Diamond Rock
Diamond Rock is a 175 meter (574 feet) high basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

 island located south of Fort-de-France
Fort-de-France is the capital of France's Caribbean overseas department of Martinique. It is also one of the major cities in the Caribbean. Exports include sugar, rum, tinned fruit, and cacao.-Geography:...

, the main port of the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 island of Martinique
Martinique is an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of . Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. To the northwest lies Dominica, to the south St Lucia, and to the southeast Barbados...

. The uninhabited island is about three kilometers from Pointe Diamant. The island gets its name from the reflections that its sides cast at certain hours of the day, which evoke images of a precious stone. Its claim to fame is the role that it played in the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...


HMS Diamond Rock

The Rock occupies a strategic position at the north end of the St. Lucia Straits. Possession of the Rock permits interdiction of navigation between Martinique and its southern neighbor, St Lucia.

In September 1803 Commodore
Commodore (Royal Navy)
Commodore is a rank of the Royal Navy above Captain and below Rear Admiral. It has a NATO ranking code of OF-6. The rank is equivalent to Brigadier in the British Army and Royal Marines and to Air Commodore in the Royal Air Force.-Insignia:...

 Sir Samuel Hood sailed to the Rock aboard (Captain Murray Maxwell
Murray Maxwell
Captain Sir Murray Maxwell, CB, FRS was a British Royal Navy officer who served with distinction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, particularly during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars...

). Hood had received the assignment to blockade the bays at Fort Royal and Saint Pierre
Saint-Pierre, Martinique
Saint-Pierre is a town and commune of France's Caribbean overseas department of Martinique, founded in 1635 by Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc. Before the total destruction of Saint-Pierre in 1902 by a volcanic eruption, it was the most important city of Martinique culturally and economically, being known...

, Martinique.

Centaur was lying at anchor in Fort Royal Bay, Martinique, on the morning of 1 December when lookouts sighted a schooner with a sloop in tow about six miles off making for Saint Pierre. Hood sent his advice boat, the Sarah, after the sloop, and had Maxwell sail Centaur in pursuit of the schooner. After a pursuit of some 24 leagues
League (unit)
A league is a unit of length . It was long common in Europe and Latin America, but it is no longer an official unit in any nation. The league originally referred to the distance a person or a horse could walk in an hour...

, Centaur captured the schooner, which turned out to be the privateer Ma Sophie, out of Guadeloupe. She had a crew of 45 men, and was armed with eight guns, which she had jettison
Jettison may refer to:* A verb meaning to throw or eject from a ship, aircraft or vehicle; or discard or abandon; see marine debris* Jettison , a Chicago-based indie record label* Jettison , a punk band from the 1980s...

ed during the chase.

Hood took Ma Sophie into service as a tender, charging her captain, Lieutenant William Donnett, with watching the channel between Diamond Rock and Martinique for enemy vessels. Donnett made frequent visits to the Rock to gather the thick, broad-leaved grass to be woven into sailors' hats, and a spinach-like plant called callaloo
Callaloo is a popular Caribbean dish served in different variants in across the Caribbean. The main ingredient is a leaf vegetable, traditionally either amaranth , taro or Xanthosoma. Both are known by many names including callaloo, coco, tannia, bhaaji, or dasheen bush...

, that when boiled and served daily, kept the crews of Centaur and Ma Sophie from scurvy and was a nice addition to a menu too long dominated by salt beef.

Aided by surprise and by calm weather, the British were able to run lines ashore and hoist two 18 pounder cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s to the summit of the Rock. The British hastily built fortifications and supplied the position with food and water for a garrison of two lieutenants and 120 men under the command of Lieutenant James Wilkes Maurice
James Wilkes Maurice
Vice-Admiral James Wilkes Maurice was an officer of the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars...

, Hood's First lieutenant
First Lieutenant
First lieutenant is a military rank and, in some forces, an appointment.The rank of lieutenant has different meanings in different military formations , but the majority of cases it is common for it to be sub-divided into a senior and junior rank...

.(In a contemporary print of the main characters involved his name is spelt Morris). Hood officially commissioned the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

-garrisoned island as a sloop
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

 HMS Diamond Rock. A six-gun sloop
A sloop is a sail boat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than the mast of a cutter....

, designated Fort Diamond
HMS Fort Diamond
HMS Fort Diamond was a six-gun sloop , commissioned in 1804 in Martinique. Her origins are unknown. She captured one French privateer before she herself was lost to a French boarding party in June 1804.-Career:...

, supported the fort. In honor of his Admiral, Maurice designated as "Hood Battery" the one 24-pounder that he placed to fire from a cave halfway up the side of the Rock. The British also placed two 24-pounder guns in batteries ("Centaur" and "Queen's") at the base of the Rock, and a 24-pounder carronade
The carronade was a short smoothbore, cast iron cannon, developed for the Royal Navy by the Carron Company, an ironworks in Falkirk, Scotland, UK. It was used from the 1770s to the 1850s. Its main function was to serve as a powerful, short-range anti-ship and anti-crew weapon...

 to cover the only landing-place. One account puts two 24-pounders on the summit, but all other accounts put 18-pounders there. Unfortunately, at some point while this was going on, Ma Sophie blew up for unknown reasons, killing all but one of her crew.

