Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 17
by John Joseph Greenough
Winter was usually the slack season for the engineering staff in Halifax. The working season was over. The annual estimates were usually completed before Christmas. There was little to do, except for the administrative work necessary for the next working season which began, weather permitting, around the first of May. In the early 1830s, however, the winters were anything but normal. Christmas of 1833 found the entire establishment clerks, junior officers and draughtsmen labouring over yet another revised estimate for the Citadel, the eighth in less than two years. By this time the work had become almost routine. The calculations had been done many times before; many of the necessary drawings were copied from ones made earlier for Boteler and Peake. Even the order of the individual items was well-established. Any novelty the work might have provided had long since vanished; all that was left was simple hard slogging.
The new estimate, therefore, had something of an air of déjà vu about it. Colonel Jones, who was ultimately responsible for its formulation, fundamentally agreed with Boteler; the work had to be completed along the lines originally laid down by Nicolls without making sacrifices of strength or durability. He recognized that this would entail spending more money than had originally been intended, and faced this problem head-on in the opening paragraph of his explanatory letter:
Anticipating critical comparison of his own estimates with Peake's, Jones went on to reject the latter's proposals:
He concluded his introductory remarks with an acknowledgement of the paternity of his proposals: "I have adhered as closely as practicable to the original Project, and that of Lt Colonel Boteler for its completion."
The estimate encompassed the completion of the three ravelins as envisaged by the original plan. Accepting Boteler's and Peake's arguments for caponiers. Jones provided for three of them, one for each ravelin. The eastern front was to be closed with a redan which was to extend "34 feet less than Colonel Nicolls intended but 16 feet further than proposed by Lt. Col. Boteler." The counterscarp was to be built with piers and arches instead of the continuous-arch gallery originally proposed, since this would result in substantial savings. For the same reason, Jones proposed to dispense with the countermines. In an emergency they could "be readily branched out . . . in the requisite direction through the openings to be left in the Walls of the Gallery at proper intervals." Any savings from these two proposals would, however, be more than swallowed up by the necessity of thickening the escarps "nearly one half more than originally proposed." As for the earlier failures, Jones wrote:
The only really novel feature of Jones's proposals was the emphasis he placed on casemates. He provided for no fewer than 27 new ones, mostly on the north and east. His most striking innovation was his proposal to casemate the redan as officers quarters. He had no doubts that the problems associated with casemates could be successfully overcome.
The provision of additional casemating rendered the cavaliers superfluous, and Jones eliminated the northern and southern ones from the estimate. The western cavalier, on the other hand, was already largely built. Jones proposed to complete it as a barracks for 320 soldiers. He also proposed the addition of a casemate at each end of it "to give the additional support it plainly appears to require before it can be safely loaded with its Terreplein, or guns mounted on it."
The other major problem in the interior arrangement of the fort was, of course, the magazine. Jones borrowed Boteler's proposal for two new magazines, each consisting of a pair of casemates to be buried in each of the western bastions.
With the arrival of Jones's estimate in London, the Fortifications department finally had a coherent scheme to work with. Unlike the previous plans, this one had been anticipated, and almost immediately it began its slow progress through the proper bureaucratic channels. The Inspector General was dismayed but no longer horrified at the prospect of exceeding the original estimate. He recognized the fact that an excess was inevitable. The whole approach to the new scheme reflected a desire to investigate its component parts thoroughly and to insure that, once adopted, it could be implemented without further embarrassment. A copy of the new report was sent to the Master General and board as soon as it arrived in England. On 15 May the Board of Ordnance issued orders for the official submission of the estimate for its consideration.2
The key document in the official submission was the Inspector General's detailed commentary on the estimate, and this was dispatched on 4 June.3 For the most part Pilkington was disposed to agree with Jones's suggestions, although he had specific changes to recommend in some of the items; for example, a different manner of construction for the redan casemates and changes in the arches of the two new cavalier casemates. He disapproved of the sunken casemated magazines "because there is so much difficulty in affording them sufficient ventilation" and recommended that they be "left open" (that is, not covered by the ramparts). He thought that the retention of the gallery through the whole of the counterscarp rendered all three caponiers superfluous. He passed over the financial question without comment, merely noting that the estimate required "£48,512 beyond what Parliament have been told to expect for the whole," Pilkington was not entirely satisfied with the estimate:
The Master General's decision arrived within the month.4 The Ordnance clerks differed with those in the Inspector General's office about the amount of the excess occasioned by the new estimate; they put the figure at £62,000. Except for this detail, the Master General found the estimate satisfactory. But there was a major reservation. As a result of the excess, it would be necessary
A detailed examination of the Ordnance accounts had produced the figures for the amounts already spent on the Citadel, but this was insufficient. The Inspector General was, therefore, to
The statement was to be prepared as soon as possible so that "the subject may be brought under the consideration of the Government."
