Brimstone Hill, so called because of the strong smell of sulphur emanating from underwater vents nearby, is a solid extrusion of cooled lava which emerged as a result of underlying volcanic activity from beneath the sea about 6,000 years ago. The limestone crust at the bottom of the ocean was ruptured by the emerging dome and displaced along its sides. Brimstone Hill therefore is a mass of hard volcanic andesite covered by limestone along much of its slope. Therein lies one explanation for the massive structures which were later built at the top and upper levels: the building materials are right there on site, from the stone from which the blocks were fashioned, to the limestone from which the mortar was produced to cement them together.
The construction of the Fortress, begun in 1690, was continued intermittently for just over 100 years. Strategically, Brimstone Hill offered support to Fort Charles on the coast below, and provided defence to the important commercial town of Sandy Point and its harbour less than two miles away. However its design was that of a refuge fortress, built to accommodate the more influential planters and merchants during times of war. In 1782, when the French surrounded the Fortress with 8,000 soldiers and bombarded it with heavy artillery, the valiant defenders, numbering less than 1,000, were forced to surrender after a month of siege.
Why would the French bother to land thousands of soldiers and dozens of heavy cannon and mortar to capture Brimstone Hill? The logistics of such an operation included sea transport of troops by 28 ships of the line and other assorted craft, landing and transporting heavy equipment overland, digging miles of trenches and organising meals for 8,000 men for several weeks.
It must be remembered that the two archrivals, England and France had shared St. Christophe / St. Christopher from 1625 to 1713, both establishing their first Caribbean settlements on this friendly and fertile island. The success of these ventures provided a model and a springboard for English and French imperialism in the Caribbean. This must have been of some significance to both European nations who had in the ensuing years derived immense wealth, prestige and power from the exploitation of their Caribbean empires. St. Christopher, still a profitable colony in 1782, was of great importance, well worth defending -- and capturing. Indeed, the new republic of the United States of America, still embroiled in conflict with its former colonial masters, and recognising the symbolic value of Brimstone Hill, encouraged their allies, the French to strike at this bulwark of British supremacy.
St. Christopher ( and with it, Brimstone Hill ) was returned to Britain a year later, following the Treaty of Paris. From that time and for the next fifteen years or so, a massive programme of reconstruction and expansion of the Fortress was embarked upon. No effort was spared in creating an impressive and impregnable military complex, never again to be captured by the enemy. Brimstone Hill Fortress became "a veritable hilltop town" and came to be known then and thereafter as the "Gibraltar of the West Indies".
By the mid 19th Century, however, the Fortress succumbed to a more destructive if less cataclysmic reversal. Along with other forts in the Caribbean, Brimstone Hill was abandoned, as the British ( and French ) turned their attention to other, potentially more lucrative domains in Africa and Asia. Wooden structures and furniture were auctioned off, vegetation took over, and vandals destroyed entire buildings for the cut stone.
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[ Introduction ]
[ Development of a National Park ]