Parks Canada Banner
Parks Canada Home

Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 17

The Halifax Citadel, 1825-60: A Narrative and Structural History

by John Joseph Greenough

". . . the necessity of remedying the leakage. . ."


Colonel Jones, the Commanding Royal Engineer responsible for the introduction of dwelling casemates into the Citadel design, had believed that the problem of waterproofing them could be easily solved. His own design for the dos d'anes of the casemates had been relatively simple; the waterproof covering consisted only of tiling laid in cement. Lead gutters in the troughs between the dos d'anes allowed the surface water to be drained off.1

After some experience with the work, he had made a minor alteration. The tiles were indeed sufficient for those areas where a little dampness would never interfere with the purpose of the work — the counterscarp gallery and the retaining wall recesses, for example — but for the dwelling casemates, something different was needed. He had, therefore, substituted duchess slate for tiling over the dwelling casemates on the grounds that it was "less liable to be affected by moisture . . . [and] little affected by frost if closely laid with cement."2

When Colonel Calder took over the command, he decided that Jones's method could be improved upon by the substitution of granite flagging for the slates and tiles.

Neither are [sic] well calculated, — the tiles because they are not at best but a porous material and, when covered with earth, liable to decay. — the slates because they are liable to be broken by the weight of the earth over them as well as liable to be affected by the intense frost in this country: — Hence in either case leakage may arise which it will be difficult to remedy. . . .

To guard against this evil as much as possible. I beg to acquaint you that a sufficient quantity of good hard stone flags from 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick can be procured from our quarries to cover all the arches which, for a permanent work, appears to be preferable to tiles or Dutchess slates.3

He proposed that the Ordnance approve the transfer of the funds allowed for the purchase of tiles and slates in England to the colony, to cover the cost of quarrying and truckage.

The Ordnance, as usual, took its time about making up its mind. While he waited, Calder drew up the first of his supplementary estimates in which he again proposed the use of flagging.4 He also reported on an experiment he had conducted.

I had the two dos d'anes covered with Dutchess slates laid in cement, as provided for in the Revised Estimate; — The slates were carefully covered in . . . [with] the earth required to bring the terreplein . . . to its level: — Two others were covered with flags bedded in cement and laid to lap over each other as slates: — the flags were covered with small broken stones to the depth of six inches . . . to afford a passage for any wet that might soak through the terreplein and over these stones the earth was laid as above. — These casemates having been lately uncovered, several slates were found broken, scaled and loosened by the frost: — the flags are as perfect as when laid from which I conclude there can be no doubt that the latter is calculated to afford the most perfect security against fracture or leakage.5

On the basis of his experiment, he again requested London's permission to make the substitution.

London equivocated. Calder was authorized to continue experimenting with flagging, but was not given final authorization to use it on all the casemates. Instead, the Inspector General suggested a new possibility — the use of "asphalte or other bituminous ingredients" to cover the dos d'anes.6 Calder's reply to this has not been located, but it seems that he did not act on the suggestion. The new casemates proposed in the supplementary estimates duly appeared in the annual estimates, each providing for the use of flagstones, and London apparently approved them.7

The matter was, however, not quite settled. Calder and Mulcaster maintained their respective positions on the relative virtues of asphalt and granite flagging as building materials. Calder proposed the use of flagging for the magazine areas in his second supplementary estimate (1846).8 Mulcaster countered by suggesting that asphalt would be more appropriate.9 Calder in turn, finally agreed to give the material a try; "Asphalte has not been tried in this command but this would afford a good opportunity to do so, as should it fail, flagging can be had recourse to."10 Asphalt was so little in use at the time that Calder had no idea of the costs involved, nor had he any knowledge about applying it properly. He requested more information from London. And there the matter rested for another three years.


The first leaks in the redan casemates came into notice in the winter of 1844-45, but Calder, considering them merely the result of the rampart earth not having had time to settle, had not reported them to London.11 In fact it was not until a winter rainstorm followed by a particularly bad thaw made the leakage widespread that Calder felt impelled to make his superiors aware of the problem.

I have the honour to report for your information that . . . the front and rear walls of the Officers Casemates in the Redan . . . [became] exceedingly damp from the water passing into them at their junction with the dos d'anes of the arches, which is evident by its dripping from the joints of the inner soffits of several of the doors and windows.12

The leaks had occurred only in those casemates which had been built to the specifications of the 1836 estimate. Calder noted with satisfaction that those built as a part of his own project had remained dry. In the latter he had made liberal use of the permission to experiment which Mulcaster had given him five years earlier. The problem, he thought, arose from the fact that the dos d'anes were not carried through into the adjoining walls. To correct this, he had hipped the dos d'anes at each end and counter-flagged the resulting slope. He had also altered the coping of the counterscarp to allow surface water from the parapet to run into the ditch. He proposed that similar measures be taken in the redan, and enclosed an estimate detailing the expenditure — £1,369 18s. 4d. — needed to carry this out.13

Calder may have been relatively hopeful, but London was not. The letter and estimate made the rounds of the Fortifications department and everyone found fault with them. The surveyor noted that the specifications for the 1836 estimate, although ambiguous, seemed to have been disregarded in the construction of the arches, which had (according to the surveyor) not been carried far enough into the end wall.14 Burgoyne was sufficiently disturbed to request that the Commanding Royal Engineer in the western district of England supply information on the method used to staunch the casemates of the Plymouth Citadel.15 No one seems to have given any serious consideration to Calder's proposal or to his estimate.

Colonel Matson replied to Calder's letter on 27 March. He made no mention of Calder's proposal. He noted that it was General Burgoyne's opinion that the trouble had been caused by deviating from the approved plan. He enclosed material detailing the methods in use in Plymouth.16 These methods, indeed, were vastly different from Calder's since they involved the extensive use of asphalt and brick. Although one of the documents included contained an admission that asphalt had been tried at Fort Henry in Canada West without success, the point was not mentioned in Matson's letter.

