blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]


Old and older

blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
Mohandas Gandhi

With all the military history of St Helena it’s no surprise that the island has lots of old guns.

This page is in indexes: Island History, Island Activity, Island Detail

Guns [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]{a}

Below: IntroductionGun and their SitesMunitionsMore gunsDismounted gunsThe Great Gun RescueOlder imagesGuns scrappedWhat do you do with an old gun?Read More

Please note: some of the text for this article was lifted from a 2008 St Helena National Trust publication ‘Guns of St Helena’{1}. You can read the original here (851.9Kb).


The Guns of St Helena are a dramatic physical symbol of the Island’s extraordinary history as a fortified Island. Settled by the English in May 1659, as a place of rest and refreshment for vessels on the final leg of the return voyage from the East Indies, the Island had exceptional strategic importance. The brief period when the Dutch seized the island in 1672 has echoed down the years. First, the East India Company and then the British, after the Island became a Crown Colony in 1834, were at pains to ensure that there were no further invasion attempts.

The Island’s soaring cliffs and rugged terrain offers natural defences with relatively few navigable landing places. Generations of defenders added batteries. Some like eagle’s nests, with many in almost inaccessible places and at dizzying heights. At the time of the incarceration of Napoleon Bonaparte, between 1815 and 1821, St Helena was the most heavily defended place in the world. This of course was the reason why it was felt to be the only place Napoleon could be safely held.

Where there are batteries there are guns and many were left in situ as the cost of removing them exceeded their value. Below are shown only a few of the huge number of cannon still on the Island. Only those who visit this very special Island truly appreciate the wealth and range of historic treasures here.

Question: what do you do with an old gun? (Answer below.)

Defending Jamestown against an attack from the south [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Defending Jamestown against an attack from the south

Gun and their Sites

Below: Ladder Hill GunsCourthouse CannonsSaddle Battery CannonCastle Entrance MortarsSignal House GunLemon Grove, Sandy Bay CannonSandy Bay Lines‘Long Tom’ gunsLadder Hill FortJamestown Line

Ladder Hill Guns

This section refers to ‘modern’ guns mounted to the west of the Ladder Hill Fort. For the armaments at Ladder Hill Fort see below.

Elswick Mark VII wire breech loaders with a six inch calibre - dated 1903 - maximum range with full charge and 30° elevation: 25,000 yards - standard naval and coastal defence guns for 50 years [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Elswick Mark VII wire breech loaders with a six inch calibre - dated 1903 - maximum range with full charge and 30° elevation: 25,000 yards - standard naval and coastal defence guns for 50 years
Practice, 1943 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Practice, 1943

Loading the gun 1940s [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Loading the gun in the 1940s

Contrary to local myth these guns are not from HMS Hood{2}. They were ordered in 1902 to help guard the Boer prisoners, but did not arrive until after they had left.

Active until the late 1940s, local oral history is that they were fired once at a German submarine which was rash enough to surface within range during WWII.

Another local story is that, in the early months of WW2, the Graf Spey used to pass by St Helena whilst ravaging South Atlantic shipping and had been directed by Hitler to leave St Helena alone because he admired Napoleon. The gunners manning these weapons wanted to take a pot shot at the pocket battleship but were banned by the then Governor Governor Henry Guy Pilling who feared that the Graf Spey would sit outside the range of these guns and blow them and the island to pieces. If the account of a sailor serving on St Helena in World War 2 is to be believed, it’s probably just as well the guns were not fired. “Much of the ammunition for the guns was out of date”, he reported.

The guns are rare survivors and two of the very few such 6-inch guns remaining in the Commonwealth.

There were originally two more Elswicks on Munden’s emplacements. In August 1940, because of the imminent threat of invasion of the UK, they were dismounted and shipped back to England.

See the article below for more on these guns.

Courthouse Cannons

Described as ‘18 pounder garrison gun on cast iron carriage with a four inch calibre - dated c.1795’, the gun carriages bear the name ‘John Sturges & Co’. There were six of these in the Grand Parade, directly inside the Arch, in the Jamestown Line. Four were taken for metal during World War 2.

