Colonial Road and Gun Emplacement

1836  Responsibility for all fortifications in the colony is transferred to the newly installed branch of the Board of Ordinance and placed in the charge of Captain George Barney who turns his attention to defence of the harbour entrance, recommending a Martello tower on the Sow and Pig’s Reef.

1847 Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon, asked to report to Governor Fitzroy on the fortification of Port Jackson, is critical of the siting of existing defences and recommends ‘a strong and concentrated defence at the mouth of the harbour’, including installations on the Sow and Pig’s Reef and Inner South Head.

1850  Overseas events make the defence of Sydney Harbour an urgent issue

1853  The impending war with Russia (Crimean war, declared March 1854) leads to fresh review of Sydney’s defences and provides the impetus to act on earlier schemes advocated for the defence of the harbour. The NSW Legislative Assembly authorizes the construction of works in a number of key strategic points including Inner South Head, with provision at the latter site for emplacements for 25 guns, barrack accommodation, stores etc. Construction, by the men of the 11th Regiment, begins on 18th October.

1855 Work on the defences at South Head is suspended in March by the new governor, Sir William Denison. The legacy of this unfinished mid-century undertaking at South Head is the military road, marked on maps of the period as the ‘government road to the batteries,’ and an unfinished gun-pit on Inner South Head intended for a 32-pounder gun.

Tuesday 6 December, Empire.

At a meeting. of the Executive Council on the 11th July last, the GOVERNOR-GENERAL invited the attention of his advisers to the news then recently arrived, of war having broken out on the continent of Europe, and consulted them as to the propriety of taking measures for the protection of the city, in the event of an attack that occasion, the Council deferred the subject for further consideration, contenting themselves with recommending that an order should be sent to England for two thousand rifles, for the purpose of arming any levies that might become necessary. On the 18th of August the GOVERNOR-GENERAL addressed a letter to Major-General HAY, of the School of Musketry, at Hythe, requesting that that officer would select the rifles; and at the same time his Excellency addressed a despatch, to the Secretary of State, in order that application might be made to the Duke of CAMBRIDGE, as Commander-in-Chief of the army, for his permission for General HAY to act in the matter. On, the 18th of July, the Council again met, and took into consideration the, propriety of retaining in this city some companies of the 12th Regiment, which were under orders for Tasmania; but, after reviewing the whole subject, they declined to advise any further expenditure for military, purposes, without the sanction of Parliament, which was not then sitting. The next document applying to the particular point which we have, in view, is a Minute of the GOVERNOR-GENERAL, in which his Excellency passes in review the probabilities of an attack by an enemy, the force likely to be employed for such a purpose, and the means of resistance or defence at present afforded, or necessary to be provided. Estimating that no nation would attempt a serious attack on this city with a less number than five thousand men, having with them twenty or thirty guns, the GOVERNOR-GENERAL feels satisfied that there is no probability of any such formidable attack being attempted. The only danger, then, is presumed to be that of an attack by a naval force-either a number of heavy frigates that would assail the batteries, capture the shipping, and lay the town under contribution, or a few light frigates or privateers, whose object might be the same as the last-mentioned, but who might not be so powerful to effect it. . With reference, then, toa naval attack, his EXCÈLLENCY enumerates the forts in progress, including the proposed defences on Garden Island, with the total number of guns likely to be mounted at all of those works; and expresses an opinion that further fortifications at the Heads, however desirable, would be so expensive as to be out of all proportion to the risk intended to be guarded against. On those points, then, questions were addressed to Commodore Loring, of H.M.S. Iris: to. Colonel, PERCIVAL., commanding  the troops; and to Colonel BARNEY, of the Royal Engineers. ‘The opinions of those officers are worthy of attention as well as the views of his EXCELLENCY, in reference to those opinions. Commodore Loring is clearly of opinion that the present forts are not very formidable, nor had he any very great confidence in the strength of the force at that time (3lst July Last), under his command. He says that a squadron sufficiently strong to attempt an attack on Sydney, would be too strong for our little squadron, which could in such case be only employed in assisting the forts, or in guarding their flanks. He considers that, although a large land force could not be trans-ported hither by an enemy, ships of war might arrive from Europe even, in efficient order and that seven such vessels would be justified in ” running the gauntlet”, past the harbour batteries, and laying alongside the flank of each-the vessels being all enabled to take up their positions in ten minutes after leaving the shelter of Bradley’s Head. In such an event from his knowledge of the superiority of ships over batteries at close quarters, he would apparently anticipate a victory for the attacking force. To prevent this, as well as to save the city the damage sure to be sustained from an enemy’s fire, whether he were successful or not, Commodore LORING suggests that, invading vessels- should be – stopped at the heads, and there dealt with. For this purpose, he would block up one half of the breadth between George’s Head and the point outside of Camp Cove and would have the remaining channel protected with strong booms formed of chain cable, floated with light wood; the booms to be closed whenever a signal was made that an enemy’s vessels were in sight. But this boom protection would be of no ser-vice unless it were itself protected. He there-fore proposes that the best of guns shall be mounted at the Heads, to play upon any vessels attempting to force the booms, and that small forts shall be erected in the rear of the guns, as places of security to which the gunners might retreat in the event of any attempt to take the guns by storm, and from which they might successfully assail the stormers. Certainly all this seems very reasonable. Commodore LORING estimates as no small element of success the heavy swell usually prevailing at the Heads, and the consequent difficulty of naval operations against well-mounted guns above, while the enemy’s ships would be exposed to a galling fire, and unable to pass the booms. It seems that Colonel BARNET’S opinion tallies with that of the Commodore. He points out that at present one or more frigates might drop into port entirely unmolested; might take up a position to the eastward of Bradley’s Head, entirely sheltered from the forts, and from that point might shell the city, at 3500 yards. After a few shells, Colonel BARNET thinks that a flag of truce would be sent to the city, demanding a large sum of money, on pain of bombardment. He recommends, there-fore, that there should be fortifications at the Heads, together with a means of closing the channel against a hostile force., Colonel PERCIVAL’S report refers chiefly to the strength of the land force, which, in his opinion, would be necessary to work the batteries and de-feat an attack. He thinks that two thousand men, well disciplined, and armed with the rifle, and who might be brought out in three frigates would be sufficient, not only to take all flank, and thus facilitate the entrance of the enemy’s navy, but to dictate terms to the town. The projected boom at the harbour entrance finds favour also with Colonel PERCIVAL. As to a land force, he proposes to raise, by the ballot, a militia, composed of artillery, cavalry, and infantry, so as to augment the present available force to 1000 artillerymen,500 mounted riflemen, and -2000 infantry making a total of 3500 men. All men between24 and 40 years! of age should, in his opinion, be liable to be drawn for the militia; He agrees however, with the Governor-General that for probable contingencies, a force of 1100 men would be sufficient, namely 650 artillery men and 450 infantry. The GOVERNOR-GENERAL transmitted to the Council a minute on those reports. His Excellency agrees generally with the proposition that some such defence as is proposed by Commodore LORING would be necessary against any very superior force; but he is clearly of opinion that the risk of a formidable attack is not so great as to justify the large outlay that would be involved in the construction of these works. With reference to the proposal forclosing up the eastern channel, the GOVERNORGENERAL would prefer a second boom to any such measure as that, and he gives reasons which seem fully to justify that part of his opinion. The question, then, after all, becomes one of risk and insurance. There is no difference of opinion as to the sound policy of keeping an enemy’s ships outside the port, but there is a doubt whether the risk of their entrance warrants the outlay for that purpose. Perhaps the present is as favourable a time as the colony may have for the discussion of that question.


Friday 19 June The Sydney Morning Herald


THE event which many have for months foreseen is at hand. England is about to be drawn into a contest with the Federalists of North America, and the first news of the rupture will in all probability be brought to our shores by the war vessels of the enemy.

The impossibility of the North conquering the South, is now admitted by everyone, except the wretched penny-a-liners and pot-house politicians of New York. The low rowdies and braggart ragamuffins who, under the name of the great Republic, hoped by the power of a vast confederacy to overawe, bully, and ultimately trample under foot all the order and respectability of the world, have seen their evil hopes vanish into thin air. The wings of the American eagle have been clipped, and, like baffled fiends, the, owners of that bird, desire to do us much mischief as possible before their final defeat.

No country do they hate-no country have they ever hated, as much as England. They hate it for its aristocracy, for its conservatism, for its wealth, for its respectability, for its virtue, for his integrity, and lastly, and above all, FOR ITS FREEDOM

While vainly indulging in empty boasts of their monopoly of that commodity, they have been compelled themselves to see, and to let the whole world also see, by one more example in addition to the thousands with which history teems, that FREEDOM cannot exist under the control of a mob.