Calder, in reply, defended the method he had used in constructing the arches. He noted that he had merely followed the method already used by Colonel Jones before his arrival. He reiterated that the problem occurred only in the redan casemates and only around the end walls, and once again brought his proposal forward, noting that it had been employed successfully. As for asphalt,

[It] has not been tried anywhere in this command, and I am humbly induced to think its efficacy in preventing the leakage under consideration extremely doubtful, though it may answer in the mild climate of Devonshire.

If, however, London was determined to experiment with it, he requested that he be sent "a person well acquainted with its use."17

London was still not inclined to listen. Matson next instructed Calder to write to the Commanding Royal Engineer in the Canadas "for the purpose of obtaining information as to the respective nature of the defects which have occurred at the two stations and the means which have been reported . . . to have answered at Ft. Henry."18 Calder did so on 19 June.19 He did not make another attempt to propose his own scheme to the Fortifications department. He was about to be relieved at Halifax; his successor could deal with the problem.


Lieutenant Colonel Henry John Savage arrived at Halifax on 21 July 1848.20 Calder apparently stayed on for a few weeks in order to acquaint the new Commanding Royal Engineer with local conditions, but once again the Ordnance had destroyed the continuity of the work. Within two weeks of his arrival, Savage found himself confronted with the problem of quartering garrison soldiers in his leaky casemates. One suspects that Calder left the city with a sense of profound relief.

The army had been waiting for 20 years for the promised barrack space in the Citadel. Finally, in the summer of 1848, it decided to wait no longer. On 5 August, the Deputy Adjutant General of the Forces in Halifax wrote requesting "three or four of the rooms completed within the Citadel as additional Barrack accommodation for the time this garrison shall continue in full force."21 Savage replied, offering casemate barracks for two officers and 80 men.22

The stationing of troops within the Citadel changed an irritant into a major problem. An empty casemate which leaked was one thing; a leaky barracks was something else again. The presence of a garrison in an incomplete fortress, moreover, created problems which had never arisen before. When the first troops marched in, there was still a good deal of basic construction left to be done. The rather disorganized state of the place gave the troops ample opportunities to cause trouble. In less than a week, they were doing so.

The redan counterscarp was still incomplete and the arches had yet to be turned over the gallery. This meant that it was possible to pass easily from the ditch to the glacis. On 14 August Major Crutchley of the Royal Welch Fusiliers wrote to Savage complaining about the negligence of the Engineer department in not keeping the doors to the casemates of defence locked. It seemed that the garrison soldiers were taking advantage of this oversight to gain access to the ditch through the embrasures and, in this way, to make unauthorized excursions into town.23

Savage was exasperated. It was bad enough having to cope with the problems of construction without the interference of the day-to-day difficulties of the garrison. But what could be done? The army, having got a foothold in the place, was hardly about to leave again. To make matters worse, London was putting on pressure to have the situation regularized. It was not the custom to have troops quartered in premises under the control of the Ordnance. On 25 October Fanshawe wrote instructing Savage to "ask for the requisite authority for transferring to the Barrack Master as soon as distinct portions of the whole shall be ready the Barrack accommodation that has been authorized and constructed in the Citadel."24

The same day, Calder on his side was writing to the Inspector General explaining why this could not be done.

None of the rampart casemates in the Citadel are completed for Barrk accommodation, which has been delayed in consequence of the necessity of remedying the leakage at present existing.

He went on to explain that he was drawing up a special estimate for staunching the casemates and would forward it to London at the first opportunity.25

Fortunately for Savage, a concensus on the best method of staunching was beginning to emerge. One of the first letters to arrive after he had taken over the station had been from Colonel Holloway, the CRE in Canada, describing the system in use at Fort Henry. This was, in some respects, similar to the one Calder had proposed. In addition to hipping the dos d'anes, the engineering staff in Kingston had made use of asphalt and brick and had constructed a system of internal drains which conducted the water from both the rampart surface and the dos d'ane gutters through the piers between the casemates to a drain running under the casemate floors.26

The drainage system which had been adopted in Halifax was much less effective. The dos d'ane gutters, as originally designed, had emptied through a gargoyle in the rampant retaining wall. The trouble with this system was that the mouths of the gargoyles were likely to be stopped up by ice in winter, trapping the water in the gutters and rampart earth and subjecting the dos d'anes to erosion by frost. The method used in Kingston was obviously superior and Calder, who had been notified of the contents of Holloway's letter, recommended its adoption.

I would . . . suggest that the pipes intended to convey the water from the gargoyles be fixed within the building and be attached to lead gutters in the valleys [of the dos d'anes] about where the counter-flagging meets them; — this would secure the pipes from the effects of the frost, and would render its effect on the gargoyles of no consequence; — the brick arches can be easily pierced to effect this.27

He had no comments to make about the probable effectiveness of asphalt.

In the end, of course, it was Colonel Savage's responsibility to propose solutions to the Citadel's maladies. By the fall of 1848, he had come to realize that he faced three distinct but related problems: drainage, waterproofing and accommodation. London shortly added a fourth: water supply. On 29 November Fanshawe wrote requesting plans and sections showing "not only the work itself with its relief & Glacis . . . but also the drainage, foundations . . . supply of water, &c."28

Even as Fanshawe wrote, Savage was hard at work on two of the problems. On 21 November he had instructed Captain Burmester and Richard Hawken (the Clerk of the Works) to make a thorough inspection of all the Citadel casemates. These two gentlemen were selected for the task because they were the two Ordnance officers with the greatest experience of conditions at Halifax. Savage was only too well aware that he was a newcomer who had yet to encounter the rigours of a Halifax winter.29

Burmester's report, written on 30 November, more on less confirmed Calder's report of the preceding February. All those casemates which had been hipped and flagged were dry. On the other hand, all those which had been tiled and most of those which had been provided with flagging alone were damp. Of the 54 rampant casemates, 24 were reported dry and the remainder, including all the redan casemates, were not.

