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The next set of surveys done by the Royal Engineers was in 1895 overseen by Lt Col Francis Mascall who was the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) Plymouth Sub District. It was measured and drawn by Company Sergeant Major Fred Beale who was a draughtsman by trade. Whilst I can’t find an explicit reason for the survey by this time it was clear the Rifle Muzzle Loaded Guns on the Island both in the Casemates and at the Upper Battery were obsolete and would be replaced by new breech loading guns in the near future. The Survey would establish the current situation of the defences so the new gun emplacements and associated magazines could be planned. Cost as always was critical to what could be done so the designers would want to incorporate as much of the existing features as possible to keep the costs down. The other major technological advancement was searchlights which would provide another reason to survey the Island to site the searchlights where they would be best deployed to sight enemy raiders, small destroyers or torpedo boats, in the Sound. Within 6 years of the survey including the new Batteries were constructed which did incorporate some existing features plus new searchlight housings. These new defences did incorporate some existing features. The new breech loading guns and searchlights started arriving on the Island by 1899.

The Island as it would have looked around the time of the Survey

At the time 6th Company Western District Royal Artillery were providing the Garrison detachment on the Island and had their own Cricket team although their home pitch was in the Citadel. The Ordnance on the Island is shown as three 11 inch 25 ton Guns and two 12 inch 25 ton Guns forming the Upper Battery. These were the Guns that were buried on the Island when they became obsolete and were rediscovered by the Adventure Centre staff in the 1960’s. However they only found four of the Guns, what happened to the fifth remains a bit of a mystery. There is no record of it having been removed from the Island and although it may have been there is the intriguing possibility that it is still buried on the Island. There is only one Landing Place now indicated. It appears the older landing place at the entrance to the Island and Gun Wharf by the Casemates had now fallen into disuse. With the Iron Blast Shields now in place there would have been very restricted access to the main part of the Island from the Gun Wharf and it was specifically designed to get the guns on the Island anyway. Lighting would have still been via oil lamps and candles, heating from coal and kindling wood and water gleaned from rain water or shipped across from Royal William Yard.

The Survey of the Upper Battery clearly showing five 11 and 12 inch RML Guns deployed. However only four were found by the Adventure Training Staff
An old picture from around the time of the survey. Three of the guns of the Battery are visible, the first at what appears to be the foot of the flagpole but is actually further forward and another two to the right of that. The earth bulwarks covering the forward stores are the structures between the guns.
A single gun position of the Upper or Main Battery zoomed in
The current surviving gun position on the Island. The carriage was built to an original design but dates from the 1970’s.
Part of the graduated arc at the rear of the gun that still survives on the Island. It would have been used to aim the gun. A pointer would have hung off the rear of the carriage above the arc to accurately set the gun on the angle ordered.

The Casemated or lower Battery also has a bit of mystery attached to it. The 1895 report shows nine 9 inch 12 tons in place. However previously one report of 1886 indicated the Island had thirteen of the 9 inch guns in place but a subsequent report also of 1886 indicated only eleven of the casemates housed guns. It is quite possible that some of the guns were moved off the Island by 1895. We also know that in 1905 the guns were tipped onto the foreshore as they were obsolete. They were all visible at low tide however only seven guns were recovered by the Navy in 1942 as salvage for the war effort. The other two may well have been washed away by strong tides or gales, leaving the possibility that they are still on the bottom of the Sound somewhere or that they were removed earlier.


The survey also show how the casemates were starting to be adapted for other uses, how the ammunition was moved and stored from the main underground magazine at the deepest part of the Island, to the Upper Magazines for the Upper Batteries and forward magazines for the casemates and also how they were stored at the Gun position. All the ammunition was bought up to the Island via a hoist at the top of the Island behind the landing place at what is now the pier. A hoist has been in this position since at least 1725. From there the ammunition was moved to the main Underground Magazines. Cartridges, which were the Gunpowder element, were held separate to the shells. The larger 25 ton guns used 34kg of gunpowder to fire a single Palliser shell that weighed 272kg. The smaller guns would use 20kg of gunpowder to fire a 116kg Palliser Shell.

The tower to the left of the Boathouse had a hoist from at least 1725 to move ordnance onto the Island. The photo is from the 1980’s and various types of hoists would have been used over the years but always the same location. The Underground Magazine and Tunnel Complex was about 10 metres or so behind the hoist
The main underground magazines. The lighting passage allowed oil lamps to be lit without having to enter the main chambers.
The entrance to the covered way on the left and to the Lime Store on the right. The ammunition would have gone down the covered way then entered through a door about halfway down on the right hand side just above the gap between the chambers C and D in the drawing above
This is Shell store B with an old ammunition trolley minus its wheels still inside
The three large interconnected chambers C’ D and E in the drawing. The photographer is stood in C which is shell store, the next chamber is a cartridge store with the furthest chamber being another shell store

For the Upper Battery the ammunition would be lifted using one of the two hoists to the Upper level of magazines. In turn the ammunition would be lifted via a davit and blocks and tackles to the store next to the Gun Position. These guns would take a well trained 8 man gun crew around 5 minutes to reload. To assist loading a davit and block and tackle would be used to assist with the lift of the shell.

