Brimstone Hill Fortress

Article and pictures by Greg Ashley, all rights reserved.

St. Kitts is an island in the Caribbean located 381km (237 miles) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The island is 37km (23 miles) long and 8km (5 miles) wide at its widest point. The British explorer Sir Thomas Warner established the first European settlement on the island in 1624. However the French landed a short while later, beginning a long history of competition with the British for control of the island. Brimstone Hill is a rock formation composed mainly of andesite that was pushed up from the ocean floor during geologic times. The nonvolcanic origin of Brimstone Hill is evident in the fossilized marine life embedded in the rock. The hill is characterized by sheer cliffs and steep ravines, thus making it ideal for a defensive fortification.

Interest in Brimstone Hill as a defensive position did not occur until 1690, about 41 years after Warner's death. During that time, the British used the hill successfully to dislodge the French, who had taken over nearby Charles Fort, a British coastal stronghold predating Brimstone Hill Fortress. Brimstone Hill provided a strategic advantage because it overlooked Charles Fort and was within cannon range (Charles Fort under arrow in picture below).

After the 1690 conflict, the British began construction of a fort on Brimstone Hill. Construction continued intermittently for the next 100 years, ultimately culminating in its present form. Both Brimstone Hill and Charles Fort can be found via Google Earth or Google Maps pasting the following coordinates into the search box.

maps.google.com

17°20'51.95"N 62°50'10.98"W

Brimstone Hill Fortress

17°20'56.98"N 62°50'46.23"W

Charles Fort

The distance between these two forts is approximately 1.052km (0.65 miles; 1150 yards) which is well within the 2000-3000 meter range of Brimstone Hill's cannon. The elevation at the highest gun deck on Brimstone Hill is 233 meters (764 feet) as compared to 18 meters (59 feet) at Charles Fort.

The main structures of Brimstone Hill Fortress are shown in the attached aerial photo adapted from Google Earth.

Key:
1. Northwest entrance
2. Magazine Bastion
3. Orillion Bastion and south entrance
4. South ravine
5. Prince of Wales Bastion
6. Water catch with stone wall emplacements to left
7. Monkey Hill equipped with redan and casemates
8. East ravine with cul de sac at top
9. Fort George

The fort was designed to defend against access via the more scalable slopes of the ravines. The most accessible routes lead upward to the north entrance (#1), south entrance (#3), and the east cul de sac (#8).The designers of the fort did an excellent job of constructing emplacements that provide defending troops the ability to lay down redundant layers of crossfire on approaching invaders. The north entrance is guarded by the Magazine'Bastion'(#2). This bastion is the lowest of the three bastions on Brimstone Hill. In addition to covering the north entrance, cannon mounted here can direct fire down adjacent ravines and provide cover for Charles Fort. The Magazine Bastion also contains a large water catch.

Invading troops attempting to breach the south entrance would take fire from the Orillion Bastion (#3), Prince of Wales Bastion (#5), and emplacements bordering the upper large water catch (#6). As can be seen in the photos, these emplacements offer a remarkable view of the surrounding area. The area at the top of the east cul de sac (#8) formed the parade grounds.

As can be seen in the photo, the Parade Grounds were ringed with defensive positions capable of laying down fire on troops reaching the top of the east cul de sac. The east cul de sac also was defended by positions on top of Fort George (#9) and Monkey Hill (#7). Perhaps the most impressive structure on Brimstone Hill is Fort George (#9), a polygonal structure that sits on the highest point of the northern hill. Fort George was built in the polygonal style, also known as a flankless fort.

This style was designed in response to the growing use of explosive artillery shells. Each face of Fort George had a caponier that protruded from the wall and could provide enfilading coverage in order to prevent invading troops from scaling the walls. At each end of Fort George is an outwork. The outwork facing the sea was known as the North West Work (see view with canon below). Similarly, the outwork facing inland was known as the North East Work. The entire Fort George structure was ringed with embrasures for canon that could rake fire down the steep cliffs and ravines, as well as provide support Charles Fort on the coastline and cover an attack from the rear.

Brimstone Hill Fortress is perhaps is the best preserved example of fort extant in the Caribbean. All cab drivers on St. Kitts know how to find Brimstone Hill and most will not only take you there but also wait there for you until you are ready to leave. Plan on spending at least two hours there and be sure to bring your camera.

Article and pictures by Greg Ashley, all rights reserved. Greg has kindly offered to provide more information for anyone who is planning a visit to Brimstone Hill. His e-mail address is gcashley@gmail.com

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