Tag Archives: Patterson’s Battery

Never fired in anger: the shore defences of Charlotte Town

As a trained and experienced military officer, Samuel Holland knew a thing or two about defending a position. He had been at both Louisbourg and Quebec when the British overwhelmed the French and he carried lessons learned about defence forward when he was surveying the Island of St. John in 1764-1765.  His report at the conclusion of the survey includes comments regarding the defensive capability of the three principal towns he had made allowance for in the survey.

The site for Charlotte Town, he noted,  had the advantage of easy communication, a fine site and a good water supply. Equally important in its favour was the fact that

…a Battery or Two some Distance Advanced, will Intirely Command the Harbour. An Enemy attempting to Attack the Town, cannot do it without Great Difficulties, Viz. having Passed the Batteries at the Entrance of the Harbour , they must attempt a Passage up Hillsborough and York Rivers, the Channels of Both which are Intricate, and the Entrances of the Respective Channels will be so near the Town that it must also be Attended with the Greatest Hazard, shou’d they Land any Troops on either side of the Bay of Hillsborough, they must still have the River of the Same Name on the East, or Elliot or York Rivers on the West to pass before they Could effect anything of Consequence.    

What is not mentioned in the defence summary is the fort site on which both the French and English had built rudimentary earthworks.  When Holland arrived in 1764 they were in ruinous condition and Charlottetown was to succeed the Fort Lot as the administrative capital of the colony, which at the time was simply part of Nova Scotia.  With the end of the war with the French, defence had become a reduced priority and Fort Amherst was abandoned soon afterwards.

The lack of “a Battery or Two some Distance Advanced,” meant that when conflict next arose Charlotte Town had nothing to defend it. In 1775 two American armed cruisers boldly sailed past empty and decaying Fort Amherst and anchored in front of the town without opposition. They landed armed shore parties and seized supplies, valuables and several of the colony’s officials.  Although America was in a state of war with Great Britain the latter action was deemed to be somewhat unsporting and eventually led to their return and an apology from George Washington – possibly the last time an American President apologized for anything.

The return of the officials led to a flurry of defensive activities. Phillips Callbeck, acting as administrator of the colony’s government in the absence of Governor Walter Patterson, developed a proposal to defend Charlotte Town. Seventeen cannon which had been abandoned in the ruined Fort Amherst when the garrison was removed in 1768 were moved across the harbour and installed in a timber-fronted fortification – grandly called “Patterson’s Battery” which had been built at the western end of the town’s waterfront.

Detail from Charlotte Town The Capital of the Island of St. John by Thomas Wright ca. 1780. Patterson’s Battery is at the west end of what would become Water Street

The plan also called for a battery on the height of land overlooking what was known as Tartar’s Wharf at the foot of what would later be named Great George Street. Other proposed defences included small redoubts to which the inhabitants of the town would retreat in the case of a raid or invasion. Although begun these were never finished. When Military engineer William Booth visited in 1785 he found that the largest of these had been burnt by the inhabitants as it was “a harbor for muskitos.”  During the same visit he found that although well-situated, Patterson’s Battery and the garrison buildings had never been finished and were in very poor condition.

Following the outbreak of war with France in 1793 Patterson’s Battery was repaired and in 1798 when Prince Edward was commander-in-chief of the British Forces in North America with his headquarters in Halifax, it was completely re-built and re-named as St. George’s Battery. At the same time an additional battery (and the only one still in existence)  was built at the Governor’s Farm. This four gun emplacement was named “Kent Battery” in honour of the Prince, who was also Duke of Kent.  A blockhouse which mounted two guns, protected by another battery of four guns was built at Beacon Point on the west entrance to the harbour which soon acquired the name Blockhouse Point.  Additional protection was provided by a further battery with four guns on the east side of the harbour channel. This fortification was named for the Duke of York and its short existence is still commemorated by the name Battery Point.  Finally the old Tartar’s Wharf emplacement at the foot of Great George Street was enlarged to mount six guns and was given the name Fort Edward or Prince Edward Battery. This apparent interest by the Prince in the welfare of the colony led to the vote in the legislature to rename it as Prince Edward Island.

Detail of 1845 Chart of Charlottetown Harbour showing location of defensive works.

By the first year of the 19th century a vessel approaching Charlotte Town faced, on paper at least, formidable defences. It would have to sail beneath cannon at Blockhouse, York Battery, Kent Battery, St. George’s Battery and Prince Edward Battery before anchoring off the town.  However, the heightened level of defence did not last for long.  In 1802 the Great George Street battery had been disassembled and the land sold off for development.  The name of the Prince Edward Battery was transferred to the battery at Fanningbank.  A report in 1803 showed all the fortifications to be miserable condition.  Only the Blockhouse was really useable. The shoreline had eroded at St. George’s Battery. At the Prince Edward Battery several of the guns were simply lying on the ground and they has been removed completely from the York Battery at Battery Point. To add insult to injury the contingent of Royal Artillery responsible for the guns, seven men under command of a corporal, was transferred to Halifax the same year. The St. George’s Battery was again re-built but this time moved 100 feet back from the shore to avoid tumbling into the harbour through erosion. After 1804 the Garrison of Charlottetown usually included a small contingent of Royal Artillery whose chief employment seems to have simply been maintaining the equipment.