The well-regulated order which the glorious and time-honoured Constitution of England, has enabled her to preserve amidst the utter collapse of the American democracy, is gall and wormwood to those who sought to invert the natural laws of humanity, and place power exclusively in the hands of persons destitute of that intelligence and prudence, without which all powers un-checked, must sooner or later become intolerable.

The abolition of slavery has nothing to do with the American contest. The Yankees of Boston, and the drab-coloured men of Pennsylvania would aid the South to bind the slave in triple bonds, if their fatal principles of unbridled democracy could, by such means, be made to prevail. The worthy log-splitter, Lincoln, who, to his own discomfort and the disgrace of those who placed him in the position, is now the Dictator of the North, has not concealed the fact, that he and his party are contending, not for the freedom of the slave but for the reconstruction of the Union, and the power which an unlettered and uncontrolled mob at all times desire to possess, for the purpose of menacing those who are wiser and better than themselves. The piratical instinct is the natural growth of such principles as those which have placed such an utter nobody as Lincoln at the head of thirty millions of men. It is that instinct which will drive the men of Washington into a war with England. By the invasion of Canada, and the fitting out of hundreds of privateers, they can put England to enormous cost and do great damage to her shipping and her commerce. Their speedy defeat and signal chastisement are certain, but their object will be accomplished if they can inflict on England some portion of the misery under which they are now prostrated. Their discomfiture in such a contest, about which they themselves can hardly entertain a doubt, will, the more readily pave the way for that gigantic act of repudiation by which, and by which alone, the national debt which they have with such unexampled rapidity and prodigality created, can be discharged.

Split up into fragments, the nation which issued the “green-backs” will disappear, and the individual members of the dissevered corporation will commence afresh, equally destitute of character and obligations. These speculations may or may not be entirely realised, but one thing is certain, and that is, that it is our duty at once to prepare for action. Not an hour is to be lost. We have men and material enough if properly handled to guard effectually against an attack, not merely of a few Yankee pirates, but of any force which they could send to our shores.

We have somewhere about sixty serviceable guns in our various forts, and four Armstrong guns (forty pounders), with travelling carriages, arrived a few days since. There can be little doubt that not one of our guns is placed where it ought to be. From Chouder Bay, Rose Bay, Double Bay, and the East of Garden Island, any vessel could destroy Sydney with the most complete impunity at the present moment, and no risk would be incurred in getting into any of those positions. If Sir William Denison had taken the utmost pains to establish his utter incapacity as a military engineer, he could not have succeeded more completely than he has done in the planning of our present fortifications. They are, perhaps, the most discreditable military failures ever witnessed, and it has always been a matter of surprise that they have not been long since dismantled.

Our fortifications should be where Sir John Burgoyne recommended them to be placed at the Heads. Unless we are prepared to arm every point and island in the harbour as far as the Cove, the enemy should be kept below the Sow and Pigs shoal. Nature has given us every facility to accomplish that object. The eastern channel is narrow and impracticable for large vessels, and the western channel can be approached only, in such a manner as to expose an enemy to a concentrated fire, for a time sufficient to prevent any vessel passing, if the batteries were aided by a few obstructions which could be readily placed to impede the navigation. The extreme point of Middle Head has been already prepared for the reception of eight guns, and the southern side of it for four more. George’s Head could in a week be prepared as an earthwork for eight others. We should thus have twenty guns, every one of which would do effective service upon any vessel from the moment she came abreast of the South Reef. A heavy 10-inch gun on a traversing platform, on the high bluff immediately to the south-east of the new lighthouse, and a similar gun on the point at the south end of Camp Cove would complete the fortifications. Those two guns, well-handled would prove formidable to any enemy. The four Armstrong guns placed in the first instance on the point at the west end of Shark beach, to which a road already exists, and where a platform for the guns with an earthen breastwork could be constructed in a few hours, would aid all the other guns ; and, in the event of the lower batteries being passed, they could be removed to Darling Point, or the point at the east end of Elizabeth Bay, to which a road could be made without much difficulty or delay. Half-dozen old unserviceable vessels could be moored as fireships between the south end of the Sow and Pigs’ shoal and George’s Head and fitted with the means of ignition by galvanic battery from the shore.

The steam-tug Washington might be plated with iron and placed in the hands of our Naval Brigade, to be used either as a ram or for the purpose, of carrying one large gun at the bow. For all the guns abovementioned our thirty regular, and 200 volunteer artillery, assisted perhaps by 100 men from the garrison, would be sufficient, leaving our rifle volunteers to take such positions according to circumstances, as might enable them most effectually to pick off the enemy. The plan here sketched is, I submit, one worthy of consideration, and it is put before the public in the hope that it may contain some suggestions which, if acted upon in time, will save us from the disgrace of being surprised by a contemptible section of that buckram fleet which the British-built and British-manned Alabama has for more than a year been able to set at defiance.



Thursday 10 September The Sydney Morning Herald


MR W. Macleay, yesterday brought up the following report, as chairman of the select committee of the Legislative Assembly, appointed on the 1st July last “to inquire into and report upon the present state of the defences of Port Jackson and other harbours in the colony, and the best means of effectually guarding them against foreign attack. “It was ordered that the report and evidence be printed, and Mr. Macleay gave notion that on the 29th instant he would move that the report be adopted by the House.

Your committee have taken the evidence, which is appended, of the Honourable Captain Ward, R.E., M.L C, Captain Lovell, R.A., Captain Jenkins, R.N., the Honourable R. Towns, M.L.C., Colonel Hamilton, Mr. Liardet, Mr. Hixson, R.N., Lieutenant Tomkins, R.N., and Mr. Allen, Harbour Master Newcastle.  “Your committee have also had before them all the papers on the subject of harbour defences, which have been from time to time laid before Parliament, including the report of a select committee of the Legislative Council appointed 12th July, 1853.

Your committee have first directed their attention to the defences of the city and port of Sydney, and in dealing with the question they have found it necessary to decide between two systems of defence, each supported by high professional authorities. The one, Sir William Denison’s plan, has for its object the protection of the anchorage, and is based entirely on the assumption that no effectual means could be devised of stopping an enemy at the Heads. (See Minutes of Executive Council, February, 1855 ) The other system places the main defence at the entrance of the port, where the lush head-lands afford the most admirable positions for batteries.

The first of these plans has been carried out to a certain extent. Batteries have been erected at Dawes’ Point, Fort Denison, Fort Macquarie, Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and Kirribilli Point, mounting in all about sixty guns, and if these batteries were at all sufficient for the purposes contemplated, your committee would be indisposed to recommend any change.  It would appear, however, that not only is the state of these batteries defective (see evidence of Captain Lovell,  page 8), but that a hostile ship can take up a position in many parts of the harbour, and within easy range of the city, without being exposed to the fire of any one of them, and that in fact there is no necessity for an attacking force to expose itself to fire unless it chooses to do so.

Captain Ward proposes, in a report on the fortifications lately laid before Parliament, to remedy these defects by the erection of iron towers, each armed with three heavy Armstrong guns, at Clark Island, Garden Island, and Goat Island. If our committee cannot however recommend Captain Ward’s proposal; it seems to them to be very costly, and to seek to continue a system of defence which, from the evidence before them, your committee believe to have been from the first a mistake.

Almost all the highest naval and military authorities, who have been consulted on the subject, have advocated batteries at the Heads. The report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council appointed 12th July, 1853, states:”

1. Your committee are of opinion that it is highly expedient to fortify the entrance to the harbour of Port Jackson with all convenient speed, as well by fixed as by floating batteries. The former should, in the first instance, be confined to, and erected on, the sites known as the ‘ Inner South Head,‘ ‘Middle Head,’ and ‘ George’s Head.’ Those points have already been laid down as desirable in a report addressed to his Excellency the Governor-General by the officer commanding the Royal Engineers in the colony, dated March 9th, 1847. They are further insisted on by the same officer, Colonel Gordon, in a detached report, dated 23rd November, 1848, as being in accordance with the views of Lieutenant-General Sir John Burgoyne, the Inspector-General of Fortifications, in whose office plans of the several points at the entrance to and along the several inlets of the harbour of Port Jackson are deposited.

