Exit Britannia

By Janet Sloss

BONAVENTURA
PRESS

Chapter 6

EXIT BRITANNIA

Britain’s Last Conquest of Menorca 1798 - 1802

© 2002 Bonaventura Press

  Chapter 1 Chapter 5 Chapter9
Introduction Chapter 2 Chapter 6 Chapter10
Acknowledgments Chapter 3 Chapter 7 Chapter11
Bibliography Chapter 4 Chapter 8 Chapter12

Chapter 6

Robert d'Arcy, a captain of the Royal Engineers in General Stuart's regiment, was given the task of organising the defence of the island. What he found was a mountain of rubble where the enormous star-shaped castle of St Philip's had stood for centuries, guarding the harbour of Mahon, more ruins at the small fort of St Anthony in Fornells, and a collection of rusty and useless cannons scattered around the coasts. When Spain recovered Menorca in 1782, the forts had been demolished by a government order on the strange assumption that without them the island would not tempt foreign invaders to attack it. There were left one battery on the Mola, four batteries at St Philip's and three temporary batteries at Fornells.

Clearing and repair work at the ruined St Philip's Castle was immediately started and the men were given sixpence a day extra every eighth day to speed the work. On May 1st, Stuart submitted d'Arcy's recommendations to London. Some examples of the work involved were: at St Philip's they were to rebuild the retaining wall of the Argyle and Anstruther casemates (batteries) toward the sea, to finish the exterior scarp at the Queen’s and palisade the line of defence in front of it to the ditch of the Kane battery right flank, to secure the casemates and communications from the ditches of the works, to finish the exterior scarp of the Southwest Lunette, to clear the entrance for the pontoons in St Stephen's Cove, to raise the parapets of Charles Fort for three traversing guns, to arc over the well and steps down to the grand magazine in the centre of the castle, to make a communication to the long passage through the Southeast inner raveline, to fit up magazines in the gorges of the West Caroline and Southwest lunette and to build a small magazine in the gorge of Kane's, and lastly, to clear the battery intended for a hospital and restore the basin for boats at the sally port. All this would mean months of work to put the ruins of St Philip’s into a basic, serviceable state.

At Fort Marlborough, they were to secure the windows and doors leading from the casemate to the ditch and palisade the gorge. At Turks Mount tower, they would floor the habitable part and fit up a magazine and store room, also putting in doors on the caves that could be used for stores. At Philipet tower, they would put floors in the habitable part and put in a magazine and store-room. At Murgado tower, they planned to build a shot kiln and arch the room in the top, adding another magazine and store room in the habitable part.

To put the ruined fortress at Fornells in a state of defence, they were to build a barrack, put floors into the casemates and line the magazine. As a further means of defending that outpost, they would place felled trees lengthwise one over the other with their branches facing outwards. This was a defensive measure often used in the north of Europe where there were plenty of trees. A shot kiln would also be built on the larger island in Fornells harbour. And at Ciudadela, a shot kiln would be put in St Nicholas tower.

D'Arcy estimated the cost of the works at St Philip's alone at 2,700 pounds sterling, and the paymaster general immediately advanced 7,923,13 pounds to cover all the works.

Stuart had second thoughts about spending time and money on re-building work at St Philip's Castle. “These additions,” he wrote, “require consideration for when we reflect that the place surrendered to Richelieu in the year 1755 upon the outworks being taken, that the Spaniards have continually regretted having destroyed St Philip's and that the navy should ever be the principal bulwark of the island, it becomes a matter of great doubt whether they would prove of sufficient advantage to compensate the trouble, labour and expense such an addition must necessarily occasion.” 18

He also had second thoughts about Ciudadela's defences. Instead of levelling the crumbling old city walls and spending some months in building towers on its coasts, he decided to defend only the ports of Fornells, Alcaufar and Mesquida. “When, after opposing the enemy to the utmost of my power in the field, I mean to retire to St Philip's. Had I an army equal to the complete defence of this possession, I should make a very different arrangement.”
Stuart's health was in such a poor state that he received permission to return to England. In early May, he inspected the forts at Ciudadela and Fornells and found them ready to house troops and “as the principal works constructed upon the site of St Philip's Castle, Fort Marlborough and the adjoining towers at Turk's Mount and Philipet were completely enclosed, had their guns mounted and the necessary stores for a siege deposited in places of security, I signified to the 29th, 90th and my own regiment that their labour was no longer required.” The men had worked hard and well. To celebrate the occasion, Stuart invited everyone to the re-naming of St Philip's Castle as Fort George. This was “accordingly done on the same day with every military distinction, by hoisting the Royal Standard, and a general discharge of the artillery and musketry around the works, answered by His Majesty's ships and the Portuguese squadron lying in the harbour.

