Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Our second line of defences - Part 2

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OUR SECOND LINE OF DEFENCES.

NO. II.—PORTSMOUTH.

In those glorious old days, still remembered with a sigh of regret by a few very elderly gentlemen of sporting tendencies, when the noble science, as its votaries called it, was one of the specialities of every English gentleman, from princes of the blood to “seedy bucks,” it must have been a curious study for any one not bitten with the prevalent mania to observe the care and pains bestowed upon the heroes of the ring, to watch how the universal interest concentrated itself for the time upon the pair of brawny louts who were getting ready to bruise nature’s noblest handiwork out of all recognisable shape and proportion, how the noblemen and the young bloods who led the fashion were wont to make up parties, and drive down to their man’s training quarters in all sorts of quaint-looking vehicles whose bizarre outlines have been preserved for us by undying Gilray; how they inspected, and overhauled, and cross-examined their pet; how they instituted the strictest inquiries into his diet, his clothing, his habits, his indulgences; how they one after another watched their opportunity to take his trainer aside, and confidentially direct him to let the Chicken want for nothing, and to spare no expense, so that he was brought to the scene of his contest “as bright as a star, and as strong as a lion;” how, returning to town, each set cracked up its man to the other; how they bragged of the hardness of his thigh and the development of his flexor; and how they laid each other swingeing bets on the event. How, moreover, the common sort followed, sheep-like, in the wake of the young bloods, and in taverns and wine-shops, and gambling-houses, and even in the rude settles of country road-side inns, discussed after their fashion the news of the animal’s progress, and laid modest wagers on the man of their choice. All this has passed away from among us, and we go mad, and speculate, and argue, and wager about matters of heavier moment it may be—that is, if weight of metal is to kick the beam—and the few lingering remnants of the prize ring are “brutal ruffians,” and their fewer patrons “knaves or idiots.”

But what on earth has all this to do with our National Defences, or with Portsmouth? Just thus much—that Portsmouth and Cherbourg are, for the nonce, our two fighting men—standing frowning at each other across those eighty miles of Channel that intervene, and ready on small provocation to be foul of one another with something harder, heavier, and infinitely more damaging than the heaviest human fist that ever shot straight out from shoulder. The parallel holds good throughout; both on the French side and our own, there is the same extravagant excitement, the same cracking up, the same wagering, and the same earnest entreaty that no expense should be spared. Even in days when the late Duke of Wellington complained that he could not get £1000 from Parliament for experiments on which we now think nothing of spending £10,000 at a time, Portsmouth could always manage to smuggle a snug little sum through for itself to be expended in strengthening its defences.

The fact is, there is not only a general feeling—a little undefined, perhaps, but none the weaker for that—that the place is of immense national importance; but there is, moreover, and this especially of late years, a feeling of uneasy jealousy directed across the Channel, and a sort of tacit resolution not to allow one man to lose a chance of asserting his superiority over the other. So it has happened that the defences of Portsmouth have been the work of succeeding ages, expanding with the exigencies, intelligence, and the apprehensions of the day, and exhibiting rather an accumulation of successive distinct devices conceived pro re natâ, than, as Cherbourg—a large and comprehensive scheme, imagined and carried out on one uniform plan.

The recognition of the great national importance of the position of Portsmouth Harbour has been so general, and it has received so much discussion and illustration in the course of the last two or three years, at the hands of essayists and journalists of all sorts and classes, that everybody must be tolerably familiar with those peculiarities of its position from which its importance is derived; it is nevertheless necessary to a due comprehension of the enlarged system of defence now in progress of construction, that the salient points of the position should be briefly recalled.