Colonel Ellicombe replied to this missive two weeks later.5 The Ordnance office and the Inspector General's office were still at cross purposes about the amount of the excess, for Ellicombe still calculated it at £48,512. Of this, £17,313 (Ellicombe explained) was for new services not provided for in the original plan the north and south caponiers, for example, and the magazines, redan, casemates and so forth. Another £18,821 was the result of "deficiencies in the original estimate" including the drains, the increased size of the revetments and the necessary rebuilding. The remaining £12,178 was the result of increasing the garrison from 320 men and 12 officers to 644 men and 19 officers. He concluded,
Ellicombe's letter demonstrated that the Inspector General's office. at any rate, was completely convinced of the necessity of getting additional funds. But the matter had passed entirely out of his hands. The Inspector General was powerless to make major financial decisions, or even to approach the Treasury directly for support. This was the prerogative of the Master General and board. Those gentlemen were, by now, thoroughly aroused. The board could hardly be expected to decide about such a vital matter without first conducting an investigation of their own and, with this decision, the first phase of the bureaucratic process came to an end.
The new phase opened with an "Immediate" board order on 3 November.6 The Clerk of the Ordnance had finally agreed with the Inspector General's Office that the new estimate would probably exceed the old by £48,512. Part of the problem had been that the amount of the excess could be calculated only if the exact amount already granted for the Citadel were known and, while there was no difficulty in ascertaining this figure, there was some disagreement about the amount which had actually been spent. Specifically, there was an unexplained difference of £7,659 between the amount which the London office calculated had been spent by 31 March 1834 and the amount which the Halifax office calculated had been spent as of 31 December 1833. A statement was appended showing the amounts calculated in London,7 and the officers in Halifax were to comment on the differences.
At the same time, the Clerk of the Ordnance had drawn up an extremely detailed account of the expenses which had been incurred in the construction. This detailed every last penny spent from 31 October 1828 to 22 March 1834 and took up 26 pages of close handwriting.8 The Respective Officers were instructed to compare this with the accounts in Halifax so "a perfect uniformity may exist between the accounts."
Halifax responded to this request with surprising speed. Statements from the Respective Officers, dated 29 December, were dispatched by Colonel Jones on 14 January 1835.9 The Respective Officers found that the detailed accounts were correct in most particulars. A few of the vouchers had been recorded inaccurately, but these all involved small amounts and were apparently due to clerical error.10
The difference between the calculations of actual expenditure required a more complicated explanation. It was mainly due to two factors. The expenditure had always been divided between sums spent in the colony and sums allowed for stores sent from England. The accounts for the latter were inconsistent because the Ordnance office charged the full amount for good sent, while Halifax only invoiced the value of goods received. As of 31 December 1833. £7,399 had been charged in London as opposed to £3,242 invoiced in the colony. The difference was largely the result of goods being damaged en route or not received at all and included the sum of £422 for 20,700 large bricks "thrown overboard on their way to Halifax" in 1830.11 The other discrepancy was in the amount paid to the Royal Staff Corps charged against the Citadel account. London had charged £10,216 while Halifax had charged only £7,404.12 The sum of the differences between these two sets of figures, plus the £1,169 spent between 1 January and 1 March 1834, added £8,138 to the Halifax calculations of overall expenditure. This narrowed the difference between the Halifax and London accounts to £479 (the Halifax calculations were now the higher of the two) and the Respective Officers were at a loss to explain this discrepancy.13
But they did not leave matters at that, and after three months' digging, finally unearthed the source of the trouble two vouchers which had not been properly recorded and cumulative errors in the detailed accounts amounting to £1,478 3s. 0d. This brought the discrepancy down to 17s., where everyone was content to leave it.14 Whatever its other failings might have been, the Ordnance department in Halifax had demonstrated that it could keep books.