These cannon were originally at ground level. They were moved up the steps in April 1973 when the car parking area was laid out.

18 pounder garrison gun [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
18 pounder garrison gun

Don’t park illegally! [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Don’t park illegally!

Old position, 1961 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Old position, 1961{b}

There is a shortage of interview rooms in the courthouse, immediately behind the cannon, and on ‘Court Days’ clients can be seen meeting their representatives sitting on the cannon wheels.

Saddle Battery Cannon

Iron 12 pounders on cast iron carriages - four and a half inch calibre - one gun is dated 1794 on trunnion end, number 1462 on the other end [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Iron 12 pounders on cast iron carriages - four and a half inch calibre - one gun is dated 1794 on trunnion end, number 1462 on the other end

These are some of the most magnificently mounted guns overlooking Rupert’s Valley. They look about ready to fire and given the inaccessibility of their position, which involves a scramble along the ridge from the Rupert’s Valley access road, it is no wonder nobody thought the scrap value was worth the effort of removal.

Castle Entrance Mortars

Their original purpose is unknown. They are described in ‘An Island Fortress (7.3Mb)’, by Ken Denholm, published in 2006. as ‘Salute Cannon, 23inch long - four and half inch calibre - dated early 19th Century, markings worn off’. They have only been in this location since the late 1940s/early 1950s - as late as May 1947 they were outside the Courthouse, as illustrated by the photo below: the investiture of Governor George Joy on 31st May 1947. Another 1950s photo (posibly 1957) shows them in their current position.

Recent photo [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Recent photo

c.1900, no mortars [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
c.1900, no mortars

Investiture of Governor Joy [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Investiture of Governor Joy{c}

1950s [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Signal House Gun

Originally a light horse-drawn field gun with three inch calibre - dated c.1880 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Originally a light horse-drawn field gun with three inch calibre - dated c.1880

Probably used during the South African War of 1880-1881. Originally mounted on a horse drawn carriage, the brass elevation control screw still operates. It was used c.1900 as a signal gun, hence the name of the house, Signal House. There is a photo of it taken in 1949 in the National Geographic Magazine, August 1950, with Charles Smith, the last Boer living on the Island. It was restored in 2007.

Lemon Grove, Sandy Bay Cannon

Iron 12 pounder on iron carriage with four and a half inch calibre - dated 1794 (dated on right trunnion end, number 1486 on left end) [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Iron 12 pounder on iron carriage with four and a half inch calibre - dated 1794 (dated on right trunnion end, number 1486 on left end)

On guard, all alone! [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
On guard, all alone!

This cannon stands in splendid isolation, commanding the road up from Sandy Bay Beach. It is the lone survivor of four on this battery, presumably retained as a signal gun. Originally the cannon would have commanded a considerable length of the very steep road and one would have sympathy with anyone attempting to climb that hill raked with fire from defending cannon.

Sandy Bay Lines

This gun overlooks Sandy Bay beach. It has clearly lost its original mounting.

Sandy Bay Lines [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

‘Long Tom’ guns

In 1903, just after the departure of the Boer prisoners, two large ‘modern’ 6 inch Mark VII Elswick coastal defence guns were installed to guard the island. These ‘Long Tom’ guns, were wrongly believed to have been French made Creuset guns captured from the Boers. The barrel alone weighs over 3 tons. The photos, below, show one of the guns in transit to Ladder Hill{3}.

LongTom guns in transit [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Ladder Hill Fort

Ladder Hill Fort guns [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Ladder Hill Fort guns overlooking Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Ladder hill Fort was itself armed, as one would expect. None of these guns remain today, but two can clearly be seen in the picture (left) which probably dates from the early 20th Century. The tracks can be seen in the picture, giving these guns an approximately 180° field of fire.

Another gun emplacement (picture, right) associated with the Fort overlooks Jamestown.

Jamestown Line

Naturally the Wharf area (in Jamestown) was heavily fortified. As the images below show, drawn in c.1815, the ‘seaside’ was a continuous wall dotted with gun emplacements.

