Dominica was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. To keep the island under her rule, Britain had to defend it from the French. Some small forts were started in 1765. Military engineers were commissioned to produce plans for the defence of the colony. Captain James Bruce, Royal Engineer, was head of that project. In March 1770 he dispatched a report to London giving his proposals, maps and designs for major fortifications needed for the island.
Extensive plans were made for the fortification of this site which was called Guye’s Hill, where French settlers had installed some guns before the British came. This was to be the main garrison on the island. The name was later changed to Morne Bruce in honour of the engineer himself. The cliffs and steep slopes which surrounded it on three sides gave it natural security for the defence of Roseau. Work on Morne Bruce Garrison began in 1771.
Enslaved African labourers and skilled craftsmen were rented by the government from planters to cut stone from quarries, carry boulders, haul cannon and clear land. When Britain
Morne Bruce Garrison Marker detail showing the British forts near Roseau image. Click for full size.
Photographed By J. Makali Bruton, June 9, 2019
- Morne Bruce Garrison Marker detail showing the British forts near Roseau
had completed the project, 235 cannons of varying types and sizes were pointing seawards from the coast of Dominica waiting for the enemy. Many British, French, and West Indies Regiments served here.
Morne Bruce Garrison was closed in July 1854 and most of the cannons were removed. The old garrison graveyard still exists at Kings Hill. It is said that the Morne has its own ghost, a headless drummer who marches with muffled drumbeat at midnight.
The top of the plateau was held for government use up to the present day. It served at various times as a hospital, infirmary, agricultural school and residence for government officials. Now the main soldiers’ barracks are used as the Police Training School.
Captain Bruce planned forts and batteries around Roseau to protect the town and the bays to the north and south of the capital. He laid out Melville’s Battery overlooking Newtown; expanded Fort Young to contain 17 cannons. He designed defences for Morne Desmoulins, Loubiere, and Woodbridge Bay.
The Morne Bruce Garrison is the remains of the main military garrison on the Morne, for the troops defending Roseau. It was named after James Bruce, a Captain in the Royal Engineers, who designed many of Dominica’s forts in the 1700s. He organized a line of signal stations with gun salutes and flag signals to give coded messages between Scotts Head AND the Cabrits Garrison at Portsmouth in less than half an hour. Signals could reach Cape Melville at the northern tip of the island. The signal cannon from those days is still in place. It was made in cast iron in England. It is marked 51-1-7, representing its weight in old measurements – 51 hundredweights, 1 quarter, 7 pounds. It, therefore, weighs 5,747 lbs.