The Cabrits Garrison
Dominica’s most important historic site
A major restoration project on Fort Shirley at the Cabrits Garrison in northern Dominica has funded by the European Union Eco-Tourism Development Project between February 2006 and the end of 2007. The contractor for the project is Island Heritage Initiatives Ltd. a small locally based company that provides services to Heritage sites in the Caribbean.
It is led by historian and anthropologist Dr. Lennox Honychurch who also holds a master’s degree in Museum Studies.
The project, which began in February 2006, includes a number of different aspects. The centerpiece of the restoration is the complete rehabilitation of the Officer’s Quarters. This is a classic Georgian building that was constructed in 1774 but has lain in ruins for the last 150 years. Using original plans that are stored in the National Archives at Kew in England, the two-story building measuring 25 x 65 feet, is being completely restored to its former glory.
Another feature of the project is the complete restoration of the Upper and Lower Batteries of the fort and the placing of 14 cannons along the ramparts pointing out across Prince Rupert Bay. The guns include different sizes and types of mortars, carronades,12 pounder cannon and larger 32 pounder cannon.
The display has become an outdoor museum of guns, matched only by a collection at the Garrison Savannah in St.Michael, Barbados.
Equally important is the new ‘Loop Trail’ that is being developed to lead visitors along a circular route to some of the main buildings and sites within the historic garrison. It has been designed to pass military barracks, the parade ground, a viewpoint of the Battle of The Saints of 1782, the Douglas Bay Battery, the Commandants House, the ruins of an unusual Octagon House and back to the Main Gate.
Various cannons at the Cabrits similar to those that
The Commandants Quarters and the Octagon House are important because they were designed by Peter Harrison who is regarded as “the first American Architect” of the United States. Other buildings designed by him still stand in Rhode Island and Massachusetts where they are national landmarks. The Cabrits designs are his only buildings outside of the US.
PHOTO: Digging away layers of earth in the kitchen of the Commandant’s Quarters.
The Parade Ground, once used for drill by the 700 soldiers stationed at the Cabrits, is the size of the Newtown Savannah near Roseau. Undergrowth has been removed to show its full extent. The entire site is to be cleared so as to restore the grounds and provide a playing field for exercise and recreation within the park.
Another attraction is the ‘Battle Viewpoint’, where visitors can look over the site of The Battle of The Saints, the most important sea battle fought in Caribbean waters. The view covers the north coast of Dominica looking towards the islands of the Saints and Guadeloupe. Panels have been designed to show visitors the progress of the battle during the day of 12th April, 1782, from 8.00am to the time of the French surrender at 6.00pm as if they were on this viewpoint at that time. The entire project is employing some seventeen masons, carpenters, welders and general workers from the Portsmouth area and from Coulibistrie to Pennville.
The Cabrits Garrisson
The Cabrits headland is made up of the remains of a volcanic crater on the north-west coast of Dominica that protects Prince Rupert’s bay, the best anchorage on the island. The Cabrits derives its name from the Spanish, Portuguese and French names for goat. Sailors would leave pigs and goats to go wild on the headland so as to multiply to provide fresh meat on future visits to the bay. Later it was also called Prince Rupert’s Head after Prince Rupert of the Rhine who used the bay to repair and refresh his sailing ships in the 1650s.
The fortification of Prince Rupert’s began after the Treaty of Paris had ceded Dominica to Britain in 1763. The first small battery appears to have been erected in about 1765. Military engineers identified the site as a strategic post to defend the north of Dominica from the French and for the protection of the Royal Navy when on call to refresh its ships. Major work began under the governorship of Thomas Shirley 1774-1778. Construction of the garrison was a sporadic affair from 1774-1825 with intense work being carried out during periods of enemy threat particularly during the American War of Independence, The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
Although the Cabrits never saw action, it succeeded as being a deterrent to attack on a number of occasions particularly during the French invasions of Dominica in 1795 and 1805. The most important naval battle in the Caribbean, the Battle of the Saints, 12 April, 1782, was fought within sight of the ramparts and Fort Shirley was the scene of the famous revolt of the 8th West India Regiment in 1802.
Although the British undertook most of the construction, the French made significant additions during their occupation of Dominica 1778-1784. Together they amassed a garrison comprising one fort, seven gun batteries, seven cisterns, powder magazines, ordnance storehouses, barracks and officer’s quarters to house and provide for over 600 men on regular duty. With the end of hostilities between Britain and France, the garrison became obsolete and was finally abandoned in 1854. It remained in the hands of the British Admiralty until 1901 when it was transferred to the government of the colony and remained designated as Crown Land until being established as a National Park in 1986.
Fort Shirley was the headquarters and main defence post of the British army garrison at the Cabrits on the north-west coast of Dominica. Construction began under the direction of Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of Dominica (1774-1778) after whom it was named. It has a polygon layout marked by two batteries for guns, the lower and upper battery, overlooking the entrance to Prince Rupert Bay.
PHOTO: Plan of Fort Shirley 1799.
Other buildings are troops barracks, officer’s quarters, kitchens and mess, guardroom, powder magazines, three cisterns, artillery and ordnance stores and the remains of earthworks. The main action there was the revolt of the 8th West India Regiment in 1802 and an attempted attack by the French in 1805. It was closed down like the rest of the Cabrits in 1854 but was used briefly in the 1870s and the 1920s as a quarantine station and hospital and later as an agricultural centre. Restoration of the fort began in 1982.
LEFT: Relaying stones on one of the ramparts.
Cabrits Garrison in the National Park
The Cabrits in 1765
Calendar of Events
Cabrits Calendar of Events
3000 BC – The first Amerindian people settle in the bay.
1493 - One ship of Columbus fleet on his 2nd Voyage enters the bay and sees dwellings and people.
1504 - Christopher Columbus sails past the Cabrits on his 4th Voyage.
1535 – The Spanish Council of the Indies declares this bay as a station for its treasure ships on their way out from Spain.
1565 – John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Richard Grenville and other privateers and pirates begin to use the bay to refresh their ships and trade with the Kalinago/Caribs.
1652 – Prince Rupert of the Rhine, cousin of King Charles I, uses the bay for repair and shelter. The bay is named after him.
1763 – Dominica is ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris.
1765 – First small gun battery erected on this site.
1774 – Major construction of Fort Shirley and Cabrits Garrison begins under Governor Sir Thomas Shirley with a workforce of 400 enslaved Africans.
1778 – French forces capture Roseau. The Cabrits Garrison surrenders also. Building work continues under the French.
1783 – Dominica returned to Britain by the Treaty of Versailles.
1782 – Battle of the Saints fought off of the Cabrits on 12th April.
1795 – French republican revolutionaries invade the north coast but are repelled by troops from the Cabrits.
1796 – West India Regiments, “The Black Regiments” formed and stationed at Cabrits.
1802 – The revolt of the 8th West India Regiment at the Cabrits.
1805 – Cabrits Garrison refuses to surrender to the French under General La Grange.
1854 – Fort Shirley and the Cabrits abandoned by the army. The forest takes over.
1982 – Restoration of Fort Shirley begins.
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