With work complete by 7 February Hood decided to formalise the administration of the island, and wrote to the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, announcing that he had commissioned the rock as a sloop
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

, under the name Fort Diamond. Lieutenant Maurice, who had impressed Hood with his efforts while establishing the position, was rewarded by being made commander.

Caves on the Rock served as sleeping quarters for the men; the officers used tents. A court martial would reprimand Lieutenant Roger Woolcombe at Plymouth on 7 December 1805 for "conduct unbecoming a gentleman" for having messed (eaten) at the top of the Rock with part of the ship's company.

The troops used pulleys and ropes to raise supplies to the summit. To augment their uncertain food supply, the garrison had a small herd of goats and a flock of guinea hens and chickens that survived on the meager foliage. The British also established a hospital in a cave at the base of the Rock that became a popular place to put sailors and marines recovering from fevers or injuries.

Just before Centaur left the Rock, a party of slaves made a clandestine visit at night to trade fruits and bananas. They brought the news that a French Lieutenant Colonel of Engineers had arrived at their plantation to survey the heights opposite for a mortar
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

Artillery battery
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems...

 with which to shell the Rock. One of the slaves had been sold by his English owner to the French when the owner left the islands. He did not like his new master and claimed the protection of the British flag. Hood granted him that protection, and promised that the man could serve in the Royal Navy as a free man in return for guiding a landing party to his now former master's house. A 23-man landing party, including the guide, and under Lieut. Reynolds, landed at midnight, walked the four kilometers to the plantation house, and took the engineer and 17 soldiers prisoner, before returning safely to Centaur. Apparently the Lieutenant Colonel was the only engineer on Martinique and so no mortar battery materialized.

On June 23, 1804, whilst the Fort Diamond was on a provisioning expedition at Roseau Bay, St. Lucia, a French boarding party from a schooner
A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts....

 came up to her in two rowboats, boarding her at night while most of the crew were asleep below decks. A subsequent court-martial aboard HMS Galatea at English Harbour
English Harbour
English Harbour is a settlement on the island of Antigua, in the extreme south of the island. It takes its name from the nearby harbour in which the Royal Navy established its base of operations for the area during the eighteenth century. Its population is 759 .English Harbour is a centre of...

, Antigua
Antigua , also known as Waladli, is an island in the West Indies, in the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean region, the main island of the country of Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua means "ancient" in Spanish and was named by Christopher Columbus after an icon in Seville Cathedral, Santa Maria de la...

, convicted Acting Lt. Benjamin Westcott of allowing his vessel to be captured. The Board dismissed him from the Service, never to be permitted to serve in the Navy again. (Three years later he became an American citizen.)

For 17 months the fort was able to harass French shipping trying to enter Fort-de-France. The guns on the Rock completely dominated the channel between it and the mainland, and because of their elevation, were able to fire so far out sea as to force vessels to give it a wide berth, with the result that the currents and strong winds would make it impossible for them to fetch in Port Royal. During this time the French troops on Martinique made several unsuccessful attempts to retake the Rock.


When Admiral Villeneuve
Pierre-Charles Villeneuve
Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve was a French naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. He was in command of the French and Spanish fleets defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar....

 embarked on his 1805 voyage to Martinique
Trafalgar Campaign
The Trafalgar Campaign was a long and complicated series of fleet manoeuvres carried out by the combined French and Spanish fleets; and the opposing moves of the Royal Navy during much of 1805. These were the culmination of French plans to force a passage through the English Channel, and so achieve...

, he was under orders from Napoleon to recapture Diamond Rock. The French-Spanish combined naval force of sixteen ships under French Captain Cosmao-Kerjulien
Julien Cosmao
Julien Marie Cosmao-Kerjulien was a French Navy officer, admiral, and hero of the Battle of Trafalgar.- Early career :...

 attacked Diamond Rock. Between 16 May and 29 May, the French fleet completely blockaded the Rock. On the 25th, the French were able to cut out from under Maurice's guns a British sloop that arrived from St. Lucia with some supplies.

The actual assault came on 31 May and the French were able to land some troops on the Rock. Maurice had anticipated the landing and had moved his men from the indefensible lower works to positions further up, and on the summit. Once the French landed, British fire trapped the landing party in two caves near sea level.

Unfortunately for the garrison, their stone cistern
A cistern is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater. Cisterns are distinguished from wells by their waterproof linings...

 had cracked, due to an earth tremor, so they were short of water, and after exchanging fire with the French, they were also almost out of ammunition. After enduring a fierce bombardment, Maurice surrendered to the superior force on June 3, 1805, having resisted two French seventy-fours, a frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

, a corvette
A corvette is a small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, originally smaller than a frigate and larger than a coastal patrol craft or fast attack craft , although many recent designs resemble frigates in size and role...