Looking at a map of the south coast of England, it is easy to conceive a time when the Isle of Wight formed a promontory jutting out from the main land, between Alban’s Head and Selsea Bill. If some enormous Saurian of the very elder times, had, in a fit of extreme rage, or uncontrollable hunger, taken a bite at such a promontory; and, not liking the morsel, had returned it a few miles from the spot whence he had taken his bite, the result one can imagine being precisely the appearance which the Isle of Wight and the opposite shore mutually present. By the way, there are one or two such “bites,” on a smaller scale in ranges of English and Irish mountains, though these are generally assigned to an ancient reptile, whose portraiture belongs rather to the imagination of monks, than the researches of science. At the bottom of our “bite,” lies the deep gulf known as Southampton Water, and between it and Selsea Bill, a system of bays, peninsulas, and islands, which cut up and intersect the whole of the dead level of which that piece of country consists. The easternmost of these is Chichester Harbour, the next Langston Harbour; both are exceedingly, and we believe increasingly, shallow, and at dead low water present nothing but hundreds of acres of mud with some lazy oozy channels winding in and out in the middle. Between the mouth of Langston Harbour, however, and Southampton Water, the coast, after advancing rather prominently into the sea southward, both from east and west, recedes somewhat suddenly into a deep bay, at the bottom of which is the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, very narrow (about 220 yards), and very deep (ten fathoms, or sixty feet at low water). The harbour gradually widens for about a mile and a half northward, with ample water for the largest line-of-battle ships, and then suddenly expands into a considerable inland lake, some five miles each way in its greatest dimensions, presenting at high water a very pleasing effect, but at low water differing little from its neighbour of Langston, except that its intersecting channels are deeper. Outside the harbour mouth, the continual drainage of the harbour through the sluice of its mouth has piled up a long shoal, which runs for nearly two miles in a south-easterly direction, parallel with the eastern coast of the bay, and narrowing the navigable channel to about a quarter of a mile from the shore, whilst beyond the head of this shoal, which is called the Spit Sand, is the world-famous anchorage of Spithead, effectually sheltered from every wind that can blow, except that from S.E., and which, until the other day, was generally considered a tolerably innocuous quarter on the British coast. To the south and west of Portsmouth Harbour lies the huge natural earthwork of the Isle of Wight, the whole southern side of which, with some exceptions, presents an inaccessible rampart of cliff and rock, and the narrow channel between the western extremity of which and the mainland is still further defended by the natural difficulties of an extremely intricate navigation, and a tremendous current. To the south-east the anchorage is open—but of this more presently.

This extremely snug position of Portsmouth Harbour must have struck our ancestors very forcibly. There is not the slightest occasion to drag the reader through a tedious historical disquisition on the rise and progress of the place. It is merely the recognition of its importance as a military and commercial harbour, as well as a place of embarkation for the continent, that need be impressed. When that impression first began to prevail is not material. County historians are of course fond of carrying its date back to the remotest antiquity that local pride can conceive, and without venturing into the mythical regions of Lud and “Brute,” will allow no later date to the commencement of its importance than the era of the Roman rule. A modern French historian of Algeria disposes of a grave chronological difficulty in a very pleasant and summary manner by assigning to the event in question “une époque absolument inconnue,” and it is far more convenient for our present purpose to dispose of the earliest rise of the harbour to the post of an important sea-port in a similar manner. Whenever this event really did take place, the local tradition seems reasonable enough, namely, that the remains of Porchester Castle, with its fine old massy towers and keep of evident Norman construction, mark the site of the ancient sea-port, in days when there was more water and less mud in the upper part of the harbour; but that, the one diminishing and the other increasing, the old port was gradually abandoned for one nearer the sea—in short, on the site of the present Portsmouth.

