Sierra Leone Antiquity

Bastions of Fort Thornton, Freetown

The fortifications of Smith’s Hill (now known as Tower Hill) were built from 1792 to 1805. Inside the fort were the Governor’s house, Government offices, such as the Post Office and the barracks for the garrison. When the buildings were being re-constructed to make way for the new State House (the present building), the Commission thought it necessary to have the bastions proclaimed a National Monument to incorporate them into the new building. Fort Thornton is in very good repair but much restored from the original, and beautifully laid out with well-maintained gardens. Several strategically placed cannons remind one of the original purposes of the fortress. Unfortunately, these cannons are now painted white, destroying their natural beauty and perhaps their value as relics.

The first settlements by the Poor Blacks brought out in 1787 by Captain Thompson, R.N. were dispersed by the hostile acts of King Jimmy, and it was quite natural that one of the early acts of the second set of Colonists (the Nova Scotians under Lieutenant Clarkson, R.N., the first Governor), should be to consider ways and means of defending themselves. To the West, the infant Colony had the unreliable Temnes under King Tom and King Jimmy, and to the East established Slave Trading Stations, Signor Domingo near Kissy, the French at Gambia Island, and the English (The Anderson Brothers) at Bunce Island.

In honour of the Chairman of the Sierra Leone Company, Henry Thornton, Esq., M.P., a well-established Banker in the City of London, a small hill about half a mile from the waterside was soon named Thornton Hill.

From the very foundation of the Colony, difficulties arose between the Colonists and the representatives of the Company and among the first was the delay in the allotment of land. Clarkson returned to England in December 1792, and on the assurance of his surveyor promised the settlers that in two weeks their allotments would be ready. But Mrs Anna Maria Falconbridge under the date January 2, 1793, writes:

“The Surveyor has stopped surveying the lots of land for the settlers although he assured Mr Clarkson that they should have them in a fortnight. His attention is now being taken up with fortifications which seem to be the hobby horse of Mr Dawes and a large fort is planned out upon a hill half a mile from the waterside. The new Fort if finished on the plan proposed will cost £20,000 I hear gentlemen of information say.”

This is the earliest reference to Fort Thornton and these Bastions probably date from 1793.

The Fort was not ready in 1796 when in Governor Macauley’s time the French destroyed Freetown. At first, there were the outer Bastions and inside wooden buildings which included from time to time home for the Governor, and until the erection of the Barracks on Tower Hill quarters for the Royal African Corps, the Secretariat and Post Office was first built in 1808. Various additions and alterations have been made to the Government House during which the Bastions to the West were covered up and incorporated into the building as it was from 1923 to 1949.

In 1949 the old Government House was pulled down to make way for a new one on the same site and the West side of old Bastions was exposed. They can now be seen until they are once more incorporated but not destroyed in the new Government House arising over them. At the time of the attack of the Temnes in 1801, the Fort was not yet complete and at one time the enemy entered the precincts of the Fort.

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