The report also revealed that no fewer than five different methods of covering the dos d'anes had been employed over the years. Of the 54 casemates, 12 had been flagged and hipped; 30 had been flagged; 2 still had their tile coverings; 4 had a combination of tiles and dry flagging.The remaining six were flagged, hipped and fitted with internal drain pipes. Someone, presumably Savage, had already begun to experiment with the method used successfully at Kingston.

A large portion of Burmester's report dealt with the question of drainage. After describing the construction of the arches, dos d'anes and gutters, he continued,

The gutter led through the interior retaining walls into the body of the place, having gargoyles projecting about 18" beyond the face of the wall, — but the openings of which are entirely exposed to the action of the weather and consequently are during the winter months completely closed by the frost acting upon the water that would otherwise drain off and I have no doubt but that ice is formed in the gutters through the whole thickness of the wall, by which means the exit of the remaining portion of water is prevented until the spring, thus putting the masonry of the arch to a most severe test.

This was not, however, the entire explanation for the leakage.

From the forgoing it appears that the casemates which are flagged. hipped and piped are, in every respect dry as regards leakage and that, although the gargoyles may freeze, the water passes off through the pipes, there thus being no chance for the water remaining on the covering of the arch and leaking through by being retained there, — also those that are flagged and hipped have hitherto been found completely staunch, the hipping and flagging being sufficiently water tight to resist the leakage of water where the gargoyles are closed. Those that are flagged only . . . leak and this leak invariably occurs at the ends of the arches, the water not being thrown off as in the other casemates from the retaining scarp and interior walls by being hipped, . . . [those that] are dry flagged and tiled or tiled only are likewise defective in a similar manner. . . . I have also to state that the arches are dry throughout their whole length in every case although [one] appears a little damp in the arch, no leakage has yet occurred.30

On the basis of this evidence, Burmester did not think it necessary to adopt the system of internal piping in all casemates. He felt that since hipping and flagging had, by themselves, seemed to be adequate for the task, it was only necessary to complete the hipping of the casemates and to retain the system of external drainage through the gargoyles. He pointed out that an internal piping system, which would involve cutting through the arches and piers, would be expensive. He also pointed out that the symptoms of the problem in Halifax were somewhat different from those which had appeared in Fort Henry. At Fort Henry, the water had percolated through the entire length of the arches; at Halifax the leakage was the result of the comparatively weak join between the arches and the external walls.

Burmester concluded by alluding to the plan for collecting surface water from the terreplein put forward by Calder in his 1846 supplementary estimate. This was the only drainage plan which had even been drawn up and was relatively simple. It involved connecting the surface gutter running along the rear of the terreplein with water storage tanks under one of the casemates (No. 50) by means of drain pipes and an underground pipe. As yet, this had never been proposed in the annual estimates, and Burmester suggested that it ought to be so proposed quickly since it would, he felt, "in great measure remove the evil complained of by turning the water almost entirely off the covering of the circles." He did not explain how this system, consisting as it did of an open gutter and external piping, could be expected to work in winter.

Savage, in forwarding Burmester's comments to London, skillfully used his subordinate's opinions as a counterpoise to his own suggestions. He was not as optimistic as Burmester about the waterproofing qualities of flagging and hipping, but neither was he happy about the trouble and expense which would be produced by the adoption of all the techniques in use at Fort Henry. At Fort Henry the dos d'anes were covered with a course of brick laid in cement and flushed with asphalt. At intervals drains running from crown to gutter were laid on top of this, and the drains were then surrounded and covered by more courses of brick set in the same manner as the first. Savage pointed out that the adoption of this system would entail the uncovering of all the casemates, the removal of the flagging and the substitution of brick, asphalt and drain pipes. This, he recommended, "should not be done as, I presume to consider it unnecessary, the flagging and counterflagging having fully answered the purpose of preventing leakage thro, the arches." He recommended instead that "all those not so constructed" should be flagged, hipped and counterflagged. These, he reckoned, numbered 34.

Unlike Burmester, Savage was not at all sure that this alone would prevent leaks. He agreed that an internal drainage system was superior to an external one but, like Burmester, pointed out that the former would involve cutting through the piers of the casemates. As these were constructed of "large blocks of extremely hard ironstone" and therefore would present difficulties, he suggested that a better solution would be to "jump a hole from the gutter in the valley through the haunch of the brick arch and carry the pipe cased with 9" brick work down in the angle of each room."31 He concluded by recommending that the height of the retaining wall in the redan be raised by 2-1/2 feet (the existing one stopped flush with the terreplein). He considered that water passing under the coping and down the inside of the wall was responsible for some of the leakage.

Even Savage's relatively modest alterations resulted in a substantial change in the system of drainage. He proposed that all the down pipes within the casemates (with the exception of those in the four isolated bastions, Nos. 12, 13, 59 and 60) be connected with a system of underground piping which would lead to the main drain. This was a considerable improvement in Calder's original proposal and, like the rest of Savage's suggestions, had the merit of comparative cheapness. All things considered, Savage had reason to be pleased with himself while he waited for London to respond to his letter.

20 "Plan of Section shewing Casemates 'Flagged Hipped and Piped;' 'Flagged and Piped' and Flagged only," 1848. This plan was drawn to accompany Savage's letter enclosing Burmester's account of the state of the casemates. The three methods of staunching shown here were actually in use at the time. The most elaborate of the methods was the one favoured by Savage and the system for staunching he proposed in the following spring was based on it. (Public Archives of Canada.)