“The animation of this scene must have affected the most disinterested spectator, while it impressed me not only with the satisfaction of holding out this defiance to the enemy within their hearing, but with a firm belief that while there remained a British soldier upon the island, Fort George would be gallantly defended; nor should I omit mentioning that the Minorquins judge favourably of the event from the ceremony's happening unwittingly to fall upon St Philip's Day, corresponding with the precise day in 1560 when the old fort was finished and named after King Philip the second of Spain!” 19

Before leaving, Stuart left instructions for the distribution of troops with Erskine. “…after having used every military exertion and effort to repel the enemy in the field without effect, you will retire to Fort George, withdrawing all the out-posts but Fornelles and St Nicholas, and occupying not only that post, but Fort Marlborough, Turks Mount, Philipet and, if finished, the towers intended to be constructed at the entrance of the peninsula of Cape Mola, and defending yourself to the last extremity.” After Stuart's departure, Erskine reported to London that the Mahon and Ciudadela garrisons were manned and that three regiments were camped out near Alaior ready to move at a moment's notice. However, everyone agreed that Menorca's principal protection would be a squadron of ships constantly in view, and Admiral St Vincent promised his support.

St Clair Erskine received permission to return to England to arrange his private affairs as soon as the new governor, Lieutenant General Sir Edward Fox, arrived. Fox, however, was delayed both in England and at Gibraltar and only reached Menorca in November. In one of his last reports to London that autumn, Erskine wrote: “General Stuart’s changes to the municipal constitutions and better administration of the civil government have been found to answer their general purpose beyond the most sanguine expectation. All the ‘universities’ now have some money in hand for grain and for the health office in Mahon. The Menorquins accept and are pleased with the improvements.

“The military works projected and undertaken by General Stuart have been entirely completed. The fort at Fornells has been strengthened by an abbatis 20, and the block house on the island finished; and that harbour may now be considered as in a most respectable state of security. Three round towers have been constituted for the defence of the peninsula of Cape Mola and the Lazaretto, and I have thought it expedient to erect a small tower at Cala St. Andrea near Ciudadella where Sir Charles Stuart had originally designed to place one. The only other buildings which I have ventured to order are a barrack within Fort George, capable of containing 450 men, and ovens sufficient to bake for the garrison. This measure was rendered necessary by the dampness of the casemates where the bread had been stored… and regard for the health of the men made it desirable for the same reason, to provide further cover… when the rainy season would no longer allow their continuance under canvas.”

St. Clair Erskine reported to London that he was handing over to General Fox an army in a high state of discipline, excellent officers and a good economy.

When Fox arrived on November 11th, 1799, he professed himself ignorant on the subject of fortification, so d’Arcy gave him his opinion of what work should be carried out to give the island adequate defence. When six months had passed and he had received no orders, he gave Fox a very detailed summary of all the works carried out by the English since 1708, and their present state.

“The sea line of batteries and some of the casemates and magazines of Fort St Philip’s remaining, and the ruined outworks giving the points for an entrenched camp, they were restored and connected by lines; and on the first of May 1799 constituted the work now called Fort George, having Mount Stuart Tower and Fort Marlborough on the left, and a tower at Philipet Point on the right… Mount Stuart Tower has been strengthened, the ditch of Fort Marlborough has been cleared, and the communication to the gorge of that work considerably strengthened. The line wall that closed the works of Fort George at St Stephen’s Cove is finished and a ditch and a glacis in front of it, flanked by a casemate. The casemates of the Caroline Lunette have been made to communicate with the ditch of the Southwest outward raveline, also the casemates of the Southwest lunette made to connect with the west counterguard. A casemate passage to the Kane’s has been cleared, and the work called the Anstruther rebuilt.

“Two towers have been erected at Cape Mola, mounting a traversing gun each to prevent the commanding ground there falling into the hands of the enemy. A tower mounting two traversing guns has been erected on the peninsula of Philipet north of the lazaretto, to flank the communication to Cape Mola by the isthmus, as well as to annoy the enemy’s approach on the side of Fort George.

“But if the island of Minorca retains its value in the eyes of Great Britain, the placing the principal fortress should, as far as possible, comprehend the following objects: the security of the naval arsenal, safe anchorage for ships that arrive with supplies, and to exclude an enemy’s land batteries from commanding the entrance of the harbour… Therefore, it appears that the ground favourable for an enemy to advance on lies between the harbour of Mahon and the ditch of Stanhope’s tower. The tower of Mount Stuart with the addition of two cavaliers will be sufficient to command the situation where the Spaniards formerly erected their batteries to fire on vessels approaching the harbour, and also for the protection of Fort Marlborough. A large work like Mount Stuart Tower should be built in the ground in front of the Queen’s which is very favourable to an enemy.” 21

In the autumn of 1801, when the first whispers of a peace treaty were arriving from London, d’Arcy reported that the work to strengthen the bombsite of St Philip’s Castle had not been finished. Ground had been cleared and stone brought, but more line walls and palisades had to be built, more cavaliers finished, a battery for two heavy guns to be raised on the sea line near the flagstaff, and a casemate was still not built to protect the main guard in the communication way from the royal battery to the waterport. The tower at the lazaretto was nearly finished, and material had been collected to connect the outbuildings of the lazaretto with Philipet tower and the walls of St. Philip’s, but the walls had not yet been built. At the end of that year, when the preliminary articles of peace were signed, orders arrived that all work must be stopped.

Footnotes

18 WO1/296
19 WO1/298
20 A form of defence made by placing felled trees with their branches facing outwards.
21 WO1/298

Georgetown
Courtesy of the Rubio Foundation

 

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