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Fort Picton, Laventille

Fort Picton, Laventille | Photograph: Copyright Noel Norton

Written by Geoffrey MacLean

Impressed with the performance against them of Cape Mortella in Corsica and the resistance by its tiny thirty-eight man garrison, the British copied its design, corrupting the name to Mortello. In 1797 governor Thomas Picton was left with a very small garrison to hold Trinidad against the Spaniards and Republican French who belatedly realized that they had lost a strategic prize in Trinidad.  Picton’s problem was how to effectively defend his capital without building a multitude of forts around it and to do this he looked at the Laventille Hills overlooking Port of Spain.

The Martello Tower was forty feet high, commanding not only the route along the Laventille Hills, but also the vital road, the town of Port of Spain, the flanks and rear of Fort San Andres and it could also command the inner harbour in support of the Mole Fort.  On the upper level of what was effectively the roof, Picton mounted an 18 pounder and a 6 pounder cannon en barbette.  The floor below the guns was the living quarters for the garrison as in conventional Martello Towers, while the lower ground floor was the storerooms, magazine and water supply.

In keeping with the idea that the major threat would come along the Laventille ridge where an enemy could bring up cannon fairly close to the position, the northwest facing wall was built of store just over six feet thick, effectively making it cannon proof.   On the southern side where attackers would be below the level of the fort and cannon could not get that close, the walls were only four feet three inches thick.   The Tower was built with a diameter of over thirty feet of store, with white lime mixed with molasses and the white of eggs to provide the cement.  Inside old baked bricks completed the interior, making the whole structure extremely strong.  The entrance was placed on the eastern side so that the fort could be reinforced while under attacked from the south, the west or even the north.  It was completed with wooden floors and was operational on 18 November 1798.

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