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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

Decline and Obsolescence: 1846-71

In the years between the end of the Oregon crisis of 1846 and the withdrawal of British troops from the interior of the new Dominion of Canada in 1871, all of the Martello towers in British North America became militarily obsolete. Over this 25-year period they fell prey to changes in a variety of the strategic and technological factors that had brought them into existence in an earlier era. Among these were the introduction of steam and ironclad war vessels and heavier offensive smoothbore ordnance, an evaporating British interest in defending the interior of British North America, an ever more widely accessible military frontier, and the sheer mass of the American army after 1861. The single most important influence, however, was the range, accuracy and breaching power of the new rifled guns introduced into general military service after 1860. This type of ordnance spelled the beginning of the end for exposed masonry works of all types. It altered the whole basis of attack and defence and drove the world's fortifications into heavy subterranean casemates and behind massive earthworks.

The beginning of the decline of Martello towers can be marked in the December 1846 decision of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies that, "all new works which had not at that time been commenced, should be deferred," although the Kingston towers were allowed to be completed because otherwise the money already spent on them would be wasted.1 The new Liberal ministry was completely reconciled to the eventual independence of the colonies with a concomitant increase in local responsibility for defence. By 1852 the British regular forces had been quietly but considerably reduced until they numbered only about 7,000, all ranks. In March 1851 the failure of the former policy of a proliferation of works was formalized with the concentration of most of the remaining troops within the existing important fortified points in the Canadas and the Maritimes. The withdrawal was accelerated by the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 and the period of Anglo-American tranquility ushered in by the Reciprocity Treaty of the same year. It was not counterbalanced until the Trent affair of 1861 instigated a rapid bolstering of British American defences. Great Britain never denied her ultimate obligation to defend her American colonies, but after 1846 it became evident that there would be no easy expenditures on improving fortifications at points other than the imperial naval station at Halifax, and no works of any kind to sustain the previously discredited theory of extended defences.2

While official policy made it certain that no more Martello towers would be constructed in British North America, all of the existing ones at Halifax, Saint John, Quebec City and Kingston were in places that continued to have British garrisons and were consequently kept at the normal maintenance level of permanent works in peacetime. The newly finished and roofed but unarmed Kingston towers required little upkeep, although they were in fairly constant barrack service. Some minor improvements were even made there. To facilitate access to it, the Cedar Island tower was equipped with a landing wharf for the use of the detachment boat in 1849, and in 1854 a platform was constructed at the base of the Shoal Tower below the entrance so the boat would be removed from the water.3 It is to be presumed that certain minimal barrack facilities were added at an early date. The Branch Ditch towers were not originally intended as barracks, but by 1854 they contained small guard detachments. By 1859 they were occupied and carried on the rolls as permanent barracks in the same manner as the detached towers and must have been provided with similar facilities. The towers were reported in good general repair in the various inspection reports. By 1861, however, the wooden joists and planks of the powder magazines were in a very decayed state because of the poor ventilation of the basements of the towers.4 These were most likely repaired before powder was lodged in them after 1865.5 Periodic pointing of all the towers was carried out and, apparently, about 1867, the snow roofs of all four main towers were reconstructed so as to permit firing the guns.6

In the 1850s the occupancy figures of the Kingston towers fluctuated widely due to the number of troops stationed there and the quantity of other accommodation available. These figures varied from 1,047 men in 1850 to a mere 230 of the Royal Canadian Rifles in 1860.7 Men of this unit, a British officered regiment raised in Canada for Canadian service only, were the chief occupiers of the towers between 1855 and the regiment's disbandment in 1870. After 1860 the towers for the most part housed soldiers of this unit with their wives and children. In 1860 the major commanding the Royal Engineers at Kingston expressed fear for the wooden fitting of the towers from "allowing the floors and joists of these structures to be saturated with excremantary [sic] solutions which numbers of soldiers' children in one room frequently and naturally void." Despite this warning, however, and his suggestion that each tower be occupied by a single family, a lack of suitable alternative married quarters led to a rejection of his advice and their continuation in multiple-family occupancy.8 The lack of amenities of the bombproof towers, catalogued in 1863, and the crowding of several families into their confined spaces must have produced abominable living conditions. In November of 1869, for example. they were occupied as follows:

Each Branch Ditch tower: three soldiers and their wives.

Cedar Island tower: one soldier and wife in a separate room and five soldiers with their wives in the barrack rooms.

Fort Frederick tower: one soldier and wife in a separate room and eleven soldiers with their wives in the barrack rooms.

Shoal Tower: one soldier and wife in a separate room and four soldiers with their wives in the barrack room.

Murney Tower: one soldier and wife in a separate room and four soldiers with their wives in the barrack room.9

Although it is fair to assume that the more remote and isolated of the towers were no longer used after the British withdrawal in 1870, the Murney Tower was in military barrack use as late at 1882, as a daughter was born to a soldier stationed there in that year. It may have been used by some of the soldiers attached to the militia training school that was founded at Kingston in 1871.10 All of the Kingston towers were transferred intact to the government of the Dominion of Canada in August 1870.11 The Canadian government maintained no proper regular garrison at Kingston and had little use for the towers. It may be assumed that they immediately slipped into the process of slow decay and neglect that characterized Canadian treatment of all their inherited British North American works. All the towers, however, retained their armament though much of it appears to have been dismounted.