On 17 July the Clerk of the Ordnance pronounced himself satisfied with the accounts.15 The gentlemen of His Majesty's Honourable Board of Ordnance then paused to scratch their heads. If the accounts were in order, then what could be wrong? "[Is] it possible," the Master General inquired on 19 August, "in any way to revise and modify the estimate so as to reduce it nearer that originally proposed and that without weakening the defences?"16
The new Inspector General, Sir Frederick Mulcaster, replied a week later.17 He noted that, before 1825, over £300,000 had been spent on temporary works on Citadel Hill, all of which had rapidly vanished. The present fort, by comparison, would be permanent and, even with the revised estimate, would cost far less than its predecessors. He could suggest minor alterations in Jones's plan the abandonment of the caponiers, for example but none which would result in a drastic reduction in the cost of the work. He concluded,
This judicious nudge finally got results. Mulcaster was to instruct Colonel Jones directly to produce a revision of his estimate, and the Master General promised in the interim to notify the Treasury to apprise "their Lordships that a sum of about £49,396 . . . will be required in excess of the original Estimate."19 The instructions to Jones had barely left England20 when the Treasury, having been informed of the case, reacted violently. Their lordships flatly refused to sanction any additional funds beyond those already approved, and demanded that the officer responsible for the original estimate be called to account.21 The third phase of the bureaucratic process had begun.
By this time the process had begun to display a pattern. As each government department became involved with the situation, it attempted to deal with it in such a way as to minimize the impact of the problem on its own day-to-day existence, The Fortifications office had attempted to ignore the situation; the Board of Ordnance had tried to take refuge in its own account books; the Treasury attempted to choke off the demand for money. These initial negative reactions invariably provoked an aggressive response from the agency which had raised the issue. In this way the Commanding Royal Engineers, faced with the Fortifications office's disbelief, consistently applied pressure; their aim was to force the Inspector General to take effective measures to deal with the situation. But once the process got above the level of the Inspector General's office, it became more complicated. Once the Board of Ordnance was involved, the Fortifications office became a sort of broker between the Commanding Royal Engineers and the board, and the function of the CREs became to supply the Fortifications department with sufficient information to force the board to act. When the Treasury got involved, the honour able gentlemen of the board be came the brokers and the Inspector General's office took over the business of supplying enough ammunition to enable the board to press the issue to a successful conclusion.
This stage of the process began even before the Treasury's reaction was known. Recognizing that the Citadel project was only one of a multitude of matters under consideration by the Master General and board, and a relatively minor one at that, the Inspector General's office prepared a memorandum detailing the circumstances of Colonel Jones's estimate.22 This was accompanied by a precis of all major correspondence on the subject between 1828 and 1835.23 These two documents contained a distillation of the Inspector General's case. and, since both Master General and board depended for information and advice on the Fortifications office, it was inevitable that the honourable gentlemen would present that case to the Treasury.