“2. Your committee have been favoured with the opinion of Captain Denham, R N., F.R.S., and he fully bears out the views taken by the high authority above alluded to. He is impressed with the value of erecting batteries on these points, furnished with all the means that experience and recent improvements in the science of gunnery can afford. “In a report, dated 31st July, 1859, addressed to his Excellency the Governor, Commodore Loring, after commenting on the present defences of the harbour, makes the following remarks:” But cannot the natural defences of the harbour be turned to account to prevent his entrance? The shoal at its entrance, the three cliffy heads which form that entrance, and the heavy swell and sea which always exist there, are very great local advantages. “The batteries, as formerly proposed, would scarcely be sufficient to stop swift steamers; and, again, a boom would not be sufficient, if undefended; but the two combined would be a very serious impediment to the present class of ships.” The harbour’s mouth, from the point outside Camp Cove to the George’s Head, is 1700 yards across. One-half of this, or even much more, could be partially stopped up with stone, and this without causing any very material alteration in the practical navigation of the entrance beyond an increase of the strength of the tide stream.” Strong booms composed of chain cable, floated by lightwood, could be prepared, and kept on a convenient part of the beach during the time of peace, and ready for service in time of war, to be hauled over to George’s Head, or Obelisk Point, at night, or if suspicious vessels were in the offing. ”The best of guns should be mounted at the Heads, in such positions as would enable them to bear on the enemy’s ships whilst entering the Heads, and when stopped by the boom. And it would be very preferable that these guns should be detached, and masked in every practicable manner, and not too close to their work.

“Colonel Barney, R.E , says, in a memo, dated 3rdAugust, 1859, for the information of Colonel Percival : -” In this view of the case a question arises as to the necessity for works at the entrance of the port ; it has always been admitted that works of defence are necessary, both on South Head and Middle Head, in addition to the existing batteries, which only form a portion of the general system of works required for the protection and security of the port and city ; indeed, plans of such works have been submitted, approved, and partially carried into effect, and perhaps the great objection to their completion arose from a deficiency of military strength to admit of their being properly garrisoned.

”The site at Middle Head appears to me to be the most important ; it not only immediately commands the approach by sea but also the entrance to and anchorage in the South and Middle Harbour, where vessels may, at present, ride at anchor in perfect safety, ready to intercept any ships entering the port; the site is also most favourable, from its character-solid rock-admitting of a secure work, with ditch of sufficient depth to render it safe against escalade.  Such a work would answer as a keep for the protection of batteries in its vicinity, on lower and more efficient levels, for the protection of any impediments by which it may be considered necessary to obstruct the channel ; however, a work of the required strength could not be constructed without a large expenditure, both of money and time, and possibly, would not, even if immediately commenced, be ready to meet any threatened emergency. 

“Major Nasmyth, also in a minute, dated 3rd August, says :With reference to the scheme first stated, it occurs to me that when the additional batteries proposed to be erected by his Excellency are completed and armed, with those now in existence, there will be sufficient to deter an enemy from attempting to force his way past them, and the boom that is proposed to be thrown across from the Sow and Pigs shoal to the North Shore. However, the present batteries might be improved by having the barracks bomb-proof for the men and the magazines rendered waterproof. “

In addition to these very high authorities, your committee beg to call attention in the evidence of Captain Lovell,R A, Captain Jenkins, R.N., the Honorable R. Towns,M.L.C., and Colonel Hamilton, who are unanimously in favour of placing the principal defences of the harbour at the entrance of the port. Your committee are quite aware that batteries at the Heads, however powerful, would be inadequate for the protection of the port without some effectual provision for preventing an attacking force from running past their fire. The late attack on Charlestown is a proof of this: without the obstructions placed in the way of the Federals their iron-clad ships would have run past Fort Sumter without sustaining much damage; but their detention, under the heavy fire of the fort, proved too much even for that fleet. The plan of laying double chains across the Harbour, to be raised to the surface in time of war. appears to your committee to be sufficient to cause the temporary detention of a ship under the fire of the batteries. Your committee are also of opinion that a block-ship, to be stationed in time of war in the channel as a support to the lines of chain is a necessary adjunct to the system of defence which they propose to recommend; they therefore think it desirable that the offer of the Secretary of State, in a despatch dated 19th March, 1863, of a sailing teak-built ship of 2000 tons, should be accepted.

Your committee have considered the offer made by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, of a powerful steamship, on condition of its being converted into an ironcased battery, but they are not disposed to recommend, for the present, the use of iron for our defences. The batteries at the Heads will be so elevated as not to require such protection, and the cost of plating the block-ship need scarcely be incurred, until we may expect to have to contend with ironeclad ships.

Your committee have determined, after due consideration, not to recommend the erection of any fortifications at Botany. They think that a raid to the south head of the bay, to enable field guns to dislodge any ship which might seek shelter there, is all that is required for the present. They are of opinion that a force large enough to attack by land, with any chance of success, a city with the population and resources of Sydney, would choose rather to storm the battery at Middle Head, than to subject itself to the heavy loss which it must sustain in a march from Botany to Sydney in the face of a large body of rifleman. 

Your committee make the following recommendations for the defence of the Port and City of Sydney.

1. Fifteen guns, to be mounted on Middle Head-twelve 68-pounder guns, and three 100-pounder Armstrong guns, placed so as to command the entrance to the Harbour, and the channels on each side of the Sow and Pigs shoal; the battery to be furnished with furnaces for red hot shot, and to be protected from assault by a deep ditch and loop holed wall, extending from Obelisk Bay to the nearest point of Middle Harbour. The permanent garrison not to be less than 25 men. with barrack room for 150 men,

2. Ten guns (GS-pounders), to be mounted on the Innner South Head, to command the entrance between the Heads, the mouth of Middle Harbour, and the passages by the Sow and Pigs. This battery also to be furnished with furnaces for red hot shot, and to be protected by a ditch in rear. Permanent garrison, 20 men ; b/Mrauk* foi-100 men.

3. Two heavy chains to be laid down from George’s Head to the Sow and Pigs, and from the Sow and Pigs to Green Point, to be raised in time of war to the surface, and strongly secured-n portion of the west channel under George’s Head, to remain open, excepting in presence of auenemy.

4. A block-ship, carrying at least twenty heavy guns, to be moored in time of war across the channel under George’s Head, to be manned by the Naval Brigade, who would have charge of the channel obstructions.

5. The line of chain to be protected by four heavy guns on Green Point, and three on George’s Head. These two batteries to be supplied only with portable or expense magazines, and to be manned from the batteries at Inner South Head and Middle Head.

6 Platforms, with earthworks and embrasures for three guns, to be placed at Shark Point and Point Piper, as positions for the’40-pounder Armstrong guns, when required.

7. Sixteen trained horses to be kept for the use of the Artillery in moving guns, and an arrangement made with the draymen of Sydney for the use of fifty more at the shortest notice.

8. A road to be made to Middle Head, and from thence to George’s Head; also to Inner South Head, to Shark Point, to Point Piper, and to the south head of BottanyBay.

9. In addition to the 68-pounders and the Armstrong guns required for the above purposes, two 40-poundorArmstrong guns, and a field battery of six 12-pounderArmstrong guns to be sent for.

10. The lower battery at Dawes Point to be reduced to twelve guns. Your committee would suggest that the platforms for guns at Shark Point and Point Piper should be immediately prepared, as guns in these positions will assist in making the present batteries available for defence, until the new ones are completed, and that the other recommendations should be carried out with the least possible delay.

Your committee believe that the system of defence which they have advised, while it is scarcely more than necessary for the security of Sydney from a small force, can easily be made sufficient against a fleet ; it would only be necessary to sink ships along the line of chain, and to throw a few hundred riflemen into the forts at Middle and Inner South Heads, to enable them to hold out against an assailing force very superior in numbers.

Your committee have also considered the question of fortifying the other seaports of the colony and have come to the conclusion that Newcastle is the only one which, from its wealth and shipping, is likely to attract the notice of a marauding force. They find that the citizens of Newcastle have enrolled themselves into a volunteer force, consisting of a battery of artillery and a company of rides, and that they are willing to protect their town and harbour from attack, if supplied with the material, Under these circumstances, your committee recommend that a battery of six32-ponnders be erected on or near Stoney Point, and that, in addition, four field guns be handed over to the charge of the Newcastle Volunteer Artillery. 

 Your committee have also had under their consideration the despatch of 26th June, 1865, from the Secretary of State on the ” Contribution of the Colonial to the Expense of Military Defence,” which was referred to them by your honourable House on the 21st of last instant it seems to your committee that the decision arrived at by the Imperial Government, to the effect ” That colonies, such as Australia, enjoying entire self-government, free from the presence of formidable native tribes, and free also, as occupying a vast island, from the perils to which a land frontier exposes other communities, should undertake the sole charge of their internal defence, and that the protection of her Majesty’s Navy must be regarded as the Imperial contribution to their security,” is reasonable and just, and that the terms upon which a small number of Imperial troops are offered as a nucleus for our local forces, are liberal and advantageous Your committee strongly recommend the acceptance of these terms for 249 infantry, at £40 each, and for 150 men of the Royal Artillery.

