adapted to resist surprise and escalade and to force their reduction by artillery. By 1846, Colonel Holloway, Oldfield's successor as commanding Royal Engineer in Canada, was recommending towers almost to the exclusion of all other works for defensible posts. By no means all of these were round towers, for by 1840-41 square towers on the pattern of those recommended for Lévis appear to have been recommended in about equal proportion to Martello towers.28

The failure to build the towers proposed by the Smyth Commission is easily explicable in terms of a commitment to large works, but the failure to build any of those recommended in the general defence reports of 1840 or after, despite their recognized value, is a more complex problem. Economy and the future measure of the Anglo-Canadian colonial relationship29 were contributing factors but for the most part the lack of action was caused by the military confusion as to what measures were likely to be effective and to repay the costs of construction. In 1840 Sir Richard Jackson restated the obvious when he lamented the advantage given to the Americans by the long unfavourable line of the Canadian frontier and the American capacity to operate over the ice in winter when no aid was possible from Great Britain. In this way they could take possession of points necessary for future operations before the opening of navigation. In consequence he recommended a concentration of works at those points necessary to keep British options open. Even this was difficult to determine, however, for by the 1840s Canadian land communications had improved to the point that almost any work, and certainly any of those west of Kingston, would be by-passed by an enemy whose ultimate object was the fortress of Quebec. The British government did attempt to implement a pallid version of Jackson's proposals in the crisis year of 1845, but the authorized Kingston works were inadequate, and the defence of the vital Montreal area was relegated almost entirely to temporary fieldworks and a field force operating to the south. Even this was done to protect communications via the Rideau system, and to allow a naval contest on the Great Lakes, rather than to hamper an invasion appreciably. As early as 1841 the Board of Ordnance was rejecting works to resist an invasion because there were too many holes in the line, and recommending that works be confined to Quebec and Kingston.30

Despite the hasty authorization of a few works in 1845 the whole temper of British North American defence in the years 1840-45 appears to have been changing from a reliance on the principle of static defence clearly enunciated by the committee of 1825, and further corroborated by the later statements of Wellington and Smyth, to a reliance on a much larger force of British regulars to be sent to Canada in an actual emergency by means of an improved and defensible system of military communications. From reasons both of necessity and expediency the British government was returning to the 1812 principle of a reliance on men rather than on fortifications.

Communications had certainly been well-considered in 1825, but by the early 1840s the need to move large bodies of reinforcements inland the year round lent the issue a new urgency. This requirement is marked by the general survey of the Canadian water system, authorized in 1844 with a view to its military and naval utility and because of the need to move troops from Britain when the St. Lawrence was closed. It is also indicated by the survey of the long mooted line of military road between Halifax and Quebec ordered on 18 April 1845.31 This growing concern with all-weather communication is further substantiated by the survey and plan of a £70,000 fortress at Grand Falls, New Brunswick, to protect this line although the government realized it was likely to be little used. In the end both this fortress and the military road failed to be implemented, with the dissolution of the Oregon crisis in 1846 and the suspension of all further works in December of that year.32

The year 1845 can be seen to mark the end of an era in the intended general use of new and extensive permanent fortifications in the defense of the interior of British North America, although this shift of priorities did not apply to Quebec City or the sea defence works on the Atlantic coast. Equally clearly, Martello towers were understood to be an effective and integral component of the various systems of permanent fortification articulated or approved between 1816 and 1845, and, in fact, were among the very last of such permanent works built in the Canadian interior.

The long history of the actual or intended use of Martello towers as a viable pattern of fortification, as delineated above, was only made possible by the lack of development of new instruments of offensive warfare. While the problem of effectively attacking Martello towers in the interior was often enhanced by the difficulty of moving artillery over bad roads or by available water transport, their continued use in positions accessible to naval or amphibious assault is reduced almost totally to the technical difficulties of breaching them with conventional smoothbore artillery from moderate range. This capacity of the available ordnance changed only in small degree from the early years of the 19th century until the introduction of rifled guns after 1860. Most of the naval ordnance including the most common and effective 24- and 32-pounder guns in British service in 1800, were still in use in 1860, although the 56- and 68-pounders and shell guns of various calibres had been added. These last were of slightly longer range but effected no revolutionary changes in breaching capacity.33 By the 1850s the technical improvements and quantitative increase in ordnance had led the British to consider the use of heavier earthworks at Halifax and other places exposed to the full brunt of an attack, but the subterranean masonry casemates that became a feature of the defences erected against the rifled gun were not contemplated until the 1860s.

