Martello Towers

The Martello Tower, which is a small defensive fort, became popular after British military were impressed with the defense design capabilities they witnessed during fighting off the island of Corsica in 1794. The towers were named Martello in honour of the tower built at Martella Point.

A Headache for the British

In 1794, the British, who were at war with France, were requested to help free Corsica from the hands of the occupying French Revolutionary forces. All they had to do was get around the 12m high tower at Mortella Point. The tower had been mounted with one 6-pounder and two 18- pounder cannons. Two ships of the Royal Navy, HMS Fortitude and HMS Juno armed with 74 & 34 guns respectively entered the bay and were immediately fired upon from the tower. The ships returned fire but after two and half hours of continued cannonade both ships retreated following a direct hit.This little tower was causing a big headache for the British. The tower eventually fell to the British land forces but it would require the army to land further up the coast and establish a four-gun battery near the tower. Even so it took them two days of heavy fighting to take out the tower. Ironically it was a lucky shot that ended the fight. The shot hit some material used to strengthen the parapet causing a fire.Before the British left Corsica in 1796 they were determined to demolish the tower to prevent it from being used by enemies again. Easier said than done. It took them several attempts to blow it up and even then only half of the tower was destroyed.

If You Can't Beat It Copy It !

The British were so impressed by the towers defensive capabilities they took detailed plans of the tower before attempting to destroy it. It would not be long before Martello Towers would begin appearing along British coastlines. Between 1804-1812 the Britsh built towers to defend both the south and east coast of England, Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey to guard against possible invasion from France (Napoleonic Wars). Under direction of General William Twiss and Captain Ford 105 towers were built in England from Sussex to Suffolk, though none ever were to be tested under battle.

Mightly Little Towers

These mightly little towers usually stand about 12m high with round thick walls made of solid masonary. What made them so effective is that they were very resistant to cannon fire. Many of the towers had only two floors with a single heavy artillery piece mounted on the flat roof. The cannon would have a 360 degree firing capacity.The interior of the Martello Tower was divided into three storeys with the ground floor being used to hold ammunition and provisions, the first floor living quarters and the top floor (or roof) was used to mount the cannon. A feature of the towers were the wooden nails used on the floors, this was to prevent fires that were sometimes started when sparks hit metal nails during battles. A well or cistern was also within the fort to supply the garrison with fresh water.The decline of the towers would eventually come with new improved rifled artillery weapons.

Where Are They Now

During the 1800' Martello towers were exported to many British colonies including South Africa (Simon's Town Naval Base & Fort Beaufort), America, Canada, Minorca and Ireland.

France built similar towers which were used as platforms for communication.

A total of 16 towers were built in Canada of which eleven are still standing. Interestingly the Canadians made several clever adjustments to the Martello design. They built removable cone shaped roofs to protect against the snow conditions.The Americans would eventually copy the design and build similar towers along their eastern seaboard.

In Ireland numerous towers were built along the coast from Millmount to Bray and around Dublin Bay. The most famous of these towers would have to be Dun Laoghaire in Sandy Cove where James Joyce briefly lived and was surely inspired to include the tower in the opening chapter of his novel Ulysses. Two of his characters, Stephan Dedalus and Buck Mulligan, lived in the Tower. Today it is a museum dedicated to his life and works.

One solitary tower stands near La Preneuse beach in Mauritius.

The Martello Tower at Fort Denison in Sydney, Australia, was one of the last to be built in the world.