Having secured its flank with the Board of Ordnance, the Fortifications department could only hope that Colonel Jones would provide the necessary revised estimate as soon as possible. He did soon 2 February 1836.24 The covering letter was brief, Jones had accepted all the major changes proposed in London and incorporated them in his estimate. The caponiers were omitted; the redan counterscarps were raised to 20 feet at the salient; the magazines were redesigned as single-arch buildings, each enclosed by an area wall, and three casemates were added on the north front. The saving amounted to only £957 4s. 2-1 /2d.
There is no record surviving of the submission of the revised estimate to the board. It must have been done almost as soon as the documents arrived in England, because when the estimate was returned to Jones for further revision on 17 July the comments of Mr. Cram, the Surveyor of the Ordnance, were enclosed.25 Numbers of minor revisions were requested. The Inspector General was of the opinion that the buttresses to the magazines could be dispensed with and that the main drain should have a concave floor. He also requested more details about the gate and bridge and some additional information about missing dimensions and so forth. Mr. Cram was more critical, but his criticism was almost entirely directed toward specific instances of insufficient detail in the estimate.
Jones made all the required corrections, and, for the third time, sent the estimate to England. By then it was December. The estimate was well on its way to its third anniversary, and progress toward its final acceptance seemed minimal.
While Jones was revising his estimate for the second time, he was also conducting a running battle on a second front with Colonel Nicolls in Quebec City. This, of course, was the result of the Treasury's insistence that the perpetrator of the original estimate be called to account. As Jones knew more about the project than anyone else, the burden of the dispute fell on him. One suspects, moreover, that the Fortifications department preferred it that way; it gave the whole affair the appearance of a squabble between two relatively junior officers and deflected blame from the Inspector General's own staff.
Nicolls, predictably, defended himself and attacked Jones. Now that London had decided that mistakes had indeed been made, the Inspector General no longer felt it necessary to demand of Jones as he had of Boteler, that the Commanding Royal Engineer in Halifax refrain from exciting controversy. Jones was permitted to reply to Nicolls's comments and by early 1836, the Nicolls-London-Jones correspondence had developed into quite a considerable side-show.
Nicolls fired his first broadside on 23 November 1835. In a letter addressed to Jones, but worded with the copy for London in mind, the colonel defended himself.
Without more information, he could not be specific about the reasons for the additional expense, but he suspected that alterations in the type and quality of materials and changes in the labour situation might have been to blame. He also thought that
He concluded with a request for more information.
Nicolls next addressed himself directly to the Inspector General, sending a detailed commentary on the 1834 estimate.27 He had many complaints. He had not resigned himself to the destruction of the old magazine but, if this had to be done, he held that the replacement should be built on the same site.
He considered the north and south caponiers useless and detailed his objections to them. He thought that casemated accommodation would be unwise "in so moist and variable a climate as Nova Scotia." He believed the additional casemates at the ends of the cavalier to be unnecessary for the reasons Jones had advanced that is, to give the building much-needed additional support and he disagreed with the proposed height of the redan escarp. As for the provision of additional barrack space, he was of the opinion that there had been enough accommodation allowed for in the original design, even for the expanded garrison which was now considered necessary.
Shortly after Nicolls's letter was dispatched. Jones's detailed account of work performed after Nicolls left Halifax arrived at Quebec.28 This precipitated the most complicated exchange of all. On 13 January 1836, Nicolls dispatched two detailed commentaries on Jones's memorandum and a letter to the Inspector General, defending himself and his original scheme.29 The commentaries were promptly sent off to Halifax, and Jones lost no time in composing two statements of his own.30 In this way the scope of the controversy was limited to a fairly narrow area, the state of the work in 1831-35 and the merits of the methods adopted by Boteler, Peake and Jones himself during that period. But even this limited range was sufficient to provoke the single most thorough discussion of the work to appear during the entire history of its construction.