Despite being across the world from the conflict, the Australian colonies were affected by the American Civil War both economically and by immigration. The Australian cotton crop became more important to England, which had lost its American sources, and it served as a supply base for Confederate blockade runners. Immigrants from Europe seeking a better life also found Australia preferable to war-torn North America.

The Australian public was shocked by the revelation by a turncoat Russian officer, who claimed that a direct engagement was secretly planned by Russia in case the Confederacy was recognised by Britain. The Russian navy had just paid Australia a visit in preparation for launching attacks. Fear of a possible military confrontation led to a massive buildup of coastal defences and to the acquisition of an ironclad warship.

Australia became directly involved when the Confederate navy visited in order to repair one of their warships. This led to protests from the Union representative at Melbourne, while the citizenry of nearby Williamstown entertained the Confederates and some Australians joined the crew. Accounts disagree as to whether Australians generally favored the Union or the Confederacy, as sorrowful demonstrations were held in Sydney when news arrived of Abraham Lincoln‘s

During the Civil War, the Union and Russia were allies against what they saw as their potential enemy, Britain. The Russian blue-water navy was stationed in San Francisco and from 1863 in New York—with sealed orders to attack British naval targets in case war broke out between the United States and Britain. This was threatened if Britain gave diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy.[8]

The flagship of the Russian Pacific squadron, Bogatyr under Rear Admiral Andrey Alexandrovich Popov, officially made a friendly visit to Melbourne in early 1863. According to information passed on to Australian authorities in June 1864, Rear Admiral A.A. Popov had in the first half of the year 1863 received orders and a plan of attack on the British naval ships positioned near the Australian shore.[9] The plan also included shelling and destruction of the Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart coastal batteries.[10] The information was attributed to the Polish lieutenant Władysław Zbyszewski of the Bogatyr, who had deserted from service in Shanghai soon after Bogatyr left Australia, and found his way to Paris to join the Polish January Uprising. This information about Popov’s plans was forwarded by a fellow Pole, a certain S. Rakowsky.[10] Similar attack orders are known to have been given to the Atlantic squadron under Rear Admiral Lessovsky, that was sent to New York at the same time.[11]

On January 25, 1865, the Shenandoah made harbor at Williamstown, Victoria, near Melbourne, in order to repair damage received while capturing Union whaling-ships. At seven o’clock in the evening, Waddell sent Lieutenant Grimball to gain approval from local authorities to repair their ship; Grimball returned three hours later saying they were granted permission.[13] The United States consul, William Blanchard, insisted that the Victorian government arrest the Confederates as pirates, but Victoria’s governor, Sir Charles Henry Darling, ignored his pleas, satisfied with the Shenandoah’s pleading of neutrality when requesting to be allowed to undertake repairs.[14][15] Aside from a few fist fights between Americans, there was no direct conflict between the two warring sides in Melbourne.[16] However, there were eighteen desertions while ashore, and there were constant threats of Northern sympathisers joining the crew in order to capture the ship when it was at sea.[17]


A Defence Committee devises a scheme of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ lines of harbour defences, including two batteries at Inner South Head in the outer line of defence. Fortification of Steele Point (in present day Nielsen Park, Vaucluse) also dates from this period of fortification. A casemate at Camp Cove is proposed but never built.

Saturday 17 September  SMH


THE war between France and Prussia has naturally brought into prominence the question of our defenses.  Like some other important and difficult matters this has been discussed from time to time, and as often postponed. If the next mail brings news of the probable restoration of peace on the Continent, it may be that the colony will again relapse into a state of apparent indifference. Prudence, however, would dictate a sounder and more rational policy.

It is not difficult to see the inconsistency of a community keeping an army of police to preserve its internal peace and good order and failing to make such necessary provisions may be within its power to guard against any filibustering expedition which might attempt to lay under contribution either of its seaboard cities. Perhaps some practical measure may follow the appointment of the present commission. The colony, however, has no reason to be sanguine in this regard. Inquiries of the kind have generally shown how extensive is the question at issue, and how hard to deal with it in all its ramifications. The necessity for immediate action has soon appeared to be less urgent.

The zeal of promoters has waxed cold. Pressing claims for expenditure have arisen in other directions, or perhaps there has been a political crisis, and so the matter has been consigned to oblivion. The recently appointed Commissioners have the advantage of previous inquiries, and it may be interesting to glance at the information already collected upon this subject.

A select committee of the old Legislative Council was appointed on the 12th July, 1353, to take into consideration the question of harbour defenses. The conclusion at which that committee arrived was that the harbour ought to be at once fortified by fixed as well as by floating batteries. They proposed to confine the fortifications in the first instance to the Inner South Head, Middle Head, and George’s Head. These points were referred to as desirable in 1847 and 1848, by Colonel Gordon, who was then commanding the Royal Engineers in this colony, and Lieutenant-General Sir John Burgoyne, the Inspector-General of Fortifications. Captain Denham also expressed an opinion favourable to the erection of batteries on these points, furnished with all the means that experience and recent improvements in the science of gunnery can afford.

In 1859 Commodore Loring, in a letter to the Governor, asked whether the natural defenses of the harbour could not be turned to account, to prevent the entrance of a hostile force. He pointed out that the mouth of the harbour outside Camp Cove to George’s Head, was 1700 yards across-that a portion of this might be stopped up with stone “without any material alteration in the practical navigation of the entrance, beyond an increase in the strength of the stream, and that the passage might when necessary be stopped by a boom, defended by guns of the best quality. He says: ” The batteries, as formerly proposed, would scarcely be sufficient to stop swift steamers ; and again, a boom would not be sufficient, if undefended, but the two combined would be a very serious impediment to the present class of ships.”

Colonel Barney, in the same year, gave it as his opinion that the site at Middle Head was most important, inasmuch as a fortification there would command the approach by sea, as well as the approach to and anchorage in South and Middle Harbour.

Major Nasmyth spoke of the proposal to establish additional batteries, and thought they would be sufficient to deter an enemy, if a boom were thrown across from the Sow and Pigs shoal to the North Shore.

On the 1st July, 1863, in the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Macleay moved for a select committee, to inquire into and report upon the state of the defences of Port Jackson, and the best means of effectually guarding the port and city of Sydney from foreign attack. A debate some-what memorable ensued, and the motion was agreed to in an amended shape, so as to extend the inquiry to other harbours on the coast. That committee was appointed by ballot, and consisted of Mr. Macleay, Mr. Eagar, Mr. Sadleir. W. Forster, Mr. Egan, Sir James Martin, Mr. Arnold, Mr. Piddington, the late Captain Moriarty, and Mr. Cowper. It did not take a very large quantity of evidence. The report, which was brought up in September, 1863, set forth that the committee, in dealing with the question, had found it necessary to decide between Sir William Denison’s plan to protect the anchorage (which was based on the assumption that no effectual means could be devised of stopping an enemy at. the Heads,) and the system which placed the’ main defense at the entrance of the port. The witnesses examined were Captain Ward, thelion. _ R. Towns, Lieutenant Tomkins, R.N.; Captain Lovell, of the Royal Artillery ; Captain Jenkins, R.N. ; Captain Hixson, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, and Messrs. Allan and Liardet. After perusing the various documents and opinions in regard to the fortifications of the harbour, and hearing the evidence of the gentlemen abovementioned, the committee recommended that fifteen guns should be placed on Middle Head-twelve C8-pounder guns, and three 100 pounder Armstrong guns ; that tenG8-pounder guns should be mounted on the Inner South Head : that two heavy chains should be laid down from George’s Head to the Sow-and-Pigs, and from the Sow-and-Pigs to Green Point, to be raised in time of war to the surface, and strongly secured-a portion of the west channel under George’s Head ; to remain open, excepting in the presence of an enemy ; “that a blockade of at least 20 guns should intime of war be moored across the channel under George’s Head ; that the chain should be defended by cannon ; that platforms with earthworks and embrasures for three guns should be made at Shark Point and Point Piper ; that suit-able arrangements should be made for the moving of guns ; that roads should be made to Middle Head and the fortified points ; that additional Armstrong guns should be sent for, and that the Dawes Point battery should be reduced. In regard to the question of fortifying other seaports, the committee came to the conclusion that Newcastle was the only one likely to attract the notice of a marauding force, and, they recommended that a hu^J* S”IX ^-pounders should be erected on or nch.r ?of7 P«”> > and that i*addition four guns S1K°U^,bc handed over to the charge of the Newcastle Volunteer Artillery.

