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The Taking of the Diamond Rock : His Majesty's sloop of war

If the Diamond is first known for its huge white sand beach, it remains a place steeped in history.

The Arawak Indians are the first to live there in the 4th century and are then decimated and replaced by the Caribbean Indians, formidable warriors in the Xth century.
French settlers finally settled there at the end of the 18th century.

In the Caribbean, Martinique is best known for its destructive volcano, Mount Pelee, but south of the island, facing the village of Diamant, stands another witness of explosive volcanism: a rocky peak 175 meters high and 300 meters in diameter: the Diamond Rock. It owes its name to its beveled tip shape and the reflections of the walls at certain times evoking those of a gemstone.

This small rock, covered with brush and cacti, difficult to access, yet played a great strategic role during the Franco-British wars, before becoming a protected natural site and one of the most beautiful diving spots in Martinique.
But let’s dive into his military history …
In 1992, Raymond Cottrell unveils the English vision of this historical episode.
A descendant of Joseph Cottrell, commander of the Place de Fort de France when Martinique was English from 1794 to 1802, and Major Boyer who led the battle of June 1805, he used to say that the Diamond Rock was part of his family . He organized many expeditions, climbing regularly to know all its nooks and its history, seen from the French side but also English, the one we never talk about ….

Sixteen months of English occupation on Diamond Rock

At the beginning of the 19th century, France and England fought for control of the Caribbean arc and the Saint Lucia canal.
From January 1804 to June 1805, the Diamond Rock will be occupied by the English.
In the hands of these, it becomes a real observation post capable of intercepting all the French navigation of this colony, and to signal with impunity all movements.
Of course, Napoleon makes the capture of the rock a priority. An insulting occupation that the French consider inadmissible and which Governor Villaret-Joyeuse decides to end. It is finally the fleet of Admiral Villeneuve who leads the battle for the reconquest of the Diamond Rock.
An amusing little story: “The English considered the rock like a building of the Royal Navy, so the tradition was that every time a British ship went out, it fired a cannon to salute the rock. called His Majesty’s Sloop-of-War Diamond Rock “.
The rock is still French today. From this military epic, only the ruins of a hospital remain today.

An iconic blockade

Breaking the peace of Amiens of 1802, the English invade Saint Lucia in July 1803.A month before they had organized the blockade of Martinique. This operation had the disadvantage of being random (in case of storm, the boats had to return to Saint Lucia) and expensive in ships.
The leader of the British forces, Admiral Samuel Hood, decided to invade the Diamond Rock and organize it like a warship, in charge of the blockade;
Only one man, Lieutenant James Maurice, is able to carry out the expedition (climb the 185 meters of the Rock) and especially to order this original ship of the British crown; James Maurice is 38 years old, is passionate about mountains and is designated as a volunteer.
The installation of forces and equipment will take 4 days. And when on January 10, 1804 Captain Hood will hoist the Union Jack to the top of the now “His Majesty ‘s sloop of war Diamond Rock”, no hostile movement will be noticed on the French side. They did not understand the English maneuver and, above all, are far from imagining that one can profit strategically from this volcanic outgrowth.
Finally, in Martinique, Governor Louis Thomas de Villaret-Joyeuse thinks the British want to install a hospital on the Diamond Rock. His first report to Admiral Decres, Minister of the Navy, about the occupation of the rock begins in these terms: “Citizen Minister, Commodore Hood knows the weaknesses of our defenses, he establishes a hospital on the Diamond Rock near from which he is anchored to direct the operations of his naval division …. “
The hospital in question includes in other three guns of 18, two batteries of which one is equipped with a gun of 24 (the Hood Battery) and 107 soldiers.
On the Rock, everything is organized so that, according to Commodore Hood, “thirty soldiers armed with rifles could contain 10,000 men”.
On the rock, life is organized. For water, a tank of 12,000 liters and barrels in reserve; for refueling, a pulley system allowing ships coming from
Saint Lucia to land at the rock, and the effective blockade this time.
In the hands of the English, the rock becomes a veritable observation post capable of intercepting all the French navigation of this colony, and of signaling impunely all the movements.