Nicolls's letter to Mulcaster is the least interesting of the several documents involved in the exchange. In it he merely amplified the arguments he had used in his earlier letter to Jones, blaming the excessive spending on alterations in the work, the provision of additional accommodation, the extensive use of granite and the frequent changes of Commanding Royal Engineer since his departure. He still maintained that he could have completed the Citadel for the amount of the original estimate, and he contended that the £29,066 spent between 1832 and 1835 had, perhaps, been badly expended; "[It] seems very large for the services performed during these four years." This last was the heart of his defence. It was not that he, Nicolls, had been negligent, but that his successors had been inefficient.
Jones's memorandum of 16 December detailed the difficulties which had arisen since 1831. He noted that almost no escarp wall had been completed after that date, mostly because no agreement could be reached on the dimensions of the new escarps. He detailed the troubles which had unexpectedly developed when it was discovered that the foundations of parts of the counterscarp had to be sunk far below the levels originally intended in order to secure a solid footing. The excavations had proceeded slowly because the engineers had not been able to form the ramparts which would absorb the earth from the excavations. He noted in passing that calculations had shown that the total amount of earth to be excavated was insufficient to form both the ramparts and the glacis, and that as a consequence, some earth would have to be hauled from elsewhere. He dealt briefly with Nicolls's charges that he and his predecessors had adopted more expensive methods.
Jones concluded by listing no fewer than 14 reasons for the differences between the estimates, the bulk of them resulting from additions to and corrections of the original project.
It would be futile to detail or even to attempt to summarize the exchange between Jones and Nicolls which erupted over this memorandum. The points in dispute were essentially technical, ("Should Col. Boteler have sunk the foundations for the counterscarp opposite the North West section to a depth of over 12 feet?" Colonel Nicolls asked. "Yes," answered Colonel Jones. "And in his place I would have done the same.") Essentially Nicolls was trying to prove by example what he had charged in his letter of 13 January to Mulcaster namely, that his successors had been inefficient and wasteful and in so doing he made a grave tactical error. As long as he confined his defence to demonstrating that his original conception had satisfied all the requirements of his superiors and answered all questions with general replies, he was relatively safe. Instead, he chose to claim that he alone could have completed the Citadel, and the claim would not stand detailed scrutiny. Jones's replies were reasonable and satisfactory and Nicolls's criticisms were more or less wholly refuted. He never again was consulted on the subject of the Citadel.
At this point Colonel Nicolls departs from the history of the Citadel. As far as can be seen the debacle did not have any adverse effect on his career. His promotions arrived on the expected dates; major general in 1837, lieutenant general in 1846, colonel commandant of the Royal Engineers in 1851, and finally full general in 1854. He died at Southampton on 8 September 1860,32 four years after the major project of his career had been finally completed, 20 years behind schedule.
The absence of an accepted overall plan played havoc with the annual estimates for the Citadel. In Halifax, Jones had no choice but to continue bringing forward Citadel items in each annual estimate, although, without a final decision about the eventual fate of the work, it was becoming more and more difficult to find "safe" projects to spend money on. Perhaps he hoped by attempting to keep expenditures at near-normal levels to remind London of the need for haste.
London, however, could not be hurried. It responded to the problem in an equivocal fashion; it continued to allow grants with each annual estimate possibly to allay suspicions in Parliament that something was wrong but insisted that Jones spend only the money granted before 1834. Therefore, when Jones asked for £11,143 10s. 8-3/4d. for the Citadel in the annual estimate for 183533 Mulcaster reduced it to £3,000 on the grounds that the previous balances had not been expended.34 When Jones asked whether this amount would also be frozen,35 he was informed that the rule on expenditure still stood.36
A month later, the decision of the Treasury to limit expenditure under the old estimate37 made the situation even more difficult. The sum of £2,000 was granted on the annual estimate for 1836 and it too was frozen.38 The situation in Halifax was becoming desperate. At the beginning of the 1836 working season, the unexpended balance on the grants for 1828-33 had stood at £2,88039 and was declining rapidly. By August the total had fallen to £700 and Jones warned London that, unless more funds were forthcoming, all work would stop on 30 September.40
At this, London was finally forced to relent. Ellicombe recommended that "the Commanding Engineer . . . be authorized to charge the vouchers . . . to the votes referred to [i.e., 1834-36] as soon as the money on previous votes shall be wholly expended" and to "proceed with such parts of the work on which no alterations is [sic] contemplated."41 The board agreed and issued the appropriate orders on 30 September42 the day the money ran out.43
Even this was only a temporary relief. When Jones included £5,814 13s. 8d. for the Citadel into the 1837 estimate,44 London deleted it altogether,45 completely drying up the Citadel funds. At that point there was a total of £16,008 left in unexpended balances.46 Normally this would have been spent in a single season, but conditions were by no means normal. To all practical intents and purposes the works were paralyzed by the absence of a coherent policy. As a result in the period from 1833 to 1837, little was spent and less was done.
