History of The Outer Battery, St. John’s Newfoundland


Rolls Cove, Seal Rock & One o’Clock

By Robert Cuff

There are many historic maps of St. John’s harbour that indicate each wharf and dwelling. GPA has compiled a collection of over 100 historical maps and charts of the harbour and Narrows (which is by a large margin the most intensely charted body of water in Newfoundland). From these it is clear that continuous settlement at the Outer Battery is just over 100 years old, that previously there had been fishing rooms primarily at One o’Clock, but that otherwise fishing activity fluctuated with the requirements of the military. The earliest indication that we have of the current “neighbourhood” at the Battery is a 1912 admiralty chart, which shows multiple stages and dwellings lining the road to Chain Rock. I find it significant that what we have at that tie are houses along aroad. In 1912 there are 12+ stages and houses, with the greatest concentration at Seal Rock (Outer Battery). Caveat: there is no cartographic source I trust to show me each stage between 1885 (Robinson – one stage, 3 structures at Seal Rock) and the 1912 chart. Clearly houses did not spring out of the ground in 1911.

“The Battery” as a place name was recorded only after Chain Rock battery was abandoned by the British, and since the neighbourhood became established (in the 1880s?). Numerous earlier references to “The Battery” as a neighbourhood refer to what is now called Fort Amherst. Early in the 20th century, “North Battery” and “South Battery” were employed to refer to the neighbourhoods now usually known as The Battery and Fort Amhurst.There was a 17th century fishing room, known as “One a’ Clock,” at the Outer Battery. The earliest list of “Planters and Interlopers” at St. John’s (Yonge 1669) list a number of names, from west to east, and includes five names “east” of the Bickfords (who we place at Maggotty Cove): Jno Woods, Old Mr Cullen, Roger Andrews, Tho Griggs and Old Churchwood (this last probably at Quidi Vidi). We also have other associations between Woods and Cullen and “Virginea,” making our best guess that Andrews is at One o’Clock and Griggs at Fort Amherst (or vice-versa). A room at One a’Clock is depiction the very first map of St. John’s, prepared by Henry Southwood in 1675. Other 17th century lists of planters probably do not include the Battery, which was more likely being fished by bye-boatmen. A William Robbins (1681) may be at the Battery, but this is just a guess.

We also know that the One o’Clock room was given up by its then proprietor1 after the 1696/97 d’Iberville winter raid, “in Order making there a Battery,” when the British government established a garrison2 at St. John’s, building Fort William and rebuilding batteries on either side of the Narrows. There are numerous charts of St.John’s and the Narrows from the era of the building of Fort William, which show every wharf and stage, but few show stages or dwellings at the Outer Battery.3 There are few maps or charts between 1675 and 1912 which indicate fishing rooms at the Outer Battery.

By far the most extensive fishing establishments are shown on Bramham & Hylton (1751), when there were two extensive rooms: one just inside Chain Rock (two stages and three other structures at Rolls Cove, with broad flakes at Chain Rock Point) and one at One o’ Clock (two stages, four structures). These rooms had not been there in 17284 and were not there in 1762. This readiest explanation is that the Rolls Cove/Chain Rock room of 1751 (a time when the military presence in St. John’s was at a low ebb and there were no guns mounted on the north side of the Narrows) was ordered removed during the Seven Years War (1756-62), when the North Battery was re-established.

A list of inhabitants from 1794-95 includes Chain Rock as the eastern boundary of the “6th division” and again seems to list inhabitants west to east. If so, the only candidate for an inhabitant of the Battery is a widow, Mary Casey, who is the last listed and thus presumably east of Rev. John Harries (whose land near Maggotty Cove can be identified).

There is one house and a stage depicted at the Outer Battery (seemingly at Seal Rock) on Francis Owen’s chart of 1799, but there was neither stage, flake nortdwelling5 there by T.G.W. Eaststaff’s detailed plan of 1807, or in Cleverty’s 1813 survey of the Narrows. Again there is a possible explanation in the military situation, in that the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars led to a bolstering of St. John’s defenses –including the building of Fort Waldegrave in 1798. We have looked at Quidi Vidi in detail & there is fair bit of material concerning removal of and compensation for planters there. Probably the same could be done for the Battery, but we have not done so as yet.
Maps or charts of 1851, 1856 and 1864 indicate that there were no dwellings or stages at the Outer Battery. The earliest St. John’s directory to give street addresses (1871) lists several households at “Chain Rock Road,” likely at the west end of what was known as Battery Road by 1885. If the military presence was preventing settlement at the Outer Battery, this was no longer the case after the withdrawal of the British garrison in 1871. However, by 1885 there was only one stage at the Outer Battery… and again its at One o’Clock, hard below Fort Waldegrave.

From photographs there was a fishing room at One o’Clock by 1900 or so and the Garland house at Rolls Cove by 1906. Rosalind Power notes that the resident population of Fort Amherst first increased beyond a single family in 1883/84, when the Warehams and others moved there from Riverhead, where they had been displaced from their fishing premises by construction of the Drydock and Municipal Basin. These two projects may have contributed to the settling of the Battery. Or perhaps it was the loss of ishing premises in the Maggotty Cove/Top Battery area after the railway and coastal boat wharves were built in the east end of the harbour after 1885. The earliest indication that we have of the current neighbourhood at the Battery is a 1912 admiralty chart, which shows dwellings lining the road to Chain Rock and also stages and houses at the Outer Battery. By 1931 there were 21 houses and six stages in the Seal Rock/Rolls Cove area. Numerous storms are known to have destroyed multiple stages and fishing premises6 at St. John’s, including the first recorded Atlantic hurricane – the Independence Hurricane of September 1775 – the Gale of ’46 (19 September 1846), the Sea Clipper Gale of 9 October 1867, the August Gale of 1873, and the October Gale of 1885. When the people woke next morning There was cause for to bewail Our boats and wharves were swept away In the great October Gale In each there are accounts of losses at “The Battery,” but these are references to what is today known as Fort Amherst. As Rosalind Power writes of Fort Amherst “Sea storms were always a hazard to Battery7 fishermen as their wharves and stages were very exposed in the Narrows. Many times the fishermen on both sides of the Narrows could only watch helplessly as premises were washed away by a violent storm.”