The four Quebec towers experienced somewhat the same pattern of maintenance and use as those at Kingston, although they were less used as permanent barracks and the deterioration of two of them was accelerated by accident. They were apparently uninhabited for a lengthy period after 1815, but for some years after 1846 each was placed in charge of a resident tower-keeper responsible for airing them and maintaining winter fires when they were not occupied by troops. These jobs were valued sinecures allocated to pensioners of the Royal Artillery.12 Such measures undoubtedly contributed to the reportedly good general repair of the towers, as did occasional pointing of the masonry and renewal of badly decayed wooden fittings. The most persistent defect in their condition was the extensive presence of dry rot in the wooden floors over the water tanks and basement storage areas. This was again, apparently, the result of poor ventilation within the tower and the lack of funds to undertake the general renewal of the floors. This extended neglect is indicated by the submission of a substantially similar complaint in 1852 and again in 1869, with no indication of its general intermediate redress.13

A more severe detriment to the serviceability of towers 3 and 4 occurred in the form of fires that swept their upper works. On 16 May 1857 the roof and parapet of tower 4 were destroyed in that manner, and although temporary repairs were undertaken to secure its platform and arch during the ensuing winter, the Ordnance department failed to secure approval of an estimate for permanent repairs until 1862. On 6 June of that year the roof of tower 3 was destroyed by fire and the cut-stone work of the parapet greatly damaged. A new snow roof was immediately supplied, and both it and the new roof of tower 4 were covered with tin as a fireproofing measure. The parapet of tower 3 was not renewed because future improvements to meet the demands of rifled guns might require an alteration in its shape. The gun mountings were not replaced on either tower.14

The Quebec Martello towers appear to have been little occupied as barracks before 1860, though in the summer of that year they were being occupied by troops, about 20 to a tower. These soldiers were probably militiamen stationed there for the summer only. By 1863 some of them appear to have been in permanent barrack use by a few artillerymen and married soldiers.15 Living conditions were not the best, for an 1864 engineer report said,

They are not regularly fitted up as barracks. Care should be taken to provide proper privies, small ablution rooms, etc. for these towers when used as Barracks. . . . There is no ventilation other than that provided by the windows. Stores are situated in the basement of each tower. There are no kitchens: boilers in the towers afford the only means of cooking. There are wells to Nos. 1, 2 and 4. No. 3 has to be supplied by water carts with water. . . . Rules should also be established to prevent rubbish being thrown into the ditch and creating a nuisance which might lead to disease. Putrid vegetable matter and cinders, etc. were observed in the ditches and around the towers at Quebec when visited.16

At the time of the above observation, tower 1 designed for 11 men housed one, and tower 4 with the same capacity, accommodated three men. Of towers 2 and 3, with a maximum regular barrack capacity of 24 men each, tower 2 held four and tower 3, three men. All of these maximum figures were drawn at the revised space entitlement of 600 cubic feet per man. The use of the Quebec towers as barracks in 1863 may indicate a lasting alteration in their use, or may merely reflect a temporary shortage of barracks resulting from the Canadian troop build-up of 1861-62. Although none of the tower magazines was supplied with powder in the 1860s, tower 1 was pressed into temporary service as an artillery laboratory from 1864 to 1867, after an explosion in the old facility.17

With the exception of the top of tower 3, the Quebec Martello towers were maintained in tolerable repair until 1870 by the British government. In the same period towers 1 and 2 retained their armament while on the others it was not replaced after it had been accidentally destroyed. In the 1860s the towers rendered more recorded barrack service than they had since 1815. Before the end of 1871 these towers were also handed over to the care of the Canadian government.

The Carleton Martello tower at Saint John was perhaps the most badly maintained of all those in Canada because of its physical isolation and its location at an auxiliary military point of small strategic consequence. Not until the early 1860s did Saint John absorb the renewed attention of the British military. Even at that date the emphasis was on heavy sea defences to meet the rifled guns of the American navy rather than refurbishing the city's obsolete land defences. In 1866 a flurry of Fenian activity caused some brief attention to be given to the Carleton tower but this was illustrative more of its pathetic inadequacy than of its strength.

Nothing appears to have been done at the Carleton tower between its repair in the early 1840s and 1859, when the worst of its defects were corrected and it was pressed into service as a temporary repository for the powder formerly stored in the Fort Howe magazine, which was then undergoing repair.18 In the 1850s this tower was listed in fairly good general repair, though the exterior required painting and the roof was old and leaky.19 Painting was a more frequent requirement for towers exposed to the salt air of the Atlantic coast than for those in the interior, and was a perennial complaint in Halifax and Saint John.

Due to its dampness, the use of the tower for powder storage was only intended to be a temporary expedient. Events altered this intention and it remained in magazine service until 1866. During the Trent affair of 1861-62 an extra £5,000 worth of ammunition and warlike stores were shipped to Saint John and stored in the tower. In consequence the ventilation was improved and the walls lined to admit the close storage of powder barrels. This de facto conversion of the tower to a magazine used both its basement and barrack floors. During the four-year period 1862-66 the whole of the smallarms ammunition for the province of New Brunswick, for the use of both the regular and militia forces, was lodged on the barrack floor of the Carleton tower. This dangerous practice was terminated in the spring of 1866 when the military took cognizance of the fact that the tower was an isolated and undefended magazine two miles in advance of the city on its vulnerable western flank.20

Between 1860 and 1865 the Carleton tower was often touted in the numerous defence reports of those years as an active, if subsidiary, component of the harbour defence works. Saint John had come to be viewed as a valuable offensive base in the hands of an enemy force operating against Nova Scotia, but, because its retention was a preventive rather than a positively useful measure, nothing of enduring value was accomplished in the way of new fortifications to meet imperial obligations.

