Trepassey Battery

Like all humans, Europeans have a long history of wars and fighting. Many of those wars spilled over into North America and so inevitably Newfoundland and Labrador often played a role in many of those conflicts. Evidence of this can be seen in numerous places such as Fort York in Labrador, the wreck of HMS Sapphire in Bay Bulls or in the myriad of gun batteries throughout the Province, many of which still have cannons in place. All of these places are now archaeological sites; some have been visited by an archaeologist and some have not. The gun battery at Trepassey has been briefly investigated by an archaeologist.

In the mid to late 1960s, a division in the Provincial Government erected signage at a number of these (mostly military related) places. Most of these signs are in pretty bad shape now, if they haven’t fallen completely, and there doesn’t seem to have been a plan for their upkeep. One such sign was erected at the Trepassey gun battery and reads:

A battery of four 9 pdr*. and two 6 pdr. cannon taken from H.M.S. Proteus was erected on this site in 1779 and was maintained until 1784 when the ordnance was removed. Re-built in 1813 this battery mounted two 9 pdr. cannon and was maintained until 1815.

*pdr is short for pounder, meaning the cannon fired a projectile of approximately 9 or 6 pounds in the above examples.

Trepassey Battery sign.

In 1993, then-Memorial University archaeology graduate student Steve Mills visited six battery locations on the Avalon Peninsula, one of which was the Trepassey battery (1998).

According to Mills, the location of the battery was chosen to provide lines of fire across the entrance to Trepassey Harbour, the harbour itself and the beach separating the inner harbour from Mutton Bay. The battery was entirely enclosed by a circular earthworks with an interior dimension of approximately 20.0m east-west by approximately 18.0m. The earthworks were between 3.5m to 5.5m w and stood and average of 0.3m high.

Photo from the battery (looking approximately north). On the left is Trepassey Harbour, the harbour & Town and the beach separating the inner harbour are in the centre and Mutton Bay is to the right (Mills).
Trepassey battery looking out to sea (approximately SW) (Mills).

Archaeology work at the site consisted of random test pits which uncovered very little cultural material. The two areas from which material was recovered, later designated Areas A & B, resulted in small zones of excavation. In Area A, Mills found a stone foundation that he believed was associated with a gun platform, and in another excavation in Area A he was able to record the earthworks construction sequence.

The stone foundation was two stone courses high and measured 1.5 m long by 0.9 m wide. Fourteen 9 pdr. cannon balls and eighty-four wrought iron nails of varying lengths were recovered in various places near the foundation. Mills also found wood fragments and patterns in the soils which suggested this wood and the nails were used to create a support for a gun platform. Several nails were found upright in the ground, suggesting that the wood they were in rotted in place. Interestingly, he also recovered charcoal around the foundation, which he interpreted as suggesting the platform was burned at some point. He recovered an English style gun flint, clay pipe stems, dark green bottle glass, two ceramic sherds (creamware and coarse red earthenware), a side plate from a Brown Bess musket (1770 pattern?) and various pieces of scrap iron.

Stone foundation and some of the recovered cannon balls (Mills).
Two of the in situ upright nails (Mills).

Mills also sectioned the earthworks in two places in Area A. He found that it consisted of layers of peat and gravel with the inside edge faced with large stones. He believes the parapet was constructed by stripping the surrounding peat and or sods from the surrounding hill top and stacking the same around the intended gun position. The relatively low height of the parapet suggests that little or no materials were imported from elsewhere. By excavating the interior of the battery, the builders were able to lower the gun positions while at the same time raising the surrounding parapet, which served to further protect the gun crews.

Mills believes that the single sherd of 18th century creamware found near the cannon balls and the lack of diagnostic 19th century material indicates that the platform was not re-activated in the 19th century and that the recovered artifacts date to the first occupation of the site from 1779-1784.

Mills also excavated an area through the parapet. He uncovered several soil layers including up to 0.7 m of parapet fill construction. Recovered artifacts include clay pipe stems, dark green bottle sherds and coarse red earthenware sherds which were consistent with the late 18th century occupation. There were also several pieces of metal found including an iron hook, an iron disc and associated pin or spindle believed to be the base and spindle from a sea service grape shot projectile. This hook was likely another military-related artifact. It is similar to those used on cannon carriages for a variety of purposes including attaching chains or ropes to the carriage to cushion recoil once the cannon was fired. See the link below for photos of what the grape shot projectile would have looked like.

The iron hook, disc and associated pin or spindle (second from the right) (Mills).

The excavations in Area B, which was between 5-8.0 m west of the battery, were noted as being unproductive. However, Mills noticed a lack of any appreciable topsoil in the Area B excavations. This was linked to his belief that the area was stripped to subsoil during the battery construction. The only artifacts in the area were tiny sherds of pearlware, one sherd of porcelain, two pipe fragments and part of a wrought iron nail.

Mills, Stephen
1998      1993  Southern Shore Battery Survey Project. DRAFT

4 thoughts on “Trepassey Battery

  1. Love reading about the history of our island. Keep up the good work because I am sure there are many people interested in reading about these gun batteries.

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