One member of the present commission was examined as a witness before the Larbour Defences Committee in 1863. This gentleman\’L’lPtiUU Hixson) expressed himself strongly in favour of an obstruction at the entrance to the barbon’-1″‘ Hi3pioposal was to stretch a chain from George’s Head across the harbour, in a line with the Sow and Pigs shoal, and in the event of an emergency to raise it to the surface with floating vessels. He admitted, however, that it would be a very expensive affair to shut up the harbour in that way. It will be the duty of the members of the new Commission to make themselves acquainted with, the subject in all its bearings, and to offer their recommendations after careful consideration, and in view of all the necessities of the case.


Tenders for the batteries at South Head are accepted in January and construction takes place over the ensuing four years under the supervision of colonial architect James Barnet.

25th March a “Field Day and Sham Fight Trial of the new Batteries

Monday 9 January  SMH


Sir James Martin and some members of the Defence Commission were again occupied during the whole of Saturday in marking out the positions of guns and traverse which are to form portion of the outer line of defence for the harbour of Port Jackson.  In addition to the Premier-who has accepted the direction of matters relating to the fortification of the harbour, and who, we believe, has devoted his almost undivided attention to that subject for some time past-the party consisted of the Hon Joseph Docker , M L C , Lieut. Colonel Richardson (President of the Defence Commission), Mr. James Barnet, and Captain Hixson (members of the Commission), Lieutenant Wilson(the Secretary), and Mr. Coles, of the Colonial Architect’s department. 

A long time was occupied in marking out the traverses connecting the five guns which are to be placed in positions above Camp Cove. That having been accomplished, Sir James and the Commissioners proceeded to make a careful examination of the ground above Lady’s Bay, and very eligible sites were finally determined upon for the three 32-pounders at the southern shore end of the boom. These guns were originally recommended by the Commissioners for the protection of the boom, but the positions now selected will not only enable them to enfilade the boom, but will also secure a wide range, both up and down the harbour The marking out of these sites and of the trenches was then entered upon and occupied the remainder of the morning.

The party visited the seven pits which were being excavated under Mr. Wallace’s contract at the South Head, and the progress which had been made with the work was considered to be very satisfactory.

Sir James next went to examine the works at Middle Head, which have been contracted for by Mr. John Young. Considerable progress was found to have been made with six out of the seven pits and also with the traverses. A thorough examination of the locality near what may be called the northern shore end of the boom succeeded the visit to Middle Head, and resulted in the selection of the most advantageous sites for the other three32 pounders, which are destined for use in that neighborhood. Here also positions in pits were decided upon as preferable to casemated batteries which were suggested in the first instance. The marking out of the pits and traverses was done on the spot. The position of those guns is situated at the northern base of George’s Head, and it will enable the gunners not only to protect the boom, but also to operate with advantage against a vessel entering the Heads.

Time did not admit of a visit to the battery which is being constructed on the summit of George’s Head, but from the number of men employed there under Mr. Loveridge’s contract, it may be presumed that the work is proceeding with all practicable speed.

The party then spent some time in the examination of Bradley’s ‘Head, where a redan is to be constructed; but they were not able to mark out the positions for the guns and trenches. The party left the Circular Quay at 9am in Mr. Cuthbert’s steam yacht Fairy, and they returned to the city at about half-past 7 pmIt will be seen that eighteen pits are actually being excavated, and by to-day or to-morrow sixteen more will been hand.

The sites for the three guns at Bradley’s Headend the two at Shark Point have yet to be marked. They will complete the outer line of defence, so for as the works on shore are concerned there is every reason to believe that the whole will be completed in a month from the present time

The pits marked out on Saturday will be precisely similar to those already described They will be sunk to a depth of four feet three inches in the sandstock rock, which so far as the works have gone, is found to be of the toughest description and without a flaw. Little more than the muzzles of the guns will appear above the surface, and by reason of the scrub and the nature of the positions selected it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for anybody afloat to discover them. The trenches also are of sufficient depth to afford perfect shelter for the gunners. The guns near the lower lighthouse will have a circular Lange, and every gun is so placed that its fire maybe directed to any point up or down or across the harbour. It is almost superfluous to point out how incomparably superior the gun-pit is to the masonry forts which have hitherto been set up as targets in various parts of the harbour. This style of fornication has the great merit of being well adapted to the position, and-whit isbl cwi’e of great moment when the state of our exchequer is considered, it is so economical that the cost will bear scarcely tiny in proportion to the vii*i buhu which have in foimtr lunts been expended in fortification on ot particularly ornamental, and perhaps still less useful With ho wierarmamonls, theio can bo little doubt that our harbour might soon be made impregnable, but Hiiro is good reason to hope that even with the guns we already possess, all of which are being made available, to say nothing of (hotoiiicdoes, woino} look forward to sLCiinty, if not fiommole station, at any rate from an} bcrious loveiseWe belicvo that the boom will be constricted on it principle and fi oin designs rtcentl}cent out to the colony the Home Government It is the result of numerous experiments made by military and naval authorities in England, and there is said to be little doubt Hint it  ill bostiong enough to pull up the largest and heaviest vesselntl oat. Of course the bush on cither side of the harbour will not be allowed to be in )Ured in anyway. It will afford splendid cover for riflemen, who by reason of the steepness of the declivities could fire down upon any adversary who might appear on the decks of a hostile boat. The roads being constructed along the summit of the ridges to connect the different batteries will enable a defending force to bring field artillery into play, and such an armament will no doubt prove a valuable auxiliary to the fixed batteries. With reference to the gun coinages five only have yet to be made

Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Monday 27 March 1871, page 2



If the filibusters had only had the condescension to pay us their promised visit on Saturday last they would, doubtless, have been greatly impressed with the extent of our defences ; so much so, no doubt, that they would have kept a very respectful distance indeed after having had a taste of the metal provided at the new batteries, and the quality of the gunners who manned them.

Certainly, the Government lost no time in putting the new defences to a practical test, and it was scarcely possible for the result of the trial to have been more satisfactory.

On Saturday morning the first waking thought of everybody connected with the military interests was the weather : and upon a first view of the glorious morning which heralded in a bright and cloudless day, each of our gallant defenders cordially shook hands with himself and packed up his haversack of provisions.

After the morning meal had been partaken of there was harnessing, polishing up, and furbishing, and long before 10 o’clock the streets bristled with peaceful citizens in martial array. There were the Highland Brigade, in the ” garb of old Gael,” dreadful with kilts, sporrans, filibegs, skenes, etc., according to the conventional idea of the dress peculiarly adapted for mountaineers ; there were the artillery, neatly hound in blue and silver, besides smart riflemen in scarlet and grey, and those jovial jack-tars, the Naval Brigade, uphauling ” slops” and “splicing the main brace” in the most approved style.

About the first to muster were the metropolitan rifles, who fell in as usual at the Hyde Park Barracks, where they were inspected and drilled by companies prior to being marched off for the duties of the day. The artillery assembled at the Inner Domain, where they fell in by batteries under their respective officers, and presented a fine appearance. The Naval Brigade did not take the field until a later period of the day. The No. 1 Company were paraded at Fort Macquarie about 1 o’clock, the other divisions at the same place about an hour afterwards.

By 11 o’clock a large crowd of spectators had gathered together at the Circular Quay to witness the embarkation of the volunteers. Before the bulk of the troops arrived, however, a number of field-pieces, to which horses had been attached, were removed to their destination by the artillery. The riders, according to their wont, looked picturesquely uncomfortable, as with their legs inserted in valises, and formidable whips in their fists, they bestrode animals which had apparently not been long removed from wood-carts. However, the duty had to be discharged, and very nobly these gallant fellows discharged it, for they rode and drove their hippopotamus-headed steeds with immense pluck and energy. Shortly after the cannon had lumbered away, strains of martial music proclaimed the advance of the main body of the volunteers ; and presently the artillery and rifles, headed by the artillery band, playing the appropriate air ” Still so gently o’er me stealing,” appeared in sight. They halted near the Manly Beach ferry station and were thence embarked in good order on board the steamer Breadalbane and another capacious boat, both of which had been provided for their express accommodation. There was little enough spare room on either; and the Breadalbane especially presented an amusing spectacle as, crowded in every part with volunteers of all shapes, sizes, and uniforms, and swaying to and fro with the burden, she staggered from the wharf. Conspicuous above the heads of their brothers in arms were the lofty plumes of our Caledonian friends and defenders, whose gorgeous trappings completely obscured the less pretentious uniforms in their vicinity.

