Wednesday, 30 March 2011

St Helena - Jamestown Lines

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am currently somewhere remote (more remote than Scotland, that is), but did not specify that I am actually working on the (substantially remote) South Atlantic island of St Helena, famed for keeping Napoleon out of mischief for the last few years of his life.

In case you’re not exactly sure where St Helena is just imagine you're steaming east from Brazil and if you find you’ve hit Angola then you’ve gone too far (St Helena being about 1,200 miles west of the African coast). As there's no airport (yet) it takes 3 days by boat from Ascension Island to get here (and Ascension isn't easy to get to in itself) so that by any standard is ‘remote’.

Since St Helena’s discovery in 1503 (by the Portuguese) and its eventual occupation by the English in the 17th century, fortification building has been a major past-time on the island. There are many of these defensive structures still in existence and I’ve managed to get around a few of them in my short time on the island.

The most prominent of these is actually at Jamestown itself, which is the capital of St Helena and is located at the island’s most sheltered anchorage. The town is squeezed into a deep ravine with very steep hills more than 200m high on both sides.

Not surprisingly there are substantial fortifications commanding the bay, not least the curtain wall, two half bastions and a dry moat that separates the town from the sea, the Jamestown Lines. These were built between 1708 and 1714 by Governor Roberts. Here is a photo from 1862 of the defences taken from above West Rocks.

As the battery position from which the 1862 photo was taken is now inaccessible due to rockfalls, I took this picture from the eastern side from the track leading up to Munden’s Hill (about three hours ago).  As you can see the defences are pretty much as they were (apart from the swimming pool and outer sea wall - which is actually under construction in the 1862 photograph) and apparently represent one of the best preserved examples of East India Company fortifications in existence.
And speaking of Munden's Hill, here is one of the 9-inch 12 ton rifled muzzle loaders (RML) lying behind the emplacement at Munden’s Hill battery at an elevation of about 150m above James Bay.   From what I've read it was probably removed in the early 1900s.
It is quite unusual to see these still about because normal practice when guns were decommissioned seemed to be to heave them over the cliff...

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