Letters to the Editor

Find a design to allow entry to Fort Augusta

Monday, August 06, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

Having recently received, and read, the book Unfolding History: Castles, Fortresses and Citadels by Henri Stierlin for my 42nd birthday, I am compelled to speak for one of our own national treasures, Fort Augusta. However, I must confess my passion for forts and defensive structures, having travelled the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas learning about them.

Fort Augusta in the 21st century has found itself in the middle of a development proposal which undoubtedly will be of economic benefit to Jamaica. The challenge facing Fort Augusta is the unanswered question as to whether a 50-year-old Jamaica has a mature national understanding and appreciation of the economic and cultural value of these structures. I believe that the answer will be revealed in the Government of Jamaica's and China Harbour Engineering Company's execution of the Fort Augusta Container Terminal project.

Built to accommodate 80 guns, Fort Augusta is an ocean-side fortress constructed by the English during the 1740s - 1750s to provide the main defence for Kingston Harbour's west side. Remnants of a moat form an earthen ravelin to protect the main gate on Fort Augusta's land-locked western side as the southern and eastern sides feel the waves of the Caribbean Sea. On these three sides Fort Augusta is constructed of a 1500-foot long rampart or curtain wall almost 16 feet high and 42 feet thick built of hand-cut stone blocks with red brick arrises. It is likely that vaults and casements were built in the thick-walled mass. On top of these walls is the rampart or battlement, which is protected by a six-foot high crenellated parapet running the entire length of the curtain wall.

The northern side of Fort Augusta is also enclosed by a similar curtain wall, which differs only in thickness at six feet wide. This 900-foot-long wall faces into the swamps and mangroves of Hunt's Bay. Together these walls enclose eight acres of land, which would have housed the parade, barracks, keep, magazines and other essential operations.

Fort Augusta is a beautifully constructed and historically relevant artifact from our past. It faces directly southward across Kingston Harbour to the infamous Port Royal. The views across the harbour from Fort Augusta's bastions are spectacular and instructive of their function in the 18th century. The fort is even more impressive on approach from the sea with the sheer size and length of the walls and bastions dominating the coastline. This was perhaps the view seen by the 350 men, women and children who were held there after the slave ship Zeldina was captured en route from Angola by the British Navy off the coast of Cuba in 1857. The Zeldina departed Angola 46 days earlier with 500 enslaved Africans.

That a design solution does not exist or cannot be found that would conserve, reuse and maybe even open Fort Augusta to the public within the context of a shipping container development is unfounded. Jamaicans sincerely look forward to the design proposal for the new container terminal which will incorporate and reuse this magnificent 260-year-old foundation of Jamaica in the western world.

Christopher Whyms-Stone






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