All photographs in this gallery have been kindly provided by Tim Willasey-Wilsey ©
The Victoria and Albert Battery at Port Royal, Jamaica
Tim Willasey-Wilsey, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College, London
Opposite the capital of Kingston Jamaica runs the “palisadoes” a narrow causeway at the tip of which stands Port Royal, the town famously destroyed by the earthquake of 1692. Two of the town’s forts, Fort James and Fort Carlisle disappeared under the waves but Fort Charles survived “much shattered”. It was rebuilt by the famous engineer Colonel Christian Lilley and still remains in remarkably good condition with old cannon lining the parapets and an evocative plaque to Horatio Nelson who commanded the fort in 1779. In spite of the destruction of two thirds of the town, Port Royal remained a major British naval base until 1905.
However Fort Charles’s defences were not deemed sufficient by the late 19th Century. Outside the ramparts of the fort towards the open sea stands the Victoria and Albert Battery, built in 1888 on land thrown up by the 1692 quake. It consists of 4 circular gun emplacements, originally built for two 9.2 inch and two 6 inch naval guns, intended to defend the naval base from threats from the sea. The four emplacements are said to have been connected by tunnels; but the earthquake of 1907 inflicted significant damage on the whole site. By then the naval base had closed and© it was clearly not worth rebuilding the battery. So it remains more or less as it was on the afternoon of 14th January that year. A small artillery storehouse on the site still leans over crazily at nearly 45 degrees, testament to the force of the 6.5 magnitude shock.
But the biggest surprise is the survival on site of one of the two 9.2 inch guns in remarkably fine condition, albeit missing its breech. According to the “Victorian Forts and Artillery” website it is a Mark 1 model. The Mark 1 was not a great success and none of this early version was thought suitable for installation aboard warships. Instead coastal defence was a better option and the two examples sent to Jamaica were installed on hydro-pneumatic (HP) “disappearing” carriages. The attached plates demonstrate the principle. For reloading the weapon is lowered down into its protective emplacement before being raised again to fire.
Sources and further reading
Cundall, Frank. Historic Jamaica. London: Institute of Jamaica, 1915.
Pawson, Michael and Buisseret, David. Port Royal, Jamaica. Kingston; UWI, 1974
Moore, David. Victorian Forts and Artillery website.