The Parade guns
The four guns standing at the foot of General Don's monument in the Parade Gardens are practically the sole survivors of Jersey's primary defence during the latter half of the 19th century.
The guns, to all intents and purposes, are identical pairs. The ones sharing the elevated position are the more modern, circa 1869, and are described as six inch, breech loading, Armstrong guns.
The lower pair are somewhat older, circa 1862, and follow a general design common since the 14th century in that they are muzzle loaders. In deference to their age, it is with these latter guns of Millars pattern that this account is mainly concerned.
They are 32 pounders cast by Marshall B Ridsdale Iron Company, and are special in that they are the last of a long line, the peak of perfection in their day, and a tribute to the fine British workmanship they represent. They were gradually replaced by those previously described.
The four guns served the same purpose, which was a role of defence. They were mounted on traversing platforms, in batteries, at strategic points around the Island as may be seen in the illustration of Beauport Battery taken during the latter quarter of the 19th century. Served by well-trained crews of smart Victorian garrison artillerymen in pillarbox hats, usually four to a gun, they were formidable weapons.
In action, the guns were run back along their platforms from the embrasures to be loaded through the breech or muzzle as was the case. To describe this, the muzzle loader was withdrawn following engagement, and the bore wet sponged to eliminate any smouldering particles which might be left adhering.
A pre-packed, flannel bagged charge of powder was then rammed home down the bore and followed by a wad and the chosen type of projectile which might be solid chilled iron armour piercing, hollow powder filled bursting, or hollow case packed grape shot. The piece was then finally wadded and primed by pricking a hole through the charge, and inserting an igniter tube through the touch hole. The gun was then run back into the appropriate embrasure and sighted.
Firing was effected by jerking the lanyard attached to the igniter which fired in principle similar to that of striking a match.
Grape shot was fired into the ranks of enemy troops or the crews of ships when the results might be better imagined than described.
It will be seen, upon examining the specimens in the Parade, that the rear sets of wheels are missing. This was intended, and carriages such as these are designated rear chock types. The purpose was to induce a braking effect during recoil. For maximum effect all wheels could be discarded.
Tests have proved these guns capable of devastating results. Over a period of time experiments were carried out at Woolwich Arsenal and one such test in 1857 involved great expense. A target comprised of huge cast iron blocks weighing eight tons each were tongued and grooved to form a wall which was re-inforced behind by granite blocks. This massive target was then shelled from four hundred yards by 68 pounder guns, when the target was found to be largely destroyed.
During times of peace guns were mounted on cast iron carriages. During times of war these were replaced by wooden ones, such as are found in the Parade. It was found that when iron carriages were struck by enemy shot they fragmentated with disastrous results to the crew. Iron carriages were also less prone to deterioration and thereby were more economic to her Britanic Majesty's government.
The Parish of St Helier authorities are to be commanded for the care bestowed upon the guns which are now rare and valuable. At present they are undergoing extensive restoration, and although never gaily attractive, the colours will be authentic; dull metallic black finished barrels with flat grey woodwork and the bores brushed with a special protective lacquer, then sealed by the tompion (a wooden plug), which served to preserve the bore from the elements and keep the charge dry when the piece was left loaded.
It is regrettable that little remains preserved of the many relics of military interest of this period today. The German war effort milked away much of what little remained to become grist for the Krupp steel mills, although it was also practice for the Ordnance to salvage worn guns and replace them when necessary.
Here and there, around the Island, may still be seen the relics of our defences, often driven into the ground to perform some inglorious task perhaps as bollards on St Aubin's Pier, or to fend off the passing cartwheels during yesteryear, as may be seen on either side of the gates of Normans timber yard in Pier Road.
The island’s guns varied in size, as might be expected. Twenty-four, 32, and 68 pounders were all once in evidence. The largest battery was to be found at Fort Regent, which has long been a Military installation.
Elizabeth Castle also boasted a large battery, which was employed for salutory purposes until recent years. However, its fine guns are no more. As may be seen from the derelict ruins dotting our coastline, the smaller batteries did not take up excessive space, nor did any situation appear to be inaccessible. One such battery on the north of the Island has been turned into the most attractive summer residence.