A dense cloud of smoke from the pipes and cigars which adorned every other mouth, curled in graceful festoons about the mass of heads, and drifted away upwards to mingle with the vapour from the funnel. Three cheers were given and responded to, and away went the Breadalbane and her consort to deposit their living freight at the various fortifications. Here it may not be out of place to record the distribution of the Volunteers and the seamen of H.M.S. Clio, who, by the kind permission of Commodore Stirling, assisted them at the various points of offence and defence along both the shores of the harbour. The Clio furnished gun detachments for George’s Head and Mrs. Macquarie’s batteries— fifty men being at the former and a hundred at the latter point. The Volunteer Artillery manned the Middle Head, Bradley’s Head, and Dawes Point batteries. There were also two field batteries posted as follows :— One took up position commanding Obelisk Bay and Cobbler’s Beach, and the other covered Camp Cove and Lady’s Bay. There were two 32-pounder siege guns in positions between George’s and Middle Heads, and two 40-pounder Armstrong guns on the rising ground at the end of the Darlinghurst-road. Two more 40-pounder Armstrong guns were mounted at the Observatory. All these, except as hereafter stated, were manned by the Volunteer Artillery. The Naval Brigade served the guns at the Inner South Head Battery, at Fort Macquarie, at Fort Denison and Kirribilli. So much then, for the Clio’s men, the Artillery, and the Naval Brigade. Next the rifle companies, and justly the Sydney battalion, fifty rank and file, with two field-pieces, were stationed at Lady’s Bay ; the like force at Camp Core, and there were 100 kept in reserve. Twenty-five rank and file, with Arm-Strong guns, were posted at the Darlinghurst-road : fifty rank and file at Mrs. Macquarie’s battery ; fifty at Fort Macquarie ; and seventy-five at Dawes Battery. The Grammar School cadet corps were stationed with Armstrong guns at the Observatory. The suburban battalion were distributed thus : 100 rank and file with field-guns, were posted at Obelisk Bay and Cob-bier’s Beach ; fifty were placed in charge of the two 32-pounder siege guns ; and 100 in reserve at the cross-roads, between George’s and Bradley’s Heads immediately in rear of the high ground. Fifty rank and file were posted at Bradley’s Head, forty at Kirribili, and sixty at Fort Denison. Thus it will be perceived that at each of the forts, batteries, and fortifications, there was a body of artillery, with the riflemen to flank and support them and skirmish. In order to provide a remedy in case of accident, medical officers were stationed at George’s Head, Middle Harbour, and Dawes Battery. Major Raymond assumed the command of the forces generally on the eastern, and Major Shepherd of those on the western shore.

The mode of communication adopted was by signal from headquarters, which were established at George’s Head. Eighteen rounds of ball were served out for the Middle Head, George’s Head, and the Inner South Head batteries ; also for the 32-pounder and siege guns. Ten rounds of blank cartridge per gun were allotted for the Armstrong and field guns : also for the cannon at Mrs. Macquarie’s Battery, and for those at Dawes Battery, Fort Denison, Fort Macquarie, and Kirribilli. Fifteen rounds of blank cartridge per man were served out to the rifles.

As might have been expected, the public mustered in great force to view the pageantry of war that was to be carried on from the various batteries. Thousands of people lined those elevated positions which commanded anything like a prospect of the operations carried on at Fort Denison, Fort Macquarie, Mrs. Macquarie’s Battery, Kirribilli, and such other stations as are in the more immediate vicinity of the city. Had any steamboat proprietor been spirited enough to run boats for excursions to the various fortifications at the Heads and along the North Shore, there would doubtless have been hundreds of passengers. As it was large numbers availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the South Head batteries. To those desirous of viewing the North Shore batteries, the best mode of doing so was afforded by the excursion steamers to Athol Gardens, from which pleasure ground to Bradley’s and George’s Head, was a rough, but, under the circumstances, not unpleasant stroll to anybody gifted with patience and average limbs.

Decidedly not the least benefit conferred upon us by the fortifications will be the roads between them, which have been constructed to facilitate the carriage of guns, &c. But let those who take agreeable rambles of sunny afternoons along these said military roads beware of snakes. A large one was dispatched by our wandering reporter on the track between Bradley’s and George’s Heads. But few spectators were found at the points between Middle Head and Bradley’s, but at the former there were many hundreds. Probably the best view of the proceedings was to be obtained at Georges Head, which, from its elevation, offered peculiar advantages, and which, as already hinted, had been made headquarters.

BRADLEY’S HEAD.                                                                                   Between 1 and 2 o’clock, four gunners of No. 8 battery of volunteers, and fourteen of No. 9 battery under command of Captain McDonnell, were marched from Chowder Bay (at which place they had been landed in the morning) towards Bradley’s Head. They were followed by fifty-six Highlanders of the No. 2 Duke of Edinburgh Brigade, under Captain Buchan Thomson. Upon arriving at the pits, they found only one cannon there, a 68-pounder, but not mounted; and about half-a-mile higher up the road which is in course of formation, a second cannon was lying, where it had been detained in consequence of the unfinished state of the road. After examining the pits, and only seeing one cannon at hand, and that not in readiness, the commanders and volunteers naturally expressed great disappointment, and the gunners were dismissed for a time. The Highlanders were then marched towards the old fort on the water’s edge, where they piled arms and were also temporarily released from duty. Shortly after 5 o’clock the Government steamer Thetis hove in eight. The Highlanders were then mustered, and placed on the old fort, and as the Thetis came abreast they fired several volleys of blank cartridge. The steamer had scarcely opened up the straight running before volleys from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, Fort Denison, Kirribilli Point, and Dawes Point came in rapid ssuccession;and banging of guns from all these places was kept up vigorously for a considerable period.

The Thetis, with the Florence Irving astern, steamed easily up the harbour, passing Fort Denison on the north side, running past Kirribilli Point, and then off Dawes Battery. During this firing there was great excitement, especially when the vessels for a time were lost to view in the dense smoke. It was and pretty and animating scene. The fort at Bradley’s Head, it is said, will not be fit to be manned for about three weeks. Upon inquiry, we were informed that the contractor, Mr. Young, has sublet the building of the pits, &c. ; and by-the-way, it should be mentioned that there was no chance of the gun being mounted, as it only arrived on the ground on Wednesday, and there was no carriage for it

HEAD-QUARTERS, &c.                                                                                         At the cross-roads between George’s and Bradley’s Heads a company of rifles were stationed in reserve. But they had plenty work in skirmishing about over what is not the easiest bit of country in the world, and the Highlanders, in the absence of inexpressibles, must have found the prickly scrub peculiarly harassing. A small detachment of Highlanders with members of other suburban companies were stationed at George’s Head, and after their hot march from Chowder Bay found themselves in excellent fettle for attacking the contents of their haversacks. About half-past 1 o’clock there was a general fall-to, and provisions were consumed with a voracity that spoke well for the health and spirits of our citizen soldiery. Quantities of bottles of lemonade and ginger-beer were opened and consumed; and the volunteers by no means forgot to present the tickets which secured for each man a supply of beer. In fact the fortifications generally about mid-day assumed the aspect of a gigantic military picnic party.

The nature of the gun pits, &c., at George’s Head, has been already well and amply described in our former, issues. It only remains now to say that the embrasures and recess for the magazines, &c., hewn in the solid rock, forming a perfect maze of chambers with communicating passages, excited universal admiration. There were three 68-pounder cannons here, mounted on traversing platforms; and notwithstanding that the size of the carriages was, we believe, little superior to that of those used on a certain recent occasion at Fort Macquarie, there was happily no accident of any kind. The guns worked well and easily, and to all appearance will continue to do so. From the giddy height at which the battery is situated the view was indeed beautiful. Both heads, with the rolling ocean sweeping between; the township of Watson’s Bay, with the surrounding scenery; Middle Head, and the country about it; the harbour studded with the snowy canvas of numerous yachts and small craft, with here and there a steamer between; — all this, basking in the sun, lay like a rich panoramic picture far away below the spectator. The universal sentiment was, that the beauty of this prospect afforded ample compensation for any trouble, any weariness, involved in gaining it.

