Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fort Queenscliff Part II

I started posting about Fort Queenscliff before Christmas. Then of course I got distracted by my 200th post Q&A.

So in the tradition of my (semi-mythical) Uncle Harry I put on my tour guide’s hat and resume with a guided tour of Fort Queenscliff.

The Fort sits on the southern outskirts of Queenscliff guarding “The Rip”. The defences at Queenscliff and around Port Phillip Bay were built through the second half of the 19th century, to protect Melbourne from invasion by hostile foreign powers.
These hostile powers were identified as the French, the Russians and, at one stage during the American Civil War, the United States!

When you approach The Fort from the landward side you see a decidedly unimpressive brick wall that forms the rear defence. Originally there was a dry moat and there are dozens of loopholes for rifle fire from inside. But with my knowledge of military technology I was unimpressed. Yes the fort was built in the Nineteenth Century but it was clear that any force bringing even light artillery to bear on this wall would have quickly overcome these defences.

However, I wasn’t quite ready to write the fort off, it was after all designed to protect the entrance to Port Phillip Bay from the sea.

Inside the fort the tour starts with the interior buildings. One is the Black Lighthouse which I posted about previously. Standing next to this is an old signal tower. Fort Queenscliff was only one of a chain of forts built around the entrance to The Bay.
Any defence of Port Phillip Bay would have been coordinated by signals sent through this tower.

Next you pass this Georgian style building. Before The Fort was built this was the civilian post and telegraph office for the town. When the fort was built it was closed to civilians, the offices were shifted into the town. This building became part of the Fort’s hospital.

Then you approach what was the real business end of the fort. These bunker walls form the back side of a massive earth bank that is the front wall of the fort. Set into the bank are a number of heavy gun emplacements.
This is a Nineteenth Century “disappearing gun”And from below. The concept of the gun was that once it was fired it would drop out of sight so the crew could safely reload it. The massive hydraulic ram would lift it up to be fired again.

This is the latest in 19th century communication technology, a brass speaking tube to pass orders to the original magazines deep beneath the base of the guns.

Down below is a whole network of tunnels to allow communication and troops to move around The Fort while under fire.One feature I liked was the original brass oil lamps set in alcoves in the walls. These were locked behind glass to prevent accidents setting off the tonnes of high explosive that were once stored down here. The modern electric lights make things much easier

Back up top we then saw the emplacements built for twentieth century shore battery guns.Impressive until you realise they are dummies. The shield is the original from gun that was sited here in the 1930s, but the barrel is a fake.
With World War II there was a sudden realisation that Japanese naval air-power could easily target these guns. So they were moved to camouflaged positions near Point Lonsdale. The dummies were placed so enemy aerial reconnaissance or spies would report the guns were still in place and waste effort targeting a ruse.

This final photo is of the command bunker used in WWI and WWII.Allegedly the first angry Allied shots of WWI were ordered from here when a German merchant vessel attempted to make a run for the open ocean.

By the 1880s Port Phillip Bay was the most heavily defended port anywhere in the British Empire. Would anyone care to guess why?

Uncle Harry signing off.


The Words Crafter said...


Very clever, the disappearing gun and putting the lamps behind glass.

In school, and even in college, it seems we rush through all the histories. I love that you're giving us an in-depth peek, thanks!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday:)

Old Kitty said...

Why was the port heavily guarded?!!? Erm - it was the entrance to A Very Important City!

The tunnels underneath are pretty impressive as is the disappearing gun! Aww but that Georgian building is so lovingly restored!

Thanks for this very interesting info! Take care

Vicki Rocho said...

I never thought touring a fort could be interesting...but you've proved me wrong! I especially like those tunnels...

Anne Gallagher said...

Disappearing guns -- now that's awesome. Who'da thunk of such a thing? Fantastic.

And lights in the walls! I'm so impressed.

Thanks for the tour Al. This was great for my research.

And why? Answer -- defending Sydney?

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

oh man, i am in love with that brass speaking tube.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Al .. great rest of the tour .. I loved your pictures giving us all a real trip around and underground etc ..

Fun - thanks .. hope the rains are away from you .. and you have a successful 2011 .. cheers Hilary

Carolyn V. said...

That is just cool. I love the disappearing gun and the tube to speak into. Great info. Thanks Al! =D

Kyna said...

Funny how old forts all over the world are constructed in the same way. We have an old Civil War era fort near here, of course the style of the buildings are slightly different, but overall it has the same feel when I look at your pictures. :)

Hart Johnson said...

I finally just got to all your answers to our questions from Christmas Eve and thought they were great fun! I may have to do a question and answer at some point. I like it.

As to this fort-the style reminds me a lot of Fort Mackinac which is the fort on Mackinac Island at the narrow point between the upper and lower peninsulas in Michigan--it is the 5 mile straight between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and so has to be passed to get a large ship to Chicago from the Atlantic and was very strategic for trade in the days of pre-trade. The island still allows no motor vehicles, so the fort is great fun to visit.

Jayne said...

Love the disappearing guns, how clever! Thanks for the tour, Uncle Harry!