The Fort Bullen, Barra
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
One of the historical places to visit in The Gambia as outbound and inbound tourists is Fort Bullen. This centre of attractions is not met for the tourists or school children alone but for everyone that is interested to know the country’s history.
This notable and famous Fort Bullen located at Barra Point
was established in 1826. It was born out of Britain’s war against slave trading
in 19th century as River Gambia was recognized as a British possession. This is
By Treaty of Versailes, 1783. It is across from the town of the then Bathurst,
which is now called Banjul, the capital city of The Gambia also known as the
City of Light.
According to history, Fort Bullen was built due to the fact that the British founders needed guns on the north bank of The Gambia River in order to control the river mouth. Furthermore, the Fort was meant to complement the six-gun battery on the opposite bank of the river. The National Council for Art and Culture attendant stationed at Fort Bullen who always recite the history of Fort Bullen like our Lord’s prayer said the Fort was ‘anti-slavery not pro-slavery’ as others thought.
It was noted in the history book that James Island that is
now Kunta Kinteh Island had been formally abandoned as British headquarters in
The Gambia in 1816 because it was less strategically located than Banjul Island
– St Mary’s Island, to control the river, and to put a stop to the water-borne,
slave traffic out of the river after the Act in 1807.
Going by the history of historical site, after their settlement
in Bathurst, the British had asked the ruler of Niumi for permission to fortify
Barra Point but he refused. 1823 saw Burungai Sonko as Niumi's new ruler. Part
of his reign was marked with ill-feeling and tension between British traders
and Niuminkas. British heart-felt desires included possession of a one-mile
wide strip of land along the whole Niumi shore;
waiving the right to collect taxes from traders in exchange for an annual subsidy of 100 and the right to fortify Barra point were granted in1826. This is a story students between grades 5 to 8 can tell you without mincing words.
However, Commodore Charles Bullen, commander of the man-of-war HMS Maidstone, which had taken part in the intimidation exercise, carried two cannons to Barra Point and took formal possession of it and the Ceded Mile on behalf of George IV of England. The site was named Fort Bullen in honour of the Commodore. A little town called Berwick Town, composed of some discharged soldiers and a few liberated slaves grew up near the fort.
In 1831, Fort Bullen was abandoned for a little over four years when the Barra War broke out between the British and the Niuminkas. Small force attacked Essau while trying to arrest some people. The Niuminkas responded violently, killing several of their attackers. The guns at Barra Point were still only temporary emplacements, according to JM Gray. The survivors abandoned Barra Point and did not return until the end of the fighting in January1832.
When the fort was finally completed is not clear. But consider the shock and fright that the Barra War gave Bathurst; it seems reasonable to suppose that the British finished the Fort soon afterwards perhaps by the mid-1830s. Fort Bullen apparently never had to fend off another attack the rest of its career. During Ma Ba's Wars in the 1860s, the Fort's chief function seems to have been as a transit camp for thousands of refugees from Sine-Saloum and as a temporary guardian of women, children and old people while both sides fought it out elsewhere.
According to Gray's 'History of The Gambia' book there was
no guard placed there after 1870; he implies this, rather than stating it
directly. When Senegal was in the hands of the Vichy regime of France, and a
potentially hostile force thus surrounded The Gambia, they modified the
interior gun emplacements and ammunition magazines to accommodate
These emplacements and some of the guns can still be
seen there. Since World War II, the Fort has been totally abandoned. Till date
the Navigation light for the sea inside Fort Bullen is still working. Look out
for this sea Navigation light anytime you are at Banjul Terminal or Barra
because it is very visible.
Fort Bullen was built with laterite, this made it impossible
for any bullet to penetrate. It should be understood that Fort Bullen and its
environs as a priority for preservation is a national monument. In October
1978, the Honourable Minister of Local Government and Lands approved a request
that the fort, together with the land surrounding it, be handed over to the
Monuments and Relics Commission.
Together with Kunta Kinteh Island (James Island) structures have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. This is according to the script that reads "James Island (Kunta Kinteh Island) and related sites (Fort Bullen) has been inscribed in the World Heritage List of the Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage.
"Inscription on the list confirms its exceptional
universal value which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.
James Island (Kunta Kinteh) and related sites present a testimony to the main
periods and facets of the encounter between Africa and Europe along the River
Gambia, and confirm that stretched from pre-colonial and pre-slavery times to
The sites are particularly significant for their relation to the beginning and the abolition of the slave trade. They also documented early access to the interior of Africa."
To know more about the Fort Bullen, try to read a book entitled History of The Gambia by J M Gray.
Author: Yunus Saliu