The last 19th-century use of the Carleton tower derived from very local circumstances. The American invasion feared as a consequence of a victory of the Union Army in the American Civil War evaporated quickly in the summer of 1865 as most of the large army was quickly disbanded. At the same time, however, the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish-American secret society, began planning to strike a military blow against British North America as a measure of revenge against British oppression in Ireland. Most of the colonies were little disturbed, and the few raids actually mounted in 1866 were quickly defeated. In New Brunswick, which felt itself especially vulnerable to Fenians reported massing along the Maine border in March 1866, considerable military preparations were undertaken. British naval and military forces in and around the province were increased and the militia embodied.21 Most of the static defensive preparations centred on Saint John, as it was commercial centre of the province and the most tangible prize within the grasp of Fenian raiders. A land attack from the west was anticipated and a defensive line contemplated behind the town, stretching from the Negro Point battery at the harbour mouth, to the Yorkshire Tavern, commanding the junction of the Fredericton and St. Andrews roads. The Carleton tower was to be improved and incorporated as an intermediate point in this line, as a keep to a well-armed redoubt to be constructed around it. The available military resources were so inadequate and the line so extended that it was hardly assumed to be proof against even a desultory assault.22

The acceptance of this proposal immediately produced feverish activity at the tower. Colonel Cole ordered it repaired and armed with the only available ordnance, four obsolete 18-pounder carronades. No carriages were available for them, however, and preparations were instead made for 32-pounders. These were not immediately available and the tower was not armed until the short-lived crisis was safely past and the Fenians dispersed. Two long 32-pounder guns were eventually provided. The local engineer officer discovered that the windows of the tower were not adapted as embrasures and could not safely be altered until the powder was removed. Once this was done the military preparations proceeded more expeditiously. By May 1866 the conical snow roof had been removed, the terreplein and parapet waterproofed, and a temporary musketproof machicolation affixed over the door. The tower was also equipped with musketproof loopholed shutters and doors and the interior fitted out as a barracks. The permanent wooden stairs were replaced by removable ones and latrine and cooking facilities provided nearby. The above alterations cost a total of £187, and most were accomplished after the dispersal of the Fenians on 14 April. The tower continued to be occupied as a barrack until early 1869.23 The Carleton tower's ephemeral prospect of martial glory in 1866 terminated its regular service. With the British withdrawal, it passed under the aegis of the Canadian government, which for decades thereafter found it of no use.

While the Martello towers at Kingston, Quebec and Saint John passed into a recognizedly deserved military oblivion after 1865, those at Halifax, while no more valuable, escaped Canadian control and a similar fate after 1870. They were retained as components of the defences of the British naval station at Halifax. The fact of their location within the precincts of an imperial station, one to be defended irrespective of the fate of British America as a whole, added little to the quality of maintenance of these increasingly obsolete works in the period 1846-71. It did, however, contribute in large measure to some of them being adapted and continued in subsidiary military roles in the new defensive era of rifled ordnance that began in 1860. This use persisted long after the British North American Martello towers in Canadian hands ceased to be of any military value whatsoever.

Measures to improve the Halifax defences were under fairly constant consideration between 1853 and 1865 by a succession of committees. The continuing value of the towers as unimproved independent military works was cast into doubt as early as 1855 and their limitations magnified in each succeeding report. No one, however, was prepared to dismiss all of them out of hand, and various expedients were proposed to allow their continuing service. For the most part they were retained in their habitual state of repair (or, more properly, disrepair) until some definite course of action could be decided for them.24

The least doubt attended the fate of the Sherbrooke Tower, which from the date of its completion was used primarily as a lighthouse. Its three 24-pounder guns were still in place in 1864, but because of its useless location, feeble construction and exposed position, its military value was repeatedly dismissed and it became increasingly subordinated to its civilian function.25 Repairs and maintenance on the tower proper continued to be a military responsibility into the 1860s while the light was maintained by the local government.26 The military carried out some small repairs in the 1850s and in 1860 some external measures were taken to protect it from the encroachments of the sea.27 The Sherbrooke Tower was always regarded as the least useful of the Halifax towers, but its very inadequacy was a contributory factor in its virginal survival long after its fellows had been altered or demolished to serve newer military ends. The Sherbrooke Tower was the least militarily important of the Halifax towers. The Prince of Wales Tower on the other hand, was generally reckoned the most useful of them. Its valuable location resulted in its eventually undergoing more alteration and rendering greater and more extended service than any of the others.