The convenience of this port with its roadstead as a place of debarkation and embarkation has been recognised by all sorts of people, by Saxon Porta and Norman Robert, by the Empress Maud and Henry III., by other Henrys, and Edwards, and Richards, by Charles’s Duke of Buckingham, who here met Felton’s knife as the Rochelle expedition was assembling; and from those days, by all our statesmen and naval commanders, down to the rendezvous days of the late war, to the days of our own Baltic and Channel fleets; and last, though not least, at any rate in his own opinion, to the days of the lately arrived Persian ambassador in our finest transport ship. A corresponding recognition of the necessity for fortifications kept pace with the growing consciousness of the importance of the position. The French were not idle in evincing a similar appreciation, but in a very disagreeable manner, and a raid they made on the place in King Edward III.’s time, and in which they burned the town and shipping, though visited by a mettlesome retaliation on the part of the townspeople themselves, who a short time after played a return match in the mouth of the Seine, and brought off “a great booty of wine,” seems, nevertheless, to have set subsequent monarchs thinking of the wisdom of some regular system of fortifications. What Edward IV. began in this way was carried on by subsequent sovereigns, though for a very long time little seems to have been thought of but the merest obvious protection of the narrow gut which forms the entrance to the harbour. In old John Leland’s time, there was, “at this point of the Haven,” (still called “the Point,” by the way), “a great round tourre,” which, with the view of enabling us accurately to estimate its dimensions, he adds is “almost doble in quantitie and strenkith to that that is on the west side of the haven right agayn,” (now Block House Fort), “and here is a mighty chayne of yren to draw from toure to toure.” Queen Bess showed her wisdom in thinking the fortifications worth very considerable outlay, so did the advisers of the Merrie Monarch, as well as his contrast, phlegmatic, calculating William of Orange.

Point Battery, Portsmouth. 1783 - 1839 - 1860

In short, one may say that from Henry VIII.’s time down to our own days, scarce any government has failed to contribute something to the strengthening of the national stronghold.

After all these years of care and pains bestowed on “the defence of Portsmouth dockyard and harbour, as also the fine roadstead at Spithead, against attack or occupation by an enemy,” an object which “has ever been considered of primary importance,” it is rather mortifying to find that as regards an attack from seaward, “it is evident that the existing defences would not suffice to protect either the dockyard or the anchorage against attack by an enemy’s fleet in the present day,” and that as far as a land attack is concerned, “the lines have long been considered a most inefficient protection;” mortifying in truth, but the secret is easily discovered. It is the same as has been hinted at in the first paper on this subject in connection with the fortifications at Sheerness and Chatham. Steam and rifled cannon, and iron-cased ships, have revolutionised warfare in many of its leading principles. In old days, no one dreamt of opening fire on a fortress at a greater distance than 1000 yards; the new works recommended in 1825, and in part completed, were considered to have provided amply for the improvements in modern artillery, by extending the works of defence to a distance of 4000 yards; and these works are not nearly finished when, as has been before noticed, modern progress doubles that distance; nay, Sir W. Armstrong deposes, that “for special service, guns might be constructed to give a range of six miles, or perhaps more,” and the committee, on the effect of the new rifled-cannon on fortifications, inform us that it will now be “necessary that an enemy be kept at a distance of 9000 yards,[1] or five miles,” and that thus “a place situated on a flat, or surrounded by heights that look into it from that distance, would require a contour of outworks upwards of thirty miles in extent.”

There is another point to be borne in mind in considering the effect of the modern method of warfare, at least as far as a sea attack is concerned. Our heaviest ordnance are placed, and with reason, on gunboats. A very few of these, armed with a couple of the new rifled-cannon each, and firing conical shell, would be sufficient to set all Portsmouth dockyard in a blaze at a distance of four miles, whilst at that distance each gunboat presents but a tiny mark for the batteries on shore. Nor is this all. The plan of action with gunboats is—as at Sweaborg—to keep constantly in motion, generally circling round and round, easing for a moment as the gun is ready, delivering fire, and then steaming on again during the reloading. To hit so small an object under such circumstances is, as has been observed, extremely difficult. No wonder that Sir Wm. Armstrong considers that “at 4000 yards a gunboat would be practically safe.”