As the century progressed threats from the French (and after 1814 from the Americans) receded and the emplacements were barely maintained.  It was increasingly clear that whatever tensions may have persisted in Europe the strategic importance of Prince Edward Island was virtually non-existent.  The British Army Garrison was withdrawn in 1855 and returned only for the ceremonial occasion of a royal visit in 1860 and to address tenant league unrest a few years later. With the garrison recalled to Halifax, Charlottetown’s fortifications, consisting of St. George’s Battery, Fort Edward and the Blockhouse,  were dismantled and the ordnance and equipment shipped to Halifax. The Blockhouse continued to be used as a signal station and later a lighthouse.

Detail from 1845 chart showing location of Ordnance Grounds and St. George Battery. Note that Pownal Wharf has not yet been built.

The Garrison and the St. George Battery, known as the Ordnance Grounds, which consisted of the property south of Sydney and west of what is now  Union Street, being surplus to requirements, were transferred from the Imperial Government to the Colony in 1863. Taking advantage of the windfall, and rejecting the suggestion that it might become a public park the entire property was carved into 21 building lots and auctioned off the following year with the proceeds going to the colonial balance sheet. New streets including Haviland Street and Dundas Esplanade were for many years the most prestigious addresses in the city until many (including the Esplanade itself) were gobbled up by the expansions of the Charlottetown Hospital and disappeared.

The fortification legacy is limited. Battery Point with its short-lived battery is now a subdivision. The Blockhouse continues as an aid to navigation with nary a nod to its defensive importance. Prince Edward Battery, now grandly called Fort Edward is the sole survivor of the lot.

There is one other symbol that remains. When the battery at Blockhouse was being dismantled an 18 pound cannon slipped over the bank and was deemed too difficult to retrieve. In 1860, just prior to the visit of the Prince of Wales, the gun was brought to Charlottetown and imbedded with the muzzle up at the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets. Originally surmounted with a flagstaff which bore the Union Jack throughout the Prince’s visit it continues to represent the days when Charlottetown needed protection from the dangers which arrived by sea.

A more detailed account of the harbour fortifications can be found in David Webber’s “On Guard, The Defences of Charlottetown Harbour” The Island Magazine #64 Fall/Winter 2008 pp. 31-37. For more on the military history of Prince Edward Island the best sources are David Webber’s A Thousand Young Men  Charlottetown: 1990 and James B. Pollard’s Historical Sketch of the Eastern Regions of New France … and Prince Edward Island Military and Civil. Charlottetown: 1898



“This is a good harbor” Charlotte Town in 1785


Charlotte Town in 1778. watercolour by Capt. Charles Randall. Library and Archives Canada #1951-5589-1. The view would not have much changed by the time of Lt. Booth’s visit seven years later. Patterson’s Battery can be seen at the left, beneath the flag.


From uncleared forest at the time of Holland’s survey in 1764 Charlotte Town grew slowly. It was inhabited mostly by colonial officials and a few merchants but the military presence was important to the capital. During and following the revolt of the Americans defense of the British colonies was a pre-occupation of the authorities.  In 1785 General John Campbell made a tour of the region from his headquarters in Halifax. One of the earliest accounts of Charlotte Town was left by Lieutenant William Booth of the Royal Engineers who was a member of the inspection party.

The itinerary of General Campbell’s tour was decided by the prevailing winds. The party embarked on the brig Maria not exactly knowing which direction they would take.

July 25th 1785
The wind continued against us for Shelburne tho’ quite in our favor for stretching to the Northward, the General’s intended route, after having finished his Tour to the Westward ‘t was now given out that; should the wind be North or South, on our clearing the Harbour, We were to sail.
We clear’d the Beach by 12 oClock, and finding the wind So. Wst we altered our course for the Island of St. John’s, where we arrived by the 28th without anything remarkable on our passage, except our, fortunately, passing between the main land and a Shoal of Rocks near the entrance of the Gut of Canso, which our pilot, who was a Fisherman we met with on our way, declared, was “only whale playing” on the Water, and that, for his part, he had been more than a hundred times, Fishing about the Coast, with his Boy, and Shallop, and never met with any accident, so that, in his idea, our, Poor Brig, was diminished to a Boat. We kept our Eyes, for several miles, upon this whale, as he term’d it, but found the appearance still the same, which confirmed our opinion of its being, a Breaker.

