Fortifications and Facilities
An organisation designed to defend the colony required an infra-structure network, not only from which to mount a defence, but also facilities to enable training, supply, accommodation and administration for the force. It took the Queensland Government more than two decades before it began to accept its responsibilities seriously in this regard.
Prior to the Jervois/Scratchley report of 1877 on the defences of the colony, there had been little investment in defence. The main facility of the early 1860s was the Volunteer Armoury in Brisbane which had been built as part of the 1830 British Army barracks. Major facilities such as Victoria Barracks were allocated to the Police rather than the Volunteers, and it was not until the formation of a Permanent Force within the new Queensland Defence Force in 1885 that a military force returned to the Barracks.
Other facilities, such as offices, supply stores, magazines for ammunition, drill halls and rifle ranges, were rare throughout the 1860s and 1870s, however began to appear across the colony from the 1880s. Fortifications, initially recommended as part of the Jervois/Scratchley scheme of defence, were also commenced around this time at Fort Lytton, and later at Kissing Point and Thursday Island.
Fortifying the Ports
In the 19th century coastal fortifications served as a deterrent to enemy action.
Fortified with batteries of heavy artillery, and manned by militia or permanent soldiers, fortifications were usually sited to protect shipping lanes and large ports.
In April 1878, fearing a war breaking out in Europe, the Queensland government authorised construction of a battery of four 24-pounder cannons at Doboy Creek, upstream of Lytton on the Brisbane River. The temporary emplacement was abandoned by July when the scare had subsided.
Lieutenant-Colonel Scratchley recommended the construction of fortifications at Lytton in July 1878, having previously identified it as the site for emplacing torpedoes. Torpedoes, at that time, consisted of sealed buoys containing explosives, which were moored under the surface of the river and electrically detonated. They became better known as submarine mines.
Submarine mines were a specialist weapon, and were placed in the care of the locally trained Queensland Volunteer Engineers. The Engineers were called out for active service during the Russian war scare of 1885, when they laid a boom of timber across the river in order to deny access to enemy vessels. They also laid submarine mines in the river, mounted the Nordenfelt machine guns in Lytton fort, and profiled the redoubt on Signal Hill to the rear of the fortifications.
When he visited Townsville in 1881, Colonel Scratchley selected the west end of Magazine Island to site the port town’s seaward defences. It was not until the 1885 war scare that a gun was placed there. Kissing Point was also chosen and Armstrong guns were installed both on Magazine Island and at Kissing Point in 1886. The Queensland Government began construction of fortifications on both sites by 1890. ‘A’ Battery, Queensland Permanent Artillery, took up garrison duties at the Kissing Point, initially rotating a detachment between Brisbane and Townsville.
The fortifications at Green Hill on Thursday Island, also part of the Jervois-Scratchley defence scheme, were designed to protect the coaling port and valuable shipping routes through Torres Strait. This was the first of the ‘Federal’ forts in Australia, with costs shared by Britain and all the Australian colonies, and also manned by the Queensland Permanent Artillery. Port towns such as Bowen and Cooktown were also encouraged to establish rudimentary static artillery batteries as part of their defences.
Lytton fort on the Brisbane River, Kissing Point in Townsville, and Thursday Island, along with Victoria Barracks, the former Naval Stores, and a handful of drill halls, remain the few tangible reminders of our colonial military heritage.