While he was waiting, Savage addressed himself to the problem of accommodating the troops. The technicalities of keeping the casemates dry were only part of the difficulty. Another source of trouble was the direct result of an army decision to increase the amount of space allotted to each man in the barracks. The decision was in itself undoubtedly a laudable one, but it led, apparently, to the existing barrack space in Halifax failing to meet the new regulations, and therefore increased the pressure on Savage to allow troops to be quartered in the Citadel. Unfortunately, it also decreased the number of troops the Citadel could accommodate. On 22 December. Savage dispatched a letter enclosing his calculations of the number of enlisted men who could be housed in the casemates originally intended for that purpose in the Citadel. His calculations showed that 234 fewer men could be accommodated under the new regulations. He also noted that nothing was being done to alleviate the overcrowding in the existing barracks until the Citadel was ready to receive its full complement of troops.32

Without waiting for London's observations on the sub]ect, Savage set about finding a method whereby the Citadel could be made to house the full garrison originally intended for it. He had two choices: the construction of new casemates or the reduction of the number of supply casemates. Not surprisingly, he chose the second.

In computing the number of casemates needed for stores in 1843, Calder had canvassed the Ordnance department heads to find out how much space they would need both in peace and wartime. He had done so in order to support his contention that additional casemates were necessary (see above "Colonel Calder Revises"). Not surprisingly, given his purpose in conducting the survey, he had encouraged his colleagues to submit the largest justifiable claims they could. Now Savage faced the necessity of going through the same process in reverse. He canvassed his colleagues to find out the minimum space they could get by with. Fortunately for him, all of them co-operated. The Ordnance Storekeeper replied that he needed no space at all in the work in peacetime.33 The Deputy Commissary General proposed to keep only a small amount of coal in the fort during the winter and agreed to keep both the bulk of the coal and all the foodstuffs elsewhere.34 The Barrack Master and the CRA needed one casemate each.35 This left Savage with the majority of casemates for quarters, and in early January he set about formulating an accommodation plan.

The letter in which Savage submitted his plan was written in response to London's request that he seek authorization to turn the casemates over to the Barrack Master. Savage began it by explaining why this had been possible only for the cavalier casemates, and referred General Burgoyne to his lengthy explanation of the technical difficulties of keeping the casemates dry, mailed a couple of weeks earlier. He then went on to detail the methods he proposed for circumventing the problem of housing the requisite number of troops without violating the regulations. In addition to cutting down the number of storage casemates, he proposed the elimination of the hospital in the cavalier on the grounds that the garrison hospital was nearby. He noted that in the event of a siege, space could easily be found for the necessary stores by doubling up the non-commissioned officers. He felt, therefore, that he was justified in submitting a scheme in which only six of the 64 casemates were used for storage. In the remaining 48 he proposed to quarter 19 officers, one quartermaster sergeant, 5 staff sergeants and 374 men. There were, in addition, to be 234 men in the cavalier and 39 in the ravelin guardhouses, for a total of 608 enlisted men. This was still fewer (by about 60 men) than Calder had originally intended, but it was the best Savage could do.

He did not entirely rule out the possibility of additional casemates. He noted that there was no space for any services for the troops in his proposed scheme. Some of the missing facilities were, in fact, fundamental. No provision was made for a washhouse, a tailor's shop, a library, an armourer's shop, a lavatory or an adequate orderly room. If these were considered necessary, he proposed to construct additional casemates in the east face of the southeast salient.36

London failed to appreciate Savage's efforts. About the same time that his letter detailing the methods by which he proposed to avoid the reduction of the Citadel garrison arrived in London, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies handed down a decision approving the reduction.37 In this way, General Burgoyne found himself in the position of simultaneously considering Savage's proposals and the government's approval of the very thing those proposals were designed to prevent. Apparently without taking the trouble to acquaint himself thoroughly with the circumstances of the case, the general handed down a decision which demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of Savage's problem. He instructed Savage to canvass the department heads for "returns of the accommodation each will require for the Citadel itself [emphasis his], as well as for the garrison of Halifax" and then to confer with the commander of the forces on the number of casemates needed for stores and hospital purposes as well as for barracks. The fact that Savage had already canvassed the department heads about their space requirements "for the Citadel itself" seems entirely to have escaped him.38

The whole matter was, in any case, a bit academic. In considering Savage's proposal for additional casemates, Burgoyne observed tartly that "The first thing is to make the existing casemates habitable."

As long as the casemates continued to leak, the allocation of space within the Citadel was of no immediate concern.

21 "Plan showing the mode proposed for staunching the leakage," 1849. This plan was drawn for Colonel Savage's staunching estimate of 30 April 1849. Eleven casemates are not shown in this plan. Of these, six (Nos. 1, 2, 10, 11, 56 and 57) had already been fitted out in a manner closely resembling that described here. The remaining five wer all small casemates (Nos. 6, 7A, 33, 43, and 51) and it was not proposed to provide them with elaborate waterproofing. (Public Archives of Canada.)

22 "Sections . . . showing the mode proposed for staunching the leakage," 1849. The system finally adopted for staunching differed considerably from the one shown here, but these sections are useful for the detail they provide of the layout of the casemates. (Public Archives of Canada.)


Burgoyne's reaction to Savage's proposed staunching methods for the casemates was one of reluctant approval. He still believed that the problem would never have arisen if the specifications set out in Jones's 1836 estimate had been adhered to rigorously. "It has been repeatedly shewn that the Comg. Engineers at Halifax had disregarded the construction authorized by the I.G.F. for carrying the arches through the walls [emphasis his]." As this mistake could not be corrected, however, the Inspector General saw no choice but to adopt the remedy Savage proposed. He also agreed that the system of external drainage was inadequate since it subjected "the Masonry and arches . . . to a very severe and unfair test."39

Savage's private thoughts on the justice of Burgoyne's outburst have, unfortunately, not survived. The mistake alluded to (if indeed it had been a mistake; the 1836 estimate is ambiguous) had been committed by his predecessors. He was only trying to correct the situation. In spite of this, however, Burgoyne's minute must have left him with a sense of relief. London was, it seemed, going to accept his plan. He therefore set about preparing a formal estimate based on the proposals set forth in his December letter. The estimate was dispatched to London on 30 April 1849.

