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

Report of the 1972 Archaeological Excavations of the Market Shoal Tower, Kingston, Ontario

by Donald A. Harris


This report has so far dealt with the structural elements of the tower and its physical presence, but nothing has been said concerning its effectiveness and the general effectiveness of the fortifications surrounding Kingston Harbour. Lavell describes them in his article as being highly effective and they may have been at an earlier time against smoothbore cannon and wooden sailing ships. However, by the time they were armed in the l860s, smoothbore cannon were definitely obsolete and being rapidly replaced by rifled guns, and sails were being replaced by steam. Lavell bases his argument on the fact that while a ship running down the channel to Kingston would have an easy time of it. It would be very difficult for that same ship to tack back up the channel against the prevailing southwesterly wind. He overlooks the fact that this would present little problem to a steam vessel attacking from that direction.

Another factor overlooked by both the builders of the towers and Lavell was the development of rifled guns. In 1846 both an Italian and a German had successfully rifled cannon and in 1855 Lord Armstrong of England developed an iron breech loading rifled cannon whose design was considered revolutionary. At the same time, arms manufacturers in the United States were developing rifled cannon and this development was to be very fast paced with the coming of the war between the States (Manucy 1949: 14). By 1863 the Union Artillery had 100-, 200-, and 300-pounder Parrott rifles which were used to reduce Fort Sumter, South Carolina, to rubble from a distance of two miles. Siege guns of this type set up on Garden Island or the most northerly tip of Wolfe Island could have done the same to the defences around Kingston.

Studies were carried out in England under field trial conditions by the Royal Artillery in 1860 to determine the Martello tower's ability to withstand rifled fire (Burgoyne 1861; 1-9). The guns employed were of the type developed by Armstrong. These trials demonstrated the effectiveness of rifled ordinance at distances far greater than those previously employed by smoothbore cannon. The tower in this instance was reduced to a brick pile after 152 rounds. Another tower besieged under similar conditions but by a smoothbore cannon was deemed a failure.

In conclusion it must be stated that the effectiveness of the tower against the weaponry of the day was nil. Nevertheless, the towers and accompanying fortifications did offer some psychological comfort to the inhabitants of Kingston and they would have probably been effective as a rearguard defence, allowing the inhabitants to escape to the north and Ottawa if the need ever arose.

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