Between 2 and 3 o’clock a detachment of about fifty of the seamen from H.M.S. Clio, under the command of a lieutenant, arrived. They were armed with cutlasses and rifles and appeared a smart body of men. Upon, their arrival they piled arms, and were allowed to dismiss for a time; but after a few minutes’ rest, warning of the approach of his Excellency the Governor having been given, they again stood to their arms. Shortly afterwards Earl Belmore arrived and was received with a general salute. His Excellency was attended by Captain Beresford, A.D.C., and with him were Commodore Stirling, Sir James Martin, Sir Terence Aubrey Murray, the Hon. W. C. Windeyer, the Hon. John Robertson, the Hon. J. Lucus, the Hon. Joseph Docker, Mr. Barnet (colonial architect), Colonel Richardson, Captain Hixson, Captain Baynes, Captain Hopkins, and other gentlemen of distinction or prominence in the volunteer force. The vice-regal party having viewed the battery, the Clio’s sailors manned the guns, and preparations for ball practice were made.

The targets, four in number, were situated in position as nearly as possible central between the Inner South Head, George’s, and Middle Head batteries. They were tolerably steady, owing to the calmness of the water, but were not the most conspicuous possible marks, presenting only a small white surface, which, from the various batteries, appeared about an inch square. The signal to commence firing having been run up and responded to, work was commenced; and a roar from one of the monsters pent within the rock, followed by the sharp whizz of the ball, proclaimed that George’s Head had opened fire. As the volume of smoke rolled partially away a mass of foam, which flew suddenly upwards from a point near the target fired at, told the trueness of the aim. Bang went a gun from Middle Head, South Head responded, off went the other guns at head-quarters, and from that time the practice was kept up with great precision and steadiness until about half-past 4.

As a whole the test of the new batteries must be considered a highly satisfactory one. The guns worked well, and were evidently advantageously placed, for every shot would have told upon any adverse vessel entering the Heads. It would be hard to say which gun detachment would have carried away the prize had the firing been competitive. Certainly the tars at George’s Head were no strangers to that sort of work, and made some excellent shots. The elevation taken at the South Head appeared rather in excess; but the extreme height at which the observer at George’s Head viewed the firing may have produced that impression. Occasionally, a preconcerted signal having been given, broadsides were fired.

About half-past 4 o’clock the signal to cease firing was displayed, and the batteries accordingly became silenced. It remained then to fire the torpedo. This terrible instrument of modern warfare had been sunk in mid-channel between the Heads — the position being marked by a boat, carrying a flag, which was moored over it. The signal to fire was the discharge of one gun from head-quarters, at a point near the boat: in fact the instructions to the gunners were tantamount to directing them to ” go as near as possible without touching.” This direction was obeyed with marvelous skill and discretion, and all eyes were then turned upon the mark. Nor had they long to wait. A huge volume of water, lashed into the consistency of cream, rose a height (as it appeared from George’s Head) of about 100 feet in the air; it shot upwards, appeared to hesitate a moment, fell over in an immense mass of foam irradiated by the sun into literally “all the colours of the rainbow.” Of the old boat not a vestige remained, save a plank or two wafted like a pith ball on the surface of a fountain. The aspect of the whole was indescribably beautiful; but to those on board two vessels in the offing the whole affair must have savoured somewhat of the marvelous, and doubtless many anxious hopes were entertained that when they entered the Heads they would not be favoured with any similar demonstration. This closed the ball practice.

The Governor and his suite returned to the Thetis, and preparations for the sham fight were commenced. This was conducted with immense spirit; an attack with boats was made and repelled, and as the Thetis steamed down the harbour, the firing of cannon and small arms from both shores was incessant.

In the evening the volunteers were conducted back to town in the same manner as that in which they had been led forth, and thus ended the day, perhaps most memorable in the volunteering records of this country. The exact returns have not yet come to hand, but the approximate gross number upon the ground was 1600.


The whole of the forces in the eastern portion were under the command of Major Raymond. Of the 1st Sydney battalion, 460 men turned out, and commanded the South Head, covered the guns at the Darling Point road, Mrs. Macquarie’s Battery, Fort Macquarie, and Dawes Battery. The staff at the quarters, South Head, with Major Raymond were Surgeons Milford and Dansey, Captain Chatfield, and Major Wilson (in charge of field artillery), besides a few others whose names we were unable to ascertain. The force at the South Head consisted of 250 men belonging to the right half 1st Sydney battalion Volunteer Rifles, 60 artillerymen belonging to companies Nos. 2 and 5. and 40 members of the Naval Brigade. From this it will be seen that the South Head was by no means the least important position of the sham defence. The men had been very busy at work all the morning getting the guns in position, and various evolutions were gone through.

At twenty-six minutes past 3 the signal from George’s Head was given, four minutes afterwards the first shot ever sent from the new batteries at the South Head was fired. A splendid range was obtained by the gunner, and the ball dashed right in the middle of the buoys amidst tumultuous applause from the large concourse assembled on the rocks. Fifteen other shots, equally well directed, followed in rapid succession, and fell mostly just between or slightly over the marks. These were followed by two deafening salvos of artillery from the whole of the guns which were mounted on the fortifications ; and at fifteen minutes past 4 the signal to cease firing was hoisted.

Expectation was now high to witness the explosion of the torpedo, about a mile from the beach, over which was placed an old boat, the torpedo was ignited by electricity from the South Head beach. With aloud thud the quiet sea, for about thirty yards, seemed to be terribly convulsed, and the boat with a tremendous body of water was sent fully thirty feet high. The boat came down broken into hundreds of small fragments. The explosion of the torpedo was followed by another salvo from the artillery, and the forces were then ranged in order to repel a boat invasion in the valley where the battery of field artillery was stationed.

The Thetis, after considerable delay, steamed past at about half-past 5, and the line of volunteers placed in (skirmishing order kept up a warm fire during the whole of the time. The bugle then sounded the recall, and when in line the volunteers fired two volleys, and the order for marching home was given, and they, with the artillery riding on the horses drawing the cannon, presented a fine sight, just as the sun was descending behind the hill. The proceedings were conducted at this point without an accident (though it is estimated that there were at least, 4000 persons present), thanks to the military discipline which was maintained by Major Raymond. An unusual circumstance was the placing by Captain Chatfield of an artilleryman under arrest, but doubtless not without sufficient cause

THE ATTACKING STEAMER THETIS, which was appointed to assume the important appearance of a filibustering cruiser, started from the Circular Quay upon its pretended piratical mission at about twenty minutes past 12 ‘o’clock. On board were his Excellency the Governor, Commodore Stirling (H.M.S. Clio), Colonel Richardson (Commandant of Volunteers), Sir James Martin (the Premier), Sir Terence Aubrey Murray (President of the Legislative Council), the Hon, J. B. Wilson (Secretary for Lands), the Hon. W. C. Windeyer (Solicitor-General), the Hon. G. Allen, M.L.C. ; the Hon. S. D. Gordon, M.L.C. ; Captain Beresford, Captain Teale, Captain Hixson, N.B. ; Lieutenant Gowllaud, R.N. ; Mr. J. Barnet (Colonial Architect), Mr. H. Halloran (Principal Under-Secretary), Mr. J. Connery (Assistant Clerk of Assembly), Mr. F. M. Darley and Mr. Weekes M.L.C. ; Mr. Eckford, M.L.A. ; Mr. Dodds, M.L.A. ; Mr. Halt, M.L.A. ; Mr. Fitzpatrick, M L A. ; Mr. Lloyd, M.L.A. ; Mr. Wearne, M.L.A. ; Mr. Lucas M.L.A. ; Mr. King, M.L.A. ; and Mr. Ford (City Bank.) The Brigade Volunteer Band was also on board, under the direction of Mr. Callen, and not withstanding the men had omitted to bring their music with them, being ordered out for service, they contrived to infuse considerable spirit into the proceedings by some admirable impromptu melodies. The Government had also engaged the steamer Florence Irving to accompany the Thetis, but whether she was intended to represent a second privateer, or merely a convoy of the former vessel, is uncertain.