As he had intimated in his December letter, Savage's scheme was comprehensive; it covered staunching all the casemates, including those in the cavalier, as well as drainage and water supply. It was not particularly expensive; the total cost was £3,766 2s. 2-3/4d., of which £1,262 had already been allowed for pipes and tanks (the 1846 supplementary estimate) and for surface drainage (the 1836 revised estimate). This left a mere £1,504, which was only slightly more than Calder's estimate for less extensive repairs in the preceding spring. Savage noted that the whole of the proposal — staunching, drainage and tanks — should be carried out simultaneously in the interests of efficiency, and proposed that two of the items authorized in the annual estimate for the current year be postponed and the funds diverted to the new project.40

Savage's proposal ran straight away into difficulties. One of the two authorized items which he wanted to delete from the annual estimate was that providing for a covered passage to the well on the north slope of the glacis. Even as Savage was recommending its postponement, he was having second thoughts about the wisdom of building the passage at all. In reply to a memorandum from the Surveyor of the Ordnance suggesting an alteration in the proposed pumping system, Savage wrote,

Since the formation and introduction of that item in the Estimate what used to be the best well in the Citadel [i.e., the north well] has lately at times been nearly dry, caused it is supposed by some of the inhabitants having met the same spring lower down in the City sinking new wells —

This being the case, he proposed that the expensive scheme for using the glacis well be entirely abandoned and the money used to sink the north well to a greater depth.41

This brought up, once again, the whole question of the adequacy of the Citadel's water supply. Burgoyne immediately requested a report on "the best means for securing to the Citadel under circumstances of Attack as well as otherwise an adequate supply of water for the daily use of the Garrison."42 This request duly became the basis for one of the Inspector General's excuses for deferring the staunching project. Noting that "the staunching of the Casemates, the drainage from the dos d'anes and the Rampart, the surface Drains, Tankage and the water supply" were all inter-related problems, he requested that "the C.R.E.'s Report & Estimate (however shown in parts) should detail the whole system and expense of what is required before bringing the subject before the Master General and Board."43

In making this request, Burgoyne pointedly ignored the fact that Savage's estimate had met all the things required of it but one; it had not gone into any great detail about the water supply. Nor were Burgoyne's other excuses for postponing the staunching project particularly convincing. He thought it inadvisable to divert funds from the two items already authorized for 1849-50, despite the fact that the entire project had "already assumed a different aspect."

This last may well have been the real reason for the delay. The "different aspect" of the matter was that the Ordnance was pressing for the trial use in one of the magazine areas of that novel substance, asphalt. By delaying the staunching project, London may well have hoped to establish the reliability of asphalt in the Halifax climate, and hence the desirability of using it to cover the casemates.


The Royal Engineers began using asphalt in the late 1830s. In the following decade, they slathered it on every imaginable surface in an attempt to discover the range of its usefulness. Some of the members of the corps came to regard it as a cheap cure-all for the various minor ailments of permanent fortifications. This line of thought reached a high point, of sorts, when Colonel John Oldfield published his "Memorandum on the use of Asphalte" in the Professional Papers in 1852.44 Although Oldfield ended his introduction with the warning that asphalt "should be tested in every possible way before it is extensively adopted in the service," the tone of his remarks would probably please a modern advertising copywriter. He recommended it for everything from embrasure facings to barrack floors. As staunching material, he reported, it was both cheap and reliable.

Even before Oldfield's article appeared in print, the views expressed in it were current in the upper reaches of the Ordnance. As far back as 1846, Colonel Calder had been induced to try asphalt in the magazine areas in the Citadel. Savage had apparently not been informed of this arrangement. In 1848, he brought forward a project for flagging the areas in the annual estimates for 1849-50. In London, the Surveyor of the Ordnance noticed this item, and recommended the substitution of asphalt in one of the areas. When Savage heard of the suggestion, he promptly dispatched a letter to London with his ideas about the suitability of asphalt for the purpose:

In a warm climate, or even a moderately cold one I am equally an advocate for asphalte as Mr Owen [the surveyor], having seen it used with great success both at Mauritius [?] Gibraltar, but in Severe climates like Canada, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, I am of opinion it never will answer except it is well covered over, and perfectly secured from the influence of the atmosphere . . . .

For the above reasons therefore I respectfully submit to your consideration the impropriety of its use for the services proposed.45

London issued a rebuttal of these objections with surprising speed. The Assistant Inspector General (Fanshawe) annotated Savage's comments in the blank half-margin of the letter and sent it back to the colony a bare 15 days later. Fanshawe noted that the asphalt which had failed in the North American colonies had been "Bastenne Bitumen" which had proved inadequate many times, even in the English climate. The substance which was proposed for a trial in Nova Scotia was "Claridge's Patent Seyssel Asphalte," which had never previously been used in North America. Given these considerations, Colonel Savage was asked whether he had any objections to the trial.46

The result of all this was that Savage was induced to accept the test. A demand for stores to the amount of £179 12s. 0d. for asphalt and the accoutrements necessary for its use was drawn up and submitted to the Board of Ordnance. It was accompanied by a minute from General Burgoyne which recommended that the

Seyssel Asphalte Company be invited to allow an experienced brick layer of the Corps of Royal Sappers & Miners to be instructed by their workmen in the laying on, as well as mixing & heating the Material in order that he may be sent out to the Sapper Company at Halifax to perform the work according to the instructions of the Seyssel Asphalte Company so as to give the material a fair trial.47

While the board was considering this proposal, the Surveyor of the Ordnance drew up two memoranda, the first dealing with Savage's reservations and questions on the subject, and the second setting forth the methods to be used in laying the material in the magazine areas.48 On 15 May the board approved the experiment,49 and a few days later the relevant documents were transmitted to Nova Scotia.50

The asphalt authorized for the experiment was, as noted above, a variety known as Claridge's Patent Seyssel Asphalte (usually simply called Seyssel asphalt). It was

made from a bituminous rock found at Pyrimont Seyssel in the Jura Mountains.