Through the 1840s and 1850s this tower stood in a vacant and dilapidated state. It had been proposed to give it a new roof in 1849, but by 1859 it was badly in need of both external and internal repairs, including exterior pointing and a renewal of its floors and interior wooden fitments. Some of these repairs were authorized for 1860, but in January of that year the commanding major general in Nova Scotia proposed that a partial conversion of the basement level to a magazine be carried out in conjunction with them. Such a magazine, with a capacity of 804 barrels of powder, would, he felt, amply fill the anticipated needs of the three sea batteries on Point Pleasant and save the expense of building a whole new magazine.28 This alteration was approved for completion in the 1861-62 estimate, but was delayed till 1862 by the Inspector General of Fortification's order for the total conversion of the basement for 1,250 barrels of powder.29

This revamping was commenced on 10 September 1861 and rushed to completion by 30 April 1862.30 It resulted in a concrete and cement basement floor with a bombproof brick arch above, and the partitioning off in rubble masonry of a shifting room at the basement entrance door. The smaller central room of the tower was arched and converted into an illuminating room for the magazine. The larger room was lined with wood, provided with barrel storage racks, and provided with a wooden partition to separate the depot and expense magazines. It appears that a second floor entrance was also opened at that time above the basement door to preclude the necessity of interfering with the magazines in order to gain access to the barrack level. The wooden cupola over the terreplein hatchway was replaced with a bombproof dome. The total basement conversion precluded any further flank defence from musketry loopholes at that level, and they were replaced by four machicolation galleries extending from the parapet, the incorporation of the tower into a splinter-proof barrack redoubt to that end the old terreplein ordnance which had been removed to facilitate the conversion was eventually replaced by four 32-pounder guns en barbette, on traversing platforms. A controversy extending into 1863 ensued over the type and shape of the gun mountings to be used, and the guns may not have been placed until 1864. By August of that year all work was complete and the tower made fully ready for magazine service.31

It had been proposed by the Commanding Royal Engineer to accompany the magazine conversion with the incorporation of the tower into a splinter-proof barrack redoubt to house the garrisons of the batteries and protect the tower from hostile gunfire. This work was not done, and the converted tower remained fully exposed to naval gunfire at 1,200 yards range. The tower was thus left in such a dangerous situation that in August 1864 Colonel Westmacott urged that "nothing but necessity can justify the use of this tower as a depot magazine in so advanced a position." The necessity was present, however, and as late as 1881 the tower was still serving as a major powder repository for the batteries of rifled guns on Point Pleasant.32

This tower had never regularly served as a barrack before its conversion, and afterwards any such general use was precluded by the question of the security of the powder. Storerooms were built on the barrack level as part of the conversion and a caretaker's quarters added later. The guard detachment on the point appears to have preferred living in a wooden guardhouse erected nearby, but for indeterminate periods before 1876 and after 1881, a corporal's guard was lodged within the tower to watch over the magazine.33

The Prince of Wales Tower has a longer history of independent service than any other Martello tower but it underwent no more important changes or alterations in usage subsequent to 1864. In 1891 the British military authorities considered converting the tower into a range- and position-finding station for the Point Pleasant batteries, but this was not done and the tower was passed intact to the Canadian government on the departure of the British army in 1906.34

While the Prince of Wales Tower retained its structural integrity and a semblance of an independent military role through the remodeling of the Halifax defences in the 1860s, the other three Halifax towers were not so fortunate. All were located at points required for the new defenses, and the York Redoubt and Fort Clarence towers had their functions very much subordinated within these new works, while that on Georges Island was slated for demolition.

The York Redoubt tower was maintained in fair condition until the 1850s because of its signal function, and between 1855 and 1860 it was repaired, pointed and provided with a new asphalt lower floor as part of a generally revitalized maintenance program for the Halifax towers. This work was a prelude to its incorporation into the new York Redoubt position that was constructed there between 1865 and 1875.35

The obsolete 24-pounder guns on the old York Redoubt battery were approved for replacement as early as 1853, and, though this was not immediately done, the fortification reports of the 1860s recommended the renewal and enlargement of the whole position in masonry for rifled guns. This new and powerful sea battery was first intended to be defended in the rear merely by a wooden stockade, but for better security this specification was altered to a masonry wall to be built on a line intersecting the position of the tower. The latter was provided with two concrete loopholed caponiers to throw an exterior flanking fire on this wall. At the same time, between 1870 and 1875, the old wooden parapet was apparently replaced with one of brick. This new addition incorporated two machicolation galleries, one facing into the work and the other outward. Whatever the new defensive utility of the reconstructed tower, it mounted no ordnance thereafter and appears to have continued to function primarily as a semaphore station. It does not appear to have been bombproof, and as a mere concrete-sheathed musketry gallery it certainly by then no longer fulfilled its original role as a defensible gun platform and keep for the whole redoubt.36

Even this subordinate military function was transitory, for in the 1880s and 1890s the redoubt was expanded again. After that the tower stood in the centre of the parade of the fort and the wall it enfiladed was cut down. In the 1890s the upper part of the tower was gutted by fire, leaving only the lower floor with its caponiers intact. This portion was roofed over and later used for storage. It too was handed over to the Canadian government in 1906.37

Like the York Redoubt tower, that at Fort Clarence found a continuing and marginally useful role when it was subordinated within a newer and heavier work. Its state of repair was improved in the latter half of the 1850s, and until 1863 this obsolete tower continued to provide the chief land defence of the newly rearmed and enlarged Fort Clarence sea battery below. In March of that year the War Office approved the entire reconstruction of Fort Clarence in masonry at an estimated cost of £55,835. The new rifled guns of the battery were to be mounted in bombproof casemates and the old earthen redoubt demolished and replaced by a fully revetted redoubt with a strong profile. The Martello tower was retained within the new work, although the costly reconstruction had altered its role.38

