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.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Colonial Defences of Sydney

I have recently moved back to Sydney after around 10 years of living far and wide elsewhere.  I have given myself a 'bucket list' plan to visit the colonial era defences and fortifications.   Of course, I have a hidden VSF agenda in the background as well :-)

I'll present my findings here of course and as a prelude thought I would provide some overview of what was constructed in the early colonial days, during the 'Russian Scares' and post Federation.  I had decided that for the time being, I am going to stick with defences constructed in the colonial period (pre 1901) only.

The colony of New South Wales was established in 1788 in Port Jackson (better known now as Sydney Harbour).  A remote spot on the far side of the world from the British Isles, it was a long way from the Royal Navy's bases and help.  Over the next century layers of defences were built and upgraded to included new technologies including rifled guns, breach loaders, mines, torpedoes and anti-submarine booms.

Some of the fortifications around Sydney's inner and outer harbour.
This summary explains it well - from:

The arrival of a French expedition to Botany Bay almost simultaneous to the arrival of the first fleet in January 1788 was a timely reminder that the colony of New South Wales, being the most isolated outpost of the British Empire, was always going to be vulnerable to any military action which might be taken against it. In a world where the countries of Europe were jostling for superiority and control of world trade, Britain had no friends as such, least of all the French with whom the relation was at best unfriendly. Even as the colony was settling in at Sydney Cove, Gov. Phillip was formulating a plan which included fortifications around the entrance to Sydney Cove and the establishment of a system of lookouts near the entrance to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). His actions were hardly surprising since he was a military man and the settlement on Sydney Cove was little more than a military outpost which employed convicts to do the dirty work. None of Phillip's original fortifications remain - the oldest fort is at Bradleys Head, which was completed in 1801. This battery was commissioned by Governor King during the Napoleonic Wars in 1800. This remarkable structure was hewn by convicts from the local sandstone and is a reminder of how fearful the fledgling colony was of invasion particularly from France.

On 29th November 1839, the unheralded arrival of a squadron of US Navy ships caused a furor. They entered the harbour under cover of darkness and no one knew of their arrival until morning, when the population rose to see them at anchor in the harbour. Fear of the repercussions had the new arrivals been unfriendly was enough to push the military authorities into re-assessing Sydney's defence strategies immediately. Their review resulted in Governor Gipps commencing work on what would become Fort Denison without waiting for British Government approval. In 1848 Lieutenant-Colonel James Gordon developed a definitive plan for the defence of Sydney town which involved 30 heavy guns located at Inner South Head and Middle Head, 9 heavy guns at Sow and Pigs Reef, 2 heavy guns at Pinchgut, work at Bradley's Head and changes to the Dawes Point Battery. The plan was only instigated in part.

The 1850s were heady days for Australia, the goldrushes of inland New South Wales and Victoria bringing unbelievable wealth to both individuals and the country itself. This influx of wealth, coupled with the knowledge that Australia's coastal towns were still vulnerable to attack by sea, led the authorities to fear that raids by foreign ships to plunder the colony's gold reserves were a distinct possibility. Rumours began to circulate that such an attack by American pirates was imminent, and with the outbreak of the American Civil War, there were additional fears that the North may declare war on England and her colonies for aiding the Southern States.

In 1853 a Government Committee on the Defence of Port Jackson recommended harbour defenses be upgraded immediately in view of the threat of an European war with Russia which escalated into the Crimean War (1854-56). Governor FitzRoy appointed Col. Barney to improve harbour defenses. He based his plans on Gordon's recommendations of 1848 which included the arming of the outer harbour utilising fortifications at North, Middle and South Heads. The project was to be short lived. Governor Denison, who arrived in the middle of the building program, abandoned it, shifting the emphasis back on the inner harbour by reinforcing existing works as well as an upgrade of Fort Denison.

