Dominica attacked Roseau burns
For five days from 20 February to 25 February 1805 the island was in turmoil as French forces under the orders of the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, attempted to wrest Dominica from British control. If they had succeeded it is probable that the island would still be French today. We would all be French citizens and we would be part of Europe with European passports. We would be voting for the President of France and for local deputies to represent us in Paris, and our island would be known to the world as La Dominique and not as Dominica.

It all began at dawn on 20 February when armed ships flying the British flag were sighted approaching the island off of Scott s Head. Something did not seem quite right. Cannon shots were fired from Fort Cashacrou to warn Roseau. Soon, Fort Young was crowded with militiamen from the town and regular soldiers from Morne Bruce. The ships swept towards Roseau and when the harbour master boarded the leading vessel to collect its papers he was taken prisoner. The Union Jacks were lowered and French tricolours were raised in their places. It was indeed the enemy.

The guns of the forts on Morne Bruce, Melville s Battery and Fort Young rang out and a steady fire was exchanged. Then more ships appeared with more guns and troops with landing barges. Preparations were made to prevent the French from landing on the Bayfront and along the Newtown shoreline, but one section got ashore at Pointe Michel and marched to Roseau after some bitter fighting under the cliffs of La Falaise at La Redoute at the entrance to Loubiere. Meanwhile, another division landed at Woodbridge Bay and attacked Roseau from the north, crossing the cane fields at what is now Pottersville and fording the Roseau River. At one point 200 British troops faced 2000 Frenchmen.


Then Roseau burst into flames. The cotton wadding that was used in the cannons to separate the cannon balls from the gunpowder had been caught by a coastal breeze and was blown back over the town. Landing on the wooden shingled rooftops, the flaming cotton ignited the houses. Almost every building was destroyed. This sealed the fate of Roseau and the Council asked the British Governor, George Prevost, for permission to surrender the town to the French forces. The French general, La Grange, took the members of the legislature as hostages in preparation for negotiations that he intended to begin.

The capital had fallen, but Prevost was determined to hold the island for Britain. With a few of his staff he made a dash for the Cabrits in the north of the island by retreating up the Roseau Valley, across to Rosalie and then around the northeast by way of the Carib Quarter. Before he left he had ordered the 46th Regiment (later called the Duke of Cornwall s Light Infantry) and the 1st West India Regiment to follow him in a forced march across the island. They were helped on their way by the Caribs and by the planter Pascal Laudat. Prevost got to Portsmouth in 24 hours while the troops made it in four days. Once at the Cabrits Prevost got the garrison ready for action.


La Grange and his ships sailed up the coast and demanded that Prevost surrender the garrison and thereby the whole island, but the governor refused. Seeing the strength of the fortress and realizing that they were unlikely to be able to conquer it, the French returned to Roseau. There they demanded a ransom of £20,000 in return for the hostages but were only able to raise less than half of the amount. They then seized everything that they could lay their hands on including a large number of enslaved people and withdrew from Dominica. It was 25 February 1805. The last French attack on the island was over.

General George Prevost and the regiments involved received many honours for their part in the defense of the colony. The sword of honour he received can still be seen in the National Army Museum in London. Pascal Laudat was given a grant of land. Well into the 1950s the decorated colours of the St. Geoge s Militia hung in the House of Assembly. In 1955 Dominica celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the attack with parades and speeches. A contingent of The Duke of Cornwall s Light Infantry visited, and Back Street, connecting Roseau to Newtown, was renamed Cornwall Street in its honour. Today, fifty years later, only this article commemorates an event that could have altered the entire course of the social and political life of the people of Dominica forever. How times have changed.


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