Monday, 18 January 2016

Dawes Battery, Sydney Cove

A Man and his 42 pdr RML
Dawes Point (now under the southern pylon of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge) was the site of the first coastal fortification in Sydney Cove, so I thought that was a good place to start my project to explore the Colonial Defences of Sydney.

Its sited on a natural spit of land on the southern side of the harbour with a thoroughly commanding view of the approaches to Sydney Cove.  It was one of three fortifications originally ordered, the others being Fort Macquarie (bottom right on the map below - which is now the site of the famous Sydney Opera House) and Fort Philip.  Between them they could enfilade any ship entering the Cove.

Dawes Point (upper right on this chart) had both elevation and a commanding field of fire over the entrance to Sydney Cove - a natural place to site a shore battery to defend the young colony in Sydney Cove.

Governor Arthur Phillip's first step was to fortify the entrance to Sydney Cove in 1788, as much to provide defence should there be a convict uprising as to engage any enemy ships that might came in close to the town in a hostile manner. He gave the task to Lieutenant William Dawes, an Officer of Engineers and Artillery in the detachment of Marines, who was instructed to build a simple mud redoubt for the storage of explosives. A similar fort was erected on Cattle Point (Bennelong Point) 

In October 1788, HMS Supply was dispatched to the Cape of Good Hope to purchase much needed supplies. To make as much room as possible for the purchases which it was hoped it would bring back, eight guns were taken ashore and mounted at the Dawes Point fort, which was extended to accommodate the additional firepower. In the 1830s, a more permanent structure was built with five mortars, thirteen 42 pounder cannon, a magazine and quarters for a garrison of soldiers and their commanding officer. This fort remained intact until 1929 when the section above ground was demolished to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

You can see in these pics (taken by me at the site) how the battery evolved over time.  As technology (and funds) permitted, priority shifted to defining the outer harbour and the entrance and the Dawes Pt Battery became obsolete.  In 1925 it was demolished to make space for the southern pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  In the past 20 years, the site was excavated and preserved.
Initial Battery layout with landed naval guns

Diagram of the naval gun emplacement at the first battery
Dawes Point from a early 1800s Sydney map
The Crimean War sparked fears of raids by the Russian Pacific Fleet, and the fort was redeveloped and expanded .
It also became the command post for the harbour defence network.
From the Royal Australian Artillery register: In 1853 a request was sent to the UK requesting to fortify Sydney harbour. Twenty 32 pounder and twenty 56 pounder guns were asked for and in 1854 twenty seven 32 pounders were despatched and five 42 pounders were substituted for the heavier 56 pounders. The five 42 pounder guns were mounted in the upper battery of Dawes Battery near the present site of the southern pylon of Sydney Harbour Bridge. A further five 42 pounders had been landed by 1861 and emplaced in new emplacements at Fort Macquarie (site of the present day Sydney Opera House).

With the expansion of outer harbour defences, the fort was reduced in size and obsolete guns decommissioned
The battery was demolished in 1925 and by 1932 the new bridge was completed.
This is how it looks today (well, this week when I visited it anyway!)

The Upper Battery survived until demolition and is now directly under the pylons of the bridge (that the brick structure to the right of the remaining gun).  You can see the remnants of the other gun platforms after their excavation around 10 years ago.
The surviving 42 pdr and carriage in the Upper Battery
The commanding field of fire from the Upper Battery
Dawes Pt Upper Battery circa 1875-1880 (pic from NSW Art Gallery)
The Lower Battery
Lower Battery with 32 pdr RMLs (date unknown)
Lower Battery emplacement today (with 42 pdr RML)
Similarly commanding fields of fire over the centre of the harbour and the entrance to Sydney Cove

Overall, a nice bit of colonial history tucked away under the bridge where you wont find it unless you know its there.  Clearly a pivotal position for close defence of the colony both in its early days and throughout the Victorian era.


Rodger said...

Can't believe I have been so close but didn't know about this! Next time I am over I will be going for a closer look.

Paul O'G said...

The next you come over I will give you a tour of this and other great features of Sydney!

Michael Awdry said...

Great post Paul, the views down the barrels are rather spectacular - where they ever pressed into action?

Paul O'G said...

Thanks Michael. I like the 'whites of the eye' shots too - always shows just how effective a gun emplacement was for its job.

Despite the scares about the French (in the early Napoleonic era days), the Spanish, the Americans (which was why the British needed a new penal colony in the first place) and the Russians (in both the Crimean War and when the RN intervened in the Russo-Turk war of 1877-78) nobody ever really threatened our rum and beer caches. The first direct foreign attack on Sydney would not occur until 1942 when the Imperial Japanese Navy employed midget submarines to sneak in and torpedo shipping.

Rodger said...

You are on Paul!

Captain Darling said...

Thanks for all the pictures Paul great to see them!
I walked around that very area when I was working up there a while ago.
Australia had many fortifications built in the 1800's.
I should sort through all my pics of Fort Glanville down here in Adelaide!

phann son said...

Great work Paul, loving your guided tours of the old defences of Sydney, well done!


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