The Wharf, c.1815 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

The Jamestown Lines, c.1815 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

All of this is now gone except for a segment running from the Mule Yard to the Customs Building. In the process of building the Customs Building in 2011 this area was partly refurbished, as were some of the old guns (photo below, centre & right).

Cannon refurbished, 2012 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Cannon refurbished, 2012

… [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Before refurbishment [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Before refurbishment


The diagram shows some of the munitions fired from these guns, based on items found around the island.{d}

Munitions [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

1a) Assorted cannon balls: the largest is a mortar bomb which is similar to the ‘airburst’ bomb found at the Ladder Hill Round Tower in March 2009. It is a hollow cast iron ball which would have been filled with gunpowder and detonated using a timed fuse screwed into the copper opening at the top [see fig. 1b) where the casing has partly rusted away to reveal the hollow centre]. The medium sized cannon balls were found in Young’s Valley which would have come from the battery at Goat Pound Ridge. The smaller ones were found in the lava tube midway between Mundens and Rupert’s.

2. Bar shot: when fired, this would spin through the air, an effective weapon for taking out rigging and masts of ships.

3. Grapeshot: this consists of many small cast iron shot packed around a central column and wrapped in canvas. When fired, the canvas breaks open and the shot spreads out, making it a lethal anti-personnel weapon.

4. Fragment of a shell found at Prosperous Plain. Prosperous was used for target practice by the guns at Ladder Hill which would fire over Jamestown, Ruperts and Deadwood. Shrapnel has also been found on the slopes near Banks Battery.

5. Mortar bomb found at Prosperous Plain. This dates back to World War 2 when Prosperous Plain was used as a military training ground for the soldiers posted there. This type of mortar bomb consists of a small canister filled with explosives which would have been fired from a short pipe angled at 80 degrees (depending on the required trajectory). An aluminium tail fin would have stabilised it in flight and ensured that it landed nose down (the nose contained the detonator which would have exploded on impact).

More guns

According to Philip Gosse, in 1727 Governor Byfield had a count made of the guns defending St Helena, as follows{e}:


The Castle








Two Gun Hill


Prosperous Bay


Lemon Valley


The Wharf




Other interesting sources of information include:

The following is taken from the latter source…

St Helena Armament, 31st March 1823{4}


Iron Long Guns


Iron & Brass (Br) Howitzers


Lower Crown Point

1 x 18 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr

5 x 24 pdr



Upper Crown Point

1 x 18 pdr; 4 x 12 pdr; 1 x 3 pdr




Repulse Point

1 x 18 pdr




Middle Point

1 x 6 pdr


1 x 8 in (Br)


Banks Upper Battery

8 x 18 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr; 1 x 4 pdr

2 x 18 pdr

1 x 10 in (Br)


Banks Lower Battery

7 x 32 pdr; 1 x 4 pdr

3 x 12 pdr



Rupert’s Line

3 x 32 pdr; 1 x 24 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr

2 x 24 pdr; 2 x 18 pdr; 2 x 12 pdr


2 x 13 in

Bunker’s Hill


1 x 24 pdr



Upper Chubb’s Rock

1 x 12 pdr




Middle Chubb’s Rock

1 x 12 pdr

1 x 24 pdr



Lower Chubb’s Rock


2 x 24 pdr



Rupert’s Hill (Munden’s Hill)

4 x 12 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr

1 x 24 pdr; 1 x 18 pdr



Saddle Battery

4 x 12 pdr




Munden’s Point

12 x 24 pdr

3 x 68 pdr


2 x 13 in

James Valley Fort

9 x 32 pdr; 3 x 18 pdr; 6 x 12 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr

3 x 24 pdr; 2 x 18 pdr; 6 x 12 pdr



Ladder Hill

10 x 12 pdr; 2 x 9 pdr; 4 x 6 pdr

1 x 24 pdr; 5 x 12 pdr

1 x 5.5 in; 6 x 24pdr; 5 x l2pdr

3 x 13 in (Br)

