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Report 1901: A Month on the Rock

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010

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Page 29 of 31: St Johnís - Quidi Vidi Battery

photo by Michael

Living quarters inside Quidi Vidi Barracks

This was our last day in Newfoundland as we were catching the late evening flight back to Halifax. We decided to have an easy day seeing something of the major attractions in St Johnís, beginning with Quidi Vidi Battery.

The weather news had warned of trees down in St Johnís and traffic lights not working after Hurricane Igor, so we decided to stay on the Trans Canada Highway round the north of St Johnís rather than try and navigate our through the centre. This was a wise decision as we found that signing in St Johnís wasnít good, there was a lot of traffic, roads were shut and some streets were very narrow.

The Trans Canada Highway sort of ended and became a single carriageway and then a normal street before dropping down into Quidi Vidi. This is thriving with a lot of new development and a lot of money. New terraced houses were built in traditional style and looked good. Quidi Vidi Lake drains into a narrow, deep and well sheltered harbour surrounded by high cliffs on either side. There are few fishing wharves left now.

There is a large parking area for Quidi Vidi Battery and it is a short walk. This is a Provincial Historic Site and there were two costumed interpreters showing visitors around. They were excellent and knowledgeable. The original battery has been reconstructed on the hillside overlooking the harbour mouth to the 1812 period during the American Wars. There is a long low barracks building of white painted wood with a gun deck which has four cannons (two original and two replicas) and a powder magazine.

The barracks was used from 1810 to 1870. Up to 12 men could be stationed here although usually there were only four to six. The Rooms in St Johnís was the site of the main barracks and there were smaller batteries along the coast. During the Napoleonic wars there were up to 1000 British troops based in St Johnís. Men signed up for 20 years (except in war time when recruiting officers had to get them to sign up for whatever length of time they would agree to). Recruits were supposed to be 16+ when they joined up. They could sign up younger but were not eligible for combat duties. They tried not to recruit men older than 25-30, although in wartime they did like to sign up ex sergeants for their experience. A certain number of women and children were allowed to accompany the soldiers and were allowed rations.

Men served two to three weeks in Quidi Vidi (one month in Fort Amherst). They were not allowed to leave the battery during their spell of duty and had to make their own entertainment.

They were allocated one pair of pants, two shirts and two pairs of shoes per year. Jackets had to last longer. When the outside became worn they could be unpicked by a tailor and turned inside out, so making the material last longer.

Men slept two to a bed. In the morning bedding was folded and the wooden slats stacked up so they couldnít go back to bed. Mattresses were made of hay and hung out to air. They needed replacing every three weeks. The Officer had a bed at the end of the barracks which was probably partitioned off.

There was a wood burning fire which provided heat and was used for cooking. There was a small separate oven. The men would pool their rations and one person would cook for all of them.

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