In the early 1870s, it was noted that a seemingly never ending stream of Russian naval vessels on long distance "training expeditions" were visiting Australian ports. They seemed to be taking more than a passing interest in Australia, and whilst there was no evidence that an invasion was in the wind, the visits were enough to make the local authorities re-think their defence strategies again. As a result of what became known as the Russian scare, more strategic harbourside land was set aside for military use and a series of fortifications built on them.

These defence upgrades reflect the scares that largely controlled the colonial reaction to events involving England. When a crisis or war scare occurred in England, the colony also felt threatened, and in a knee-jerk reaction, a lot of work was done - more often than not poorly - upgrading the city's defences until the threat of war dissipated or the Government ran out of money - or both. Either way, the job was more or less left unfinished until the next scare.

The Cardwell territorial reforms of 1870 within the British Army resulted in the withdrawal of British garrison troops from Australia. The British Colonial Office insisted that wealthier colonies such as New South Wales and Victoria should pay more of their own defence costs and thus begin to take full responsibility for their own defence. The negotiations and stances taken by both parties in the second half of the 19th century were somewhat convoluted, but nevertheless resulted in Britain giving the Australian states a helping hand in getting themselves started. A fallout from this was the construction of numerous new defence fortifications. In 1871 the first fortifications designed to defend the outer harbour were constructed. These were at Outer and Inner Middle Head, Georges Head, South Head, Steel Point and Bradleys Head. They remained operational but totally ineffective - fortunately they were never required to be put to the test to prove this - until well after World War I.

A pair of military defence advisers were sent out from England in 1877 to co-ordinate the defensive efforts of the colonies. They were Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley and Lieutenant General Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois, both being Royal Engineers with expertise in defence fortifications. Both men advised the Queensland and Tasmanian Government on defence matters. Jervois, who had built military fortiftications in Canada, India, South Afrrica and the Malay peninsula, took responsibility for the creation of defence solutions for Port Phillip. Lt. Scratchley was appointed the Commissioner for Defences in New South Wales. After completion of his duties, Jervois stayed in Australia to become the Governor of South Australia from 2nd October, 1877 to 9th January, 1883, followed by a term as Governor of New Zealand.

During his term of office, Scratchley recommended a series of additional fortifications for Sydney, all of which were outdated even before they were finished. These included additional batteries which built in the 1890s in the Eastern Suburbs to prevent shelling of the residential areas to the east of Sydney and a self-contained fort designed by Scratchley for Bare Island to defend Botany Bay, it being supported by two disappearing guns at Henry Head.

Other useful resources with overviews here:

Sunday 10 January 2016

Inspiration from the Imperial Science Museum

During our return journey from the New World, my family enjoyed a few days seeing the sights of London.  A bit of a world wind visit but we hit the main sights and enjoyed them once again (the kids were tiny last time and didn't remember them).  Couldn't help but take a few inspiring snaps at the Imperial Science Museum which I thought I needed to share.

First up, the famous Babbage Difference Engine, Mk1

And the larger Mk II, made in 1991 from Charles Babbage's designs

Detail of the computational mechanisms and brass pinwheels
 The Museum also had some wonderful models of period Flying machines - lots of dirigibles and early powered machines, not so many aeronefs!
La France 1884 (above) and Gifford Airship 1852 (below)
WW1 era designs 
Stringfellow's Flying Machine, 1848 - unconfirmed reports claim this as the first powered flight
Bleriot Criss Channel design, 1909 (1:10 scale)
Classic Rumpler Taube monoplane, originally designed in 1904
 Then there was the fantastic bit of engineering - one of the first steam locomotives - just look at those rivets and all the cross bracing - great stuff!  Note that the boiler is encased in a cask styled wooden sheath.

 A very worthwhile few hours meandering through the collection - highly recommended!

Thursday 7 January 2016

RML 9 inch Armstrong Fortress Guns

These 9 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns are 12 ton Armstrong Fortress guns (300 pounder guns).  The pair of them are situated in Williamstown (near my parents' house), an inner suburb of Melbourne, and cover the final approaches to the port.  This pair (Nos 1679 and 1683) were initially emplaced at Fort Gellibrand less than a mile away to cover the southern approaches to the harbour.  The were resited when the Fort was provided updated models a few years later, as shown here on the surviving ramparts:

From the Military History and Heritage of Victoria website here :

The Point Gellibrand shore batteries were first developed as part of an immediate defensive system for the city and port of Melbourne. The strategy for the defence of the port of Melbourne at this time was based on a number of shore batteries inside Port Phillip Bay.