Among the visitors who went in her were Mr. John Davies, P.P.A. ; the Hon. Mr. Barnes (Minister for Works) ; the Hon. Mr. Lord (Colonial Treasurer) ; Mr. W. E. Piddington, M.L.A. ; Mr. W. Tunks, M.L.A. ; Mr. J. T. Ryan, M.LA. ; Mr. Lackey (Chairman of Committees) ; Mr. Bawden, M.L.A. ; Mr. Church, M.L.A. ; Mr. Speer, M.L.A. ; and Dr. Ward, of the medical staff of the volunteer force. A large concourse of people had assembled on the quay to witness the somewhat paradoxical spectacle of the departure of the invading force, and it was a noticeable circumstance that no sooner had the two piratical craft left the wharf than they were followed by the harbour steamer Vesta, laden with the Sydney battalion of volunteers on their way to the South Head. On arriving at Watson’s Bay, both the Thetis and the Florence Irving dropped their anchors ; and the Governor, accompanied by Commodore Stirling, Sir James Martin, and several of the visitors, went on shore to inspect the batteries at that position. At this time the heights of the South Head presented a remarkable appearance. Thousands of spectators had taken possession of every ” coign of ‘vantage,” and the ridge from the lighthouse to the outer battery were a living fringe. By the time the Governor returned to the steamer, the volunteers, who had landed and taken their lunch, were to be seen ascending the hill to take their places in support of the guns.

As the Government boats steamed over to Chowder Bay there was a constant succession of boat’s from the city, each one of which appeared to be laden to the fullest capacity; the favourite spots selected by the excursionists being the South Head and the head-quarters at George’s Head.

The Thetis again anchored, and the visitors on board having devoted some time to luncheon, his Excellency, accompanied by nearly the whole of the ” invaders,” landed at about 3 o’clock, and proceeded to the batteries on George’s Head. The ascent is not an easy one, the track being precipitous and boggy, and fully half-an-hour elapsed before the glasses of those on board showed that the party had reached the position of the guns.

The Thetis then steamed out into the stream, and everybody on board was on the quivive for the commencement of the operations described above. The targets, moored near the Inner North Head, were distinctly visible, as also was the flag of the torpedo, moored on the north side of the Sow and Pigs shoal. The crash of the first shot from the head-quarters battery was the signal for the South Head and Middle Head batteries to open fire, and so excellent was the practice, especially on the first-named position, that the targets were continually submerged by the shot fired at them.

At twenty minutes to 4 o’clock the steamer City of Newcastle was seen cautiously rounding the North Head, and no sooner had she fairly reached the South channel than the torpedo was fired by means of an electrical current, communicated to it by Mr. Cracknell, the Superintendent of Telegraphs, who was stationed at the South Head. Seen from the deck of the steamer, the upheaval of the water was a sight grand in the extreme. Tossed to a height of apparently about 100 feet above the level, the water presented the appearance of a huge wave as white and as turbulent as Niagara at its base ; and the fragments of the boat beneath which the engine of destruction had been moored, indicated with terrific force the horrible fate that would befall any vessel passing over one during its explosion. A second or two and the water, so ruffled by the explosion, resumed its placid surface, and there was not a trace left of the boat, torpedo, or of the imaginary ” filibuster ” blown into atoms.

The people could now be seen swarming down from the South Head like ants, and the signal, ” make a flank movement to the best advantage,” was quickly followed by the volunteers on the South Head descending from the batteries. It is here noticeable that, notwithstanding the prevalent opinion that the scarlet uniform affords a fine object for the marksman, it was almost impossible from Chowder Bay to distinguish the troops from the spectators on the South Head. At a quarter to 5 o’clock the Thetis returned to Chowder Bay to receive the Governor, and as soon as his Excellency with the other visitors were on board, the steamer proceeded to its assumed position, as a vessel which had turned the ” outer ” line of defence, or, in other words, had reached George’s Head without being disabled by the batteries which had been engaged. Her stern was no sooner pointed up the harbour than the field batteries in Camp Cove opened a rapid fire upon the steamer, and did not slacken it until she had reached Shark Point, During this time, about ten minutes, the riflemen were actively engaged in ” petting ” every visible being on board, and had there been a mistake in issuing the ammunition, the crew of the ” filibuster” certainly would have been decreased in number, so well did the marksmen load and fire.

The field-pieces, too, were well served, and would certainly prove a powerful auxiliary if ever required in earnest. The steamer had no sooner got beyond the Scylla of Camp Cove than it encountered the Charybdis of the battery at Bradley’s Head. Here there were no guns in position, although there are to be ; but the infantry of the suburban battalion kept up an incessant fusillade, and the crack of the rifles seemed disagreeably close. But the Thetis steadily pursued her way and those in command of her nourished the hope that the city might yet be surprised and a contribution levied ; but no sooner did the vessel round Bradley’s Head than she was greeted with a reception which dashed the hope to the ground, or rather, water. The guns at Mrs. Macquarie’s Battery, at Forts Denison, Macquarie, Kirribilli, and the upper tier of guns at Dawes Battery opened fire simultaneously, while field batteries on Darling Point and Fort Phillip, on the Observatory Hill, pounded away upon what was very properly considered a doomed vessel. There was no escaping the cross-fire, as can be better understood by a reference to the plan of the defences published in the Town and Country Journal on the 4th ultimo ; indeed ” Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, volleyed and thundered,” and, as though they were not sufficient to repel the invader, the forts and rocks were lined with riflemen who kept up a continuous rattle of musketry at not much more than point blank distance. Especially notable for the smart manner in which they handled their weapons were the Grammar School cadets, who had scattered themselves at the base of Fort Kirribilli, and were apparently attempting to prevent suppositions boat parties from effecting a landing. Below the batteries on Dawes Point and Mrs. Macquarie’s Fort, the riflemen had formed them-selves into a ” thin red line,” and greatly aided the imposing appearance of the defence. The point being passed, and the city being, of course, not taken, the Thetis abandoned its disreputable occupation, and steamed up to the wharf, landing its passengers at twenty minutes past 6 o’clock, delighted with the result of what it is to be hoped will be the most serious attack that will ever be made in Port Jackson. ‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗‗


A torpedo observing and firing station is built at Green (Laings) Point during this year, part of the harbour defences based at Chowder Bay.


Wednesday 23 September Evening News pg5


This morning the residents’ of Watson’s Bay heard the booming ot artillery. It was merely a practice demonstration of the efficacy of the 6in B.L.H.P. guns and the 6in O.F.C. batteries, given in : connection with the coast defence course of instruction at present being held at South Head.  The firing should have commenced on Monday last, but owing to the wind blowing the targets over, and the atmosphere being very thick for the gun layer, Colonel Wallace deemed it advisable to postpone the shoot until this morning. The weather. at South Head was perfect. Colonel Wallace. R.A.A., Major Kyngdon, Major Osborne. Major Clark (Victoria), Major Morris (Queensland), and other officers participating- in the defence, arrived early in the morning by the ferry, and at once proceeded to witness the practice. Though the school of gunnery is always going on under Captain Cox-Taylor, R.A.A., who is the chief Instructional officer, it Is the first occasion that the senior officers of other States have travelled to South Head for a coast defence course. The object in view is to obtain uniformity in drills for coast defence throughout all the States. Each day is occupied with lectures and practical work ia connection with the defence of the Australian coast against a possible invasion. Shortly after 10 o’clock the submarine steamer Miner towed two Hongkong: targets from Camp Cove to sea, and at a given signal the rin H.P. battery, under the command of Major Morris, opened fire. Although the danger signal was flying from the flagstaff, South’ Head, and shipping had been ‘warned to keep well clear of the line of fire, some fishermen in a ~ small’ boat paid no heed to the warnings and remained almost in the direct line of fire all the morning. The first shot fired was at a range of 5800yards, and it fell right between the two targets. The second shot immediately followed, and it fell as the first one did. The supposed enemy was raked fore and aft with the remainder of the shots. Altogether, 12 rounds were fired ,and when the umpire makes his computations a good result is expected by the officers. The next guns to open fire wore the 6in O.F.C. batteries at a range from 3000 yards up to 8000yards. Twenty rounds were fired, and most of the shots were registered as hits. When these guns opened fire the haze was very thick, and at times the steamer towing the targets could scarcely be observed with the naked eye. So the shooting and work of the gunlayer can be classed as extraordinary.


  • The outbreak of hostilities saw the manning of local coastal defences reduced, as the need to deploy troops elsewhere is recognised.


A protest Is to be made to the Minister for Defence.

Meanwhile, the erection of the fence is proceeding. It allows for only a narrow path lending to the Camp Cove side of the land where the Royal Australian Historical Society has placed a monument in commemoration of Governor Phlllip’s first landing, without giving access to the rest of the reserve. Aldermen and residents can conceive of no reason why such action should have been taken.


Guns at South Head and Signal Hill are upgraded in the early war years as part of the Australian coastal defence network.


  • Guns are removed from the South Head installations, putting an end to the lengthy era of the fixed-defence of Sydney. Evidence of the emplacements is still evident along the Cliff Walk, and a 9 inch RML dating from the 1870s remains just north of Camp Cove.
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