July 28th
This morning Captain Calbeck, the Attorney General of this Place, and two Gentlemen with him visited us. This is a good harbour, having in the middle of the Entrance, from 12 to 14 fathoms Water, and not less than 8 up to Charlotte Town, the Capital of this Island. The entrance of the Harbor is 1000 Yards in width, and runs, about a mile before it opens to the Town, and three fine Rivers viz. : one on the left call’d Elliot River, that in front, and due North, in the direction of the Entrance, is call’d Yorke River, and by some the North River, and that which runs from the Town to the Eastward, is named Hillsborough River. These Rivers are said to be full of Fish, of every kind, common to this Climate, great quantities of Oysters, are Bedded here, and Trout are found in vast abundance. There are between 60 and 70 Houses in Charlotte Town. The Governor has a small House there, and one at this Farm, situated near Fort Amherst, on the west side of the entrance of this Harbour [There has been a Barrack in this Fort, but no remains of it are at present to be seen, and the Fort quite in ruins, an old french Mortar is the only piece of ordnance in this Fort or rather Redout, bring Square, without Flanks.]


Thomas Wright’s 1780 map of Charlottetown. Made 5 years before Booth’s visit it shows only about half the number of structures noted by Booth suggesting that the town had doubled in size in 5 years. The defensive works at Patterson’s Battery, including the barracks can be seen at the west end of what would become Water Street. The only named street is Queen Street running from Patterson’s Field to a wharf which did not even extend to the edge of the flats exposed at low tide. A copy of the map can be found at the P.E.I. Public Archives and Records Office

To-day we dined with the Chief Justice; the Brigade Major Gordon, was not of the Party, having rode to St. Peters, to explore that part of the Country. I walk’d round the Town, and examined the Ground on which part the of the Barracks, that had been built for the Troops, Garrison’d here, in the war, are still standing, vizt. one wing of a Pile of Barracks, that were never completed, the other wing, and return, having been taken away by the Refugee’s, and others, for fire wood etc.  Capt. Calbeck says, the part that is gone, was only Framed. There are also standing a barrack, in front, and near Patterson’s Battery, a Guardhouse , an Hospital, and a Commanding officer’s Quarter. In the rear of the Town, has been a Field Fort, thrown up for the Inhabitants to retire to, in case of an Enemy taking possession of their Works in front. [The Inhabitants set fire to it, saying twas a harbor for muskito’s. Capt. Calbeck inform’d me this on my observing the Fascines burnt & also a Gun Carriage partly destroyed.] This Fort is now totally in ruins, as is the battery above mention’d  The Fort consisted of 4 confined half Bastions; the whole faced, and lined with Fascines, having, on each Flank, a Gun; but the Ground, in the rear again of this Work, has too great a command to render it a permanent Post. Patterson’s Battery consists of 9 Guns of different Calibres, tis 30 feet or so above the Water and is well situated for defending the approach to the Town, on that side.

Agreeably to General Campbell’s orders, I examined the state of the Officers’ and Soldiers’ Barracks , in order to have them repaired, for the Two Companies of the 33rd Regiment expected to arrive in three weeks; the General desired that this business might be done by contract: I accordingly agreed with a Mr. Clark, master Carpenter, for the completion of those Quarters, and when done, to enclose the whole with a good Palisade forming a handsome Parade; this estimate amounts to £363/7/6 H. Cy.

Dined with the Governor, and the principal  Gentlemen of the Town.

1st August
Dropt down to the Governor’s Farm, near the entrance of the Harbor, where we remained during this day, the wind being unfavorable for our intended voyage to Spanish River [In the Island of Cape Breton.] The soil of St. John’s Island is good, and the Country remarkably level, the inhabitants say there are only two Hills, of any note, in it, and they lay near the centre; some Seasons the Farmers have their Grain surprisingly destroyed, by the sudden appearance of an astonishing number of a reddish kind of Mice. By way of amusement today I made a Sketch of the Governor’s Farmhouse, & Barn, and also a rough Drawing of the Town and part of the Harbor [The latter I lost by sending by the B. Major Gordon’s request to a Gent on Shore to look at.

Sail’d this morning

After leaving Charlotte Town the military group proceeded to Cape Breton and then back to Halifax. William Booth (1748-1826), author of these observations had joined the Royal Engineers as an ensign in 1771. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1779 and served at Gibraltar before being transferred to Halifax in 1782. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1800.  A number of his watercolour sketches survive but unfortunately none are of his brief visit to Charlotte Town. As a part of an official military visit Booth was more concerned about the state of defences of the town than its civil aspect but because so little is recorded about the history of the town, as opposed to the political infighting of its officials, his diary remains an important document .

The original of Lt. Booth’s report is at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, MG1 Vol 44 pp 2-7.  Other details of the military history of the colony can be found in David Webber’s A Thousand Young Men, published by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation.