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‘Guns ’n Ammo’!

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.{i}

With all our military history it’s no surprise that we have lots of old guns

SEE ALSO: These guns were usually placed in Forts and Batteries or Other Military Sites.

Please note: some of the text for this article was sourced from a 2008 St Helena National Trust publication ‘Guns of St Helena’{3}. You can read the original here.


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, 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.)

Guns and their Sites

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

‍Ladder Hill Guns‍

Elswick Mark VII wire breech loaders

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

They are 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. Contrary to local myth these guns are not from HMS Hood{4}. They were ordered in 1902 to help guard the Boer PoWs, but did not arrive until after they had left. They remained active until the late 1940s. The guns are rare survivors and two of the very few such 6-inch guns remaining in the Commonwealth.

Some believe there were originally two more Elswicks on Mundens emplacements, and that in August 1940, because of the imminent threat of invasion of the UK, they were dismounted and shipped back to England. Others argue that there were only ever the two current guns and that War Office records which appear to show four are actually in error. We’ve decided we’ll let the historians argue about this and update the page when (if) there’s a winner!

See the article below for more on these guns.

Local history is that the guns were fired once during World War 2 at a German U-Boat which was rash enough to surface within range. However we have been told that, yes the guns were fired at what was thought to be a U-Boat, but the target (which was not actually hit) did not seem to take any evasive action in response to the attack. Two men were sent in a small boat to investigate and reported that the target was not a submarine - it was actually a dead whale!{j}

Admiral Graf Spee
Admiral Graf Spee

Another local story is that, in the early months of World War 2, the Admiral Graf Spee used to pass close to St Helena whilst ravaging South Atlantic shipping, but had been directed by Hitler to leave St Helena alone because he admired Napoleon. The ship was sighted from the lookout station at High Knoll Fort and the gunners manning St Helena’s guns wanted to take a pot shot at the battleship in the improbable hope of damaging it and becoming heroes, but were prevented by order of the then Governor Governor Henry Guy Pilling, who feared that the heavily-armed Admiral Graf Spee would respond by moving outside the range of our guns and proceed to blow them and most of the island to pieces. And 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.

During the break between exams for entry into Secondary School a few of us (boys) trained these guns on a Union Castle Ship anchored in the harbour. Apparently news got ashore that the ship was being threatened. No one had told them that the breechblocks had been removed and dumped over the cliff by the military before they left the island in 1947. The result was a reprimand and loss of a years education - we weren’t allowed to sit the exam for another year.{k}

‍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.

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

These are some of the most magnificently mounted guns overlooking Ruperts Valley. They look about ready to fire and given the inaccessibility of their position, which involves a scramble along the ridge from the Ruperts 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’, 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 (possibly 1957) shows them in their current position.

‍Signal House Gun‍


Originally a light horse-drawn field gun with three inch calibre - dated c.1880
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.

To the left of the 1968 picture (right) you can see the remains what was probably the original mounting, so that the gun could swivel through roughly 180°.

‍Lemon Grove, Sandy Bay Cannon‍

Iron 12 pounder on iron carriage with four and a half inch calibre - dated 1794
Iron 12 pounder on iron carriage with four and a half inch calibre - dated 1794{2}

On guard, all alone!
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.

‘‍Long Tom guns‍’

In 1903, just after the departure of the Boer PoWs, 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 the Ladder Hill Fort{5}.

‍Ladder Hill Fort‍

Ladder Hill Fort guns

Ladder Hill Fort guns overlooking Jamestown

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 Lines‍

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.

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).


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

(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 Ruperts.

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 Bay Plain. Prosperous was used for target practice by the guns at Ladder Hill Fort 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 Bay Plain. This dates back to World War 2 when Prosperous Bay 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 gun stuff…

Below: Gun CountDismounted gunsGreat Gun RescueOlder imagesGuns for Mundens, 1873Guns scrappedBefore GunsWhat do you do with an old gun?

Gun Count

According to Philip Gosse, in 1727 Governor Byfield had a count made of the guns defending St Helena, as follows{m}: The Castle:79; Mundens:14; Ruperts:9; Two Gun Hill:5; Banks:7; Lemon Valley:4; Prosperous Bay:4; The Wharf:2. Total:124

Other interesting sources of information include:

The following is taken from the latter source…

St Helena Armament, 31st March 1823{6}

BatteryIron Long GunsCarronadesIron & Brass (Br) HowitzersMortars
Lower Crown Point1 x 18 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr5 x 24 pdr  
Upper Crown Point1 x 18 pdr; 4 x 12 pdr; 1 x 3 pdr   
Repulse Point1 x 18 pdr   
Middle Point1 x 6 pdr 1 x 8 in (Br) 
Banks Upper Battery8 x 18 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr; 1 x 4 pdr2 x 18 pdr1 x 10 in (Br) 
Banks Lower Battery7 x 32 pdr; 1 x 4 pdr3 x 12 pdr  
Ruperts Line3 x 32 pdr; 1 x 24 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr2 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 Rock1 x 12 pdr   
Middle Chubb’s Rock1 x 12 pdr1 x 24 pdr  
Lower Chubb’s Rock 2 x 24 pdr  
Ruperts Hill (Mundens Hill)4 x 12 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr1 x 24 pdr; 1 x 18 pdr  
Saddle Battery4 x 12 pdr   
Mundens Point12 x 24 pdr3 x 68 pdr 2 x 13 in
The Castle9 x 32 pdr; 3 x 18 pdr; 6 x 12 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr3 x 24 pdr; 2 x 18 pdr; 6 x 12 pdr  
Ladder Hill Fort10 x 12 pdr; 2 x 9 pdr; 4 x 6 pdr1 x 24 pdr; 5 x 12 pdr1 x 5.5 in; 6 x 24pdr; 5 x l2pdr3 x 13 in (Br)
Breakneck Valley2 x 6 pdr   
Powell’s Valley1 x 12 pdr; 1 x 9 pdr; 3 x swivels1 x 12 pdr  
Friars Ridge 1 x 12 pdr  
High Point1 x 12 pdr   
Goat Pound Ridge1 x 12 pdr; 1 x 6 pdr; 1 x swivel3 x 12 pdr  
High Knoll 8 x 18 pdr  
Horse Pasture Point2 x 18 pdr   
Egg Island3 x 24 pdr1 x 24 pdr 1 x 9.2 (Br)
Thompsons Valley East1 x swivel1 x 68 pdr; 1 x 18 pdr  
Thompsons Valley West 2 x 18 pdr  
Gregory’s Battery2 x 9 pdr1 x 24 pdr; 1 x 12 pdr  
Prosperous Bay Beach1 x 9 pdr 1 x 8 in (Br) 
Hold Fast Tom 1 x 12 pdr  
Mitchell’s Line (Sandy Bay)3 x 18 pdr2 x 24 pdr; 2 x 18 pdr  
Horse’s Head 3 x 24 pdr; 1 x 18 pdr  
Crown Point1 x 6 pdr   
Beach Hill1 x 9 pdr   
Four Gun Battery1 x 12 pdr   
Lemon Valley Line6 x 6 pdr3 x 18 pdr  
Lemon Valley, Half Moon4 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:

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

Discarded gun, Young’s Valley 2007 Discarded gun, Young’s Valley 2007

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 Old Power House, which is now the 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 renovated, 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{7}!

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.

Older images

Here are various older pictures of guns:

Guns for Mundens, 1873

In 1873 ‘modern’ guns were installed into Mundens Fort. Anyone familiar with the route to the fort from Jamestown will immediately see the difficulty; the route is too narrow and too steep for any form of animal-powered conveyance and the new guns were very heavy - 7 Tons each. The images below illustrate the process followed:

Interestingly, if you walk up the Mundens Path today you can still see, fixed into the rocks beside the route, the anchoring points used to fix the ropes that pulled the guns up the hill.

As far as we know, they were never fired in anger… You can still see one of the guns at the fort today (even with modern equipment it’s too heavy to remove it!)

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 modern 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:

Before Guns

Before the island was properly fortified the residents had a way of defending against an attack. From the Records:

This method was used against the invading Dutch, with limited success…

What do you do with an old gun?

Read More

Below: Article: The ‘Gunman’ Aims at Ladder HillArticle: Canon Ball Run

Article: The ‘Gunman’ Aims at Ladder Hill

By Vince Thompson, published in The Independent 17th April 2015{3}

The ‘Gunman’ aims his loaded paint brush
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
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 1980s. 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: Canon Ball Run

Published in the St Helena Herald 8th July 2011{3}

The cannonball

Inspector Merlin George was called on Monday night with a report that some young men had caused a minor disturbance. These three men were crew members of the yacht Leopard 44 who were ashore on their own. Since it’s opening the Museum has proudly displayed two cannon balls outside of the museum doors, it was one of these cannon balls in which one of the young crew members foolishly removed from its home by rolling it along the tarmac road, the cannon was then rolled through the Arch from beyond this point it was too heavy to control and rolled under Hoole’s Wall railings at the seafront and onto the pebble beach below. The next morning the skipper was contacted by Police officers, he was outraged and ashamed of the fact that his crew members did such acts, he has visited the island before and does not wish to ruin relations between visiting yachtsmen, himself and the island, he apologised accordingly and agreed that the responsible crew member retrieve the cannon ball on his own from the beach and return it to the Museum doorway. This was done so by the crew member at 9:30am on Tuesday whilst being escorted by two Police Officers. Inspector George said he hopes that this young man will not attempt such foolish acts in the future however the St Helena Police Force will not tolerate this kind of behaviour from either locals and definitely not from visitors to the island.

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


{a} Edward Baldwin{b} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{c} Fondation Napoléon{d} Nick Thorpe{e} Friends of St Helena{f} MJ Ltd{g} Andy Simpson{h} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{i} Mohandas Gandhi{j} We are indebted for this story to Frank Sheldon, son of the late Gunner 831156 Arthur Edward Sheldon RA, who served here from September 1939 to May 1941{k} On Social Media, name withheld, just in case anybody from the military decides it’s not too late to prosecute!, 6th December 2018{3}{l} Ed Thorpe, in the St Helena Herald, 6th November 2009{3}{m} Philip Gosse in St Helena 1502-1938


{1} Not all that well, by the look of things!{2} Dated on right trunnion end, number 1486 on left end.{3} @@RepDis@@{4} See other debunked myths.{5} Some historians claim the path depicted in the right-hand photo is the road to Mundens, but to us it looks more like Ladder Hill Road.{6} Shortly after Napoleon’s death, so at its peak.{7} If only because (a) they are no longer capable of firing, and (b) they face away from the airport towards the island…