It is limestone saturated with bitumen, and contains about 90 to 92 per cent carbonate of lime and 10 to 8 per cent bitumen.

The material is ground, mixed with grit and heated mineral tar until the mass has thoroughly amalgamated and becomes reduced to a mastic. It is then run into moulds to form blocks.

These blocks are 18 inches square, 6 inches deep, and weigh about 125 lbs. each.51

The asphalt was prepared for use by heating, in the course of which additional mineral tar was added to the mixture. When it was entirely liquid it was to be spread to the desired thickness. The cost of the refined blocks in 1849 was £7 10s. 0d. per ton.52

From the Ordnance's point of view, Seyssel asphalt had two disadvantages. It depended on a foreign source of the raw materials and it was comparatively expensive. Since there were deposits of natural bitumen in several British colonies (notably Trinidad), it was understandable that the Inspector General should cast about for a more convenient and cheaper source of supply. Even as he drew up the documents regarding the trial of Seyssel asphalt in Halifax, Burgoyne was considering a letter from the Commanding Royal Engineer in Barbados reporting on the usefulness of Trinidad bitumen.53 This was sufficiently favourable that the Inspector General decided to propose a trial of the Trinidad asphalt in both Nova Scotia and Bermuda to see whether on not it was suitable for use in those places.54 After some haggling about the funding of the experiment, the Board of Ordnance agreed.55 Shortly thereafter, the entire correspondence was forwarded to Nova Scotia, along with a covering letter in which Savage was instructed to

give the material referred to [i.e., Trinidad bitumen] the best trial both as regards composition in other ingredients, temperature of fusion & manipulation: — also on the different modes of application, whether as [?] on roofs, floors or tanks, or as cement for cheeks and [?] of embrazures, upon which Seyssel Asphalte has been successfully used in the Western District of this Country.56

Whatever Savage's thoughts about this sudden intrusion of asphalting mania into his command were, they have, unfortunately, not been recorded. His immediate official reaction was one of mild pleasure. The substitution of asphalt for flagging in the estimate for the current year produced a saving in the estimate and Savage promptly asked for permission to use the surplus (£167 17s. 6d.) for other purposes.57 But even this temporary gratification turned sour when Savage's request prompted London to question the whole set of balances on the current estimate. The expenditure during the working season failed to reflect the amounts granted in the original scheme, largely because of the alterations demanded by the Fortifications department. Savage's request for the transfer of funds, therefore, only served to make London aware of the effect of the changes, and Savage was instructed to explain the savings and excesses which would result. Even after he did so,58 he was denied permission to use the money, and as a result, he was forced to submit his arguments for a third time in the middle of September.59 By then the working season was nearly over, and the whole question had become largely academic.

The history of the asphalt experiment was only slightly happier. The asphalt was not finally delivered until 4 September,60 by which time it was too late in the season for the entire area to be covered. Asphalt was, however, laid down in part of the south end of the south magazine area and was closely observed during the succeeding months. On 6 February 1850, the temperature fell below 0°F for the first time that winter, and on the following day the asphalt was observed to be cracked. By the end of the winter, the cracks had become quite numerous. Savage was disposed to continue the experiment, but was not particularly hopeful about the results:

I am . . . of the opinion that Asphalte in this country will never answer where there is a possibility of any water or damp getting under that is within reach of the frost, which penetrates in this country from four to five feet. — I however think that Asphalte will answer laid over Arches which cannot rise from the effect of the frost, and therefore may be tried with success on the Arches over the casemates in the Citadel.61

This last sentence is important. If, as one suspects, the primary purpose of trying asphalt in the Nova Scotian climate was to induce Savage to consider it for staunching the casemates, this admission demonstrates the extent of London's success. Even without a successful demonstration of the suitability of the material, Savage was now disposed to use it.


The acceptance of asphalt as a suitable substance for water-proofing necessitated major changes in Savage's 1849 estimate for staunching the dwelling casemates. Unfortunately, most of the material relating to these changes has either not survived or is unavailable in any North American repository. The detailed estimates for the changes were routinely included in the Ordnance annual estimate for 1851-52 and following years. Although the Public Archives of Canada possess the abstracts of these documents from 1851-52 onward, the full texts are unavailable. It is, as a result, difficult to find out exactly how the changes came about, and impossible to be absolutely certain about the nature of the final results.

Basically, the changes involved three main features: the structure of the dos d'ane coverings, the nature and extent of the drainage system and the nature and position of the tanks. These three interconnected changes were the result of a number of decisions, of which the adoption of asphalt was only one, albeit the most important. The process of change in design had, in fact, begun after the receipt of Savage's responses to the problems of accommodation and water supply and had continued concurrently with the asphalt trial, although (so far as we know) no construction was actually begun until the working season of 1851-52. A tentative agreement on the final form of the staunching and water supply project was reached sometime between July and October 1849. On 28 July the Fortifications department dispatched the surveyor's definitive judgements on the 1849 estimate to Savage for comment, with instructions to include the project in the annual estimate for the ensuing year.62 Mr. Owen, the surveyor, provided eight recommendations and questions. He recommended several changes in the composition and position of the down pipes, including the direct exposure of the pipes to the warmth of the casemates's interiors. (The original plan had been to wall them into one corner.) His major proposal, of course, concerned the substitution of asphalt for flagging on the dos d'anes and a drastic alteration in the shape of the dos d'ane covering.