, a schooner
A schooner is a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts....

, and eleven gunboats. The British lost two men killed and one wounded, and the French 50 dead and wounded, and three gunboats. The French took the garrison of 107 men as prisoners, splitting them between their two 74-gun ships of the line, Pluton
French ship Pluton (1804)
Pluton was a 74-gun French ship of the line built at Toulon.It took part in the Battle of Trafalgar under Captain Julien Cosmao escaped to Cádiz with other ships. Two days later, on 23 October 1805, she was the flagship of the counter-attack from Cádiz, together with Indomptable, Neptune, Rayo, and...

 and the ex-British Berwick
HMS Berwick (1775)
HMS Berwick was a 74-gun Elizabeth-class third rate of the Royal Navy, launched at Portsmouth Dockyard on 18 April 1775, to a design by Sir Thomas Slade. She fought the French at the Battle of Ushant and the Dutch at the Battle of Dogger Bank...


The prisoners were repatriated to Barbados by 6 June. The subsequent court-martial of Commander Maurice for the loss of his ship, i.e., the fort, exonerated him and commended him for his defence.

The Battle of Diamond Rock in literature

There is a now obscure poem of some forty four-line stanzas based on the incident, titled "The Diamond Rock".

The author Sea Lion (the Pseudonym of Geoffrey Bennett
Geoffrey Bennett
Captain Geoffrey Martin Bennett DSC, FRHS was a British Royal Navy officer and author.-Career:Born into a naval family in 1908, Geoffrey Bennett attended the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and entered the service...

, a career naval officer, based his 1950 novel The Diamond Rock on the 1804 event. So did Dudley Pope
Dudley Pope
Dudley Bernard Egerton Pope was a British writer of both nautical fiction and history, most notable for his Lord Ramage series of historical novels. Greatly inspired by C.S. Forester, Pope was one of the most successful authors to explore the genre of nautical fiction, often compared to Patrick...

 in his 1976 novel Ramage's Diamond.

The Royal Navy still regards "HMS Diamond Rock" as being in commission. Therefore, HM Ships are required, when passing, to show due respect. (Personnel on the upper deck to stand at attention and face the Rock whilst the Bridge salutes.)

Natural history

The rock is a volcanic plug
Volcanic plug
A volcanic plug, also called a volcanic neck or lava neck, is a volcanic landform created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano. When forming, a plug can cause an extreme build-up of pressure if volatile-charged magma is trapped beneath it, and this can sometimes lead to an...

, a remnant of the strong volcanic
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

 activity that affected the region some one million years ago. However, a Captain Hansen of the Norwegian steamship Talisman reported that on 13 May 1902, he observed what he took to be a volcanic eruption from a hole in the rock. This was at the time of the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée
Mount Pelée
Mount Pelée is an active volcano at the northern end of the island and French overseas department of Martinique in the Lesser Antilles island arc of the Caribbean. Its volcanic cone is composed of layers of volcanic ash and hardened lava....

 that destroyed Saint-Pierre. Hansen did not investigate further.

Like the other 47 islets that circle Martinique, the Rock has its own ecological characteristics. It is sunnier than the main island, drier, and subject to a long seasonal dry period. Today it is covered in undergrowth and cacti.

Relatively inaccessible and inhospitable, the island is uninhabited, which has permitted it to remain a sanctuary for a species that had been believed to be extinct. A nature survey has suggested that Diamond Rock is probably the last refuge for a species of reptile once endemic to Martinique, the Couress grass snake (Liophis cursor
Liophis cursor
Liophis cursor is a species of snake in the Colubridae family. It is endemic to Martinique. It has been reported on Diamond Rock, which may be the last refuge for the species. The French naturalist Bernard Germain Étienne de la Ville, Comte de Lacépède first described it in 1789 in his Histoire...


Diving the Rock

Below water the Diamond Rock cavern, a deep triangular cave
A cave or cavern is a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter. The term applies to natural cavities some part of which is in total darkness. The word cave also includes smaller spaces like rock shelters, sea caves, and grottos.Speleology is the science of exploration and study...

, is a popular attraction for scuba
Scuba diving
Scuba diving is a form of underwater diving in which a diver uses a scuba set to breathe underwater....

 divers. The cave is said to contain prolific quantities of beautiful sea fan
Sea fan
A gorgonian, also known as sea whip or sea fan, is an order of sessile colonial cnidarian found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics. Gorgonians are similar to the sea pen, another soft coral. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect,...

s and coral
Corals are marine animals in class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria typically living in compact colonies of many identical individual "polyps". The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.A coral "head" is a colony of...

s, though strong current
Ocean current
An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of ocean water generated by the forces acting upon this mean flow, such as breaking waves, wind, Coriolis effect, cabbeling, temperature and salinity differences and tides caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun...

s make diving the island a risky venture.

The author John Fine reports that while diving he found one of the Rock's cannon that the French had toppled from the summit.
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