The principle of modern defences, therefore, is necessarily no longer a complete enceinte, as in old days, by which the place to be protected was surrounded by a cunningly devised system of ramparts and ditches, so arranged as that the various parts mutually supported each other; or rather, it is not only this, for the old ramparts are still good for close fighting, but it consists principally in pushing forward to a sufficient distance, in advance of the place to be defended, a series of detached forts, or “out-works,” as they are called, so arranged as at once to be each a little fortress in itself, and at the same time assist its neighbours on both sides with that most terrible of all artillery appliances—a cross-fire. Through a well arranged cordon of such works, it would be impossible, or nearly so, for an enemy to push his way on land, at least without first reducing them; and whether at land or sea, even a successful dash through them, without reducing them, would leave the advancing force open to attack in the rear. In some cases, as we shall see presently, it is deemed advisable to connect these detached works by lines; but the principle remains the same.

It has been necessary to explain at length this principle of modern fortification, because, without some comprehension of it, it would be difficult to understand the full object of the seven-and-twenty detached forts, with which in our engraving the country round Portsmouth appears dotted; whilst with such a comprehension, the system becomes the simplest thing in the world.

Coastal Defences 1860 (2).png

A. Portsmouth Lines; B. Gosport Lines; C. The Dockyard: D. The Victualling Yard; E. Point Battery; F. Block House Fort; G. Monkton Fort; H. Works on Gillkicker Point I. Works in Stokes’s Bay; J. J. J. &c. Chain of Forts (1825); K. K. &c. Chain of new Outworks; L. L. &c. Chain of new Outworks on Portsdown Hill; M. Hilsea Lines; N. Cumberland Fort; O. Eastney Fort; P. Lump’s Fort; Q. Southsea Castle; R. Horse Sand Fort; S. Intermediate Fort; T. Spit Sand Fort; U. No Man’s Land Fort; W. Sturbridge Fort; X. Appley House Battery; Y. Nettlestone Point Battery; Z. Spithead.

A land attack on Portsmouth would be made either from the west or from the north; the first, by an enemy who had landed somewhere west of the Needles, for, as we shall presently see, the passage of the western entrance of the Solent by a force of troops and artillery sufficient to effect a landing between Southampton Water and Stokes’s Bay, may be looked upon as an improbability, nearly amounting to an impossibility; the other, by an enemy who had landed either on that spot or eastward of Langston Harbour, with a view of marching on London, and who should either attack Portsmouth as his first step, or detach a portion of his army to destroy it, whilst his main body kept our force in the field in check.

The advance from the westward would meet with the triple line of defence presented by (1º) the chain of outlying forts (K K, &c.), which are posted from four to four and a half miles in front of the lines at Gosport, (2º) the inner line of works (J J, &c.) lying about two miles in front of the lines, and which are to be connected by regular lines, and (3º) the old Gosport lines themselves, which, though utterly inefficient as a protection against bombardment, would be nevertheless of use in repelling an attempt at capture. The distances between the forts which are to compose the outermost line of defence are such as to give full play to the principle of cross-firing; those between the forts of the second line are still less, enabling these latter to be all brought into play at once.

But the attack from which most danger seems to be apprehended is that from the ridge of hill lying northward of Portsmouth, and known as Portsdown Hill. We are told that “no position could be more favourable for effecting” the bombardment of the dockyard. “The distance varies from 6000 to 9000 yards; the naval establishments and ships in the harbour are in full view, and could be destroyed by an enemy who should succeed in establishing himself there for a short time.” There was no hope of doing anything with this ridge by halves, and the bold expedient has therefore been hit upon of fortifying the whole of it from one end to the other (six miles in length). The summit of the ridge, therefore, is to be occupied by four large forts, and three smaller ones (L L, &c.) A rampart and ditch is to connect them, and be continued at each end down to the shores of Portsmouth and Langston harbours, and works in advance of these flank lines (L L) are still further to cover the approach.