Suggested that the dos d'anes be covered with Seyssel Asphalte, the interior and top of the exterior revetment to be 6 ins above the line of the terreplein or the under side of the proposed additional height above the bed of the existing coping as the case may be — be formed as asphalted Brick work — and the drains in the dos d'anes over the Springinal [sic] walls be formed in brickwork with the joints partially open for the wet to percolate through into them . . . the mode of forming the asphalte into the hopper heads is suggested to [sic] by frustrum of an inverted cone formed in the brick work, rebated in the hopper head, and the asphalte run in hot round a plug of wood fitting into the bore of the hopper head, the upper part of the plug forming the frustrum of the before mentioned inverted cone up to the sole of the asphalte gutter.63

These suggestions arrived after Savage had agreed to try asphalt, but before any of the substance had actually been used, Savage made no formal reply before October, when the asphalt had been applied and was apparently a success. Savage then accepted all of the surveyor's proposals, and set about embodying the new arrangement in the annual estimate for the following year.64 It is nearly impossible, barring the discovery of the text of the annual estimate for 1850-51, to be certain about the extent of the revised project, but in all probability it included a re-designed dos d'ane, a relocation of the down pipes and drains, and possibly a complete revision of the water supply system. At some point between 1850 and 1855, the projected storage tanks under casemate No. 50 were abandoned in favour of a more extensive system of tanks under the parade square (including one 66,000 gallon tank in each of the salients and a 30,000 gallon tank in the gorge of the redan). It is uncertain whether all these changes were made at the same time, but it seems probable.

By the spring of 1850, the results of the asphalt trial had become somewhat ambiguous, but Savage, having made his choice (or, more accurately, having been pressured into it), bravely stuck with it. But the situation had once more gotten out of his control. The whole of the staunching and drainage schemes depended on an adequate supply of asphalt, and it rapidly became apparent that the delays encountered with the first shipment in the preceding summer were to be typical of the entire operation. By midsummer, Savage was complaining that most of the Citadel items in the current annual estimate were being held up because of insufficient asphalt.65 In the ensuing three years, complaints from Halifax about the non-receipt of asphalt supplies were to become extremely common.

Without working materials, Savage had to content himself with replying to a long list of comments from the surveyor on the subject of the failure of the asphalt in the magazine area. Owen proposed changes in the drainage of the area suggested that the fact that only part of the area had been covered may have been responsible for the failure, and recommended that the part already done should be left another winter and another report sent on the results.66 Savage replied, enclosing detailed suggestions on the protection of exposed asphalt from the action of frost.67 If he had any second thoughts about the difficulties involved in the use of the material, he let none of them show in his letter.

Two months later, in October, Savage submitted the annual estimate for 1851-52.68 This included a total of £9,013 6s. 1d. to be spent on the Citadel. London reduced the total to £6,866 8s. 3d., all of it allocated for staunching, truckage and drainage. In doing so, the Fortifications department made it abundantly clear that no more money would be granted until the staunching and water supply had finally been dealt with, which in turn made the entire Citadel project dependent on the erratic supply of asphalt.

The problems with the supply were twofold. On the one hand, London could not be counted on to dispatch a sufficient supply for any given working season; on the other, even when the supplies did arrive, they were rarely what had been asked for. On 11 October, Savage complained that almost half of the 109 tons supplied for the water tanks was coarse grade asphalt — he had ordered fine grade — and asked whether it would be permissible to use it for the purpose for which it was intended.69 London replied at the beginning of December. After inquiries had been made of the asphalt company, the Ordnance determined that Savage was mistaken in his assessment of the asphalt delivered, and that the coarse asphalt he complained of was actually "fine grit." The surveyor enjoined the asphalt company to mark their blocks more carefully, and recommended that samples of the three available grades of Seyssel asphalt be sent out to Nova Scotia so that Savage would be able to judge the difference.70

This exchange only served to illustrate Savage's comparative ignorance of the subject of commercial asphalt. The next exchange, however, was different. On Christmas Eve Savage requested that a supply of fine grit asphalt be sent as soon as possible.71 This insistence on early delivery — the working season was five months off — served as a strong reminder of the absolute importance of a secure asphalt supply, if the work planned on the authorized items in the annual estimate was to continue.

While Savage's request was in transit to England, the supply question was complicated further by the arrival of advance notice of a shipment of Trinidad bitumen to Halifax, along with instructions on the use of the substance.72 Whether the shipment would appreciably improve the situation or not was debatable; it faced Savage (who had demonstrated himself to be a novice in the use of asphalt) with two different types requiring different methods of preparation and application.

At the beginning of 1851, Savage inadvertently complicated an already bewildering situation by forwarding an innocent request for Portland cement for use in the staunching.73 London, by this time, was already convinced that Savage's attitude toward asphalt was at best lukewarm, and chose to interpret the letter as a request for permission to substitute cement. Savage received a brief reply demanding clarification of this point.74 Betraying some irritation with this absurd misinterpretation of his innocuous request, Savage countered by noting that both cement and asphalt were needed in the staunching operations, and that, in his opinion, Portland cement was superior to Roman cement for the purpose. He repeated his request for supplies of the former, and concluded with a pointed reminder that the working season was fast approaching.75

In the middle of all this, Savage found the time to examine the samples of the approved grade of Seyssel asphalt which had been sent out from England as a result of his complaints about the allegedly coarse grade he had received the previous autumn. He was both gratified and irritated to discover that. Mr. Owen and the asphalt company to the contrary, he had been right; the shipment he had received was substandard. He promptly bundled up samples of the offending asphalt and shipped them off to England so that the Inspector General could judge for himself. He accompanied the transmission with an exceedingly sarcastic letter, and concluded with the ritual plea for immediate and adequate supplies of the proper grade of asphalt.76 London replied promptly, and promised faithfully to send the desired quantity.77

23 "A sketch of the covering of the Casemates with Asphalte," 1854. The plan and sections show the method of staunching finally adopted. Note that the down pipe was placed in the centre of the pier wall, and that asphalt and asphalted bricks were used extensively. (Public Archives of Canada.)