The first permanent battery was built by penal labour on Gellibrand’s Point in 1855. Convicts from the hulks moored offshore were employed on these works and accommodated in an old military barracks at the Fort. The buried central magazine at the Fort dates from this period. Further gun emplacements were added by private contracts, along the foreshore in the 1860’s."

In addition to coastal fortifications, this type of gun was also typically fitted to smaller British ironclads and as the secondary broadside armament on larger battleships. The primary ammunition was solid Palliser shot, primarily employed for Armour Piercing work.  Initial design was 1865 and 3 successive upgrades were implemented

Saturday 2 January 2016

Nordenfelt Gun

A very Happy New Year to one and all!

As the next instalment in my weaponry posts, here are some snaps I took of a 4 barrelled Nordenfelt gun I came across at the Tower of London recently.
The Business end - note this particular gun was captured from the Ottomans at Gallipoli 

The organ gun design of this weapon was patented in 1873 and ammunition was gravity fed from a hopper above the breach (see diagram below) and fired in volleys.   The Nordenfelt came in various calibers, many of them .45 small arms, but this particular version is the larger 1-inch model which fired solid shot (explosive shot being banned by treaty).  Primarily designed for torpedo boat defence, it also had an excellent capability to suppress shore targets.

This is how the two man crew operated with the gunner loading and firing while the gun captain aimed via the elevation and training hand wheels

And here is a deck mounted version in action - this pic was taken on the Australian monitor HMVS Cerberus

And if you want to go really mad for the Nordenfelt, here is a copy of the drill manual used by the Victorian Navy: Handbook of the 1" 4-barrel Nordenfelt gun, 1894


More facts from the Old British Guns site here:

The 19th Century saw a proliferation of hand operated machine guns, that was kicked off by the success of the Gatling Gun. In the beginning, the Nordenfelt  gun had 4 to 10 barrels operated by a crank on the right side, using back and forth motion as opposed to the Gatlings rotary handle. Invented and built by the Swedes, the British Navy adopted it in the 1870's, mainly in calibers as large as 25mm for use against the new torpedo boat threat. 

However, in rifle calibers, the gun can keep up a semblance of automatic fire by how quickly the handle is operated and the ammunition kept supplied. In a test by the British, the gun demonstrated 3000 rounds a minute with no stoppages. During the Sudan War in the 1880s, the Nordenfelt was mounted on General Gordons Nile riverboat fleet, to good effect. In the end the Maxim gun replaced this, as well as the Gatlings in British service, when the Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company was absorbed by Hiram Maxim in 1888. The Nordenfelt was fielded by the British navy to counter the new torpedo boats, which were quickly spreading to all navies in the late 1870's. A small fast steam powered boat loaded with torpedo's could take down a capital ship, and losing some of these cheap boats in the attempt would pose little loss for the user.  In the end, the defense against the torpedo boat became a new class of fast fighting ship, the destroyer.

The single barrel Nordenfelt gun. The more interesting of the Nordenfelt guns was one that was ignored by British military leaders. The small single barrel gun was only 13 or 14 pounds in weight, not much more than a Martini-Henry. This could have been the predecessor of the Bren gun or a squad fielded mobile machine gun. The navy thought of the rifle caliber Nordenfelt as a gun to sweep the decks of an enemy ship prior to boarding, which with the big guns of the time was highly unlikely anymore. The army only thought of the machine gun as a defense for their artillery, or just an adjunct to the infantry in fending off human wave attacks. If the British military had been forward thinking, this could have advanced tactics by at least 40 years.

An exploration of debauchery, vice and other reasons to be a man!

An exploration of debauchery, vice and other reasons to be a man!