The majestic Brimstone Hill Fortress,offen called the “Gibraltar of the West Indies.” Sprawled over almost 40 acres on the slopes of a mountain 800 feet above the sea, it commands an incredible view of St.Kitts, it offer panoranic vistas of forested mountains, cultivated sugar cane fields, the historic town of Sandy Point and several neighbouring islands including Saba, St.Baths and St.Eustatius. A creation born out of the sweat and toil of Africans in the “New World”, is testimony to a colourful and sometimes violent history.
To person who may have never seen this treasure, it may seem to be just another fort. However, taxi drivers can tell you with a smile, that after an excursion to Brimstone Hill, visitors explaim with surprise and joy that the bastion is much more than just another fort. In fact, initial reactions by visitors upon arrival at the top of the hill are “beautiful” and “spectacular”. The story of this monument is a fascinating one, touching on the histories of Europe, Africa and America. Construction of Brimstone Hill Fortress began in 1690 when the British mounted cannons and fortified the hill as part of attack on the French troops who had seized a British fort. It was builted over a period of 104 years, by Africans who were brought to St. Kitts as slaves and who also maintained the structures and provided support duties to the garrisons stationed there over time. St. Christopher (the name St. Kitts came later) was the first Caribbean island to be colonised by both England and France, which shared the island from 1625 to 1713. The island, with its potential for commercial profit was springboard for further settlement. By virtue of its gentle topography and well-watered fertile soils, St. Kitts remain a profitable sugar colony well worth defending and capture. The largest battle occurred in 1782 when the French, with 8,000 men under De Bouille while De Grasse, commanding a fleet of 33,conducted a fierce battle with the 22 ships under Admiral Hood. Hood’s outmanoeuvring of De Grasse, resulting in sever damage to the French fleet, was described by Admiral Mahan as “The most brilliant military effort of the war.” Hood’s victory here was to prove critial in subsequent naval events.
The defence of Brimstone Hill was being conducted by General Shirley who was Governor of the Leeward Islands and General Fraser, Commander of troops in St. Kitts. The British numbering fewer than 1,000, fough valiantly for a month. Their resolution and fortitude against overwheming odds, together with the skill and daring of Hood, helped to bring about the phrase “peace with honor". Following an intense pounding by the French on 12th Febuary, Shirley and Fraser decided to surrender. The French paid tribute to the gallantry of the British and the terms of the first and last articles of capitulation read as follows:
“The Governor, the Commander of the troops, the regular officers and soldiers, the officers and privates of the militia shall march through the breach on the fort of Brimstone Hill with all the honours of war with drums beating, colours flying…and then lay down their arms at a place appointed, the officers excepted. Out of respected to the courage and determined conduct of Generals Shirley and Fraser we consent that they shall not be considered as prisoners of war, but the former may return to his government of Antigua and the latter may continue in the service of his country, being happy to testify this mark of particular esteem for these brave officers.” When the French surrendered the fort in 1783, when the Treaty of Versailles returned the entire island to the British, they were treated with the same respect.
In the followering years, the British expanded the fortress to include the impressive Prince of Wales Bastion and Fort George.
Brimstone Hill was greatly damaged by hurricane in 1834 and in 1851 it was abandoned and suffered a period of neglect and vandalism. Since 1965, when the site became a national park, intense restoration has returned the fortress to its original grandeur.
The Prince of Wales Bastion was restored in 1972/73 and re- opened by the Prince of Wales on 1st June, 1973.
It is an amazing complex of defensive fortifications, retaining walls, an excellent design connect the many buildings-artillery officers’ quarters hosptial, ammunition stores, green tank, and cemetery. A special museum offers a unique collection of memorabilia, photographs,and plaques, and serves as a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died here.
Today, Brimstone Hill Fortress stands as a monument to the skill, strength and endurance of the Africans, some of whose descendants, the overwhelming majority of the citizens of this country, have presented it as one of the most outstanding heritage sites in the Caribbean !In 1982, a museum was established at the Fort George, at the highest point of the Fortress. As a result of tireless and combined effort, Brimstone Hill Fortress was declared a National Park on 23rd October, 1985 by Queen Elizabeth when you visit Brimstone Hill today, start at the Visitor’s centre, which offers an informative presentation about the Fortress. You will step back in time and learn what it was like for the early inhabitants of St. Kitts during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the Fort George Museum, housed in restored barracks, you can see bayonets, musket balls and other items from that era. You can enjoy the panoramic view with the assistance of a new telescope recently donated by Green Peace, at the Prince of Wales Bastion. Brimstone Hill was chosen as an ideal location to watch and enjoy whales in their natural habitat. Brimstone Hill is the number one attraction of visitors to St. kitts: the perfect host to a number of special occasions and events such as picnics, music recitals, meetings and even weddings.
It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on Wednesday, October 4, 2000. The official document states: “inscription on this List confirms the exceptional value of a cultural or natural site which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity”.
This latest honor was achieved through the efforts of one man: D. Lloyd Matheson, a founding member of the Caribbean Conservation Association and Chairman of the Tourism Board who made the proposal to UNESCO in 1987. It took him ten years of patience and persistence to achieve his goal, and at the 23rd meeting of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in Morocco on November 29, 1999 “the Hill” was added on the list.
(Marlene Phillips Lee / D. Lloyd Matheson St.Kitts / Nevis Travel )
The Presidents of the Brimstone Hill Society
|(1) Sir Geoffery P. Boone 1965 – 67
(2) D. Lloyd Matheson 1967 – 89
(3) Victor T.C Smith 1989 – 90
(4) Cecil A. Jacob CBE 1990 - 2005
(5) Sir Probyn Inniss 2005 – Pre.