The modifications to Fort Clarence were well under way by 1864 and were apparently completed by 1867. By that date the top level of the three-storey tower was removed to reduce it below the level of the new redoubt and thus afford it some protection from gunfire. At the same time the middle or ground level was made into barrack accommodation for 18 men and the basement was provided with a bombproof brick arch above and converted into a magazine to hold 650 barrels of powder. The new magazine had its own subterranean entrance while the old north side entrance to the barrack floor was retained. No ordnance was mounted on the tower after its reconstruction and it surrendered its offensive role for magazine and barrack support functions within the new casemated sea battery and redoubt.39

The Fort Clarence tower was once again reduced in 1889 when its unbombproofed barrack floor was removed and alternative accommodation provided in the battery casemates. Only the magazine portion was left, and it was apparently still extant at the end of World War II. Although this tower continued in service for many years after 1867 that date clearly marks the end of its usefulness as an active defensive entity.40

While it was possible to retain the Martello tower within the reformed Fort Clarence, the same was not true on Georges Island where space was at more of a premium. The Georges Island tower was maintained in fair repair through the 1850s and into the 1860s. The island itself remained the key to the harbour defences. As early as 1853 the upgrading of its battery ordnance was approved by the Inspector General of Fortifications. This minor alteration soon gave way to schemes for the revision of the batteries themselves. All of these early reports visualized a continuing function for the tower, first as a ready-made place d'armes and later as an unarmed magazine and artillery store within a work of strong profile. Proposals to retain the tower did not outline the end of the 1850s and the coming of rifled guns. In 1861 it was dismissed as small, feeble and not defensible, and in 1864 Colonel Westmacott said it was obsolete and would form no part of the massive new works planned for the island. Again in 1865 Lieutenant Colonel Jervois advocated its removal and replacement by a bombproof barracks. Its replacement did not occur immediately but, though the tower was not demolished until about 1877, it was not altered nor did it perform any useful function after the mid-1860s.41

To an extent the Halifax Martello towers were abandoned, destroyed or altered in structure and function according to the same chance factors of location, tactical expediency, and local circumstances that had first brought them into existence. In various guises four of them survived the great upheavals in fortification technology in the 1860s and the succeeding decade, and three of them even continued to function in a subsidiary military way. The prolongation of the usefulness of the Halifax towers into a new generation of fortification was primarily a product of the unique circumstance of the British retention of Halifax as a naval base after the general imperial withdrawal from British North America in 1871. However, their changing role and anticipated military value between 1850 and 1870 are representative of the continuing process of general military obsolescence of Martello towers in those years.

While many circumstances could influence the tenability of a Martello tower in the face of an attack, its utility was primarily a function of the artillery that could be brought to bear on it, as a properly defended tower was generally conceded to present a difficult obstacle to unaided infantry assault. The British North American Martello towers had been constructed to meet the challenge of smoothbore naval guns of 24- to 42-pounder weight and land service ordnance of lighter calibre. Additionally, although their defects and increased vulnerability were recognized, they remained respectable defensive works through the introduction into service of the heaviest feasible calibre of smoothbore guns and various refinements in ammunition in the 1840s and early 1850s.

It was generally assumed that the redoubted tower could hope in some manner to meet the defensive requirements of the best smoothbore guns with their high degree of inaccuracy and limited range. 8ut towers were rendered obsolete in very short order by the introduction of the rifled gun, which at a stroke corrected both defects of the earlier pieces. Experiments both in the techniques of rifling and the use of the tougher wrought iron in preference to the more brittle cast iron in the manufacture of ordnance were under way throughout the western world in the 1840s and 1850s, but the wrought iron rifled gun was not taken into general military service until about 1860.42 With an accuracy that permitted breaching of works by repeated hits on the same point and an effective range that allowed it to be operated beyond the reach of contemporary smoothbore pieces, the rifled gun at once reduced the value of exposed masonry works. At the same time it forced the introduction of heavy rifled defensive ordnance, and in some instances forced lines of defence to be so extensive and far removed from the objects they were to guard that their cost was unendurable and their construction impracticable.

This latter factor operated in British North America where, in the prevailing mood of British colonial and military policy of the later 1860s, the new defensive systems proposed by Jervois in 1865 for the harbour of Kingston, and that later planned for the north shore of the St. Lawrence before Quebec, were never built.43 Such long-term ramifications of the new age of ordnance go far beyond the case of the Martello towers, whose obsolescence before the rifled gun was conceded by the British military establishment in and after 1860.

In August of that year an uncovered brick Martello tower on the Sussex coast of England was totally reduced by shell-fire in an experiment to test the breaching capacities of the new rifled Armstrong guns. It was ascertained that these guns retained a high capacity at ranges above 1,000 yards and the tower was rendered indefensible with the firing of less than 27 rounds. A comparative attempt to breach another similar tower with heavy smoothbore guns at similar ranges produced a negligible effect, "both accuracy of fire and velocity of the missiles being quite deficient for such a range." The superior virtues of the rifled guns were less than absolutely conceded against fully covered scarps or when fired from naval vessels, but their greater efficacy against a variety of works was admitted and their effect on Martello towers explicitly demonstrated.44 If any further practical demonstration of the power of rifled guns was needed, it was being simultaneously provided by the effective use of Armstrong guns in attacks on the Taku Forts in China. This lesson was reinforced less than two years later by the reduction of the heavily casemated Fort Pulaski in Georgia by the rifled guns of the Union Army.45 Heavy rifled guns of a variety of types and sizes were in active use in American land and sea service after 1861,46 and it was these weapons that the evolving defences of British North America were designed to meet as the United States renewed her hostile posture with the Trent affair of that year.

The massive quantitative and qualitative demonstration of weaponry in the United States ended nearly a decade of uncertainty as to the adequacy of the existing defences of the maritime areas of British North America. Together with the issue of the first American contract for an ironclad war vessel in 1861,47 the rifled gun shortly produced a complete alteration in the character of those works. The adaptation of existing defences was most evident at the important and exposed Halifax port and naval base and at the port of Saint John, New Brunswick, which was useful as a staging port. The necessity of change, however, was also progressively articulated at Quebec, where a number of new works were hesitantly projected and the LÚvis forts actually begun. It terminated at Kingston, where further defensive measures were rejected by a conscious act of policy. Rifled guns completely changed the nature of British North American fortifications in the four-year period between the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 and the presentation of the Jervois report in 1865, and almost incidentally rendered Martello towers militarily superfluous.

The first general condemnation of Martello towers in British America occurred at Halifax on 1 January 1862, when Colonel Westmacott, the Commanding Royal Engineer, dismissed all of the existing works with the exception of the Citadel, because they dated from the 1796-1812 period, "and though doubtless valuable at that time, are altogether unsuited to cope with modern projectiles, or meet the present requirements of war."48 All, with the exception of the one on Point Pleasant, were classed as being small, feeble and indefensible. The Prince of Wales Tower appears to have been excepted because it was already undergoing the expensive magazine conversion. Westmacott somewhat tardily condemned it in 1864 as being too exposed to be of use in that capacity.49 He went on to recommend a whole new system of harbour defence works that encompassed a revision and entrenchment of the existing batteries and the creation of new ones to fully control the harbour channel.

Westmacott's critique and proposal was the penultimate step in a series of evaluations of the harbour defences that had commenced in 1853 and resulted, on 6 February 1863, in War Office approval of a whole new system of harbour defences for Halifax.50 A majority of the pre-1863 reports had tentatively recommended retention of the Martello towers in any new system, sometimes in their original roles, but it was evident that they could play no more than very subsidiary roles in conjunction with the heavily redoubted and casemated sea batteries for the new rifled guns.51 Westmacott's plan and Jervois' further assessment of 1865 ended any possibility of an active offensive military role for the Halifax towers. By that time all of them (except, for special reasons, the Prince of Wales Tower) had been disarmed. They were of little consequence in a tripartite system whose rifled guns would interdict the harbour approaches at York Redoubt, on a Point Pleasant-Ives Point axis, and the Georges Island-Fort Clarence inner line. Jervois deemed them so superfluous that he recommended the demolition of the Georges Island, Fort Clarence and Sherbrooke towers.52 Though the new works were not entirely completed and armed until after 1875,53 and only the Georges Island tower was actually totally eliminated, by 1865 at the latest, all five Halifax Martello towers had clearly lost their original role as effective self-defensible elevated gun platforms capable of independently withstanding artillery attack and making significant contribution to the defence of the city and harbour of Halifax.

The incorporation of some of the Halifax towers in the new British defensive systems, completed after 1871 and maintained until 1906, somewhat obscures their actual point of obsolescence. This anomalous process, which was epitomized by the Prince of Wales Tower's dubious distinction of mounting the last smoothbore guns in Halifax, was not repeated. Elsewhere in British North America towers became manifestly obsolete with the introduction of rifled guns and were not accorded any real measure of military value after their condemnation by Jervois in 1865. At Saint John, Quebec and Kingston the ready dismissal of the Martello towers was assisted by the apparent futility of attempting to defend any part of British North America by purely military means. At those places, the politically and financially unpalatable expedients necessary even to attempt such a defence resulted in the towers having neither any further value nor any successors. Under the aegis of the new dominion government, to whom of these Martello towers were surrendered in 1870, the post-1846 British policy of defending the country largely with mobile forces reached its culmination in the "redoubtable" hands of Canada's political militia. While the British policy had put an end to the construction of towers the Canadian policy condemned them to disuse, neglect and decay.

The Carleton Martello tower was never effectively armed and Colonel Westmacott passed it over without reference in his 1863 summary of previous reports on New Brunswick defence. Defence of the city of Saint John and province of New Brunswick had attracted small attention in the reassessment of colonial defences that began to percolate through the British military hierarchy in the 1850s. In 1855 Saint John was reported to be virtually without defence, and the isolated and uncovered tower on Carleton Heights was reported to be practically useless even by the nebulous standards of that date.54 In the very early 1860s there was a renewed concern as to the defensibility of Saint John. Between December 1861 and January 1863, four inclusive local defence reports were submitted to Great Britain and were considered by the British defence committee of 1862. The consensus appeared to be that the old communication route up the Saint John River valley was too vulnerable to be used in war and not worth defending. Saint John, however, was deemed an ideal offensive naval base for an enemy force moving against Halifax by way of Digby Gut and the Annapolis Basin, and measures were necessary to bar the enemy from it. Consequently in January 1863, Westmacott suggested that the proposed heavy sea batteries for Negro Point, Red Head and Partridge Island be proceeded with immediately.55 To defend the gorge to the Negro Point battery and assist in the land defence of Saint John, he also suggested establishing a redoubt in conjunction with the existing Carleton tower and arming the latter with a single 32-pounder traversing gun.56 Westmacott, however, was not the final arbiter of the city's defensive dispositions and his views merely opened up the issue.

In September of 1863 Saint John was visited by Lieutenant Colonel W. F. D. Jervois, Deputy Director of Works at the War Office. Jervois shared Westmacott's fears of American occupation and suggested that the Carleton tower, with an iron shield on the roof to cover the guns, would make a keep to the Negro Point battery then in process of formation. This may have been a practical suggestion, and it was one echoed with regard to the Quebec towers. Jervois, however, was a military theorist assessing the practicality and cost of a viable British North American defensive system rather than a practical man seeking the least expensive solution to immediate problems. His purpose rather appeared to be to find the endeavour impracticable by reason of cost and to rationalize the military abandonment of the British American colonies. For Saint John his final report set out a cost estimate of £200,000 to include completion of the sea batteries, defences for the eastern approaches to the city and a chain of three redoubts across Carleton Heights on the lines of Nicolls's 1812 proposal. One of the latter forts was to be established in connection with the Carleton tower. A lack of detail makes it impossible to determine his intentions for the tower, or even whether it was to be armed, but an establishment on the suggested scale would certainly have rendered it largely redundant.57 Given his appreciation of the impact of the new ordnance technology, he could hardly have visualized the old tower as more than a barrack or magazine covered by the scarp of a fort. His views were of little practical consequence, however. In the ebb-tide of Anglo-American hostilities, even the nearly completed Negro Point and Red Head sea batteries were not properly armed, and the unarmed and unimproved Carleton tower slipped unnoticed further down the scale of British military calculations of empire.

Jervois had earlier reported on the works of fortification in Canada, and, in November 1864, had estimated £1,754,000 as being necessary to make that colony defensible. These monies were to be expended chiefly at Quebec, Montreal and Kingston, whose permanent fortification would alone make Canada able to resist her powerful neighbour. In this manner Jervois posed a problem capable only of political solution at the highest level.58

At Quebec, Jervois predicated his assessment on the assumptions that it would not be attacked from the north side of the St. Lawrence until Montreal, which he proposed to fortify, had fallen, and that attention should first be concentrated on works to defend it from bombardment on the LÚvis shore. Almost nothing had been done at Quebec, and little proposed, since the reinforced advanced tower line had been suggested in the early 1840s, although it had been frequently reported upon in the early 1860s. With the exception of the Citadel, Jervois found the existing works hardly capable of defence.59 He said of the Martello towers, "The guns of the towers are quite exposed, being mounted 'en barbette,' their fire would be silenced almost immediately, an enemy's batteries were opened against, unless they were covered by iron shields."60 In conclusion, however, he made no such specific recommendation for them. He contented himself with proposing the general repair of the town works, the construction of a new line one and one-half miles in advance of it between the St. Lawrence and Saint-Charles to resist rifled guns, and the defence of LÚvis by a chain of detached forts. Because until a very late date it was intended to exclude Quebec City from any general withdrawal from British North America, three of these LÚvis works were constructed at a cost of £250,000 to the British treasury, although they were never armed.61

Although the only concrete effect of Jervois' report on Quebec was the construction of three expensive redoubts that were abandoned before they were armed, it did provoke a final short-lived controversy involving the towers. As an alternative to Jervois' advanced town line, Lieutenant Colonel Gallway, District Commanding Engineer at Quebec, suggested a bastioned line of ditch and parapet immediately in advance of the Martello towers that would convert each tower into an earth-banked keep for a casemated redoubt. He felt that the towers armed with two heavy guns, each in a cupola, could then make a powerful contribution to the defences. This scheme of moving the defences back within the suburbs of the town was a retrograde one, against the lessons to be drawn from the whole recent experience with rifled guns. Nonetheless, the precautions advocated by Gallway to make the towers useful at all clearly indicates their military obsolescence as functionally independent military works. In his scheme they would have become no more than bunkers. Their use was only suggested at all because their integration into a new line on the plains would have made it cheaper than an entirely new line.62

Further discussion of Gallway's proposal was quickly rendered academic. Both Jervois' 1864 and 1865 reports and his derivative scheme had been predicated on the belief that Canadians themselves would be prepared to bear part of the cost of their own defence. This assumption proved erroneous, and by 1868 it was observed that, while the British government had made great progress in improving the fortifications of Quebec, neither the Canadian assembly nor the new dominion government had contributed anything.63

At this juncture Canadian reluctance to participate in defensive preparations, and a welter of other economic, military and political influences operating upon it, were leading the British government inexorably to a general military withdrawal from British North America as a whole. This event was precipitated in December 1868 by the assumption of office of a new Liberal government headed by W. E. Gladstone. He was a long-time opponent of colonial military expenditures and moved quickly to implement his views.

It had always been assumed that Halifax would be retained as a garrisoned and fortified imperial station and Quebec retained as an avenue by which Canada could be supported in a crisis. In 1869, however after an involved debate, it was decided that Quebec too would be abandoned and only the easily defensible and directly useful Halifax retained. This decision was communicated to Canada on 12 February 1870. The Quebec Citadel was finally vacated on 11 November 1871.64 The final British withdrawal left the four Quebec Martello towers in no more defensible state than they had been on their completion in 1812.

The resolution of the great issues of imperial politics, and the lesser military considerations that caused the British reluctantly to abandon the Quebec fortifications, operated more quickly and definitely in regard to those at Kingston. It had been the recognized terminus of British inland power since 1825 and its works, unimproved since 1848, were obsolete and unequivocally slated for abandonment in 1869 by a power unsure even of its capacity to hold the Quebec Citadel.

Jervois condemned the existing works at Kingston, and particularly the Martello towers, in his 1865 report, but in this instance he was merely echoing frequent local complaints. As early as 1861 Fort Henry was reported defective before rifled ordnance, since it mounted ordnance that had not been improved since its completion nearly 30 years before. The whole of Kingston was so open to attack by rifled guns from the water and from Wolfe and Garden islands that it was no longer a reliable repository for military or naval stores. The mounting of the tower ordnance at the end of 1862 helped but little, as the inspectional report of that year stated that the pintles on Fort Henry and all the batteries were defective and broke under the slightest provocation. No improvements were made, and Kingston clearly remained effectively undefended except for the towers which, despite some of them being enclosed in redoubts, were not proof against rifled guns.65

Jervois' first survey of the defences of Kingston and the rest of Upper Canada in 1863 was so unfavourable that in the existing circumstances he could suggest no plan for its defence. In 1864, however, in response to local political pressures and the declared intention of the government of Canada to provide a fortified harbour and naval establishment at Kingston with a view to placing a naval force on Lake Ontario, he undertook a more detailed and optimistic examination of it.66

Jervois opened his critical assessment of the existing works with the remark that, "Nearly all the guns are mounted 'en barbette,' and thus liable to be easily silenced by rifled ordnance."67 He continued by stating that

Even in the days when rifled ordnance was unknown, these works of themselves could never have afforded efficient protection to a naval establishment at Kingston either from a sea or land attack. An enemy with a temporary naval superiority at this point might land troops either to eastward or westward of Kingston, and proceed to one of the several positions from which he could destroy a naval establishment constructed under cover of the existing defences, or burn the town if he pleased. He might also fire into the dockyard and town from the lake.68

Jervois deemed all the existing works so defective in both quality and location that he completely dismissed them in his proposed new defences for the Canadian naval establishment.

This scheme involved a complete circle of heavy permanent works distant one and one-half to three miles from the landward side of the harbour, and equally distant from the islands in advance of it, as the only effective protection from the accurate fire of rifled guns. The estimated cost of these works was £391,000.69 His report placed the onus on the Canadians to demonstrate their willingness to pay a high price for the defence of Upper Canada. When they failed to respond by 1869, the disbandment of the units of the Royal Canadian Rifles stationed there and the surrender of the existing works was an automatic consequence of the general British military decision to leave the Canadian interior and the Canadians to their own devices. The decision made little difference to a town and naval dockyard whose four batteries and six Martello towers had never provided it with a secure permanent defence.

An examination of the effective military demise of the 16 Canadian Martello towers in the decade of the 1860s is in part a commentary on the eventual fate of all permanent works of fortification and defence. In the end they were simply overwhelmed, not by the hostile assault for which they had been prepared for decades, but by the sheer mass of an accelerating military technology.

The rifled gun and the conditions and expenses of warfare it prescribed rendered these light permanent works abruptly obsolete in the fulfillment of their established defensive roles. The event terminated a lengthy process of gradual decline. A combination of British unwillingness to continue defending Canada and a Canadian reluctance to fulfill that responsibility adequately on its own denied some of the towers an opportunity to fill even a subsidiary role in a new defensive system. Only at Halifax, and there under peculiar local circumstances, did any of them continue in active service. For the most part, however, continued use would have been impossible anyway, for the influences of the rifled gun were not limited by its power to penetrate the fully or partially exposed masonry walls on the Martello towers. Its effective range of several thousand yards forced any potentially effective defences out a corresponding distance from the objects they were designed to protect, and, in all but exceptional circumstances, reduced the Martello towers, situated in the immediate vicinity of their objects in the era of smoothbore guns, to the level of local military curiosities.

Paradoxically it was in this period of reviving military interest, between 1846 and 1871, that the existing Martello towers experienced the greatest period of their paramilitary uses, as barracks and magazines. These uses, however, were merely an expedient employment of structures already present, and in no way justified their preservation or continuation in service outside of Halifax, once the British departure reduced pressure on the existing military facilities.

Between the commencement of the Kingston towers in 1846 and the British surrender of all of the 16 Martello towers and subordination of the remainder in the years before 1871, this type of work, and the existing towers in particular, underwent a process of progressive obsolescence. It was so gradual as to be almost indiscernible in the face of the quantitative additions to the American smoothbore arsenal, better communications and steam navigation in the 1840s and 1850s.

The military impact of an improving technology and developing frontier was exacerbated, in British North America, by the military's reluctance to acknowledge the obsolescence of existing fortifications in a climate of opinion that virtually precluded their improvement or replacement. The rifled gun produced qualitative changes in ordnance technology that had real, immediate and far-reaching influences on the future of Martello towers. It was, at the same time, of an order of magnitude to force even the most recalcitrant and equivocal military tacticians to an admission of the obsolescence of masonry towers. This whole terminal era in the active history of the towers can be viewed as a leisurely and inevitable running out of the clock, marked by the single all-encompassing discontinuity of the introduction of the rifled muzzle-loading gun.



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