178 guns and 1500 men

Of course Napoleon makes the capture of the rock a priority.An insulting occupation that the French consider inadmissible and to which Governor Villaret-Joyeuse decides to end
And it is the fleet of Admiral Villeneuve who leads the battle for the reconquest of the Diamond Rock.On May 27, 1805, the French attack began: five ships with a firepower of 178 guns, a landing force of 1500 men. Side English, 107 men perched on a rock inaccessible, and having food for a month, in principle.
For three days, the battle will rage …. But the rock remaining impregnable, the outcome of the fight will be an English misfortune.
At the limit, a macabre joke: the commander Maurice, discovers that his tank of 12,000 liters is pierced and that it has only 48 hours of food.
And it is the lack of water and ammunition which will make surrender the “crew” of the “His Majesty ‘s Sloop of Diamond Rock War” on June 1st, 1805.
This glorious surrender will be worth to Captain Maurice the honors of the French army, but the court martial on the English side: bravery on one side, lack of pugnacity on the other.

Les 17 gravures historiques du Rocher

The representations of Diamond Rock during its English occupation form a collection of 17 engravings dating from the early nineteenth century.
They are not the work of an artist, but the making of an envoy of the ancestor of the Red Cross. This man, who is said to be of Swedish origin, was tasked with investigating how the war wounded were treated.

Endowed with a certain talent, he will represent the English installation, the organization of the daily life and the battle of June 1805, that of the English side. It must be said that he had spent more than a month on this rock. This rare and informative collection is now the property of the departmental archives of Martinique.

His Majesty’s Sloop-of-War Diamond Rock

Little funny anecdote: the English considered the rock as a building of the Royal Navy. Since then, tradition has it that every time a British ship goes offshore, it fires a cannon to greet His Majesty’s Sloop-of-War Diamond Rock.
The rock is still French today. Of this military epic, only the ruins of a hospital remain today.

Fauna and Flora

A stunning refuge for fauna and flora. Since 1994, the site is managed by the Conversatoire du Littoral and has become a protected site where only scientists are allowed to dock. It houses the last Couresse snakes and serves as a breeding and resting area for seabirds.
By its inaccessibility, the Diamond Rock is a site particularly conducive to the reproduction of seabirds.

The Red-billed Phaeton, the Bridled Tern and the Brown Noddi nest there; the Brown Mads gather there…. It is estimated that a thousand seabirds frequent the rock, including more than 300 nesting pairs.

A multitude of animals populate the Rock. Some are very rare, such as the crab Gécarcinus ruricola, it is found in very dry areas. Others, however, are much more familiar.

There is a variety of lizards: Anolis roquet, brownish color, they blend perfectly with stones and branches.
In the past there were harmless snakes called couresses.

The caves of the Rock, shelter a bat called Brachyphylle of the caves, existing that in the Lesser Antilles, it has a snout in the shape of snout which earns them the nickname of bat with heads of pig. They feed on nectar and fruit and play a very important role in pollinating dry forest trees (notably: the cheesemaker and the courbaril) in seed dispersals.

The vegetation on the Rock is essentially made up of cactus candles, because the soil is stony and very superficial, almost unable to retain water.

To save this resource, many plants have adopted a shrubby form.
Some species develop real strategies to store water, such as cacti. They manage to fill their tissues with water, but in addition their stem is specially designed to inflate and retract according to the quality of liquid they store.

The influence of marine winds

Vegetation can adapt to various factors, but it sometimes affects its morphology. Sea winds often cause plants to grow on one side because the salt from the sea spray inhibits the growth of buds facing the wind.

Four species from dry and sunny environments, along with candle cacti, predominate on the islet:

  • The Poirier (Tabebuia heterophylla) with its pale pink flowers.
  • A vine known as “Bois couleuvre” (Capparis Flexuosa), and sporadically, “Figuiers maudits” (Ficus Citrifolia), which also cling to the walls with their powerful roots. Due to its isolation, it’s possible that the rock shelters unknown plants. The very specific conditions that prevail there could indeed have led the flora to evolve and give rise to new species.
  • The White Frangipani (Plumeria alba) with its fragrant white flowers.

Candle Cacti: Cacti have found an even more radical technique to reduce transpiration: they are simply devoid of leaves, showing a regression to the point of becoming spines.

It is prohibited to approach the islet, but experienced divers come to explore the waters around it, where the wildlife is abundant despite the currents: barracudas, jacks, and green turtles.

Its clear waters, underwater caves, crevices, and corals make it one of the best diving sites on the island.

The wall vegetation

For the wall vegetation, a further constraint arises: to be able to find a way to attach to the ground. Some plants have solved the problem by developing small crampons on their roots.