By the summer of 1838 it was abundantly clear where the bottleneck was. The Treasury showed no inclination to hurry. Worse, the board had more or less abandoned the struggle, leaving Mulcaster to fight on as best he could. On 6 July he once again submitted the revised estimate to the board for transmission to the Treasury, along with related documents including the correspondence with Colonel Nicolls and Jones's commentary thereon.47 He noted that the estimate had been revised
He admitted that there were still some minor omissions, but hoped that these would be covered by the one-tenth contigency provision (a provision by which one-tenth of the total amount estimated for was added to the total as a margin of safety). The final amount of the estimate was set "in round numbers [at] £102,500, which will be about £51,000 beyond the [present estimate]" and he recommended its acceptance.
On the same day, the board slid a discreet knife into Mulcaster's back. The Surveyor of the Ordnance drew up his own assessment of Jones's work, and he was far more critical than Mulcaster. He wrote,
The Treasury took almost five months to respond to these documents, and even then its response was equivocal. Colonel Nicolls's objections were cited as the major reason for returning the estimate to the board for further consideration.49 But what more could be said about it? Mulcaster made one last attempt, and produced the most blunt of his many letters and memoranda on the subject.50 Angry because the Treasury had cited Nicolls's objections in their minute of 30 December, Mulcaster finally and unequivocally put the blame for the excessive cost on Nicolls. The excess had been the result of
The Treasury had used Colonel Nicolls's comments to object to the alterations made in the original plan. Mulcaster retorted acidly:
This time it took the Treasury only two months to decide. On 27 March, Spearman notified Byham that "their Lordships will not object to sanction the expenditure of such sums as may be granted by Parliament for this work."51 On 4 April word of the decision was forwarded to Halifax.52
The approved plan which finally emerged from the long controversy closely resembles the Citadel as it now stands. Several of the components of Nicolls's original design were dispensed with altogether and many of the rest were substantially altered. The north and south cavaliers and the old magazine were the most prominent casualties. The old magazine was to be replaced by two new ones, one in the gorge of each of the western demi-bastions. The counterscarp and redan were both altered, the former by changes in the design and the latter by the addition of dwelling casemates. The changes in the counterscarp design eliminated the casemates of reverse fire and all of the countermines on the southern and eastern fronts.
The Treasury's decision had come very late. While it was trying to make up its mind, Jones was becoming increasingly strapped for money. He asked for a mere £4,474 7s. 3-3/4d. for 1838.53 By the time the Board of Ordnance got round to acting on his request, the Treasury order had been passed. But the measure had yet to come before Parliament, and the most that Mulcaster could recommend was £2,000.54 By this time the total unexpended balance was down to £7,51655 and was still falling. The next year, the crisis finally having passed, Jones asked for £24,093 7s. 2-1/2d.56 The board allowed him £5,000.57 to which he could add an unexpended balance of £1,225.58 A year later, all but £135 of it had been spent.59 and Parliament finally granted a healthy £10,000.60 The tempo of building returned to something approaching normal. The financial drought was over, and Jones was finally getting the chance to implement his plans after six years. As if to seal his success, he was given permission to remain on the station to finish the project.61