Breakneck Valley

2 x 6 pdr




Powell’s Valley

1 x 12 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr; 3 x swivels

1 x 12 pdr



Friar’s Ridge


1 x 12 pdr



High Point

1 x 12 pdr




Goat Pound Ridge

1 x 12 pdr; 1 x 6 pdr; 1 x swivel

3 x 12 pdr



High Knoll


8 x 18 pdr



Horse Pasture Point

2 x 18 pdr




Egg Island

3 x 24 pdr

1 x 24 pdr


1 x 9.2 (Br)

Thompson’s Valley East

1 x swivel

1 x 68 pdr; 1 x 18 pdr



Thompson’s Valley West


2 x 18 pdr



Gregory’s Battery

2 x 9 pdr

1 x 24 pdr; 1 x 12 pdr



Prosperous Bay Beach

1 x 9 pdr


1 x 8 in (Br)


Hold Fast Tom


1 x 12 pdr



Mitchell’s Line (Sandy Bay)

3 x 18 pdr

2 x 24 pdr; 2 x 18 pdr



Horse’s Head


3 x 24 pdr; 1 x 18 pdr



Crown Point

1 x 6 pdr




Beach Hill

1 x 9 pdr




Four Gun Battery

1 x 12 pdr




Lemon Valley Line

6 x 6 pdr

3 x 18 pdr



Lemon Valley, Half Moon

4 x 18 pdr




Dismounted guns

Many former guns have been dismounted and are left lying around, or re-deployed to other purposes. The images below illustrate some of these:

Shoreline marker, Sandy Bay Beach [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Shoreline marker, Sandy Bay Beach

Discarded on Egg Island [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Discarded on Egg Island

Canon (red) protects the building against traffic [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Canon (red) protects the building against traffic

The following 12 pounder naval carronade was discovered in 2007 by a walker in Young’s Valley:

Discarded gun, Young’s Valley 2007 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns] Discarded gun, Young’s Valley 2007 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Old gun carriage in use in a local shop [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Old gun carriage in use in a local shop

The Great Gun Rescue

As has been noted elsewhere, Banks Battery is gradually being eroded by the sea. In the early 1990s it was apparent that action was urgently needed if the battery’s remaining guns were to be saved from the sea. Two had already fallen onto the beach and six others were perilously close to the edge.

In August 1992 a team led by Nick Thorpe set out to rescue nine cannon. Over several days the guns were carefully lowered to the beach and hauled aboard a pontoon, which was then towed back to Jamestown; a considerable task given the weight of each gun. The guns were taken to the yard beside the then power station, which is now our Museum of St Helena. In 1996 they were measured and catalogued, but nothing further happened to them until 2011 when the area in which they were stored was designated to become a car park. So the guns were retrieved, cleaned and rennovated, with new wooden gun-carriages constructed.

They have now been distributed around the island. The two guns you see as you exit our Airport originally defended St Helena at Banks Battery. Banks Battery never actually had to defend St Helena against an invading force and let’s hope our airport guns remain similarly undisturbed{5}!

Not everybody was in favour of the 1992 project, some arguing that damage to the eroding cliff face was inevitable. And maybe they were right, but as can be seen from the photos of Banks Battery after the 2010 collapse the sea subsequently caused far more destruction than the rescue, without which these historic guns would have been irrecoverably lost.

Guns discarded, 1985 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Guns discarded, 1985

Lowering to the beach, 1992 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Lowering to the beach, 1992{f}

The pontoon, 1992 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
The pontoon, 1992{f}

Awaiting restoration, 2011 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Awaiting restoration, 2011{g}

Restored, at our Airport [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Restored, at our Airport{h}

Older images

Here are various older pictures of guns:

Gun from Alarm House - 1905 photo [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Gun from Alarm House - 1905 photo

Moveable gun from Signal House - 1968 photo [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Moveable gun from Signal House - 1968 photo

Wharf guns - 1968 photo [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Wharf guns - 1968 photo

Guns scrapped

During World War 2 many of the island’s old guns were collected up and sent back to the UK to be melted down and reused as armaments. Of the six cannons in front of the courthouse, four suffered this fate. Fortunately only the most accessible guns were taken - plenty were left behind simply because the effort required to retrieve them was too great. The gallery below shows old guns collected up, ready for shipment:

Scrapped guns, July 1940 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Scrapped guns 1942 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Scrapped guns 1942 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Scrapped guns 1942 [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

What do you do with an old gun?