This forms the first or outlying line of defence, and it should be added that the formation of Portsdown Hill, which is entirely composed of chalk, and the peculiar character of the ridge which forms its summit, which is nearly a level expanse of open down, are both peculiarly favourable to the construction of extensive military works. The chalk is easily cut into the requisite ramparts and ditches, whilst the open nature of the ground, visible along its whole length by every part, affords the greatest facilities for communication; and, though Sir J. Burgoyne points out that such lines would require an army for their defence, it must be recollected at the same time that an army would be, by parity of reasoning, needed for this attack—a huge one, indeed, if the attack is to take place simultaneously along their whole extent. If, as is more probable, it were given at but one or two points, the circumstances already pointed out render concentration of the defending force comparatively easy.

The line of works on Portsdown Hill then forms, with its two flanks, the first and most important line of defence on the north. But, as on the western or Gosport side, there are two other lines within this. The first consists of the Hilsea lines (M). It will be observed that[2] Portsmouth is built on the south-western corner of an island called Portsea Island, which is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel called Hilsea Channel, connecting Portsmouth and Langston harbours. The only roads to Portsmouth—a coach road, and the London and South Coast Railway—necessarily cross the Hilsea Channel; in fact, in this direction only is there any land access to Portsmouth at all. Along the whole of this northern end of Portsea Island runs a chain of works through which both roads pass, and which are capable of offering a formidable check to an advancing force. Hilsea lines, then, form the second line of defence on the northern side. The third is presented by the old Portsmouth lines themselves, which, like their brethren round Gosport, though inefficient to protect the dockyard from bombardment, are so far of material use in protecting the place from capture, that, if manned by an ordinarily sufficient garrison, they could not be taken without a regular siege.

Let us next turn our attention seaward, and consider the nature of the defences provided against an attack from that quarter, either on the dockyard by bombardment, or on Portsmouth altogether by capture, or on the roadstead at Spithead by a dashing cutting-out expedition; and of these three, let it be mentioned in passing, that the third appears to have been thought worthy of much careful consideration. It is pointed out that “in all former wars Spithead has been used as a perfectly secure rendezvous for a fleet; that receiving ships, sheer hulks, and many other appliances for refit, have been stationed there; extensive repairs by shipwrights, artificers, and riggers, have been carried on there, and no ships used ever to be allowed to proceed into harbour, merely for victualling and watering, or completing the ordinary supplies of stores and ammunition, and that all these operations will still require to be performed at Spithead, in addition to coaling, which will henceforth be not less important.” We are reminded that “convoys of more than a hundred sail of merchant vessels at a time have been assembled at Spithead;” and then the difficulty of stopping “by any practicable amount of fire from batteries” the passage of swift steamships dashing past at full speed, is much insisted on, and the object of the defensive works in progress or recommended seems to be not so much to prevent an enemy’s cruizers from making a swoop on Spithead altogether, as to make the place too hot for them when there.

A sea attack must come either from the westward, by way of the Needles and the Solent, or from the south-eastward. It would almost require a separate article to give any adequate idea of the defences of the Needles passage, existing, in progress, or about to be constructed. Its natural features have been already alluded to. To these must be added the combined cross and raking fires of extensive batteries at Hurst Castle, on the north, and of no less than six others, lying along the shore, or perched on the cliffs for five miles on the south. A strong boom is also to be placed, in war time, across the narrowest part of the channel, and under the guns of Hurst Castle; and it seems to be considered tolerably certain that no enemy would risk the natural difficulties of the passage, and the damage which must be inflicted in running the gauntlet of so formidable a chain of forts, for the mere sake of scrambling up to Spithead by the Solent, only to find himself, when there, involved in the same kind of difficulties from the cross-fire of sea and land forts, which are next to be described.