The ammunition basket used to lift shells and cartridges from the lower level of tunnels to the upper level. The hoists are at either end of the passage on the other side of the main magazines, at the bottom of the drawing above.
The upper level of tunnels that acted as the forward magazines for the Upper Battery of 11 and 12 inch Guns. The hoists are the two small passages at either end of the main passageway going to wards the centre of the drawing.
The Ammunition shaft looking down from the upper level to the lower level
A Palliser shell that was used by the big RML guns on the Island. A single shell could weigh up to 272 kg and require 34 kg of gunpowder to fire it. The gunpowder cartridges were separate to the shell.
An RML gun being loaded. The davit to assist loading was attached to the front of the Gun and would lay flat when not in use

For the Casemated Battery the Ammunition would be moved by trolley from the main magazine to the forward magazine using the underground ammunition tunnels. There was a gentle slope down in the direction of the forward magazines to assist the movement of the ammunition, as the trollies were manhandled it helped if they were moved slightly downhill. From the forward magazines the ammunition was manhandled to the Gun position. By now the guns were in the South East facing casemates which were the nine casemates closest to the Cornish side of the Sound.

The drawing shows the main magazines to the top left that lead to the two main ammunition tunnels that in turn lead to the forward magazines just behind the casemated Guns. The ammunition was then passed from the forward magazines or stores to the gun crews.
One of the two main ammunition tunnels in the lower level. This one runs from top to bottom of the drawing.
The outside of the forward magazines or stores that housed the ammunition for the 9 inch guns in the casemates. The serving hatches through which the ammunition was passed are now blocked up.
the serving hatches on the outside of the forward magazines. You can still just make out the signs, CARTRIDGE on the left and SHELL on the right

The soldiers working in the underground magazines and tunnel complex would have all worn canvas uniforms and Indian type moccasins or canvas shoes. At first when I looked at the survey I couldn’t figure out what the dressing rooms were, my initial thoughts were they would have been a 1st Aid Station but Victorians would use the term dressing room for we would now understand as changing room. And that’s what they were, changing rooms for the soldiers before going to work in the magazines. All the entrances would either be locked or have sentries guarding them. The danger of a spark setting off the tons of gunpowder stored there meant strict procedures were in place to minimise the danger. It also appears that what is now the entrance from beside the Covered Way was originally a Lime store and only later knocked through to create a passageway to the main magazines. The lime would have mixed to form whitewash which would have been painted onto the walls. This helped with illumination as it reflected the light from the oil lamps more effectively. The main entrance for the ammunition would appear to be the one in the covered way which actually opens out into ta larger part of the passageway,

The dressing or changing rooms just past the Covered Way
The Covered Way from the casemate side. The entrance to the dressing or changing rooms is on the left through the metal barred door.
One of the recesses for the oil lamps that provided light in the underground magazine and tunnel complex. The walls were whitewashed to increase the effectiveness of the lamps as it would reflect the light hence the reason for the Lime store in the complex.

At the casemates some alterations to use had already been made although only one of the two stores at the start of the casemates was part of the original design. The steps were demolished to make way for the second store. The first two casemates had already been altered and were now an Artillery General Store and Fitters shop. The internal and external arches, open when originally built were now being bricked up where casemates were being adapted for other use.

The first alteration of use to the casemates had already occurred by the time the survey was done.
The coal store behind which was the straw store is the first building in stone work and at the start of the northern end of the casemates. The second store in concrete with the brown door was added later. A set of steps alongside the coal store were demolished to make way for it
The 9 inch guns were housed in the first nine casemates from the left in this 1960’s photograph

The Searchlight position wasn’t yet built though the design was drawn up and acted on not long after this survey was done as we know from reports that the searchlights were operational by 1899, only 4 years after this survey was done. This also puts paid to the suggestion that the ramp was part of a Brennan Torpedo Station which is shown in some older books and dated at 1891. The casemate in question hasn’t been altered as yet in 1895 and the only Brennan Torpedo Station in the Sound was at Piers Cellars according to Royal Navy records.

The drawing for the proposed searchlight position. No4 refers to the 4th casemate from the left in the photo. The searchlight positions were built in this location and were in operation by 1899.
The ramp that leads down to the Searchlight position from casemate No4.
The searchlight positions on the foreshore are the blocked up entrances. The left hand and centre are prominent and the right hand is in the shade.

As I mentioned at the start this was the start of the next period of the defences being adapted on the Island due to technological advances in both artillery and defence design. Within 6 years The Upper Battery was largely demolished to make way for the Breech Loading Gun Batteries that ran along the length of the Island. The Casemates were adapted to incorporate the new guns and changes made to the underground magazine and tunnel complex to accommodate the new ammunition. We’ll look at those changes in the coming weeks