Climb on it! [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Climb on it!

Or use it to enforce a roadsign… [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Or use it to enforce a roadsign…{i}

Read More

Below: Article: “The ‘Gunman’ Aims at Ladder Hill”Article: “Cannonball Stolen and Returned”

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Article: “The ‘Gunman’ Aims at Ladder Hill

By Vince Thompson, published in the St Helena Independent 17th April 2015{1}

The ‘Gunman’ aims his loaded paint brush [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
The ‘Gunman’ aims his loaded paint brush

Edward Baldwin has been visiting St Helena very regularly for thirty years. Edward does not come here just to ‘enjoy himself’ although he does very much enjoy what he does. In recent times he has often been seen outside the Museum of St Helena performing a long and painstaking salvage operation on the many cannon arranged around the Museum of St Helena. Salvaging the cannon is just one of the wide range of jobs Edward has taken on during his many visits but this particular work has earned him the nick-name ‘Gunman’. It is a nick-name Edward is happy to accept.

Nick Thorpe gives the hydraulic rams a new lease of life [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Nick Thorpe gives the hydraulic rams a new lease of life

On his current visit Edward has set his sights higher and is aiming at Ladder Hill. The two guns at the top of the cliff, overlooking and protecting James Bay, are in desperate need of some tender loving care. The guns date from the turn of last century and did not receive a coat of protective paint until the early 1980’s. It is thought that inmates of HM Prison were put to work on to that task. That paint job is now on its last legs and the guns need to be de-rusted and revived with fresh paint. At first glance the guns may seem as solid as they ever were but the rust on some of the metalwork has become very bad. Several bolts have rusted off completely and the edges of some metal sheets look very sorry indeed. After chipping and scraping away at the rust Edward called in some volunteer help last Saturday to give the first gun a coat of paint. The second gun is due to be painted tomorrow.

Article: “Cannonball Stolen and Returned

Published in the St Helena Independent 8th July 2011{1}

Lucy and the cannonball [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]
Lucy and the cannonball

On Tuesday morning Inspector Merlin George visited Saint FM and gave the following statement:

Perhaps a few of you might have observed me escorting three yachtsmen from the seafront through the Arch rolling a cannonball. I just want to let the public know that we received a report last evening that a cannonball was rolled from the Museum of St Helena, that was situated outside, rolled down through the Grand Parade through the Arch and then into the sea. I’d just say I’d probably like to explain that the Captain of the yacht ‘Leopard’ was not present during this incident. I took a very serious view of what had happened last night and I summoned the Master and the crew into the office this morning and we had a chat. This sort of behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. What was important to the Manager, Lucy Caesar, from the Museum of St Helena, was to retrieve the cannonball and I made sure this morning that along with the three crew of the yacht ‘Leopard’ went down to the seafront into the beetle stones and the sea, retrieved the cannonball and it’s now placed back outside of the Museum of St Helena door.

Story reproduced to illustrate that strange things often happen in St Helena. “OOSH”, as some say - “Only On St Helena!

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]

Laugh at funny guns humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Guns]


{a} MJ Ltd. For more of his photos see our Photography page

{b} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{1}.{6}

{c} Fondation napoléon.

{d} Ed Thorpe, in the St Helena Herald, 6th November 2009{1}

{e} Philip Gosse in ‘St Helena 1502-1938’

{f} Nick Thorpe

{g} Friends of St Helena

{h} Andy Simpson,

{i} Emma Weaver


{1} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{2} For other debunked myths see our Myths Debunked! page.

{3} Some historians claim the path depicted in the right-hand photo is the route to Munden’s, but to us it looks more like Ladder Hill.

{4} Shortly after Napoleon’s death, so at its peak.

{5} If only because a) they are no longer capable of firing, and b) they face away from the airport towards the island…

{6} The 1962 Film Unit consisted of Charles Frater, Bob Johnston and Esdon Frost who came to the island and made a half hour film called “Island of Saint Helena”, many sound recordings and photographic stills. The full film is available on YouTube™


Take Me Anywhere But Here!


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