Before, however, proceeding to consider the nature of the sea defences at and around Spithead, it will be necessary first of all to take a glance at the map of the sea’s bottom, between the mainland and the Wight. The Spit Sand has already been described. Its outlines, as well as those of the other shoals about to be mentioned, are denoted in our engraving by dotted lines. To the eastward of the Spit, there stretches down southward, to a distance of three miles from Southsea Castle, another large shoal called the Horse Sand, with a pendant going off S.E., called the Horse Tail; and though vessels of light draught can—especially at high water—pass across the sand, yet the regular channel, and the only one for all large ships, lies south of the sand, and of the five black buoys which mark the edge of the shoal. This gets rid at once for all purposes of practical navigation of some three good miles of the space in question—but this is not all. From the opposite shore of the Isle of Wight, a little east of Ryde, a third shoal, called No Man’s Land, protrudes itself nearly two miles from shore in a north-easterly direction towards the Horse, its limit marked by a white buoy, distant a little over a mile from the westernmost of the five which mark the Horse, &c.

Through the channel between these five black buoys and one white, every ship of any size must pass, in order to get to Spithead or Portsmouth, and when in the centre of its narrowest part would find the head of the Horse Sand about half-a-mile on its right, No Man’s Land about the same distance to the left, and the head of the Spit two miles in front. It should be added, that about three miles further westward, and in mid-channel between Ryde and Gillkicker Point (H), lies another shoal, called Sturbridge.

The scheme of defence now being put in force involves the erection on No Man’s Land, the Horse Sand, and Sturbridge, of three large forts; and on the Spit Sand and on the Horse, halfway between the large work and the mainland, of two smaller forts, whilst on shore a string of forts, called Cumberland (N), Eastney (O), and Lump’s Forts (P), and Southsea Castle (Q), combine with Point Battery (E), and the southern face of Portsmouth Lines in guarding the eastern approaches to the harbour, the protection of the western being provided for by Block House Fort (F), Fort Monkton (G), and batteries on Gillkicker Point (H), connected by works with the chain of forts west of Gosport, already described. Let us next proceed to consider what obstacles an attack by sea, from the most likely quarter, S.E., would have to encounter, from this system of defences. We will, as in the case of the Thames and Sheerness, imagine ourselves on board one of the attacking squadron. Our course lies past the Warner Light, shown in the right-hand lower corner of the engraving, our guiding marks being the odd-looking sea mark called the Kickergill, seen on shore abreast of the middle of Stokes Bay (I), as observed over Monkton Fort and the works hard by (H). Without taking much notice of the fact, that before we arrived at the Warner, we should have exposed ourselves to the fire of both Nettlestone Battery (Y), and another a mile to the southward, at St. Helen’s Point, but at a two mile range, we should, very soon after passing the Light ship, find ourselves in a position of which the diagram will give the best idea, whilst it at the same time will serve to elucidate the system of cross firing already treated of. On our right we should find the Horse Sand Fort, opening on us from two of its flanks at once—we are assuming that the number of guns to be mounted on each of the three batteries we are now considering, will be, as set down in the Commissioners’ Report, 120—and we are assuming that Captain Sullivan’s plan will be adhered to in principle, and that these guns will consequently be mounted in casemated batteries of three tiers with [guns and] mortars on the roof, and we are further assuming that the gallant captain’s suggestion will be also attended to in determining the shape of the forts, and that they will be polygonal. From the Commissioners’ plan we gather that they will be heptagonal: this will give us about 17 guns to each face. Now, as this construction will always enable two faces at least at a time to bear on any one object, it follows that the Horse Sand Battery will open on us with the fire of no less than four-and-thirty guns of heavy calibre, whilst at the same moment the No Man’s Land Fort (U) would pour in a similar fire on our left, and, as we proceeded, the Spit Fort (T) would meet us with a raking fire of the same number of guns—nor would our pushing on briskly with all aid of sails, steam, and tide, avail us much, for as we close one face of the forts we merely open a fresh one, whilst the mortars from the roof would all the while be shelling us with a murderous vertical fire, the most dangerous of all for shipping—upwards of 100 heavy guns concentrating their fire on us at distances varying from two miles to half-a-mile, to say nothing of the mortars! If our force consists of gunboats of light draught, and we try to push in at high water between the Horse Sand Fort and the Intermediate,[3] we find ourselves in a precisely similar triangular snarl with these two forts, and that on the Spit. If we run round the back of the Intermediate, all four forts on the shore, Cumberland (N), Eastney (O), Lumps (P), and Southsea (Q), open on us, besides the Intermediate, whilst the inevitable Spit still rakes us in front. If we push for Langston Harbour, in hopes of doing some mischief from thence, we must run the gauntlet of Cumberland Fort at less than 400 yards range, at which distance a single 68-pound shot may sink us, whilst, even if we succeeded in forcing the entrance, the guns of the same fort will continue to rake us as we lie; and, finally, if we try to carry our light-draught vessels round the back of No Man’s Land Fort, between that and the shore of the Isle of Wight, Nettlestone Point (Y) and Appley House (X) Batteries will again combine with No Man’s Land Fort, to place us in our triangular difficulty, whilst the fort on the Sturbridge shoal will supply the place of the Spit in treating us to a raking fire ahead.

