Tue | Dec 10, 2019

Fortified Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | April 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
One of the cannons at Fort Montego, St James, which was considered to be large, but inefficient.
Turn Port Royal into a 24-hour tourist area
This cannon at Fort Morant, St Thomas was built in 1801, while the port itself was erected about 1758.
Ocho Rios Fort was built in the late 1600s. It was repaired sometime ago by Reynolds Jamaica bauxite company.
The storyboard at Fort George on Titchfield Hill, Portland.
Port Royal has five forts, of which Fort Charles, above, is the largest. It is open for visits and tours.
The old armoury at Fort Haldane, near Port Maria, St Mary.
A section of Fort George, located at Titchfield Hill, Portland.

The Spaniards, under Diego Columbus, settled in Jamaica in 1510 and for more than 145 years the Spaniards ruled the land. But on May 10, 1655, Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables entered the island to capture it to appease Oliver Cromwell of Britain after they failed to capture Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola.

Soon after, the British began to set up forts to defend the island from possible invasions. Over time, several forts were built along the coasts of the island to defend the country. Eventually, 20 forts dotted Jamaica's coastline. They were essentially thick-walled structures protected by huge cannons. Many were built on land way above sea level, while some were built on or near the sea.

While the money for building the forts was provided by the Government, for the most part, the actual construction was done by mainly enslaved Africans, using local stones and bricks and those imported from England. Many have since fallen into disrepair, some have no trace, while others are protected and well kept. No two forts were alike; they all have their history and little

anecdotes attached to them.

Historic Port Royal had many functional forts over the years: Fort Charles, Fort Carlisle, Fort Morgan, Fort Rupert, Fort Rocky, and Fort Walker. Fort Charles was originally called Fort Cromwell, and was the first to be built on Port Royal. It is now a well-kept showpiece and accepts tours and visits.

protection from Germans

The last fort to be built in Port Royal before the great earthquake of 1692 was Fort Walker, while Fort Rocky was built to protect the island from possible German invasions during World War II. It now lies in ruins.

Across from Port Royal, Fort Augusta, named after Augusta, mother of King George III, is situated between Fort Henderson and Passage Fort in St Catherine. It was built on dumped-up swampland, which caused many workers to die of fever and insect bites. There were more deaths, 300 in 1763, when 3,000

barrels of gunpowder were struck by lightning. The structure of the fort is in good condition, and it houses Jamaica's only all-female prison.

The only fort that didn't get an official name is the one at Savanna-la-Mar, situated at the end of Great George Street. This unfinished structure was funded by landowners in the parish in the mid-18th century. It was partially built in the sea. And still, out west, Montego Bay Fort was regarded as one of Jamaica's largest, but some historians believe it was not located strategically. Some of the cannons are still there, as well as a craft market.

Two high schools are located on properties that were former forts. Rusea's High School in Lucea, Hanover, is partially located on Fort Charlotte, named in honour of King George III's consort, Charlotte. In Port Antonio, on Titchfield Hill, Fort George is the home of Titchfield High School. It was built by a Christian Lilly around 1629.

One of the highest forts is Fort Haldane, near Port Maria, St Mary. During the Seven-Year War, from 1756 to 1763, European nations were at odds with themselves over many issues. There were numerous battles and much antagonism. Among them was the fight among Britain, France and Spain over trade and colonies. Jamaica, then, was seemingly in danger of being attacked by Spain.

To protect the Port Maria harbour, a fort was erected in 1759 on a piece of headland, rising about 1,000 feet above sea level, and from which there is a panoramic view of the bay, the town and the hills beyond. It was named after the then governor of Jamaica, General George Haldane. The place also served as a jail for unruly enslaved people and members of the working class.

Governor Haldane, who was a decorated veteran fighter, actually had expertise in artillery and ballistics and helped to design the fort, whose cannons were positioned facing the sea. He also commissioned his friend, the well-known English scientist, Benjamin Robins, to help with the positioning of the cannons. Fort Haldane is now a Jamaica National Heritage Trust protected site.

Some of the forts that did not

survive are Fort William and Fort Lindsay, both near Old Pera in St Thomas. Fort Littleton at Oracabessa in St Mary was built in 1752 by John Allen. The property was eventually subdivided and occupied. At Harbour View, St Andrew, the Martello Tower is the only remnant of Fort Nugent, which was named after Governor George Nugent.

These forts are excellent places to learn about our history and are important for the heritage tourism landscape, but in terms of the country's defence, they are useless as a kitchen knife in a nuclear war.