The Lamer Gun Battery, Dunbar: A relic of war between Britain and the USA

The now peaceful harbour of Dunbar has been defended from potential attack for much of its long history, the earliest known defences belonging to a promontory fort built at Castle Park about 2000 years ago. The best preserved remains of the various coastal defences recorded in the town belong to the half-moon gun battery which was constructed in 1781 and is prominently located in the northeast corner of Victoria Harbour or Lamer Island.

Lamer Battery viewed from the landward side

Attack by the Continental Navy of the United States!

John Paul Jones

Following an attack on Dunbar in 1781 by privateers in the service of the American Continental Navy in the later part of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), a 16 gun battery was constructed on Lamer Island to protect the harbour against any future attack or invasion. There is local tradition that an initial attack by the notorious John Paul Jones was repulsed by a battery of four guns in the town in 1779. A second seaborne attack occurred in 1781 led by Captain George Fall which was also repulsed. The net effect was there was a perceived threat of attack or invasion at the harbour which resulted in the construction of a gun battery at Lamer Island with commanding views of the approaches to the harbour.

The Battery

The battery was constructed under the direction of Engineer Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Fraser in 1781 and consisted of a half-moon or D-shaped battery with a compliment of 16 guns firing through embrasures, a formidable emplacement and a solid deterrent to any seaborne attack. The guns had a good field of fire ranging from northwest to southeast and covering all approaches to the harbour. The 16 guns most likely varied in size but were probably dominated by 24 pounders.

The 24 pounder was a heavy calibre gun which was the ‘go to’ artillery piece used by the British Navy in the 18th century. The guns would have been mounted in wooden carriages, probably traversing carriages, that would have allowed the firing position to be adjusted rapidly by the skilled gun crew. Each gun would have been manned by a 12 man crew giving a compliment of 192 gunners plus officers and logistical support. This was a significant investment in personnel and equipment considering the guns were never fired in anger. The battery was decommissioned as a coastal defence at the end of the Peninsular War around 1814.

Artists reconstruction of guns and gun crews with cannon mounted on traversing carriages firing through embrasures

Later use as a hospital

Towards the end of the 19th century the battery was converted into a hospital or sick house. It was initially used as a hospital for infectious diseases in 1893 but seems to have become a more general sick house by 1906. It was used to rehabilitate invalid soldiers during the First World War and was rebranded as the Dunbar Battery Auxiliary Hospital which was run by volunteers from the Red Cross.

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