Of course, any attempt to force the entrance of the harbour involves us in running the gauntlet between the fort on the Spit Sand and Southsea Castle, distant just half-a-mile from each other, whilst the whole of our passage down the narrow channel, which leads to the mouth of the harbour, must be effected under a perfect storm of shot and shell from the southern portion of the Portsmouth lines, as well as from Point Battery, Block House Fort, Fort Monckton, and such guns both of the Spit Sand Fort and Southsea as bear towards the harbour, and in the very thickest of this fire we should find ourselves brought up by a chain across the harbour mouth, which had been quietly reposing at the bottom like its more delicate neighbours belonging to the floating bridge, but was hauled up by capstans on each side as soon as we were descried in the offing. This is the legitimate successor of old Leland’s “mighty chayne;” only, no doubt, as much mightier a piece of iron work than his, as the forge-house at the Dockyard surpasses the smith’s shop of his days.

Here, then, we have as on both land faces the triple line of defences. First, the outlying works, represented by the forts on the sands; next, the second line, consisting of the shore forts; and, lastly, the combination effected by the Portsmouth lines, Point Battery, and Block House Fort.

The possibility of an enemy landing on the Isle of Wight, as a preliminary step to an attack on Portsmouth, has received careful consideration; but it would be impossible within the limits of this paper to follow the Commissioners round the back of the island, and point out, even hurriedly, the details of the system of defence recommended. It must suffice to say, briefly, that every available spot for a landing is to be fortified by works more or less extensive, according to the size of the opening and the nature of the facilities afforded.

There are two points in connection with these systems of defences, on which it is hardly our province here to touch; one is the time their construction will occupy, the other the expense involved. As regards the first, ground has already been broken on Portsdown Hill, and a great portion of the second cordon of defence is actually completed. The forts on the shoals, however, must be a work of time; piles have to be driven first, in spots where, at every high tide, there is more than twenty feet of water, and where occasionally there is a very troublesome jerking sea; and on these have to be erected massive granite forts, strong enough to carry each 120 guns of heavy calibre, to say nothing of mortars which by themselves require beds of extraordinary strength and solidity. As to the expense, we must hand the discussion of that matter over to the eloquent tongue of our Chancellor of the Exchequer. The estimate for Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight is put down at 2,400,000l. But what’s in an estimate?


  1. See foot-note to previous article, p. 544.
  2. It will be well to bear in mind that throughout this paper Portsmouth and Portsea have been invariably mentioned under the first name only. For all purposes of it, they are but one town, and when the alterations shall have been made in their fortifications, will be actually one as well.
  3. There was much talk about closing this interval by a permanent barrier, similar to that behind Cronstadt, but the idea appears to have been abandoned for several weighty reasons.