A Short History of Fort Barlee in Corozal, Belize
For a nation like Belize whose history is long, intriguing, and dramatic, every relic and landmark is precious because it spins a tale of the country’s past. Once home to impressive Maya populations who built magnificent cities resulting in an estimated 900 ruins throughout Belize, relics from a more recent past remain equally fascinating. Fort Barlee in Corozal is no exception.
During the country’s last period of colonization that brought to Belize (then British Honduras) the English language, legal system, and cultural change, the British waged harrowing battles to keep Belize a member of the Commonwealth and that effort included building fortresses to defend the territory from invasions.
During the 1870s, Corozal Town was under the command of Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Palgrave Barlee. The fort bearing his name withstood attacks, barrages, and strikes inflicted during the Guerra De Las Castas (Caste War) waged between the Icaiche Maya on the Yucatan and northern Belize towns.
Ambitious to make his mark, Barlee was appointed to oversee military efforts in Corozal not because he was talented but because British officials did not want to return him to Perth, Australia where he was not well-liked due to his policies and personality. Sanctioned by the House of Commons during his tenure, he was ultimately removed and given temporary assignments until recurring bouts of asthma took his life in 1884.
Does what is left of Fort Barlee remain an homage to the former official? Not exactly. Built almost entirely of bricks formerly used to construct ship ballasts that came from England, the fort’s architectural design was of less concern to those defending Belize territory by military members of the British West India Regiment who had been reassigned from Jamaica or Barbados than was the ultimate mission to intercede in what felt like an endless territorial war.
Archaeologists currently restoring the fort after years of deterioration say that it’s important to keep this site as a reminder of the past. All four of the deteriorated towers were restored under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Awe, Director of the Institute of Archaeology, so generations to come can witness firsthand what took place in Corozal 150 years ago.
Located next to the police station, court building and market, this structure may be the last remaining fort in Belize but its existence is important to the nation’s past, described on the plaque now hanging on the structure. You’re likely to run into school children whose teachers are busy explaining the importance of this restored building if you visit. This memorial to the town’s history is definitely worth your time and effort, whether you love history or you don’t.