It was unfortunate for the long-suffering Savage that London was prompter with its promises than with its deliveries. As the working season approached, the only asphalt on hand was the Trinidad type, and since there was only half a ton of it and since it had not been authorized as a substitute for Seyssel asphalt, it was not of much use. On 1 May, Savage notified London that none of the supplies requested in the demand of stores for the ensuing working season had yet arrived.78 Three months later, he was nearly frantic. The entire lot of supplies requested for the year were, he informed London, still at sea on board the vessel Stag. Worse still, the bill of lading showing the contents of the vessel had already arrived and it showed that some items had been omitted — notably 3,178 bushels of cement. Could London possibly see fit to send him all the necessary supplies before the working season ended?79

In spite of all these problems, Savage did manage to get some of the work done. The balance sheet drawn up in September showed that, despite the belated (or nonexistent) delivery of vital stores, he had somehow managed to spend £4,173 12s. 1-1/4d. of the £6,866 8s. 3d. allotted for the current year.80 The work had progressed so much that the sums estimated for the staunching and drainage for 1852 were substantially lower than for the previous year (£3,510 compared to £6,866).81 The job was visibly nearing completion.

24 Photograph of the east side of the southeast salient, ca. 1880. This photograph shows some of the gargoyles and down pipes for leading the water from the surface gutter, located just behind the coping at the top of the retaining wall, to the underground pipes connected to the rain water tanks. The south rain water tank is just out of sight behind the staircase landing in the centre of the picture. Not all the water went into the tanks (note the rain barrel under the pipe to the left of the salient). In the foreground, running along behind the wall and across the stair landing, is a sample of the type of surface gutter in use.

The 1852 working season passed uneventfully. If there were any complaints about the quality of supplies or the lack of them, they have not survived. While it was true that only about half the available funds from the current grant were spent, the work had progressed far enough that the amounts for staunching and drainage were again halved in the estimate for the following year.82

The 1853 working season had a few more hitches. Once again, the major problem was non-receipt of asphalt. On 12 May, Savage transmitted an urgent request for asphalt.83 London replied, stating that the asphalt would be shipped as soon as a suitable conveyance could be found.84 Three months later, the shipment had still not arrived, and Savage reported that in consequence work had been halted.85 London responded with a report that the asphalt had been shipped at the end of July.86 In spite of all this, the work was virtually complete by mid-September. In the annual estimate for 1854-55, staunching and drainage accounted for only £420 of a total estimated expenditure of £4,037 16s. 2d.87 In what was almost his last letter from Halifax, written after his successor, Colonel Stotherd, had arrived, Savage summed up his experience with the use of asphalt. He began on an explanatory note:

The works at the Citadel in staunching the Casemates having brought [sic] to a close, I instructed Lt. Parsons Royal Engineers, the Superintending officer in February last, to prepare a Report and sketch explanatory of the application and results of the Seyssel Asphalte in constructing a pavement in the Area round the South Magazine and in making the Casemates secure against leakage.88

He went on to state that he agreed with the opinions expressed by Lieutenant Parsons in his report, adding only that he personally believed that asphalt

of whatever kind will not endure in a climate such as that of Nova Scotia unless it is protected by a covering of earth not less than 3 feet in depth, or otherwise situated so as to be out of reach of the extremes of heat and frost.

He concluded with comments on the bad condition of the cavalier and the folly of using asphalt as a cure-all for the ills of a decaying building.

Lieutenant Parsons' report summarized the uses to which asphalt had been put since 1849. He noted that, in the period 1849-53, the Engineer department had used 478 tons of Seyssel asphalt. The results of the experiment had been mixed. The asphalt used in the magazine area had failed every winter as a result of frost. Similarly, the asphalted brickwork on the interior slope of the cavalier parapet had failed. From this he concluded, as Savage had done almost from the beginning, that asphalt was unsuited to the Nova Scotia climate unless it was protected from the elements.

The first experiments with asphalt for waterproofing had also been failures.

Two of the first casemates asphalted and covered with earth were found to have leaks where the arches butted against the interior retaining wall, — on examination the fillet in connection with the wall was found to have parted from it, although grooves had been cut in the stone to receive it.89

When this fault was discovered,

The use of fillet was then discontinued. Asphalted Bricks being built upon the 3/4" [asphalt] covering of the arch until a joint in the Ashlar masonry was reached, when the upper stones being removed, a coat of Asphalte . . . was carried well into the thickness of the wall. — This practice was continued throughout the remainder of the Casemates, and these from being uninhabited on account of the water coming in streams through the Arches, are since the application of the Asphalte perfectly dry and are now occupied by Officers and soldiers.90

Nor was this the only success. In all three water tanks

the groined invert at the bottom [was] floated over with Asphalte, fine quality, 3/4" thick laid in two coats 3/8" thick: the wall [was] lined with Asphalted bricks, and the dos d'anes [were] asphalted 3/8" thick with fillet over the joint..... These three Tanks have been found free from external leakage, and are perfectly water tight. . . . [nor] has the water in them been apparently affected in any way by the Asphalt.91

On the whole, both Savage and Parsons felt that the experiment had been a success. Their conclusion was premature. Within six months, the problem would return to plague Savage's successor.

previous Next

Last Updated: 2006-10-24 To the top
To the top