Isolated Martello towers in British North America appear often to have been provided with a ditch and some measure of counterscarp, and of course those within batteries were afforded some degree of masking protection. Not until 1846 however, with the construction of three tower redoubts at Kingston, was such a protective measure against artillery deemed absolutely necessary. Even then only about one-half of the tower was covered. The first redoubted towers were suggested by Gustavus Nicolls for the Halifax peninsula in 1808, and tower 2 at Quebec had been intended as a redoubted work. This proposal was reiterated in 1816 for all the Quebec towers, and in 1827 Nicolls gave it as his opinion that all landward towers should be buttressed with earthworks.34 Despite the apparent general agreement as to the utility of this mode of improving the defensibility of Martello towers, nothing was done about it.

Proposals for strongly counterscarped towers were revived in the plans for those in advance of Fort Henry, Kingston, in 1839,35 and in 1840 Colonel Oldfield, the Commanding Royal Engineer in Canada, again brought forward the earlier plan for redoubting the Quebec towers. Because Quebec was indisputably the single most important British North American defence point and because the landlocked Martello towers constituted a significant portion of its defensive outworks, an examination of the suggested mode of their improvement provides a good measure of the techniques and funds available to the engineer corps in updating such towers.

From the outset the role of the Quebec towers had been to impede an assault against the main works, and this function was not diminished with the completion of the Cape Diamond Citadel in 1830. At that time it was intended to prepare and arm them for a 30-day siege.36 In 1840 Oldfield proposed expanding the Quebec outworks, although the four towers on the Plains of Abraham were to remain the basis of the outer line. He postulated a six-month siege of Quebec in which a tower line, extending from tower 1 overlooking the St. Lawrence to the one to be built on the right bank of the Saint-Charles River, would delay an enemy two months. To make such a line tenable he proposed surrounding each of the four existing towers with a strong earthen redoubt at a cost of £1,244 each. His redoubts were to be composed of two faces and two flanks defended at the gorge by a strong stockade. Each was to mount three guns and contain a splinter-proof expense magazine, guardhouse, and provision and coal store.37

Oldfield's idea was not accepted, and in 1841 he again submitted a modified version of the same proposal. This time, from considerations of expense, he contemplated redoubting only towers 2 and 3 and flanking towers 1 and 4 with loopholed masonry walls. The Inspector General of Fortifications sustained his view of the propriety of defending the tower line while rejecting this particular proposal as inadequate. In the end, the temper of the times and the fact that Quebec was already the best defended point in Canada resulted in the strong redoubts never being provided. Their construction was relegated to the never-never land beyond the point where "the defenses of other parts of the province shall be well advanced."38

The British failure to improve the defensive circumstances of the Quebec towers, or any other of the existing British American Martello towers, shows the clear unwillingness of the government to spend money on such projects while at the same time indicating that no great technologically inspired urgency surrounded the projects. Even the theoretical designs of the engineers incorporated no additional innovative protection that could not have been substituted for by earthworks hastily thrown up in an emergency. Had time and the whims of the enemy allowed such a course of emergency construction, it would undoubtedly have been followed at each of the towers not already so protected.

The course of the whole era of British North American defence between 1816 and 1845 is chiefly marked by a largely unsuccessful attempt on the part of the imperial government to incorporate the negative lessons of the War of 1812 into its thinking, and to discover some system of defending the North American colonies with static permanent military defences and secure lines of communication prepared in time of peace. This process, revolutionary to a nation historically given to ignoring fortifications in peace and financing their vast and frenzied temporary proliferation in war, was ultimately defeated by the length and vulnerability of the British North American frontier. In the end the British government was forced to return more and more to the old mobile defensive pattern in the great stretches of the country beyond the reach of the guns of the Royal Navy.

This imperial experiment did, however, produce the Rideau Canal and, at Halifax, Quebec and Kingston, fully establish an age of casemated masonry fortification. In the restricted context of Martello towers, little was accomplished by a government preoccupied with the size and concentration of works, for the towers were essentially a product of a time of more limited financial means and defensive requirements demanding the impeding rather than the halting of an enemy force. Even when the conditions of British American warfare were altered once more by the limited willingness and capacity of the British treasury to meet the ever-escalating demand for fortresses, a reliance on the efficacy of field forces and improved communications prevented the reinstatement of the pre-1815 role of Martello towers, except at Kingston. There they were thrown up by an accident of geography and political expediency and the final spasm of the military largesse of the British treasury in the Canadian interior.

While no new Martello towers were commenced in the years 1816 to 1845, and by the latter date they were nearing the verge of military obsolescence, their continuing local military popularity and versatility was indicated by their frequent proposal to fulfill a wide variety of military needs in much the same manner as they had between 1796 and 1815. Their persistent military utility is indisputable. This is evident despite the fact that by 1827 the ten existing towers were being badly neglected and allowed to decay below a point of immediate usefulness by an ordnance corps and government preoccupied with the construction of new works and caught up in the bureaucratic lethargy of the army in a time of peace.

The allocated role of Martello towers remained essentially unaltered through the three decades after 1815; but, with one largely accidental respite, the death knell of the towers as respectable works was to be inexorably rung in the following two decades.

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